Recalling classic sportscar encounters of the past, the Lotus 1000km may not have the major billing of the BOAC 1000 but the challenge is no less. With the winter to rebuild cars for next season, both Elise Trophy and Lotus Cup Europe cars joined together and several professional drivers joined in, Jamie Stanley, Martin Donnelly, Eugene O’Brien and Paul O’Neill have all raced in the series before and would face a field of endurance racing novices, for once the hour and thirty minute mark is passed, this would become the longest Elise Trophy and Lotus Cup Europe race.
Bonfire night, in the best British tradition, was dull and damp, so it was almost dark as the session started. Some drivers had been out testing in daylight but the dusk setting added to the nervous feeling as with a long day tomorrow, surely no-one would want to be up late fixing their cars.
The GWS team of Glenn Sherwood, Jamie Stanley and Scott Cruickshank were the early leaders in their Exige, chased by Fox Motorsport 1, with O’Neill, Paul McNeilly and BJ Chong. Jon Walker’s 2-Eleven, shared with Ollie Smith ran third, despite a small off at Graham Hill, from the top Production car of Martin Roberts, Ken Savage and O’Brien’s Perrys equipe, chased by the Drunk and Disorderly team of Andrew Walsh, Andy Gordon and Mark Wilson.
A mist of rain fell upon the circuit as Marcus Jewel, Greg Nobel and Ramon Pineiro’s Track-Club team took up the challenge to Perrys, Drunk and Disorderly falling back behind Force 23, Essex Autosport, Datum and Fox Motorsport 2 and with just over half the session to go, four seconds covered this top ten.
Curiously off-sorts at this stage was the Hoffmans 2 squad of Chris and Nick Randall plus Ben Pitch. They were sixteenth and six seconds off the pace, which was starting to hot up as Fox Motorsport 1 halved the gap to GWS. With twenty-five minues to go Datum hauled themselves above the Perrys team to make it four non-Production cars in the top five as the track dried a little. The dark must have distracted everyone, for although the Indy circuit is busy at the best of times, half the track was nose-to-tail. Not that this posed a problem for Datum, as they demoted Walker down a place.
Just over fifteen minutes to go and Forced 23 were amongst the fast machinery, whilst Perrys, Essex, Track-Club and Drunk and Disorderly held a Production 1-2-3-4 above Fox Motorsport 2. Hoffmans’ top car then broke the top ten, sitting ahead of Fox 2. With last year’s overall winner off the entry list, runner-up Walker should have been in the pound seats, but he was falling down the order, now fifth amongst the fastest cars, with GWS and Fox 1 at stalemate, then Datum and Force 23 and only ten minutes left.
Then Datum took pole by just two-thousandths of a second. It must have stunned GWS, who were sitting pretty up until this point. Pole is hardly a deal-breaker in a 1000km race but it helps to grab the headlines. Sure enough, the effort went in and with two minutes to go they were nine-hundreths to the good. This they held to the flag and will start from pole with Datum on the front row alongside, the Fox 1, Force 23, Walker, Perrys, Essex Autosport, Fox 2, Track-Club and Drunk and Disorderly.
GWS and Datum headed into Paddock Hill together as Skeggs and LaMaster spun at Clearways before they’d even passed the line. LaMaster then spun a lap later at Paddock Hill, his newly-repaired car perhaps not handling as well as it should. Meanwhile Fox had snatched second place before everyone settled in for the long haul. Behind Datum in third, Force 23 headed the leading Production car of Perrys before Walker regrouped and left O’Brien to fend off Essex Autosport.
Hoffman’s 2 was sitting back for a while, clear of the cars ahead and Drunk and Disorderly behind, followed by Track-Club and a group containing Fox, Pans Punters, Bishopshalt and Czubek. Catching them up, or falling back, depending on your point of view, was the Skillful Worker team.
