Last lap heartbreak denies Jem Hepworth inaugural McLaren Trophy title
Jem Hepworth and Rafa Martinez were one lap away from sealing the inaugural McLaren Trophy Europe title in the 570S class at Circuit de Catalunya, when their car broke down. Nevertheless, Jem and Rafa showcased great speed, consistency, racecraft in the battles and fighting spirit, with an impressive progression from the start of the season.
Jem Hepworth was one lap away from sealing the inaugural McLaren Trophy Europe title in the 570S class at Circuit de Catalunya, Barcelona, after a remarkable weekend that saw the British racer and her teammate Rafa Martinez climbing the second step of the podium in race 1, entering the final race of the season in the championship lead.
A last lap technical issue denied Hepworth the title, in a heartbreaking and dramatic end of the season which nevertheless highlighted their development as racing drivers, in a growing and competitive first season for the McLaren one-make series, which saw a record number of entries at the season finale in Barcelona.
Hepworth and Martinez - who share the #24 Greystone GT-operated McLaren 570S - had a 100% podium rate after the first three round of the season, after a remarkably consistent first half of the championship at Paul Ricard, Spa Francorchamps and Nürburgring - where the duo claimed their first class win.
Coming into the penultimate round at Hockenheim, Germany, Hepworth and Martinez remained in the championship fight with another win in race 2, bouncing back from their first DNF on Saturday. With one double-header to go, Jem and Rafa would have to outscore their competition, in an extraordinarily tight 570S class.
In a 15 car field at Montmelo, it would be soon clear that the three-way battle for the crown would go down to the wire. Martinez - protagonist of a spectacular progression throughout the season, in what is effectively his rookie year in sports cars - and Hepworth led the second practice, then carried momentum into the third practice, with a promising second place just before qualifying. In Q1 on Saturday morning Martinez placed the #24 Greystone GT McLaren in second place among the 570S field, 10th overall, highlighting his continuous progress.
Rafa Martinez was in charge of the first stint in race 1, as he lined up just behind the #60 SMC Motorsport McLaren of Alfonso Colomina on class pole. Martinez had a good launch but then had to slot behind Danny Henrey after the direction change of turn 1 and 2, as the whole 15 car field navigated the first corner unscathed.
Despite a spin for the Artura driven by Ron Trenka the race remained green and Martinez pushed hard to put pressure on Henrey. Class leader Colomina - who was mingling with the Arturas - avoided a contact happening just in front of him when Albert Jochems saw a gap and dived at turn 4 which ended in a contact with David Waddington that triggered the safety car on lap 4.
Jan Klingelnberg's car came to a halt while under safety car and, once also the #22 car was cleared by the marshals, the race was back underway with 26 minutes to go. Martinez - who had already gained five spots overall - hunted down Alfonso Colomina for the class lead. When Mark Hopton spun around at the exit of La Caixa hairpin, Colomina and Martinez had to take avoiding action, resulting in Danny Henrey again joining the leading duo in the battle for the 570S class top spot. The three continued to run at close distance, as Rafa Martinez had to keep Henrey behind for the championship battle.
The pit window opened with 20 minutes to go and Rafa handed over to Jem Hepworth. The Greystone GT duo had a clean pit stop and Hepworth rejoined third in class, having served the success penalty from the Hockenheim win; Colomina pitted on lap 17 and Hermann Backus took over the #60 570S SMC McLaren.
Thanks to some fast laps, Hepworth emerged ahead of Backus - but Bradley Ellis (Speedworks Motorsport) had taken over the lead after the pit cycle.
Jem had a strong stint but couldn't close in on Ellis, albeit she extended the gap to the rest of the pack and was almost 10 seconds clear of third placed Broadhurst.
After a very consistent race for the British racer, Hepworth took the chequered flag in second place in the 570S class. With Joe Osborne hitting trouble following a second pit stop for a door malfunction, the championship fight was as open as ever: Jem Hepworth and Rafa Martinez had taken the points' lead by two points, ahead of Danny Henrey and Foster/Ellis - the latter only four points behind the leaders.
With such a compact points standings, it was all about finishing ahead in race 2, as the first ever titles of the McLaren Trophy were assigned on Sunday. Jem Hepworth took the start of race 2 from the class lead after a spirited performance from Rafa Martinez in Q2 that had put the Greystone GT McLaren ahead of class rivals Bradley Ellis and Joe Osborne. The race was off to a challenging start, as Jem got stuck behind Ellis and Osborne and she slotted into fourth place in class after the first lap. Chasing Greystone GT teammate Michael Broadhurst, Hepworth kept touch with the front runners in class with consistent lap times, holding her own among a field of very experienced drivers. At the same time, Bradley Ellis opened a small gap to Osborne, having also passed the Artura entry of Warren Hughes Hepworth kept the fight alive and, with a great stint, she overtook Broadhurst on lap 7 - but the latter fought back. The two were joined by Ross Kaiser in a 3-way battle for third in class. Meanwhile, Osborne had caught up with the 570S class leader Ellis and started to put pressure with 34 minutes to go, when the pit window opened. Most of the 570S class drivers pitted on lap 10: Ellis handed over to David Foster and Rafa Martinez took over from Jem Hepworth. A mistake from the #15 7TSIX McLaren meant that Joe Osborne missed the pit window, dropping out of title contention after receiving a 40 second penalty. Now fourth in class, Martinez would have to catch David Foster to chase the title. The founder of Rafa Racing Club had great pace and cleared the Artura of Klaus Halsig which allowed him to start his recovery drive. Martinez was faster than Pendrigh but had over 5 seconds to close in the final 15 minutes of the race. The El Salvador-born racer pushed hard and caught Pendrigh with 9 minutes to go, overtaking his opponent. The move gave him third place - a crucial position for the championship, because it would have handed the title to Hepworth/Martinez for one point. On a dramatic final lap, though, Martinez' car came to a halt on track with a technical issue, denying Jem Hepworth and her co-driver the championship title. David Foster in fact took the win - and the crown - ahead of Shaun Pendrigh and Danny Henrey. It was heartbreak for Jem Hepworth and Rafa Martinez, who nevertheless showcased great speed, consistency, racecraft in the battles and fighting spirit - especially thanks to an impressive progression from the start of the season. Both drivers proved to belong to the top among the Pro and the Am competitors and, while three points eventually separated them from the title, they showed great potential to build upon in their next motor racing adventure.