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Eclipse Motorsport – Donington Park – R1 British GT Championship
Go Shane!

New season, and a new driver (Piers Johnson), new sponsor (harman / kardon audio) and new colour scheme (dark blue and orange) are here to ring the changes for the Eclipse Motorsport squad.

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.

dailysportscar.comShane 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 ahead.

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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.

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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.

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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 even then.

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By now just the top three were on the lead lap, a mark of the furious pace set by the Moslers and the Eclipse Motorsport TVR.

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.

dailysportscar.comSo 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.
GG

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