One year on from securing the 991 Teams’ ‘Europe’ crown, Spain’s E2P Racing heads into this year’s Hankook 24H BARCELONA in championship contention once again. As CREVENTIC discovers with E2P Group CEO Javier Morcillo, 2023 has been a commendable first year for the Spanish team’s Porsche 991.2 GT3 R, even if there’s still a lot left to learn.
Words – James Gent
Images – Nico Mombaerts / Petr Frýba
E2P Racing has been on an impressive run so far in 2023. One minor blip aside at the season opener in Mugello, the Spanish team has finished the last four races in succession on the GT3-AM class podium, and the last three in the overall top five. Results that, heading into this year’s Hankook 24H BARCELONA, have put E2P Racing in GT3-AM Teams’ title contention. All the more impressive, considering this is its first full 24H SERIES season and the first, full stop, for its brand-new Porsche 991.2 GT3 R.
Unsurprisingly, with momentum on his team’s side, E2P Group CEO Javier Morcillo is looking to repeat, if not improve upon, those results going into the final European round of the year on home turf.
“The only expectation is to be better than yesterday, every single day,” Javier explains to CREVENTIC at the Hankook 12H ESTORIL. “The more we understand the car, the more we get a little bit better everyday and the drivers feel more confident. So we’re very happy with how this season is going.”
Javier, an endurance racer in his own right, knows whereof he speaks. Before he took the helm at ‘Escuela Española de Pilotos’ in 2004, this Madrid native made his professional single seater debut in 1992 in Spain’s Formula Ford 1600, a series he’d almost win outright the following year. Thereafter, Javier made stop-offs in Spanish Formula Renault – cue another runner-up spot in 1996 – and British Formula Ford before re-focusing his attention on endurance racing from 2007 onwards in the Copa de España de Resistencia (now ‘GT-CER’) and Britcar.
Though he admits his days as a professional racer are now behind him – “I am the owner and the director of the company, and accidentally I am driving as well!” – Javier is still at the forefront of Spanish motorsport with E2P. Launched as the ‘Escuela de Pilotos Emilio de Villota’ by its Formula Aurora and Spanish Touring Car-winning namesake in 1980, E2P was one of, if not the, first driver training programs in Spain and Portugal, and has seen the high-profile likes of Carlos Sainz, Marc Gené, Pedro de la Rosa, and, yes, even two-time F1 World Champion Fernando Alonso (for a fleeting cup of coffee, anyway…) walk through its doors since
The racing side of its operation is similarly tenured having been established in 1982, and while de Villota’s stake in the Escuela was sold in 2004 – the subsequently established ‘Emilio de Villota Motorsport’ went on to compete at the sharp end of European F3 Open and the short-lived, football-inspired Superleague Formula – the devotion with which the school was founded is no less important to Javier and his team today.
“It’s a bit complicated because we’re the ‘Escuela Española de Pilotos,’ which should be ‘EEP,’” Javier continues, “but we decided to go with ‘E2P’ as that looked better!
“Obviously the school has changed a bit since it was founded 40 years ago, but it’s very much the same as when it was born as the Emilio de Vilota driving school. It’s an honour and it’s a responsibility to still be carrying that name, because every major driver from Spain from the 2000s have worked with us. Name a driver from Spain that you know, and they’ve probably gone through us!”
The Escuela’s chief instructor, Javier more than proved his endurance racing chops in Britcar. One year on from winning Motorland’s acclaimed 500Km de Alcañiz in 2009, Javier was crowned Britcar’s C3-class champion in 2010, and later the Class 1 champion in 2012 and 2014. 2023 is also not the first time this Silverstone 24 Hours class winner has competed in the 24H SERIES.
“The first time we made contact with CREVENTIC was actually in 2007, in Dubai. I wasn’t driving but I was running a team.”
In the years that followed, Javier competed at three CREVENTIC events as a driver in 2014 – Dubai, Mugello and, of course, Barcelona – securing a class podium at the latter aboard a D1 diesel-powered, KPM Racing-entered Volkswagen Golf. One year later, Javier added an SP2 podium in Mugello with MARC Cars Focus V8 to his tally, although it would be another seven years before Javier and the E2P Group returned to a very different 24H SERIES.
“The change is massive! The series changed from being an amateur group of people having fun one weekend in Dubai, to… honestly, the championship you have to do before committing to 24-hour racing [top ranks]. The talent of the drivers and the teams that compete here prove that. Honestly, I see the 24H SERIES as the Formula 2 of Le Mans.”
That alone should let you know how much a successful GT3-AM Teams’ title bid, at home and in its first season of GT3 competition, would mean to E2P Racing this season.
