A week may have passed since our first race and podium at Donington Park, but the elation has far from worn off. All the conversation in PH Towers has turned to reflection, and how we can aim to improve our performance for round two; both on and off the track. Quite frankly, the driving is the easy bit. The preparation and team work is where you can come together and make a real difference to your overall result.
We had pretty much built our car from start to (almost) finish in the space of four weeks, but still had a few jobs left to do leading into the Friday before the race, and even race day itself. I may have left it a bit late to order a few bits, with only attempting to account for what was still needed with a week to go. Our long-term decal supplier Race Graphics managed to get our stickers out to us within 24 hours, Amazon Prime was a saviour and Demon Tweeks had our racewear with us next day too. Phew.
There has been ongoing deliberation for weeks over exactly what data logger we should buy, and we finally settled on the AimSolo 2 DL. We still needed a camera, but I worked out we could use a GoPro with a 256GB memory card that would be capable of recording 16 hours of footage, and could be powered through the 12v socket. I finally got around to ordering the AimSolo but the short story is it didn’t turn up for the race. Luckily, Graves Motorsport had a spare data logger, which we borrowed, and are very grateful for. Finally, Race Transponders kindly sent our transponder out to us on next day delivery too, arriving the day before we set off.
We fitted the stickers on our car between track sessions on the Friday and collected our Tuff jugs that afternoon, only to realise the adaptors didn’t fit the filler neck so we had to remove the filler neck from the fuel tank to modify it. As I hadn’t had time to register and charge the transponder yet, that would have to happen on race day. After an evening in the pub talking tactics with team manager Geeks (also known as Dan), we arrived at the circuit bleary eyed on Saturday morning, heading up to the 09:00 driver sign-on with our freshly printed race licences. Qualifying was set for 10:00, we still hadn’t fitted the transponder and to make matters worse, the car key was in my pocket so Dan couldn’t do anything.
Many questions were asked and we were finally released at 09:35 with five minutes to go until we were called for qualifying. Still no transponder or scrutineering; we were all pretty stressed. But we made it and as the champion of the PH team entering EnduroKa, I elected to warm the car up in the first qualifying session. This is where all the stress of the last two days disappeared as we came together as a team; after all, the reason for entering something like this in the first place is to have fun with your mates.
We didn’t have any communications equipment other than a pit board and lots of hand waving, but we’ll never forget the excitement we shared together on the day. We were in P3 as I finished the first stint. Faster drivers came out and we dropped down the ranks, but Pete put in a blinder and moved us from P8 to P2 on his last lap. Suddenly our expectations had gone from simply finishing the race, to potentially putting the car onto the podium.
As our most experienced driver, Pete was out first in the race. All the teams recognised this was a five hour race and not a sprint, with everyone making it through the first corner unscathed. Pete was doing us proud in the lead pack, but took another car’s drive-through penalty by mistake, which dropped us down to eighth, costing us 22 seconds. I don’t think any of us on the pit wall were envious of him as he fought to defend our position.
We had agreed to count the laps down on our pit board for planned pit stops, or for the driver to flash the lights to the team member on the wall for an unplanned stop. Some teams may have spent hours practicing driver changes, but we left it to qualifying to work out what we needed to do. Our first stop was a quick one, with Pete and I changing after the first hour of the race. One team member jumped in from the passenger side to help with the belts, with the outgoing driver staying to help on the driver side. Our seat is on runners but as we’re all so similar in height, we didn’t have to adjust at all, which saved time.
It’s remarkable how all the pre-race nerves and constant weight on your bladder disappear as soon as you’re in the driver’s seat and setting off out of the pit lane. My hour-long stint was over in a flash, but was one of the most entertaining and exciting experiences of my life. In a 70hp Ford Ka. I kept a keen eye on the pit wall every lap as the positions tumbled from eighth to first. Our tactic now was for me to stay out until we were almost out of fuel, which happened in an hour. With the fuel light on, I flashed the lights to the team to signal I was coming in.
The car hadn’t skipped a beat and this was where time was going to be made or lost. For a fuel stop, the ignition has to be off, the key has to be removed and used to open the filler cap, and the driver’s door has to be closed with no one in the car. You’re only allowed 20 litres of fuel in the pit lane at any time per team, as I was reminded as I grabbed our second Tuff jug from our garage. Dan kept us busy with commands on who was doing what, when and before we knew it Olly was in the car and away with a full tank of fuel.
We’d dropped from first back down to eighth, losing quite a bit of time draining 40 litres of fuel into the tank. With three hours to go, we had one driver change left, which left Olly and Sam with an hour and a half in the car each. I was gagging for a drink after 30 minutes, so this was going to be really hard work for them. As time was closing in for our final change, Pete noticed that quite a few teams were pitting to change their front left tyre. We pre-emptively planned to have a wheel and tools on standby in case ours needed changing too.
After 90 minutes of fending off the competition and getting us back into fifth, Olly pitted as we planned to make our final refuel and potentially a wheel change. But disaster struck, as our only key snapped as Olly pulled it from the ignition. With Pete’s quick thinking he ran off to tape it up, but it easily cost us 30 seconds before we could refuel.
Sam went back out in eighth place, where he slowly climbed to fifth over the following 80 minutes, breaking and setting our fastest lap repeatedly. He’d been slowly closing the gap to fourth over the last half an hour, but it wasn’t going to be enough, or so we thought. With just seven minutes left of the race, the car in front pitted with a destroyed front left tyre. Clearly our (or Pete’s) foresight had worked. Suddenly we were seconds behind third place.
As we entered the final minute of the race, we were three seconds behind but needed another lap to close the gap. And just as we thought we were out of time, the lead car crossed the start/finish line with less than a second to go. The five hours were up, but we had one final lap left before the race was over. As we all stood on the pit wall biting our nails, Sam took third on the final lap. Over five hours, it really did come down to the final lap and seconds. Even writing this, I’m grinning ear to ear thinking back to the excitement as we jumped around on the pit wall in celebration, before charging over to Sam as he pulled into the pit lane.
We were extremely fortunate not to experience any mechanical failures. I would like to say that’s testament to how well we built the car, but it’s more down to the great base that we started with and our consistent preservative driving across the team to keep the car on track and in one piece. Well, apart from Sam exceeding track limits and getting a five-second penalty, but he only did it once so we’ll let him off. Even that one penalty almost cost us our spot on the podium though, would have done in fact, if the team behind hadn’t also received one.
It’s a shame that not every team managed to finish the race, but we’ve all learned so much about our cars from the first event as we head into a two-month break before round two at Snetterton on June 16th. Want to join us there? We’ve proven you can build a car in a month, so you’ve got time to get on track. Or if you just want to come along and watch, we’ll be running a Sunday Service for 500 cars on the day. More details on that soon!
Track photography: Lloyd Horgan