Piers will race for the full 2003 British GT
Championship season alongside 2002’s most improved driver,
Shane Lynch, and with the Eclipse team now having a full year
of racing behind it with the championship’s newest TVR
T400R (the new for 2003 moniker for the Tuscan R) hopes were
high of making a flying start.
Saturday’s sun drenched qualifying session
was predicted to be a battle between the two big V8 powered
Moslers and the three TVRs. As it turned out, the Eclipse car
was the only one of the trio from Blackpool to really get stuck
in, the CDL Racing version was mid-rebuild after mechanical
woes in the morning and the Race Sports Salisbury version (Piers
Johnson’s 2002 ride) was well off the ultimate pace.
Piers Johnson wasn’t though! He took the
fight to the Moslers and headed the timesheets for a while,
despite the sweeping curves of Donington Park’s National
circuit being better suited to the big American McLaren-F1-lookalikes.
In the end though the built in advantage of the
Moslers told and Piers had to settle for third on the 14 car
grid with a best lap of 1:10.282, just pipped by a tenth of
a second for second spot and a front row start.
Lynch would start the 75 minute race, eager to continue to
show that his growing reputation as a demon starter is deserved.
That's him doing his pre-race exercises, right. Anyone who
thought the Moslers would drive off into the distance would
be very much mistaken. From the off the #69 TVR was all over
them, the T400Rs straight six howl contrasting with the rumble
of the V8s ahead. Through Redgate, Hollywood and into the awesome
Craner Curves, the chase was on. This was looking good.
Shane was seldom more than a couple of feet from the rear of the second
placed car, well within striking distance of both Moslers, but the big
mid-engined V8 powered cars seemed to have the legs on the TVR on the
straights. The nimble T400R however had an advantage through slower corners
and in acceleration out of the corners. Shane was biding his time and
waiting for a gap to appear.
The pace at the front was faster and more furious
than anyone else could manage, the fourth placed TVR losing
a second per lap to the lead trio’s dice. The Mosler
/TVR combo started to lap backmarkers as early as lap 6, Shane
pulling to the outside of Redgate on every lap and looking,
it seemed, for an opportunity to sell a dummy to Jamie Derbyshire
The first real attempt came on lap 7 up the inside
at the first corner, Redgate, close but no cigar. Derbyshire – racing
in Derbyshire - was now defending hard, and as the two came
to the chicane before the end of the same lap a jinking TVR
behind threw him off his rhythm, Shane emerging ahead only
to be outpaced on the run up to Redgate, the Mosler’s
turn this time to try up the inside and retake the place.
Battle was now well and truly joined though.
Lap 10 and the Shane was granted another opportunity, as the
Mosler hesitated in lapping Keith Ahlers’ Cup class Morgan
Aero 8. The TVR showed its nose in front of the Mosler into
Redgate but the grunt of the big V8 told once more on the run
to the Craner Curves. The TVR stayed hard on the heels of the
Balfe Motorsport Mosler and next time around tried an identical
move only to be thwarted again – great stuff, but this
was not going to be easy for Shane Lynch.
Lap 14 though gave him another milestone in his
racing career as a determined pursuit for second netted a lap
time of 1:11.022, brought him back right onto the tail of Derbyshire
and would be good enough for the fastest lap of the race outright.
The TVR is fast enough to race with the best of them.
One lap later and again a Mosler had trouble
in traffic, this time the leading car driven by Tom Herridge,
who stumbled over the much slower V6 engined Renault Clio coming
through the chicane. The loss of momentum allowed Derbyshire
to gain ground and the Moslers passed either side of the Renault
along the start / finish straight, and Derbyshire won the chicken
run and took the lead into Redgate. Shane however had been
in close pursuit and had seen his chance. As Herridge busied
himself in an unsuccessful defence from Derbyshire the TVR
was moving up the inside to grab second at the same corner.
Second place and right on the tail of the leading car.
He wasn’t finished yet. Derbyshire was
trying to settle into his newly won lead, but Shane was giving
him no peace at all: he ducked and weaved behind before outbraking
the Mosler into Redgate on the very next lap. Three different
leaders in just over a lap of racing – Formula One eat
your heart out. This time the gap was enough for the TVR to
power through Hollywood with enough in hand to fend off the
Mosler. It was their turn to chase a TVR for a change!