Alongside that, the 24H SERIES is an equally suitable proving ground for Pablo Burguera and Antonio Sainero, Javier’s teammates aboard E2P Racing’s #90 Porsche 991.2 GT3 R this season. Gentleman driver Pablo for example is in only his second ever year of motorsport in 2023, and is keen to get as much seat time as possible. Easy enough at a 12 and/or 24-hour event. 22-year-old Antonio meanwhile, with loftier GT aspirations in mind, is hoping to make a name for himself against proven competitors and, hopefully, with as many strong results as he can get. Again, where better to do that than the ‘Formula 2’ of endurance racing?
“Usually we choose our [motor racing] programs depending on the needs of our drivers, and the options we have. Pablo is a very tenacious and hard-working person, and he’s working his butt off to improve himself as a driver. Antonio is completely different. Antonio I think is a potential professional GT racing driver, and we’re working hard to help him achieve that aim. We really want him to be one of the best GT drivers in a couple of years. So [the 24H SERIES] is very good challenge: you’re basically doing six Spanish GT Championships in one year! Also, the circuits we visit are the best in Europe, the experience is fantastic, we can help our drivers evolve, and the championship is run really well. We really feel at home here.
“Of course, this is not a cheap championship, and GT3 cars are really expensive, so it’s not a program you do lightly. If we’re developing drivers that are not looking at long-distance racing [as a career], we’d focus more on sprint racing. But in this case, specifically for Pablo and Antonio, it makes perfect sense. They’re getting the most possible race hours that we can provide, and this is the best championship to do so.”
Heading into this year’s Hankook 24H BARCELONA then, seat and track time remain the priority for the Escuela, although a wry Javier, when nudged, can’t help but admit to CREVENTIC that a championship win – E2P’s second in succession in the 24H SERIES – would be the perfect sign-off to 2023, much as it was at last year’s Hankook 24H BARCELONA.
Indeed, E2P Racing, then competing in the now-retired ‘991’ category, went into CREVENTIC’s 2022 European season finale at the top of the 991 Teams’ standings. Although the team’s Porsche 991-I Cup was felled for several hours during the night with a gearbox change, Javier – together with Pablo, Antonio, and Spanish compatriots Manuel Cintrano and Jaime Garcia– still managed to take a class podium. A result that, combined with 2nd in-class at Spa and a ‘tortoise vs hare’-like class win at Hockenheim, secured the Madrid-based outfit the 991 Teams’ ‘Europe’ championship, and Pablo Burguera the 991 Drivers’ ‘Europe’ title. Quite the act to follow, particularly considering the team’s run of form so far in 2023…
“Obviously it was nice, but winning the championship in 2022 – it may sound stupid – was accidental! A lot of it depended on our other competitors, not just you. We’re just here to do our best possible driving, run our best race strategy and the best possible car, and so on. If that means we win the championship, great! If we don’t, that’s okay too. For us, it’s all about gaining experience.”
Given the success with which its Cup program ended, E2P Racing could have been forgiven for giving CREVENTIC’s ‘992’ class a run in 2023. His smile speaks volumes, but Javier explains the time was right for E2P, Pablo and Antonio to take a further step up GT’s racing ladder.
“We decided to go with GT3 this season because it’s a whole new challenge. Technically, ‘GT3’ is completely different to a Cup car: driving the car; setting up the car; running the race. Everything. We had to decide what the best car was for us for the future, rather than playing it safe and having another go with the Cup. We want to move forward in GT racing, and GT3 is the category we need to be in.
“It is a big challenge, but that’s what we like. We’re getting the hang of it and we’re very happy with our progress so far. Moving to ‘992’ would be much the same as 991: the car is very similar setup-wise, driving-wise and concept-wise to our old car, so it wouldn’t really have been a step forward. We’d rather move two steps forward to be closer to where we want to be, even if that means we occasionally trip.”
Though ‘step one’ in 2023 didn’t end the way Javier, Pablo and Antonio would have wanted – gearbox failure eventually eliminated the #91 Porsche from a potentially solid, if underwhelming, 6th in-class at two-thirds distance – positives were nevertheless taken from E2P’s first run with the 991.2 GT3 R at this year’s Hankook 12H MUGELLO.
“Yes, I think [Mugello] was a good start because we learned a lot. We did a lot of things wrong – setup, driving and race strategy-wise – but winners do that! We were a lot better the race after that, and the race after that. We had to start somewhere, and Mugello is a circuit that’s particularly difficult for everything – setup, driving, everything – and we went there knowing that we wouldn’t be competitive, and that we were going to suffer.
