Sometimes, in racing, stuff simply doesn't add up the way it should. And that's when things get really interesting. Here, in diary form, is PH's experience of the 24H Barcelona...
All smiles at the start ... that didn't last
Pit Box 26, Circuit de Catalunya, Thursday night
Around me the whole Milltek Sport/ KPM Racing garage is stuck in debate. We're sitting on the still-warm floor of pit number 26, Circuit de Catalunya. My brain is frying. Four-wheel drive should be faster than front-wheel drive. Especially when you consider we're putting down an easy 400 or so horses from the Mk7 (EA888) Golf R motor shoehorned into the Golf Mk6 three-door racecar.
But the drivers can't agree.
"It's got to be front-wheel drive," says straight-speaking Aaron Mason. "I could drive my VW Cup car around here quicker than that, and that's missing over 100hp."
Arms folded. He sits back. He's right and he knows it.
Our car is understeering on the power like crazy. But how could it possibly understeer less with all that power on the front axle alone? "I just don't know," I mumble, before speaking up a little. "My brain is saying 4WD is better, but I'm abstaining right now. You guys are the VW experts."
Lucas Orrock, another VW Cup front-runner like Aaron, shrugs and says looks around. He's in for the Haldex-ectemy.
Four-wheel drive not working? Just make it FWD!
Team boss Kevin brings the debate to a head. "We've got to do something guys, because we're barely faster than the old diesel right now and a long way off those Seat Leons. Hands up for two-wheel drive, right now."
Hands go up. It's a gamble, but if the KPM boys are willing to do a full gearbox swap (replacing the ATB front diff and transfer 'box with a 2WD box and a Drexler LSD) and removing all traces of Haldex, then so be it. We get back to the hotel at 1am, and all I can smell is gearbox oil.
Friday private practice, 11pm
En route to the circuit I'm racked with doubt. But seeing the times that Lucas and Mason are setting leaves little doubt. It's faster, by about two seconds a lap. And driving is believing. The power! The booooost! The ... grip!
Yep, that Drexler is doing the trick. Where we were lifting and adjusting before, we're now smoothly powering through the exits.
Fast Cup SEATs are tough competitors
Even the braking benefits. "There's a lot of energy in that whole drivetrain," says Mason. "You can feel it's using a lot of the braking energy just to stop the moving parts. And the stability is much better. Haldex is road car technology, not race car."
Every day is a school day, and I'm now educated in the ways of high-power FWD. Kev even raids the SEAT Sport truck to buy a load of 10-inch wheels, upping our tyre width from 240s to 260s all round. His AMEX card is steaming, but they're worth a second a lap, or more.
Timed practice is wet, and even then the FWD car is doing really well. Until a diesel powered Saker prototype disappears from my mirrors in the braking zone to the hairpin. Expecting a lunge to the inside I run wide and check over my shoulder, turning in late.
Switch to FWD sees two-seconds off lap time
He's already spun under braking, and before I can avoid it, we come together. As I pull into the pit lane for checks, the dash displays "NO CHARGE". It's not just cosmetic bumper damage; the belt has come off in the impact, then wrapped around the main pulley and damaged the seal too. Oil is leaking everywhere. Anger turns to shame as the crew set about cleaning and fixing my mess while we all miss out on vital laps.
Stressed after the lengthy repairs, we finally enter the end of a fraught and time-pressured qualifying session. Lucas bangs in a 2min 5.9sec lap (two seconds quicker than our best 4WD lap) that puts us right near the front of the class.
In the night practice, totally dry, we go even quicker. Those fat tyres not slowing us down on the straights at all, only increasing stability and grip. Things are finally looking good for the race. But the memories of that messed-up engine bay stop me sleeping for a while.
Golf in rare moment out on track...
Saturday 12.30pm, pit box 26
After watching the start from the roof of the pits, I bound down the stairs as excited as a kid at Christmas. But Lucas is in pitlane after less than 30 minutes of racing.
"No power!" explains a sweaty and distressed Orrock. "Then the guy behind me was getting desperate, and banged it up the inside at 45-degrees! He only made the corner because he pushed me off it."
He's visibly upset. Our white Golf is getting gaffa-tape repairs to the front left corner. Kev's checking the codes - it's a damaged water sensor forcing the car into low power mode. After losing 35 minutes in the pits, we finally rejoin almost dead last. "There's a long way to go," says Kev.
We'd already decided that even though we lacked the raw pace of the Leon Cup Racers a clean race and our pace would be enough for a podium. But we're not 'clean' after that 35-minute break, and our luck only worsens. Fifth gear is already on a Spanish Siesta, meaning we're shifting fourth to sixth on the big straight, and bouncing the limiter a little bit elsewhere. The power of the Golf is enough to almost make this work.
