Masters News

Saturday 08th April 2023

Wiltshire romps to victory in first Masters Endurance Legends race at Donington

Stuart Wiltshire dominated the first Masters Endurance Legends race at Donington Park by storming off to a winning margin of 50 seconds over the second-placed Morgan LMP2 of Dean Forward and Jamie Thwaites. Towards, the Peugeot 90X driver again managed to break the one-minute lap barrier just as he had already done in qualifying.

“It’s the best car I’ve ever driven”, Wiltshire said about the Peugeot 90X. “And dipping below the one-minute mark – I just had to do it for the fans. It was all about beating the clock today.”

During the opening laps, Forward battled with Mike Newton’s MG-Lola EX257 to claim second on lap 4. Newton then failed to survive the pitstop phase, returning to the pits with a fuel leak. This left Thwaites out with a comfortable second place. Michael Birch made it into top-three with a strong race in the Ligier JSP2-17, climbing up from seventh on the grid.

“Up until this race, I literally spent 20 minutes in this car!” said Thwaites, “so I was still learning as I went along. But Dean flies in everything he drives!”

It was a similar story with Birch. “First time in this car for me, I’ve only done some testing before, so I’m pretty happy to end up on the podium!”

Meanwhile, Wayne Marrs starred in his Mercedes AMG GT3 to claim a sensational fourth overall while comfortably winning the GT class from Christopher Compton Goddard whose Ferrari 430 GT3 ended up in seventh place. The two leading GT cars sandwiched the two leading P3 cars, with the Marcus Jewell/Ben Clucas Ligier JSP3 just pipping the Stephan Joebstl/Andy Willis example despite having incurred a stop-and-go penalty for stopping short at the pitstops.

“Yeah, fourth overall – not too bad!” said a jubilant Marrs. “And it was fun fighting the prototypes. At one time, we were three wide down the straight!”

“It was good”, said Compton Goddard, “much better compared to where we were on Thursday in testing. I did lose the grip on both rear tyres, but we managed to make it to the end.”

On a sunny and bright Easter Saturday morning, the chill was still very much in the air when the Masters Endurance Legends grid lined up for its first race of the 2023 season. Starting from the pits, however, was Robin Ward who had added experienced WEC and ELMS driver Richard Bradley as a last-minute co-driver, which not only meant a pitlane start for both races but an elite driver time penalty at the pitstops as well – it only added to the challenge.

Because of the morning cold, the field would start with an additional lap behind the safety car, but as soon as they were allowed, Wiltshire duly powered away to lead from Mike Newton’s MG-Lola EX257, Dean Forward in the Morgan LMP2 shared with Jamie Thwaites, and Marcus Jewell in the first of the Ligier JSP3s. Michael Birch in the Ligier JSP2-17, meanwhile, had made up a place, with Wayne Marrs in the leading GT car following him through at the cost of Stephan Joebstl in the second JSP3 shared with Andy Willis. Further back, Ward had already passed Marrs’ GT rivals Christopher Compton Goddard and Jason Wright.

At the front, Wiltshire had pulled out a four-second lead on lap 4, with Forward managing to get ahead of the MG-Lola after three laps of strong defense by Newton. Ten seconds further down the road, Jewell was holding off Birch, with Marrs now ahead of Craig Davies in the JSP3 shared with Ron Maydon, Howard Spooner in the Jade-Nissan, and Ward, who had now progressed past Joebstl and Mike Furness in the Courage-Judd LC75.

Ten minutes into the race, Wiltshire’s lead was up to seven seconds, as Forward now kept the Peugeot 90X honest, himself having dropped Newton by some 13 seconds. Birch was still hounding Jewell, with Marrs keeping Davies at bay. Further down the field, Compton Goddard in the Ferrari 430 GT3 had managed to shake off Jason Wright’s Ferrari 430 GT2 by 21 seconds.

For a while, Wiltshire was controlling business at the front, but on lap 11, he cranked out another fastest lap of the race to increase the gap to Forward to ten seconds. Newton now trailed by 22 seconds while Birch had moved up into fourth, having found a way past Jewell. 50 seconds behind the leader, Davies was now putting the Mercedes AMG GT3 of Wayne Marrs under pressure. All gaps were soon negated, though, as the safety car was out as Howard Spooner’s Jade-Nissan had hit the gravel at Coppice – right on the cusp of the pit window opening. This meant that almost everyone was into the pits for their mandatory pitstop, with only the Ward/Bradley Ligier staying out for another lap. Meanwhile, Jason Wright’s Ferrari 430 GT2 was out after having sustained damage from contact.

On lap 15, though, Newton was in for a second time, as was Furness. But while Furness went back out, Newton’s MG-Lola remained stationary, the team investigating a potential fuel leak. He would not go out again. So now the order was Wiltshire leading from Thwaites, Marrs in a stunning third overall, and Birch as the last man on the lead lap. Clucas and Willis were next, leading Compton Goddard, with Bradley fighting Maydon and Furness. The Jewell/Clucas car was under investigation, however, and soon it was handed a stop-and-go penalty for stopping short at the stops.

With ten minutes left on the clock, Wiltshire had romped off to a 17-second lead over Thwaites, with Birch now in third, having dealt with Marrs. Clucas serving his penalty meant that Willis was now up to fifth overall and in the P3 class lead while Compton Goddard in seventh was chased by Bradley who had repassed Maydon and Furness.

On lap 27, the leader now out to fully enjoy himself dieseled to a new fastest lap of the race, still shy of breaking the one-minute mark as he had done in practice, but on lap 28, he did manage to dip below, recording a 59.956. This left Thwaites trailing by 31 seconds, but holding a healthy margin of 18 seconds over Birch himself.

At the chequered flag, Wiltshire won by 50 seconds over Thwaites, with Birch a lapped third. Marrs was fourth overall and the first of the GTs, with Chris Goddard’s Ferrari 430 GT3 in seventh. Behind the Mercedes, Ben Clucas did incredible work to pip Willis for fifth, negating the setback from the stop-and-go penalty.


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