“We ended up changing the car massively during the weekend, trying to find how the Porsche reacts, and how it works, none of which we knew before. So, yeah, we were ready to bite the bullet.”
One month later at Spa-Francorchamps, issues with the gearbox again raised their unwanted heads, but still progress was being made. A wet-dry-wet qualifying session dropped the Spanish team to 12th on the grid, though very careful running in the changeable conditions meant Javier, Pablo and Antonio were inside the overall top 10 at half-distance. Heading into the final hour of the event, a GT3-AM podium was even up for grabs until a collision between Antonio and Hofor Racing’s Alexander Prinz punted both the Porsche and the Swiss team’s Mercedes-AMG GT3 into the gravel at Les Combes.
In a stroke of luck for E2P though, a rare mistake from CP Racing – the American team’s Mercedes-AMG, while running 2nd in GT3-AM, gave Juta Racing’s Audi R8 LMS a heavy whack heading into La Source – meant the Spanish team secured its first GT3 class podium at Spa-Francorchamps at only its second attempt.
“The GT3-Am class is really difficult! Am cars have been winning overall races this year,” – the Saintéloc Junior Team took its first outright win at Spa-Francorchamps with a GT3-Am-entered Audi R8 – “so for me, it’s one of CREVENTIC’s top classes.
“No, we weren’t expecting the podium in Spa, because we made mistakes that took us away from the frontrunners. But we were expecting a top five finish overall: we learnt a lot that weekend, and if we’d done everything right, we would have been a lot further forward.
“Then Antonio came together with the Hofor Mercedes – he didn’t see it, it was Antonio’s mistake – and it’s a pity, but those are the kind of things you have to learn as a driver. You have to [predict] where the cars you’re racing might be on-track.”
Round three at Monza however was when the true potential of the #90 GT3 R emerged. Admittedly, an awkwardly-timed red flag meant E2P Racing, incredibly, ended Q1 on provisional pole position, and while Javier, Pablo and Antonio couldn’t quite keep pace with the fast (and occasionally erratic) frontrunners, a metronomic run meant the Spanish team was in-place to take advantage when BMW Italia Ceccato Racing collided with Hankook 12H MUGELLO winner Haas RT in the closing stages, leaving the Audi R8 stranded. At one of the most challenging circuits in Europe, E2P Racing had picked up another GT3-AM class podium and, for the first time, had finished in the overall top five.
“Definitely it was our best weekend so far! Again, every weekend has been better than the weekend before, and I think in Monza, it was the first time we were one-to-one, speed-wise, with the top guys… sometimes! Unfortunately we lost pace in the race, and we still don’t understand why, but we were happy to find ourselves fighting for an overall top five position. We’re still learning in GT3, so we were very happy with that result.”
Following Javier’s chat with CREVENTIC, E2P would go on to repeat its Monza performance in Portugal, picking up back-to-back top five finishes and GT3-AM podiums at the Hankook 12 ESTORIL and the 6H Qualifying Race that proceeded it. Proof that the Spanish team could be a dark horse at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, a venue it knows all too well.
Admittedly, E2P’s Portuguese results were, perhaps unreasonably, overshadowed by the performances of the team’s closest championship rival, CP Racing: going into the Estoril weekend, E2P was just two points adrift of the GT3-AM standings leader; two 4th place finishes for CP Racing in Estoril has since punched that up to eight. Turning that around at Barcelona, with the pressure of competing at its home race already weighing down on its shoulders, could be difficult for E2P…
“It’s such a difficult race. In 24 hours, with so many cars, you know something is going to happen! You could hit a car, or they could hit you, or you could have something happen on the car. You might go off the track. Anything could happen. So, yeah, it’s a bit of an adventure. But we’re going to go there, we’re going to give it our best shot, try to be ‘smarter’ than the rest – not faster – and try to solve whatever happens better than the others. That’s going to be the key, I think.”
There’s also the principles on which the Escuela Española de Pilotos has been run since 1980 to consider. E2P Racing’s priority in its first GT3 season after all is about maximizing seat time for Pablo Burguera and Antonio Sainero. Plus, while a second title in as many years would be a big scalp, doing so against a team as experienced as CP Racing – the 24H SERIES’ reigning GT Continents Trophy winner, no less – is going to be tough. Something Javier Morcillo, with more than three decades of motor racing experience already behind him, knows all too well.
Still, with a wry grin to CREVENTIC, it’s clear that Javier hopes E2P Racing can end an already successful season with its best race yet. On home turf.
“At the end of the day, we’ll have our heads up if we do a good race. If we do better than we managed in Estoril, if the drivers perform at their best, and if that means a podium, that’s fantastic. If it’s a class win, we’d be over the moon and we’d have a big party!”