Within 5 minutes, the leaders were already amongst the slower cars and the short track layout would be a test of driver skill, amongst an already busy workload. GWS were still being tracked by Fox but Datum, Force 23 and Walker were lapping together, with Perrys and Essex doing a great job to keep them well in sight. Even at this early stage, the rest were a long way behind but endurance racing is as much a test of stamina as speed, from both car and driver.
Then drama. With just ten minutes gone, Walker’s car was on fire and barely made the pit road. Thick smoke filled the air along the start straight but mercifully the wind was blowing towards the pit road, easing worries for those out lapping. Walker will, however, have been pleased that he brought a spare car to the meeting.
Just a few moments later the Essex car went for Production glory, an endeavour that ended in the gravel at Paddock and this brought out the first safety car. Whilst the cars circulated, Walker’s spare car rejoined a few laps down.
On the restart, Fox almost caught GWS on the hop but the leading car used the lapped traffic ahead to their advantage and battle resumed. For the lead it was very much a two-horse race at this early stage, Force 23 and Datum half a lap back, with Walker’s charge stymied by the the same traffic they were in. Datum fell foul of this and the resulting spin set them back but Force 23 too suffered an excursion, just not as severe. Also spinning was LaMaster and he dropped into the pits for a suspension adjustment, resuming at a cautious pace.
Fox 1 took the lead half an hour in, the relentless pace of O’Neill and Stanley at the front driving an endurance race almost as a sprint. In the group that they were lapping, Drunk and Disorderly spun, giving second place in class to Track-Club as AWS reclaimed the lead. As they left the traffic, Fox 1 assumed the advantage and at this stage both were two laps clear of Force 23 in third! The pace rather worried the e-car team and the recovery operation on the entry to Paddock caused the second safety car intervention.
Two cars back under the safety car, Fox and GWS had no hesitation in assuming the head of the queue at the restart and with Force 23 and Datum behind them, it was a stark reminder of the sheer pace at the front as they were a couple of minutes back in reality. Hoffman’s 2 headed the leading Production car of Track-Club, as Perrys had taken a pitstop, so Drunk and Disorderly and Skillful Worker were leading the chase and not too far behind, either.
Track-Club’s tenure of the lead didn’t last long though, a spin at Surtees causing significant damage to the rear of the car, giving the team a lot of work to do. So Drunk and Disorderly lead Production from Skillful Worker, with the recovering Essex car behind Czubek.
One hour in, Fox led from GWS, with Datum and Hoffman’s 2 third and fourth but a lap down, then Force 23 another lap behind, with Drunk and Disorderly heading Bishopshalt as the driver changes took effect.
Track-Club’s car was only lightly damaged and after a quick application of gaffar tape, was back out. Fox 1 pitted and left GWS out to try and eke out a lead. Datum and Molten Cakes spun together at Clearways, with the former in the gravel as the safety car came out again. As the recovered car sit in the pits, GWS carried on, two laps clear of Hoffman’s 2, with Drunk and Disorderly and Bishopshalt temporarily in third and fourth places another couple of laps back.
The GWS car was still out ninety minutes into the race, with Fox 1 five laps down in fifth, so its pit stop was eagerly awaited. Meanwhile Essex were languishing well down the order, an initially promising recovery spoiled by a suspected ECU problem, causing the engine to cut out intermittently, which even an attempted reboot didn’t help. However the team remained in the action, for the time being at least. Amongst the attrition, Drunk and Disorderly still led Bishopshalt, with Perrys on the way up, from Skillful Worker.
At the 100 lap mark, the leader pitted. It was an agonising wait as Fox 1 raced around to make up the now four-lap deficit but further drama was added when the engine cover came off and a few concerned faces spelt perhaps the beginning of a problem. Nevertheless, Fox 1 was exiting Clearways as the car pulled away, a favourable position at the end of the pitlane still not enough to keep in front. Hoffmans 2 also made a stop, preventing it from holding the lead of the race and in all of this time Perrys were back to the lead of Production from Skillful Worker, behind the leading three. Drunk and Disorderly were down in tenth, behind The Pikeys.