The pace is there to trouble some quick boys
So about an hour into my stint, I'm feeling pretty good. The cool of the night plays to my lack of pro-driver fitness, plus I just really like night stints. I'm well on the pace, lapping amongst the quickest in our class. But then the brake pedal changes feel dramatically. Just as we're discussing the problem over the radio, the brakes fail into the Saker hairpin and the pedal stays down as I cascade through the painted area, rear end twitching. And I don't mean the car.
"Fuel then BOX, BOX, BOX! " I shout into the radio. The fuel men weren't expecting to meet me for nearly an hour, but they arrive within seconds after a fully-suited sprint the length of the pitlane in the night-time heat. They find me having a shouting match with the fuel marshal, who has missed our big red TURBO sticker and demands the engine cut for fuelling. When I refuse (turbos need to keep running, or the risk of fire is worse) he then pulls my electrical cut. Knob. I mean, he turns the knob. Which I turn back again. Oh what a jolly jape.
Eventually, fully fuelled and only slightly raging, I rejoin pit lane and deliver the car for repairs. It's a simple break in the lines, one 90-degree bend cleanly broken by debris caught in the rubber marbles. But it's another 15 minutes in the pits that nobody wanted. And our bad luck has only just begun.
This noise is something like a cat screaming while a blender eats a violin. Either way, that's what we can hear when Lucas makes an unscheduled pitstop. It's the turbo, the blades nibbling into the housing as the main bearings scream enough.
What comes next, I will never forget. Kev jumps onto the engine block and thrusts his hands down into the fiery volcano and begins the disassembly. We stand on, looking agog as Kev and his protege, Naughty Norman, remove the hottest part of a hot car that has just raced 12 hours. Those working above brave the heat, those below get faces full of coolant and oil. It's like a war zone. When the car roars out of pitlane at 1am, plunging into the darkness trailing the smell of fresh grease, there are no cheers. Just an exhausted sense of relief.
Night laps work to Golf's favour ... for a while
We're back on track, and despite our cracking lap times we're nowhere. We're totally on pace, just hours behind. But maybe, if we drive well, and everybody else has problems, MAYBE we could still get in the top half of the results? Then it happens. The gearbox cries "Uncle".
It's a recovery job, then a push down pitlane. Tick, tock. Kev and the lads set about their second gearbox swap of the weekend, again swapping in the Drexler diff while the driver, Tom Wilson, waits patiently.
6am, all is dark
It's the coolest part of the day, just an hour before sunrise. In the next two hours I'll be driving from full dark to full dawn. Awesome. By now we're just pushing the car around as hard as we dare, but waiting to see who won't cross the finish line. I'm ready for my stint and looking forward to driving with a fresh 'box, but fifth gear didn't even last 30 minutes this time. Oh well, it doesn't matter.
The coolest part of the day is this hour before dawn, and for a high-boost turbo car like ours, it's the best part of the day. The response crispens, the torque is tremendous and it's time to get some lap times in.
But not straight away, as we also carry 120 litres of fuel. If you push too hard from the start, by the time you've burnt all that fuel, the mandatory Hankook slicks have already gone off.
Cool dawn air suits the Golf's turbo
Then add to that mix the drivers who simply can't go as fast in the dark as the day time, and things get really interesting. The Lambos and Porsches that were lapping us in the daytime are often going backwards, or sideways. But I'm doing my fastest laps of the race. Just before the darkness lifts, the class leader appears, caught in the twin beams of our Lazer LED lamps, which are some of the brightest on the track. Aware that he's the leader, and we're not even capable of catching him, I don't want to take any risks. The ABS failed a few laps before too, adding to my tension.
Eventually the radio comes to life, he's asked his crew chief to speak to my crew chief and back off. This kind of thing would be worth nothing but a laugh in any other race, but I do it anyway. Then another minor disaster, the throttle cable snaps! Tickover is not enough to drive, but with some advice from Kev I eventually find the fly-by-wire box on the bulkhead and get a toe on the lever.
After a few minutes in the pits, I get a few more laps in the gorgeous sunrise before my two hours in the car are up.
Team effort by drivers, more so by the crew
After that it's our youngest driver George White, for his second and final stint. Then Lucas and then Tom. Having been thwarted from achieving my personal goal of a low 2min 5sec several times by flags, traffic and talent fails, I watch amazed as Lucas nabs a 2min 4.5sec before the sun gets too high. By the time Tom gets in, we're still running the same pace as the day before, but we're a couple of hundred laps behind the leaders. But with nothing to lose, and a couple of cars still tangibly close, we keep the pace up until the flag comes out.
The relief is tangible, it feels less like we finished a race and more like we simply survived it. We're happy to have survived and the team are quietly chuffed that at no point did we ever just give up and go to bed.
"It didn't add up for us this time," said Phil (the Mill of Milltek). "The effort going in didn't reflect the result that came out. But this is why we race, to push the limits and improve."
Lap of Circuit de Cataluyna in the Milltek Golf