Could the humble Ford KA survive twelve hours of flat out racing? That was the question hanging over a 25-car field as we lined up for the second ever EnduroKA race at Snetterton yesterday – the 12 Heures du Norfolk. With 762 miles of flat out racing at an average speed of 63mph ahead of them, the cars were in for a real workout – more than twice the distance for the opening 5 Hours of Donington race in April. Car 98 had finished third there, but to do it all again for a dozen hours? Not even the series organisers had tested a KA for that long.
PH’s wagon lined up for the 9:10am start second on the grid thanks to a stellar qualifying lap from Racing Pete. But such is the unpredictability nature of endurance racing, it was anyone’s race to win. Pete was handed started duties as reward for his pace setting and after an incident-free first lap (remarkably), he duly swiped the lead from I P Racing. With clear air ahead of him, Pete not only created a three-second gap to the cars behind, he laid down the lap time gauntlet with a 1min 44.3 – seven tenths quicker than the time that put PH on the front row of the grid. The car looked to be running so sweetly that Pete was due to stay out until the fuel light came on at what we’d estimated to be the two-hour mark - but a safety car period, required while car 107 was recovered after some light contact put it on its roof (it later returned to the race sans windows!), presented us with the chance to bring him in early for a driver changer and a slug of Tuff jug.
While the stop was good and we only returned to the track in seventh, it quickly became clear that the KAs were capable of running longer than we expected. Our closest competitors pushed on past the 2 hour 20 mins mark and one car further down the field somehow eked out a further 20 mins more than that before stopping. Our presumed advantage had gone out of the window although with less than a quarter of the race done, we were most definitely still in the running. Ben was well aware of this and got to the business of building the pace and picking off cars so effectively that car 98 eventually returned to the front of the field. Not even an unscheduled return to the pits to refit the fuel cap – which some plonker called Sam Sheehan had not secured properly – could prevent him retaking the lead.
But then the thing the weather apps said wouldn’t happen happened. It rained. Hard. Snetterton, even for cars using Toyo CF2 road tyres, becomes extremely slippery when wet, so Ben, who’d never raced in the rain before, understandably fell back after a couple of scary moments. The first turn, Riches, is tough enough in the dry, but with what feels like an oily coating on the asphalt, it’s downright terrifying – even in a humble KA. And braking into the tight Montreal hairpin that comes next is equally as treacherous. That putting 70hp down is a real challenge on the exit of the following Chapman illustrates just how slippery things get. Kudos to Ben for keeping the KA on the black stuff!
When his stint drew to a close after two hours, a very worn looking front-left tyres was swapped out and the driving fell to yours truly. A dry line was now appearing in places, but the circuit was still extremely ‘green’ and venturing off line to overtake needed courage. We made it back up the field largely through keeping things smooth and picking off cars that were struggling on the damp surface. When blue skies eventually returned, so did the confidence in the Ka’s ability to four-wheel drifted around Brundle with a trailed brake and shrug off the challenge of Riches lap after lap. Times dipped back into the late 1 min 44s, although Pete’s earlier time remained unchallenged (to the frustration of everyone else). Still, it was enough to once again return car 98 to the front of the field. Although we weren’t halfway done yet.
Behind us it was all getting very interesting – not least because our rivals were running different strategies to us. While team PH had opted for a conventional ‘run it till its empty’ plan, the daredevils at Kool Airunnings had chosen to run a race of short stints and half fuel loads – edging them from their fourth-place grid slot into contention for the race win by the halfway point. When I came into the pits, pole-sitter Burton Power Racing led Kool Airunnings by just six seconds, leaving Olly to take the reins and get on with the job of chasing down the top two again. He too had to contend with the occasional outbursts of rain, but it didn’t prevent him from finding his way back to the sharp end with times that also dipped into the 1 min 44s. When he handed over to Matt as the race’s third quarter approached, nobody could pick a winner from the top three cars. What a contrast to the weekend’s other major endurance race…
With only three qualifying laps and and a few minutes gleaned from Motorsport at the Palace event, Matt was the least experienced KA racer of the team – albeit one dressed head to toe in official Porsche Classic racewear courtesy of his recent time spent in the Boxster series. Despite his deficit in model-specific knowledge, he quickly settled into a nice rhythm and kept car 98 in the running as the sun began to set on Snetterton and the leader continued to hammer on without missing a beat. In fact, only two cars had retired out by the 10-hour mark – evidence of just how tough Ford’s former city car really is. Matt’s stint ended with us in a solid third position with just over an hour of running left – leaving our fastest man of the weekend, Pete, to jump back in in a final desperate bid for glory.
If we needed additional evidence of KA’s robustness, this closing sector of the race provided it. Pete not only set the quickest laps of the twelfth hour, he set a new team best time of 1 min 44.3 seconds – just a tenth off the race’s overall fastest from early in the day. As darkness began to set in, Pete battled through traffic and closed down the leading two cars, who were running just six seconds apart and about 1 min 15 seconds ahead. With 10 mins to go, we were 16 seconds behind and, when he had clear air, Pete was two seconds a lap quicker. It was wonderfully tense on the pit wall; so kudos to RP for holding it together in the driver’s seat. However, despite his best efforts, the traffic was too much to contend with and we crossed the line just four seconds behind Burton Power Racing and 16 seconds behind the deserving winners of Kool Airunnings. What. A. Race.
So no dream result, but we tasted champagne again and, even more impressively, the KA returned without a scratch. Safe to say everyone is itching to get back out – and thankfully we’ve only five weeks to wait before the 5 Hours of Oulton Park in July. As far as we can tell, all the KA will need is a quick oil and filter service to be fighting fit for that one. Which is quite a win in itself.