Track-Club, Essex and Walker, in twentieth, seventeenth and eleven places respectively, had not followed procedure during one of the Safety Car periods and were handed drive-through penalties. With all three figuring at some point in the race and suffering numerous problems, this would only add to their woes. Walker stayed out for a while and was ordered to race control and it can only be assumed that strolling to the control tower takes considerable longer than lapping the circuit.
As the hour closed, Perrys suffered a minor knock, Czubek now running ahead of them, with Drunk and Disorderly and Skillful Worker closing in.
Fox were very much on the up, with first and third places, GWS now a lap down but five ahead of Fox 2. Force 23 held fourth place from the Mazda, then Hoffman’s 2 and Perrys. They remained ahead of Drunk and Disorderly, with Skillful Worker and Armour Gel holding the final placings in the top ten.
The e-car team reacquainted themselves with the Paddock Hill gravel, neutralising the race once more. Fox 1 used this opportunity to pit, giving the advantage back to GWS. Meanwhile, at the restart Gary Broad’s engine finally gave up the ghost, denting Skillful Worker’s challenge.
With the leaders running different strategies, Fox 1 were five laps down from GWS, with Hoffman’s 2 and Perrys a further two and four in arrears. But then Fox 1 slowed dramatically and an emergency pitstop was made. The car was effectively rebooted and sent back out, now on the same lap as Hoffman’s 2.
The Datum team, running seventh, were given a drive-through penalty for a yellow flag infringement and with just a two-lap advantage over their earlier sparring partners Force 23, would surely be seeing them again sometime soon. Czubek soon joined them in the pitlane with a similar penalty, whilst running a very competitive fifth behind Perrys.
At around one-third distance, GWS has completed 175 laps, with Fox 1 seven laps down, Hoffman’s 2 half a minute behind, then Perrys a further two laps back, then Datum, Czubek, Fox 2, Drunk and Disorderly, Force 23 and Bishopshalt.
GWS pitted for a driver and tyre change. Again the engine cover came off and it appeared that oil was being added as the Fox car made up some of the deficit, now two laps down. Meanwhile Walker’s car was moving very slowly along the track and pitted with gearbox troubles. It was joined by Fox 2 but whilst their car remained on pit road, engine cover off, Walker’s was in the garage.
In the meantime Hoffman’s 2 had taken second place from Fox 1 whilst the Fox team had their hands full in the pitlane with a routine stop to cope with as well. The stop took even longer as all four wheels were being changed and they rejoined eleven laps down, into a gaggle of cars, in sixth place.
This promoted Perrys and Track-Club up into third and fourth places, still a respectable eight and ten laps down. It could have been even higher when the leader spun at Paddock Hill but fortune was on their side this time and did little to dent their two lap lead.
Fox 2 rejoined the fray, down to fifteenth and twenty-two laps back but there was no sign of Walker and also in the wars were Armour Gel with a broken wheel. Fox 2’s problem then reoccurred, slowing once more. As they pitted, they joined Hoffman’s 2, in for a routine stop, which brought Perrys up to the dizzy heights of second place. Walker’s team rejoined for a lap, pitted briefly, then continued behind Hoffman’s 2 before setting off at a rate of knots but it was now thirty laps off the top ten, so even with five and a half hours to go would struggle to make too many places. But, of course, anything can happen in this time. Even so, with little in the way of permanent retirements after four hours, this was a pretty impressive showing from the field.
Perrys were doing incredibly well to remain in second place, the Hoffman’s 2 car, heavy with fuel, running very much at endurance place. Paul O’Neill, in Fox 1, was chasing down the third-placed car at some rate, nearly three seconds faster, as Hoffman’s 2 could only watch the race leader, metres in front but nine laps ahead, as it continued on its way.
With Hoffman’s 2 dispatched, Perrys, half a lap ahead, was next on the list. With a similar difference in lap times as with Hoffman’s 2, thirty seconds would, in theory, take ten laps and on new tyres it seemed the likely outcome.
