Funny old year. I started it with a baby on the way so it was inevitable that I wouldn’t be able to join team PH for every EnduroKa race this season, but I’d hoped to keep my toe in the water for two or three at least. Then COVID happened, and the two races I’d planned to compete in were cancelled, meaning that the IndyKa500 at Brands Hatch was my only hope for a competitive drive in 2020.
Having not raced for almost 12 months (that bit will be important later on), I was beyond excited to see my teammates in the flesh and get back on track, but also pretty nervous having been away so long. With the crazy demand for track days and a lack of planning, everything had sold out at Brands Hatch in the lead up to the race, so we were going into the weekend cold turkey.
With no geeks or RacingPete on hand to manage us for the weekend, yours truly had to step up and aim to get everything to the circuit that we needed and keep the team on track. (Pun very much intended.) While qualifying wouldn’t start until 4pm on Saturday, we had to be at the circuit for 11am. For the first time in EnduroKa’s two-year history, MSVR hired a mobile rolling road to test the power of every car to ensure there was no funny business going on. Most cars ranged from a feeble 68hp up to a custard skin threatening 72hp, with RF08 XWX pushing out a healthy 70.7hp. And that’s where the good news for the day ended.
Despite my reluctance to arrive at the circuit six hours before qualifying, it was a good thing we did as it’s amazing just how fast the time flies when double checking everything is ready to go prior to heading out on track. The rain had been relentless for hours, so hats off to the considerably more powerful cars that had raced earlier that day. As the least experienced member of the team, we thought it best to send Matt Dell out first to get used to the 1.2-mile Brands Hatch Indy circuit in daylight. He didn’t make it past the first corner.
Later he would tell us that he drove out of the pit lane very steadily - and then straight into the gravel at the bottom of Paddock Hill. Normally not an issue, of course; you get recovered, empty the gravel out of every orifice, probably have a word with the officials and get back to it. But when the Windgat Racing car came around the same corner considerably faster with an even bigger tank slapper, their car rolled and landed on top of ours - with Matt sat inside patiently awaiting rescue. Obviously our main concern was for the drivers and luckily both walked away with nothing more than a few bruises.
In stark contrast, the car was a wreck. Yours truly immediately conceded defeat and assumed we’d be going home; there was no chance we’d be racing. Or so I thought anyway. Upon closer inspection, the safety equipment had done a remarkable job and despite the rear offside of the car being caved in, the roll cage was untouched, the seat and harness were undamaged and underneath the car was straight. Honestly, I was still a little shaken by what had happened and didn’t want to race. But I’m nothing if not easily swayed and we quickly got to work blagging whatever we could to try and get the car presentable enough to be signed off by the scrutineers.
Moores Motors were first on hand to give us advice and encouragement on what we’d need to do; LDR lent us some Portapower hydraulic equipment to press out the caved in roof and straighten the boot lid as best we could; Shine Automotive gave us a rear taillight and Graves Motorsport leant us a driver’s door and rear window. It was first-hand evidence of the sort of camaraderie which makes EnduroKa such a lovely series to compete in. The help and encouragement - alongside all the people who checked in to make sure Matt was okay - really made a difference. So much so that after five hours, three large pizzas and two rolls of duct tape, we were ready.
The only challenge now was that we hadn’t actually completed any qualifying laps and without that, we couldn’t race. However, as Olly and I had both raced at Brands within the last 12 months (at the last IndyKa500 in 2019), we were all clear - save for Matt who was too bruised to race anyway. So come Sunday - against all odds - Charles was out first thing to clear three laps of the circuit behind the safety car to comply with Motorsport UK regulations.
Obviously we started the race in last place. Fortunately we also started with Charles ‘Rainmaster’ Rainsford (well, ‘Rainmaster the second’ according to his dad Sean, who owns CCK Historic) driving and despite no testing whatsoever, he spent the next two hours working his way through the traffic until - to our collective amazement - he was actually leading the race at one point.
Our strategy was to pit under safety car and with no less than 22 appearances throughout the race, there were plenty of opportunities. Pit stops are a mandatory minimum length of four-minutes this year to allow teams to sterilise the touch points as part of a driver change; it felt like a lot of time but was over quickly as I clambered in and set off out of the pits in 12th place. Following the incident in qualifying, our aim was simply to finish the race but after the pace that Charles had set, the pressure was on.
Any doubt I had about racing on Saturday went straight out of the window and despite my nerves having not raced all year, I had the time of my life. 47 cars started the race and while that sounds like a hell of a lot for such a small circuit, it guaranteed a lot of excitement. Moreover, and despite my concerns about the conditions and the number of safety cars, it was the highest level of driving standards that I’ve experienced on track in EnduroKa.
I handed over to Olly Lewis with us in 4th place. If it weren’t for Olly’s enthusiasm and energy the night before, there was no chance we’d have been racing at all so it was imperative to get the car back to him in one piece. He was on the pace within minutes and took the car from 19th right the way up to 3rd before Charles got back in to see us home - just as the rain was starting to come down again.
Joining the track in 6th with two and a half hours to go, it became a nail-biter. The top three cars were a few laps ahead, but they all needed to pit at least once more to finish the race. With less than an hour to go, a miraculous race win looked on the cards. Then disaster struck as Charles lunged passed 3rd place under safety car, landing us a stop-go penalty. He managed to come out of the pits just 10 seconds behind 3rd place, which would have been fine if he’d scanned his ID tag on the way out. Insert forehead-slapping emoji here. That landed us with an additional one-minute stop-go penalty and seemingly dashed all hopes of reaching the podium, as he headed back out in 4th, now whole laps down on the top three.
Incredibly though, Charles managed to pedal our little Ka back into 3rd and moments later the race leaders were handed a stop-go penalty, giving Octane Junkies the win with the PistonHeads racing team finishing 2nd, just 12 seconds behind after 500 minutes of racing - which really does go to show that every second counts in an endurance race, and being just a bit faster in the pit lane can make the difference between winning and second place. (Well, that and not overtaking under a safety car or forgetting to scan your ID tag coming out of the pit lane.)
So we didn’t quite manage the fairytale ending of being able to recover from a crash in qualifying and then go onto win, but what we achieved was remarkable considering the state of the car on Saturday. And while we have Grove & Dean Motorsport insurance that covers us for the road, we didn’t extend it for the track so we’re left with a bittersweet taste of a podium finish with a car that can now only be stripped for parts. Still what a way to end the season. If this weekend - and indeed the year it is in - has taught us anything, it’s that no matter how dark the times, you should never, ever give up. That, another trophy and a full pitlane of memories are the biggest takeaways of EnduroKa 2020.
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