If I'm honest, the prospect of racing at Cadwell Park for six hours scared the bejesus out of me. My first and only visit was with Matt two years ago, competing in a sopping wet round of the Javelin Sprint Series and, frankly, it was terrifying. It's the narrowest circuit on the calendar, and seems to have more elevation changes than a Tour de France stage.
Clearly it is not set up for endurance racing either. In fact, the fourth round of EnduroKa set a record for the longest race ever held on four wheels at the circuit. To get to the pit lane, you have to cross the track, which is fine ahead of a short sprint - but impossible without building a bridge or digging a tunnel for an endurance race. Consequently, the paddock was used as a live pit lane, with re-fuelling only allowed in the scrutineering lane.
Any tyre changes or mechanical work had to take place on the upper level of the paddock before sprinting down to re-fuel. We've said before that these races are won and lost in the pit lane, but that was doubly true of Cadwell. With no pit wall for pit board communication, teams were left with a patch of grass behind the podium for frantic waving at their drivers - unless they'd been resourceful enough to scrounge some proper comms gear beforehand.
We hadn't. Or not until the last minute at any rate, when our Le Mans camping partner 1st Tickets turned up with radios and ear pieces for us to use. Finally, we could talk to the driver from the pits - a game-changer we had to use almost immediately when it turned out that the leaking fuel cap which stung us at Snetterton was not, in fact, the result of user error, but rather a problem with the cap itself. (Sorry, Sam.)
This was doubly frustrating because, having qualified in second place, Pete had climbed to first before a forced inspection and re-fit put us down to 18th. Even then the officials told us we hadn't nailed it, and we were only saved from disaster by rivals LDR Performance Tuning, who were kind enough to lend us their spare. (Thanks again, guys.)
With a second stop for Pete earlier than planned and Geeks on hand again to help us with team strategy, we opted to splash and dash, making the first of our three compulsory driver changes. Olly, whose experience of Cadwell had been limited to qualifying, did a great job of finding race pace and succeeded in working his way up to 8th. With the sun bearing down, 28 degrees of heat, no hydration and nothing but hot air blowing through the fans, it was an impressive feat.
Then it was my turn with the baton. I spent the first few laps following Pete's instructions, slowly getting braver with each corner. Our rivals had clearly absorbed some lessons, too - unquestionably the pace and confidence of the whole field has improved since the first race. It wasn't long before I had the Peak Performance Reviews car in my rear view mirror, and the chunk of my stint I spent in front or behind of them taught me the most I've learned all year about race craft.
In contrast with track days, where it's often relatively easy to keep up with the car in front of you, in a race you take more risks; you're closer and always on the cusp of making a judgement call about when to attempt a pass. Or, no less importantly, you're learning to acknowledge that the car behind is probably faster and it might be time to let them through. Frankly, I was leaning toward the latter with the PPR car breathing down my neck, but with traffic up ahead it felt like the race was still on - right up until they got the better of me at Hairpin corner with an audacious pass up the inside while I was dallying behind someone else.
It was my turn to chase now, but with the heat getting the better of me I started making mistakes, and a lock up gave me a flat spot that I thought was a knackered tyre. I pitted in 6th place for the team to check it and to make our final driver change, putting Pete back in to get us across the line.
By this point I was on my knees. I've run marathons before, but spending 90 minutes in a Ford Ka flat out around Cadwell Park in 28 degrees genuinely broke me. Every lap felt like a rollercoaster loop, throwing yourself through the Nemesis corkscrew that is Gooseneck before heading into Oblivion up The Mountain. I'm amazed that none of us were sick.
Pete climbed to 4th place but was a lap behind Peak Performance Reviews, who were now in 3rd. It seemed like a podium place wasn't to be - until our closest rival was nobbled by a back marker in the closing stages and put out of the race with a bent steering rack. Naturally we were elated, but honestly gutted too for a team that definitely deserved to see the chequered flag.
As it turned out, our good fortune didn't see out the race either. We opted to skip a tyre change to get Pete back out faster - a strategy which worked right up until the last lap when the fourth placed SuperKA team, blessed with far superior grip, overtook on the outside of Gooseneck. Jubilation - meet crushing disappointment. But with two rounds left at Brands - as close to PH's home circuit as it gets - our thirst for cheap champagne has certainly not slackened. It was even nice to see Octane Junkies take the win at Cadwell, given the unfortunate mechanical challenges which had led to a DNF at Snetterton.
It is this sort of general goodwill that permeates the entire paddock. The generosity of other teams has left a deep impression; if it wasn't for LDR Performance Tuning, our race would've been over before it really got going. It is this genuine desire to see other teams finish, alongside a whole heap of camaraderie and friendly banter that has made EnduroKa such a pleasure to take part in. Come November, we'll be doing all we can to make the podium again - but I know now that losing to such a great bunch of people surrounded by my mates in a car we built ourselves will still feel like a victory.
Photos: John Dignan