ERS Round 4 – The Start at Silverstone Circuit Northamptonshire England. Sunday 13th September 2015. Photo: Dave Ayres – Picturesports
Thoughts may have been harboured for a while during this season if an Atom Cup car could win an Endurance Racing Series counter outright, and those thoughts were confirmed in Sunday’s 150-minute race; in fact, due in part to attrition, the Honda-engined machines swept the board with a 1-2-3-4 finish, the Paul Donkin/Stewart Drewell #15 car taking the flag after always being in contention for the 60 laps covered.
The Atoms had served notice of intent during the 40-minute qualifying session, with the pole-claiming Phil Knibb/Andrew Rath Radical SR3 posting 2:19.456, just 0.433 ahead of the Donkin’s best, though the Radical pilots were driving round a slipping clutch issue, and reckoned there was another four seconds in the car under optimum conditions. Third on the grid was Mike Smith’s SEAT SuperCopa, half a second shy of Donkin, and ahead of the other three Ariels in the race, led by the Marc Mercer/David Mercer #42, in front of the three-handers of Cars/Coombes/Cunningham and Desbarats/Munns/Lydall, all of which headed the remaining ERS contingent – the Lohen Mini-Cooper of Luke Wright/Andrey Magiy, Duncan Rogers’ BMW M3, shared with 360mrc boss Claire Smith, and the Hyundai Coupe of Sarah Niblett/Steven Ayres, which was struggling with a failed coil, and sadly would not make the start of the race.
Phil Knibb, starting the race in the Radical, took the lead and held it tenuously over the first couple of laps, with Donkin just one second behind, but pre-race adjustments to the Radical’s clutch had worsened the condition, and by lap three it slipped down the order and was pitbound, leaving Donkin in the overall lead, and with Marc Mercer now making a nuisance of himself, the two Atoms going nose-to-tail and side-by-side right up to the first pit stops. Andrew Rath rejoined in the Radical after further clutch adjustments, but made a steamy pit visit just a few laps later, into retirement; “It’s gone from bad to worse, with the clutch, and now it’s overheating and misfiring” rued lead driver Phil Knibb.
The Lohen Mini was also an early pit visitor, Luke Wright reporting a vibration when accelerating out of right-handers; nothing obvious was found, and he was quickly on his way, a little too quickly it seemed, earning himself a stop/go penalty. Claire Smith also brought Duncan Rogers’ BMW M3 in, and the team set about fixing a broken diff hanger.
Donkin and Marc Mercer had battled continuously for the lead from the third lap, and, with nearly 50 minutes of the race run, the Atoms were nearing the extent of their fuel range. Justin Cars was first in, then Donkin and Mercer together, but this caused an issue; Donkin’s crew were still engaged in servicing the #77 Atom, and he was forced to cruise around for another lap.
The SEAT of Mike Smith now assumed the lead, having held a comfortable third place hitherto, and with a 120-litre fuel tank, would be making this race a one-stopper, potentially pitting around 90 minutes in.
Talking of which, with the final 45 minutes of the race approaching, it was time for the second round of pitstops. Donkin relieved Drewell, the Mercer machine changed hands from senior to junior, and Stewart Lyddall and Lee Cunningham jumped into their respective machines for a final thrash, the quartet giving the officials a hard time, with warnings and penalties being dished-out, and Paul Donkin settling as the race drew to a close to finish a lap ahead of Marc Mercer, who had incurred a one-lap penalty for a fuelling infringement at that final stop; 30 seconds was the gap on the road. After a black & white warning flag for exceeding track limits, Donkin exercised some caution while keeping an eye on the gap back to Mercer; “I couldn’t be too adventurous in that stint” he commented.
Stewart Lyddall brought the #6 Atom home third, a lap behind Mercer, and Lee Cunningham finished fourth, a further lap adrift after misunderstanding a five-second time penalty for a stop/go.
#44 Lohen Racing - Mini Cooper#44 Lohen Racing - Mini Cooper - competing in Round 4 of the Endurance Racing Series at Silverstone Circuit Northamptonshire England. Sunday 13th September 2015. Photo: Dave Ayres - Picturesports
The Lohen Mini was the first ERS contender home, bagging Class 5 honours after Luke Wright’s stunning stints sandwiched an impressive middle session by team boss Andrey Magiy, which earned him the ERS Driver of the Day award, and a great result for the team to finish at last, after the woes this season. Claire Smith rejoined in the refettled BMW M3, and continued valiantly in a lone drive (oh, what a driver will do to gain those valuable signatures) to bag second in Class 5 after Duncan Rogers gamely relinquished his stint.
So, the Atoms could not be split, and continued their impressive 100% record for zero race failures since the Atom Cup commenced, reinforcing their suitability for endurance racing.
Report by STEVE WOOD