Datum were also recovering, in fifth place and leading the second-placed Production car of Czubek, Force 23 and Track-Club. Former class leaders Drunk and Disorderly were out of contention. But attention turned to the sticken cars of The Pikeys and more significantly, Hoffman’s 2. Unsurprisingly, the safety car was out, after a lengthy break.
A stop from Perrys during the interval put Fox back into second and the order was GWS five laps up on Fox 1, with Perrys two back, Datum another lap behind, with Hoffman’s 2 a couple of laps adrift, then Czubek, Force 23, Track-Club, Pans Punters and LaHay holding the top ten places.
Despite the gap between the leaders, the pace picked up again. O’Neill, in the Fox 1 car, and Stanley, in GWS, put in laps as fast as they’ve ever achieved, the former clawing back the gap little by little as the sun shone over the circuit. As O’Neill was clawing back the laps, Team Bumble was stranded on the track at Clearways but carried on before any real worries about another Safety Car period.
Another stop for Fox 1 put them back into fifth, eleven laps off the leaders, with Perrys four laps ahead in second, then Hoffman’s 2 and Datum, who made their stop. Czubek were continuing their excellent pace, ahead of Track-Club, LaHay and Pans Punters. As the hour closed, Perrys were in trouble again, tangling with Bartle’s Butchers at Paddock. Both continued but Roberts in the Perrys car stopped in the pits as the other car took over, now in fourth behind GWS, Fox 1 and Hoffman’s 2.
As the cars passed the 300 lap mark, Hoffman’s 2 pitted and whilst there, the leader joined them. Ten laps ahead, the engine cover once again came off and this time smoke followed it. As Stanley exited the car, team mate Cruickshank signalled that it was all over and a tell-tale puddle of oil as the car was pushed into the garage told its own story. Amazingly at this point the car was still leading by six laps but it wouldn’t be long before Fox 1 would claim the lead back, from Perrys and Datum. Hoffman’s 2 were in seventh at this point after rejoining, nine laps off Fox 1. But if the early pace was taking its toll on the cars, the Perrys garage would be hoping for luck.
With GWS out, Speller in the Datum car got a sniff of victory or at the very least second place and started to gain upon the Perrys car. A 2-Eleven is quicker than a Production car most of the time but endurance racing is about much more than speed alone and it the fact that Perrys were running second on merit for much of the distance so far and two laps ahead speaks volumes, a fact that must have been playing heavily on Jon Walker’s mind as his gearbox troubles resurfaced.
Ironically, just as Speller gained another lap to need just one more, Savage’s car pulled into the pits for an unscheduled stop, handing second place to Datum. The front-right corner was jacked up as O’Brien jumped into the other car and took over but had lost a further two laps to the Datum team. More worrying for them was the proximity of the Track-Club car, only a few seconds behind after six hours of racing. Just as the Track-Club car halved the gap, Hoffman’s 1 came off at Paddock Hill and brought out the safety car. Just the cars of LaHay and Czubek lay between the Production leaders for the restart.
As the Safety Car pulled off, Perrys joined them. Frantic action around the car did little to ease the pain of losing laps to Track-Club and they returned three laps back, seventh place. Having rather more trouble were Essex, their car stopping on the pit exit and pushed back to their garage by the Marshalls.
Fox 1 were continuing their run with no sign of their electrical problems returning, with Datum now in second but five laps down and lapping at a slower pace. Third were Track-Club, followed by Hoffman’s 2, Czubek, Force 23, Perrys, LaHay, Pans Punters and Molten Cakes. But with over 100 laps remaining and right now, a drive-through for Hoffman’s 2 for a yellow flag infringement, it was far from settled. Even more so at the end of the hour, when Track-Club’s car pulled into the pit garage, giving the Perrys car the class lead again, Jewell returning a lap down.
