Eclipse Motorsport – 2006 British GT Championship – Donington Park
Unequal Struggle

Qualifying was the first track action for the Eclipse Motorsport Mosler MT900R, on Saturday at Donington Park. A suspicion that all was not quite right with the Chevrolet engine on starting it up prior to free practice led to a precautionary engine overhaul instead. Phil Keen explained: “We had a low compression reading on one of the cylinders so we had to be cautious. We took the engine out and got some parts from the workshop, which is only about five minutes away from here. The guys put some new bits in and brought the engine back and had it ready for qualifying, which was a pretty good job, but we lost the whole session practice session.”

Most of the team members were hoping for a wet track, and at times in the morning it seemed that the track could never be anything but. As seems to be the norm with a British GT meeting at Donington though, it was four seasons in one day, with chilly winds, rain and sunshine all featuring. If there was one constant about the weather it was the breeze, and that led to a dry circuit for qualifying. “That doesn’t bother me actually,” said Keen, “the car is quick in the wet or dry now. We’ve done some work with Avon and now have a different compound and a smaller sidewall, which seem to be a lot better.”

If there was also a constant for Eclipse’s 2006 it was luck – they were having lots of it, and all of it bad. Neither driver could get the best out of the new tyres in qualifying, as another problem afflicted the Mosler. Lee Caroline struggled through the first 15 minute session, and only managed a disappointing 1:13.2. “I went out to do the best I could but it was obvious that something was wrong, so I came in and asked them to make a change to the roll-bar. I went back out but it didn’t make any difference and I had massive roll-oversteer all the way through. We made as many changes as we could to make it better for Philip, but it still wasn’t right. With the problem, we could never have sorted it with just set-up changes anyway.”

Caroline explained the problem to Keen as he handed the car over, but with only five minutes between sessions, the problem could not be identified never mind resolved.

Phil Keen did the best he could, which was a 1:12.085, then a 1:11.556. “We knew there was something wrong at the front left or rear right, but didn’t realise what the problem was until afterwards. We’ve been round here with 10.5s easily in testing though, which would have put us on the front row.”

The suspension may not have been quite right, but the engine was certainly healthy. This was proved by the speed trap readings, which showed Eclipse right up there ahead of the rest. “Its not just down to the power though, it’s the aerodynamics and the fact that is quick out of the corners before the speed-traps,” explained Phil Keen.

A wet and brief warm-up first thing on Sunday morning was inconclusive, but the wet conditions masked the fact that the handling problem from qualifying had not been fixed.

Lee Caroline started the race, but found almost immediately that “the problem was still there, really bad roll-oversteer and you just can’t get away from it. When it was really wet at the start of the race it was not so bad, because the car wasn’t loading up the same, but once it started to dry out you couldn’t turn it at speed, or accelerate without feathering the throttle.”

The full wet conditions at the start of the race suited Eclipse as well as any conditions could then, and Caroline tried to make the most of it by “passing Niarchos in the Ferrari on the first lap, but I knew I didn’t have the pace to stay in front so I had to let him back past, and the Eurotech Porsche too. Without the pace, and with it being such a long race, there was no point fighting when the car was like this."

He did give it a fight though...

"I even had to let the GTC leader past, but when I did he started holding me up so I passed him again.”

It was all backwards from there though, on the drying track, as the Emotional Engineering Vauxhall Monaro driven by Matt Griffin reeled the Mosler in, Griffin having a look down the inside 27 laps into the race.

Caroline saw the attack coming and “gave him room for the apex but he locked up and ran wide into me and knocked me onto the grass and into the gravel. He totally missed the apex and I think if I wasn’t there he would probably have thrown it off.”

With the Mosler beached in the gravel (and poor Lee Caroline trudging home), the unequal struggle of Donington Park was over and by the time the chequered flag fell, talk in the Eclipse camp had turned to identifying and fixing the handling problem. The team now have a sickening suspicion that the problem might be more fundamental than a suspension / set-up problem, so there could be some serious work to do before the next round – Mondello Park at the end of June
Paul Slinger

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