Shaun Balfe and Jamie Derbyshire won a thrilling opening round of the 2003 British GT Championship at Donington Park, their Mosler MT900R snatching the lead on the very last lap of the race and beating the sister car of Rob Barff/Tom Herridge to the flag by just a tenth of a second after 75 minutes of flat-out racing.
In the early laps, the two Moslers led in formation with the TVR of Shane Lynch/Piers Johnson chasing hard as they quickly pulled clear of the rest of the field. Just behind leader Herridge, the battle between Derbyshire and Lynch was a highlight of the race, the cars dicing side-by-side through the Craner Curves on several laps.
Into lap 18, the leaders caught the Renault Clio V6 of Enzo Mucci on the exit of the chicane and Herridge was held up. As the Moslers went each side of the backmarker, Lynch saw his chance and tucked in behind Derbyshire into Redgate as they both dived ahead of Herridge. Two laps later, Lynch grabbed the lead with a bold move into Redgate.
''I had a really good time out there,'' the Boyzone
star said, having led a GT race for the first time.
After the routine pit-stops, Barff emerged in the lead thanks to a very rapid driver change by the Rollcentre team. However, lap by lap, Balfe closed the gap to the leader, as well as edging clear of Johnson, who was now in the TVR. Into the last 15 minutes of the race, the pair of Moslers made a magnificent sight as they battled furiously for the lead, Balfe constantly attacking for the lead.
It seemed that Barff had things just under control, but onto the Craner Curves for the final time they caught the Chrysler Viper of Annie Templeton. The Moslers went each side of the Viper, and Balfe managed to grab the lead. Barff had no chance to re-challenge, and they raced over the line split by just a tenth of a second.
''Rob ended up on the mucky stuff and I got the clean lap,'' said Balfe after the grandstand finish, ''It was just luck.''
Barff was gutted to be denied victory after such a strong performance, while Johnson brought the TVR home third, with Lynch taking the 76 Lubricants driver of the day award for his efforts.
''Shane did a fantastic job,'' Johnson admitted of his new-for-2003 team-mate, ''That was the best result we could hope for today.''
A super-human effort by the Countdown Developments team to get the TVR T400R of Steve Hyde/Gareth Evans onto the grid was rewarded with a charge through the field to finish fourth. The car suffered propshaft failure on Saturday, but the team worked long into the night to repair the damage done and the drivers duly tigered up the field.
Although beaten to the first corner by the Morgan Aero 8 of Keith Robinson, it was the Porsche 911GT3 Cup of Patrick Pearce that soon took control of the GT Cup class. Such was the pace of the Pearce/Matt Griffin Porsche that they won the class by more than a lap from the Morgan Aero 8 of Neil Cunningham/Keith Robinson.
''That's just fantastic to start the championship with a win,'' said Griffin.