BGT Media Day 13 - Skater Racing
And Some Marcos History

Marcus (perhaps we should call him Marcos) Potts is uniquely placed to write this detailed item (he was the company’s press officer when much of this tale unraveled) and true to form, he provides a marvelous look back to a previous decade, as well as exploring a new addition to the British GT grid.

There was a new name in the paddock for the British GT Media Day on Wednesday (March 22 2006), but with it came the return of a fondly-remembered car in a (nearly) familiar livery. Skater Motorsport intends to join the championship this season with one of the original Team Marcos LM500 racecars from 1994, and have been working hard to restore the 12 year-old to something like its youthful vigour. The car itself is worth a story in itself, and you’ll find some additional background further down the page.

Stephen Keating (right), who owns the team and whose initials and surname inspired the name, may be new to the British GT scene, but is a long-time sportscar enthusiast and brings no mean experience with him. “I remember by Dad had an MG, and then I bought my first TVR when I was about 25,” he says. “I wrote that off nine months later going too fast in the wet! I decided that the next time I could afford to insure something like that, I’d teach myself how to drive it first.”

That next car proved to be a Lotus Esprit. “I did a whole load of track courses and training sessions, thought I could cope, and then wondered where to go next. I started by doing some Sprints - I assumed it was safer being alone on the track! - and from that I progressed through various stages and ended up in Formula Palmer Audi.”

Along the way he met up with Mike Sweeney, the team’s chief race engineer. Mike’s background includes roughly twenty years in classic motorsport, highlighted by some prestigious appointments preparing such cars as Ray Bellm’s GT40, as well as the Honda S2000 that nearly made an appearance in the British GT a few seasons ago. He also prepared many cars for the Healey family, including one raced by Stirling Moss. A bike racer by passion, Mike’s experience in Classic Touring Cars tempted Stephen to follow that route. “Mike introduced me to the CTC, racing a Rover SD1 in 2002. That was a hoot! It was lots of fun, but not very fast, so I looked for something a little quicker. Mike found me another Rover, an SD1 Vitesse, and with that I won the Classic Thunder Championship in 2003.”

Keating is obviously the kind of person who never stands still for long. “Having done one thing, I’m always looking ahead and up, searching for something more challenging,” he suggests. “After winning the Classic Thunder, I teamed up with Kingsley Martin and bought a BMW to race in the VdeV series in France.” Keating and Martin had been team-mates before, having shared the Raven Motorsports Rover in a one-hour TC enduro at Snetterton in 2002, so Keating knew that he and Martin could work well together. “The BMW was a great tool, but not quick enough. We tended to start near the back every time, but always made up a lot of ground to finish in the top third. It was a great introduction to endurance racing, though, and also to the French way of doing things.”

Towards the end of 2004 the team’s strength was extended by the addition of an MGB, which was raced in the VdeV Historic Championship, while the BMW soldiered on in the ‘Modern’. “In its way, the MG was even more fun!” says Keating. “We were amongst some pretty exotic machinery – GT40s, Lola T70s, Chevron – but our class was dominated by Porsche 911s – fourteen of them, and us. In the Spa six hour we finished sixth in class, only beaten by the non-standard 911s, which was excellent. You don’t think of an MG as being a Porsche beater!”

Frustrated by the lack of speed offered by the BMW, Keating sent Mike Sweeney off in search of something with better potential for 2005. With Keating something of a Marcos enthusiast – his daily runabout is the factory’s first supercharged Mantis, a yellow Spyder with awesome performance for a roadcar – the discovery in Sweden of one of the original Team Marcos LM500 racecars was an opportunity not to be missed. “We’d been looking at some of the former Challenge cars, but when Mike found the LM500, there was no question - it had to be the one.” He and Sweeney went out to meet Erik Holmquist and view the car. “We could tell straight away that it had been a really pukka racecar. It hadn’t run for quite some time. I think Erik raced it a few times in Swedish GT, but had ended up in a gravel trap last time out and he never went near it again! Later, when we started stripping it down, we found the proof — everywhere!”

Keating is evidently impressed by the way the car was originally constructed back in 1994. “It’s an amazing car,” he enthuses. “It’s fantastically well engineered and beautifully put together.” The LM500 dates from a period in Marcos history when the company was on the up, and investment from the new owner was serious enough to mean that the factory racecars enjoyed generous support. The gearboxes were a case in point. “Only two were ever made, as far as we know,” says Keating. “They were designed and built specifically for the car by XTrac, with cast magnesium casings, and cost in the region of £35,000 each. Luckily XTrac still holds spares!”