Bishopshalt were shown a warning flag as Hoffman’s 2 took their penalty, perhaps an early sign of fatigue as the closing stages began in earnest. With the Fox car pitting, Datum took the lead and a tyre stop for the former leader was giving the 2-Eleven a huge advantage. When BJ Chong took over the wheel of the car, he had four laps to make up and with Speller pedalling the leading 2-Eleven it was a tall order. In addition, the Hoffman’s 2 car was closing, just over a lap down and lapping over a second quicker.
In the Production field, The Pikeys were fighting their way up the order, a couple of laps behind LaHay and the semi-Production Czubek but the Perrys and Track-Club remained clear at the front, whilst Pans Punters, Molten Cakes and Team Intellekt were enjoying a good run, all ahead of Bishopshalt, on the same lap as Bartle’s Butchers.
Datum made another stop and with the sun low in the sky, a heavy fuel load went in whilst Fox made up the laps. With work carrying on with the car, now stuck in fourth gear, Fox 1 retook the lead and made another three laps whilst Hoffman’s 2 were now in second and only a lap off. Perrys also took the opportunity to pit, Track-Club now leading Production by a lap.
As the hour came to a close, Chris Randall pitted the Europa, just when it was about to claim the lead lap back, and handed over to Pitch, with eight laps to make up and no scheduled stops. Datum were second, four laps adrift and with only one gear, Track-Club in third and leading Production, with Force 23 between them and Perrys, having stopped again and needing a five laps.
The smell of oil and tell-tale smoke from the Datum car spelt the end of its race but Deacon carried on, with Chong sitting on his tail, lucky not to spin on any drops. Deacon must have had the blinkers on, because he didn’t retire until the back end was alight, leaving Hoffman’s 2 seven laps off the lead but with no stops to take and Track-Club third and pitting. Pineiro took over for the final stint but Perrys were a lap and a half in front and in back in a podium position.
With dusk falling, 24-hours on from qualifying, fatigue would have enough of an effect on vision and often with endurance races there is a sting in the tail. Fox 1, with Chong at the wheel, kept up his fine form but a stop loomed and even with a nine-lap lead, nothing could be taken for granted. Rejoining three laps ahead, McNeilly took the wheel in the dark.
O’Brien was giving his Perrys team mates the hurry-up as Pineiro lapped not far off two seconds quicker, a furious pace. The battle for Production lead and third place had barely more than ten seconds to become a reality. As Pineiro closed the gap, Pans Punters lost a car, with Peter Driver suffering a smoky end. Pineiro claimed the Production lead and ahead of them. Pitch claimed a lap off McNeilly as the Hoffman’s car worked hard on a last-minute dash for glory.
As the penultimate hour finished, Fox 1 were three laps clear of Hoffman’s but Pitch was lapping considerably faster than McNeilly. Track-Club held third and pulling away from Czubek and Perrys, whilst LaHay, Force 23, The Pikeys, Pans Punters and Team Intellekt were still in the action.
The Final Laps
The game looked up for Perrys as Pineiro continued his stunning pace but it had been an incredible performance from both, by any means. Pitch kept taking seconds away from Fox 1 but the deficit was increasing dependent on additional pitstops and Fox had taken more at this stage. Perrys were certainly not going to finish fifth after the dizzy heights of second and put pressure on Czubek, lapping barely a second behind them and soon back into fourth. However Pineiro had now put them a lap down, so barring upsets, it looked as far as they’d get.
Pitch’s pace had dropped off in the late stages and with a three-lap lead it looked likely that Fox 1 would take the flag at the 500-lap point. With nearly an hour to curfew the 1000 km mark was going to be reached easily too. Fox reeled off the remaining laps at the same pace as Hoffman’s 2 as the Track-Club car kept itself well out of reach of Perrys, which very nearly didn’t complete the distance as O’Brien’s car pulled into the pits in a sickly state, giving Savage a last minute run. After them we had Czubek, LaHay, The Pikeys, Pans Punters, Force 23 and Intellekt completing the top ten. Every one of them derserved a medal but it was Fox 1 that took the ultimate spoils. With enough racing for two seasons of the series, it was the perfect end to an incredible season.