14 February 2012
NRD 7 saw another new event on the card for UAE National Racing: A 1hr mini-endurance race with both GT and Touring cars in the mix.
GNSS Racing (Driver: Jonathan Mullan) recently suffered a succession of DNF’s in the Championship down to reliability issues and the main target for this weekend was to thoroughly test the car and achieve a podium (well you have to aim high!).
After the recent electrical issue, extensive re-wiring was undertaken by Lap57 and a pre-race testing session on Thursday afternoon at the circuit revealed that all was well as respectable lap times were posted.
Friday morning started with early warm-up which revealed that a disaster was looming. Overnight the car had transformed from a podium contender to being put on the back of a rescue truck. The car continuously shut down when the revs dropped below 4,500rpm turning into club link.
Further checks were undertaken prior to qualifying. On the 1st outlap it was apparent the fault was still there. Despite all efforts including changing the ECU Jonathan couldn’t complete a full flying lap and posted a time 12-secs off the Class 2 pole! Things were not looking good for the race.
Luckily there was a four gap between qualifying and the race so the team from Lap57 tediously worked through the car checking all of the electrical connections. Two potential problems were identified, these being a loose grounding wire and one of the intank fuel pumps. A replacement pump was collected from the garage and installed with a new ground connection made. Had these fixed the problem, the only way the team would find out is to start the race.
One area of concern how long would the car run on its 30L fuel tank. Luckily for the team Ian Rodgers of SVDP Racing was helping out and he was most insistent that the car would run for 30 minutes without a problem. Whilst Ian was around we also got him to plan who was going to what during the compulsory 5 minute pitstop (well Ian has team managed / engineered 3 24hr races so he is well versed in such matters).
Soon enough the start time approached. Being told that we 12 minutes before the race started and being promptly told that we actually only had 3 minutes to be on the grid caused a minor drama, but Jonathan made the grid. The race was a rolling start with the mandatory 5-minute pit-stop to be scheduled between 25-35th minute(s). The team had a plan, now it was time to see if the plan would work out…..
The grid set off on their warm up lap and by turn 14 the cars were lined up like animals entering the ark (2 by 2), round turn 16, heading for the start line and………. green flag the race is on. By Turn-1 Jonathan moved into 3rd place and within another lap settled into 2nd 3-seconds behind Duel Racings Ramzi Moutran. The pit-board times closely monitored and communicated by Team Manager Theo Souris indicated that Jonathan was closing the gap lap on lap and on lap 7, the Mossler GTA car took the inside line into the club link, slowed up Ramzi with the exit and Jonathan took the opportunity to close the gap to bumper to bumper racing, like a panther on a wounded wildebeest Jonathan takes the opportunity and successfully makes the move out of T-16 (the last turn) to take the lead.
Over the next few laps Jonathan kept pushing and built up a lead of 1.3 seconds. Ian and Theo were closely monitoring the race time as they wanted to pit Jonathan as soon as the pit stop window opened.
Ian calls out 5,4,3,2,1 pit stop window is open, like a coiled viper, Theo displays the board to Jonathan telling him that the team have finished their ice cream and that he can pit (think of Days of Thunder). Ian is dispatched to the pit entry to start the pit stop time and Theo heads to the pit garage to control the tyre check. Jonathan pits with a 1.3 second lead, not much but a lead is a lead. 1st and 2nd places as both cars pitted together, this added a touch of a pressure to the pit stop.
Tyre pressure and drinks bottle was checked within 1 minute, refuelling completed after a total of 3 minutes. This meant that Jonathan had to wait a further 2 more minutes, who was eager to get back out racing. With 20 seconds to go, Sami pulled out of his pit box and headed towards the pit exit. Jonathan couldn’t leave early otherwise he would incur a drive through penalty. Ian stood there keeping 1 eye on the stop watch, 1 eye on Jonathan and 1 eye on Sami. Jonathan sat in the car looking like a child with a AED 500 note stood outside a sweat shop that was just about to open. Easy tiger…….3,2,1 and Ian releases Jonathan back into the race, in front of Sami. The pit stop process was seamless and upon exit from pit-lane the excitement was back on. Both pit stops couldn’t have been more than 2 seconds over the 5 minutes, a job well done by the teams.
The second stint (30-mins) saw Jonathan gradually but surely extend his lead by between 0.2 and 0.4 seconds a lap. Slowly but surely the lead was extended to 4.8 seconds where Jonathan eased his pace slightly to maintain the gap. Sami was obviously pushing hard as he brought the gap down to 3.8 seconds. No worries though as Jonathan returned to his earlier pace and increased the lead back upto 5 seconds.
The car and Jonathan were now into unchartered territory as nether had raced beyond 25 minutes before, would the car and Jonathan survive. Lap by lap Jonathan kept going running metronomic laps (less than 1 second difference between his quickest and slowest laps over 33 laps), the race time slowly ticked towards the 1 hour mark.
Hearts started to pound as a race win started to dawn on the team. Out of the last turn comes Jonathan, followed by the race leading Ferrari which had lapped Sami, what is that that is being shown to the Ferrari, it’s the chequered flag. Theo and Ian look at each other and hope that Jonathan keeps going and completes the lap. No fear, Jonathan keeps going and takes the chequered flag in FIRST PLACE. Time to celebrate.
The team congregate at the technical bay to congratulate Jonathan when he gets out of the car. Was Jonathan happy? does the sun raise in the east? After the problems the team experienced in the morning winning the race was just so special. This only left one more thing, podium time, this time it was the top step of the podium. Sadly Ian couldn’t join the team for the podium celebrations as he had to go and run one of the Vendetta Racing Triumphs.
A truly gripping race between both teams. A great experience and result which the team will take forward to the next Championship round in early March.