The car was delivered to the team’s workshops, at that time in France, and rebuilt over the winter of 2004/05. “We had quite a few issues,” explains Keating. “There was far more work required than we’d been expecting, and we were late having it ready for the season. The car had arrived with carbs fitted to the Rover V8, but it was a complete animal with those things. It spat back on the downshift, and there were flames coming out through the bonnet vents! It certainly wasn’t running right, so we converted back to the fuel injection, as original, and that cured most of it. The other problem we kept having was with the diff. We’d qualify well (in the VdeV) but after an hour or so the input shaft would break. We tracked that down to the mounting, which wasn’t up to the job. We’ve now redesigned the fixing, and seem to have solved that as well.”

So 2005 turned out to be a frustrating season for Keating and the LM500 (seen at Spa, above). The potential was tremendous, but rarely realised. It was enough, however, to convince him that the car could be tamed, and would become reliable again.

That season in VdeV was also the stepping-stone he needed to look towards a more serious National championship.

“I learned a lot myself too, as a driver. The LM500 is a very different car to anything I’d driven before, either singe-seater or Touring Car. The engine is so much more free-revving and torquey, and the whole package is in a different league. It took me a while to adapt, especially to the gearchange. It lasts a bit longer now than it used to!”

The car as displayed at Silverstone certainly looked the part (above). The team has gone back to the original Team Marcos scheme, only replacing Computacenter Blue with Teal Green. Underneath, however, there is still a fair amount to do before it will be ready for the first shakedown. “We’re set to go testing towards the end of April,” confirmed Keating, “and then a race in May.” That first race is unlikely to be British GT, and Skater is confirmed for Britcar, where the LM500 will make its debut. “We’re keen to do this in a measured way,” he insists. “We now know a lot more about the car we’ve taken on, and our approach is far more serious as a result. We plan to start with Britcar, and then complete the second half of the British GT, starting with Brands Hatch.”

Keating will be partnered in the LM500 by Mark Powell. Ebullient and enthusiastic, Powell (below, left) comes to GTs after a lengthy career that goes back though Formula Palmer Audi, Formula Renault and Formula Ford to a beginning in Canadian karting, where he was brought up.

“I’ve always been there, or thereabout, but always short of money!” he jokes. Like so many other sportscar racers including Keating, he shares a familiar goal. “My ultimate aim, like Steve, is to get to Le Mans. This is just the beginning.” He has only tested the LM500 once, at the end of last year. “We were on slick tyres and it was wet. I’d call that ‘interesting’,” is his appraisal, but he’s clearly looking forward to driving the Marcos under better, more realistic conditions. “We’re here for the long term. We want to be seen as a serious, professional team.”

To assist in that goal Keating has brought in the hugely experienced Tim Close. Another new name to GT racing, but with a pedigree that goes back to the mid Sixties, when he started his apprenticeship with Charles Lucas Engineering, preparing cars for the likes of Piers Courage in Formula 3. CLE worked on the development of Cosworth engines as well as the Titan F3 chassis, and as one of the few designated Cosworth DFE preparation companies, they were at the forefront of motorsport in that era. That gave Close the experience he needed to set up his own company, which he ran for ten years or so before joining Arch Motor & Manufacturing in the early Nineties. There he was responsible for developing and building chassis for Caterham Cars, as well as work for McLaren and Gordon Murray. Then he met up with Keating and Sweeney, and was tempted to move into motorsport team management. “After four or five months talk, we decided to get together and make this a serious project. This year is a grounding year, to gel everyone together as a team, and then we can build on that for 2007 and beyond; more professional, more determined. We know that the sell-by-date on the Marcos is almost up, and we’re already looking at a long-term replacement, but the LM500 should give us the foundation we need.”

Part of that work will almost certainly require the assistance of someone who knows the car intimately, and has the experience and skill to develop it. “We need to get a professional into the car,” says Close, with a suggestive raise of the eyebrow. The most logical candidate for that role is Thomas Erdos, and we understand that the Brazilian has already been approached and given an enthusiastic response. “He’s so experienced, and so quick,” says Keating. “The chance to spend a day with Tommy would be very special indeed, so we’d love to get him into the car at some point.”