But it was going to be no picnic for the new
leader. The challenge of being the first to lap slower cars
ahead had caught out Herridge and it nearly did for Shane too.
The big Chrysler Viper was dicing with the Corvette ahead for
fifth place as the leading trio thundered down to the chicane.
The TVR’s advantage through the slower corner was lost
and Derbyshire closed right up again. Next time, with 49 minutes
of the race still to run, it was more of the same for Lynch,
this time the ISL Marcos Mantis was the stumbling block and
a moment’s hesitation by both Shane and Mantis driver
Jeff Wyatt almost cost the TVR the lead. The Mosler looked
on the outside, Shane covered, but then realised that Derbyshire
was going inside. Bobbing and weaving like a boxer, the unwelcome
advance of the Mosler was fended off for now.
35 minutes gone, pitstop window open and it was
time to see whether a slick pit stop could help stretch the
gap. Shane dived in from the lead to hand over to Piers Johnson.
A good stop by the Eclipse Motorsport squad, almost spoiled
by a door that was reluctant to shut properly, saw the harman
/ kardon backed driver back out into third place, with both
Moslers ahead still needing to stop.
Shane meanwhile had been grabbed by the pitlane
commentator, clearly still buzzing with adrenalin from a fantastic
opening stint - and hoping that Piers could build on the good
work already done:
“I’ve got everything crossed, fingers,
legs and bollocks.” A little known Irish proverb, I believe!
Derbyshire’s pitstop was next, the stop
to hand over to Shaun Balfe though was not quite good enough
to keep the Mosler ahead of Piers, the red and white car slotting
onto the racing line just moments after #69 wailed by, honours
By now just the top three were on the lead lap,
a mark of the furious pace set by the Moslers and the Eclipse
32 minutes to go and it was leader Tom Herridge’s
turn to pit to hand over to Rob Barff. If the other Mosler’s
pitstop had been good and the TVR’s very good then the
#22’s crews efforts were just unbelievable. As Barff
roared out of the pitlane, the pursuing Piers was just passing
the pit entrance. The stop had gained the leading car a full
10 seconds over its pursuers, a quite fantastic effort.
Shaun Balfe meanwhile was still working hard
to get past the TVR, the Mosler’s power advantage coupled
with the TVR’s more nimble characteristics keeping the
crowd on the edge of their seats and both drivers very much
on their toes.
Piers mounted a characteristically spirited defence
for lap after lap before finally the TVR’s grip levels
began to tail off as the racing slicks began to show signs
of the rigours of the day so far. With 19 minutes to go Piers
finally had to give best to Balfe, the #33 Mosler finding a
way up the inside at Redgate and pulling away. It was time
for Piers to consolidate on a very solid third place as the
Moslers began a dice for the win.
at the flag it was an excellent third place for Eclipse, with
Piers 11 seconds behind the lead duo, a welcome trip to the
podium and a richly deserved award for Shane Lynch as the 76
Fuels “Driver of the Day”
The win had been taken on the very last lap by
Balfe in a four car flurry through the Craner Curves, the two
separated at the finish by just a tenth of a second. This race
had dicing from start to finish.
Piers Johnson declared himself satisfied “I’m
happy with that for a start, disappointed that we couldn’t
run with the Moslers for the full race distance, but they are
in another class at a circuit like this.”
Shane Lynch had had “a really fantastic
time out there. I was laughing into my helmet for the first
half hour, some of the best fun I’ve ever had in a race.”
Race winner Jamie Derbyshire had enjoyed himself
thoroughly: “That was a fantastic dice (with Shane Lynch)
great fun and very clean. It’s a fantastic feeling to
win first time out but this is clearly not going to be easy.
The TVR is much more nimble and better out of the slow stuff.
There are other circuits where they might have more of an edge.
I’m looking forward to it.”
The Le Mans bound TVR factory T400Rs are likely
entrants for round two, a two hour race at Snetterton on Easter
Sunday. With Eclipse Motorsport looking towards international
racing in future seasons, this could be an opportunity to see
how they measure up to the required standard. Shane Lynch,
Piers Johnson, Chris Pollard and John Griffiths are no doubt
looking forward to it immensely.