Motorsport – 2006 British GT Championship – Oulton Park
Promise Only Partly Fulfilled
Team co-owner Chris Pollard was looking forward
to another year’s competition, and this year, with the benefit
of a season’s running in their Mosler MT900R under the team’s
belt, and a strong driver pairing in Phil Keen and Lee Caroline,
there should be a lot to look forward to. Most teams would consider
a pair of podium finishes in the first races of the season as a
dream start, but for Eclipse it was more a feeling of promise unfulfilled.
Saturday morning’s practice session was a
case of scrubbing some tyres in on a drying track, and putting some
miles on the car. Despite the agenda, with the likes of Keen and
Caroline at the wheel, it was obvious that they would try for a
lap time once or twice in the 75 minute session. Number 69, the
favoured Eclipse designation, appeared third on the timesheet by
the end, with a 1:46.696, two seconds off the quickest time - set
by the series newcomer, the Panoz.
The track was
completely dry by first qualifying and Phil Keen took the first
of the two sessions, qualifying for the race later the same afternoon.
Keen lived up to his name: as the lights went green
at the end of the pitlane he was released behind Chris Niarchos,
but he made his way past on the out-lap, giving himself plenty of
space to attack. The LNT Panoz set the pace throughout the session.
with the Scuderia Ecosse Ferrari always in pursuit. Those two had
set the marker post for Eclipse to beat, and the chances are they
will be the cars that will be up there fighting all season - and
that is exactly where Eclipse want to be too.
hampered by a tyre problem though, changes to the rear of the car
weren’t backed up by any data for the new Avon control tyres,
which left the team on the back foot. “At least we think we
know what we need to sort out,” Chris Pollard offered after
the session. Despite the tyre problem, Keen was able to retake third
with a 1:44.895 after David Jones temporarily demoted him in the
lone GT2 Porsche.
There was no time to work on the problem by the
start of the second, 15 minute, qualifying session, so Lee Caroline
headed out for his first competitive session in the car knowing
it would be a tough task to be competitive. A 1:46.840 half-way
through the session saw him towards the wrong end of the top ten.
He tried in vain to find a gap in traffic, but there was only half
a second on offer, his best in the session was a 1:46.360, a disappointing
ninth on the grid for Monday, fifth in class. Plenty of time for
the team to work on the tyre issue at least, and Caroline likes
a hard-charging challenge…
Keen didn’t have the luxury of a clear day to work on the
car though: his race start was just two and a half hours after qualifying
The tyre problem was still there. Without data,
the team was effectively feeling around in the dark. They could
change one way and then completely the other way, maybe it would
work, maybe not. With more tyre testing, the parameters will become
better defined and tweaks to set-up will become more predictable,
but this was no comfort to Eclipse now.
Phil Keen started
the race well: “I got a decent start and past Niarchos into
the first corner, but I knew that he would get back past and he
did about three corners later. I braked and he was still flat out!”
Keen is not
known for early braking, so it was clear that the car didn’t
feel right, and as a result the lead two cars pulled away as Phil
Keen did his best to keep whatever pace he could muster out of the
car. “There were so many tyre compounds to try and so much
changing the car around trying to find time, but we seem to have
gone backwards since Friday.”
briefly as the order was jiggled by pitstops, the rest of the race
passed largely without incident, as both drivers fought to keep
the car on the black stuff through the twisties. Caroline too agreed
that the car “understeered everywhere, so I couldn’t
get the power down without waiting for what seemed like an eternity.
It seemed to get worse and worse throughout my stint.” They
at least finished well clear of the Eurotech Porsche.
Although both drivers were pretty glum after the
race, one bit of good news passed Keen’s lips - “to
be honest, this probably isn’t the car’s best circuit
principal John Griffiths (right) reckoned he knew “what we
need to do and which way we need to go to get it to go round corners.
It’s basically been a fraught two days testing so far and
we’ve found out we went the wrong way for the race, but we
should be there by Monday.”
Indeed, Griffiths was grinning after Monday morning’s
warm-up session. “We’ve gone with what we know and straight
away Lee says it’s a different car, he can actually drive
it now. In warm-up he was doing comfortable 1:45s, even with a long
brake pedal, which was probably costing a second or so. He’s
got quite a few to get past, but we should go pretty well today.”
If ever there
was a case of speaking too soon, that was it, and Lee Caroline summed
it up “on the first lap the rear wheel bearing went, so we
had no brakes whatsoever: well by the time Phil took the car over
the pedal was going straight to the floor.”
managed to make up two places on that first lap, then a further
place when David Jones lost a lot of time and consequently positions,
probably as a result of a spin. The two GTC leaders were next up
in Caroline’s cross-hairs, but it was hard work for him to
reel them in, let alone pass them.
brakes, I couldn’t outbrake anyone anywhere, so I just had
to get past traffic whenever I could. It was a shame, because the
handling was so much better than yesterday.”
On lap 7, Caroline had hauled the wounded Mosler
up to fourth, but was only able to lap safely in the high 1:45s,
so the cars in the podium positions were already 20 seconds away.
“I just had to try and keep it in one piece,
I didn’t want to push too hard with a wheel bearing disintegrating
and to be honest, I am happy that we were lucky enough to finish,
so to come away with two podium finishes isn’t so bad.”
and slightly dismayed Caroline handed over to Phil Keen almost exactly
halfway through the race, but Keen’s role had already been
determined. Keep a steady pace, don’t break the wheel bearing,
but reel in Kevin Riley in the Rollcentre Mosler.
Riley was 26 seconds ahead when Keen emerged from
the pitlane, but the Eclipse Mosler posted two laps five seconds
quicker, then two laps six seconds quicker. 12 minutes before the
chequered flag and Keen was through, with the car’s best race
lap of 1:45.361. He fulfilled his role perfectly, doing a great
job for the team and getting the car home in one piece, not to mention
a highly creditable third spot overall and in class.
The team consider that those two third places were
only creditable given the circumstances, and although racing and
beating the Panoz and Ferrari is an almighty challenge, it is one
that Eclipse will doubtless relish.
Roll on Donington