Watch this space!

The Marcos LM500

The Skater Racing LM500 is something of a legend, having appeared in the British GT Championship in various guises over many years. Its debut in March 1994 was at the hands of Marcos MD Chris Marsh, who went on to give the #4 Team Marcos LM500 its first class pole at Oulton Park that June. #3 is seen as a Jim Bamber cartoon, right.

Chris Hodgetts then stepped in as his team-mate in the #3 car (left), taking over from Andy Purvis in what was then a single-driver championship.

Hodgetts won his first race at Brands Hatch outright, winning again at Thruxton, with Marsh finishing third on both occasions and establishing a lap record at Brands in the process.

The launch of the LM600 at the start of the 1995 season gave Hodgetts a new car and the championship title, but Marsh battled on in the LM500, renumbered #55, for the first half of the season, until his own LM600 was ready.

 


Slightly out of sequence, but the image below shows the 1994 British GT team - and as Marcus Potts points out, only he and Graham Nash are still involved in GT racing: they're both there, towards the back, on the left.

With the arrival of the LM600s and their noisy and much admired run at Le Mans, the LM500s were offered for sale. The Autosport advert (below) made much of their potential, and at £50,000 they were obviously being offered cheap – see gearbox cost, above.

We’re not sure who bought them, but the ex-Chris Marsh car re-appeared the following season in the capable care of Graham Nash and NCK Racing.

Marsh himself was back in the car again for the first half of the season, but then duties back at the factory called him away and the team called upon the services of a variety of other drivers to keep the LM500 busy – alongside their stable of two LM600s. Undoubted star of those “others” was Thomas Erdos.

Erdos was in the middle of a series-dominating run with Cor Euser in the BPR at the time, and the Dutchman’s Marcos Racing International LM600 also appeared twice in the British series, winning outright both times. With Euser resisting the temptation to come back again, Erdos was free to accept the offer to drive the LM500 in a couple of later races. He set pole in GT3 both times and, more significantly, out-qualified the entire GT2 grid as well at the Silverstone meeting.

This was in the heady days of GT1, with the likes of the McLaren F1 GTR, Harrier LR9 and the original Lister Storm GT1 heading the field. GT2 included Vipers, Porsches and, somewhat embarrassingly, the team’s Marcos LM600s. The lap record established by Erdos at that meeting was never beaten, and with subsequent changes to the circuit, still stands. Look closely at the photo and you’ll see pride of place on the front splitter went to an organisation known then as Sportscar World.

Towards the end of 1996 NCK entered an agreement to operate the entire Marcos trio on behalf of Millennium Motorsport, and it was under that banner that the cars appeared in 1997. The LM500 raced again, this time in the hands of Simon Tate and Paul Stephens. It enjoyed another good run in GT3, consistently on class pole and achieving enough by way of results to give Tate the class title by the end of the season, by which time Bob Sands had replaced Stephens. The second LM500 also re-appeared that season with Ashley Ward and Richard Cabburn for Streber Motorsport, while a third car was entered towards the end of the year by Jeff Wyatt, who campaigned again in 1998 as Forward GT Racing, double-stinting several appearances on his own but also finding co-drivers in Colin Ward and Rupert Beckwith-Smith. Wyatt also tried his hand again in 1999 and 2000, on neither occasion with much success.

1998 was a turning point for the LM500. It started with great promise when an entry was lodged for Le Mans, taking advantage of what was then the all-new GT3 category. The ACO thought otherwise and dismissed the approach.

The NCK car made only a handful of further appearances in the UK, entering the 1999 British Grand Prix support race in the all-yellow colour scheme, reuniting Bob Sands with the LM500, but partnered on this occasion by Graham Millward.

It then raced again at Donington with Chris Marsh and Calum Lockie and at Silverstone at the end of the year with Martin Byford and Millward.

At the end of the 1999 season the NCK LM500 was sold, heading off to Belgium, where it was converted to left hand drive and raced in the Belcar championship (right). The car’s history then becomes a little hazy, but within 12 months it appears again in Sweden, owned - and being raced in the Swedish GT Championship – by Erik Homquist, the Swedish Marcos enthusiast. He campaigned the car for a couple of seasons, but called it a day after one especially uncomfortable excursion through a gravel trap. The car was taken home and left largely untouched until Skater Racing took delivery in late 2004.

 

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