Britcar 24Hr Race - Silverstone - Sept 20/21 2008
24 HOUR RACING
It's a strange thing 24hr racing, I'm not even sure race is the right word, it is more akin to rallying where you are essentially racing the clock. You try and get as far as you can in the alloted time and hope that the others in your class don't get as far.
You do get periods were you are actually racing, you may not be on the same lap as the car you are physically racing but you know if you can get past that you have made time up on it. Many think that driving a 24hr race is like normal race driving but at 90%, i'm not sure about others by I and everyone I talk to are driving as close to the limit as they can whilst keeping off (most of) the curbs. Yes, the gearchange is a little less rushed and you may need to look after the tyres a little better than in a 20 minute sprint but laptimes wise, and looking at my clear laps from the event I am generally at 98.5% of my very best, repeatable laptime.
THE MENTAL ASPECT
As an instructor and driver coach I spend a lot of time talking about the mental aspects of race driving and driving at the limit. You can only drive at your very best when you're conscious mind is relaxed and all motor aspects (i.e. the physical work of driving) is being handled by the sub-conscious. The sub-conscious mind is millions of times quicker than the conscious and has your entire driving "history" to refer to, every lap you've ever done, any where, every book you have read, every video you have watched, every word an instructor or driver coach has ever said to you. It's worked out what works and what doesn't, so duff info has been relegated.
The enemy of the experienced, fast driver is concentration, when you concentrate it is a conscious task, you are evaluating everything, filtering it before it reaches the sub-conscious, this takes time and doesn't produce the best results. It's also very tiring, you can't succesfully race for 90 minutes or more like this. You need instead to use your conscious mind to expand your awareness, to feel the car, evaluate your position, analyse your target (i.e. if chasing a driver, work out his weak points). It's like opening up/enlarging the "pipe" to your sub-conscious. When you concentrate you narrow this pipe and put a filter in it which slows and "filters" the information flow. When you use the conscious mind to increase awareness you expland this pipe, passing un-diluted information through it at much higher speed. At it's optimum this is often referred to by all sportman as "the zone".
This is not just a requirement for endurance racing but all racing & fast driving but when you tackle a 24hr race you are almost forced into driving like this, hence you are able to drive at very close to you best times whilst being very easy on the car and leaving a greater margin for error.
I particular love endurance racing as you get much more opportunity to operate in this zone whilst driving, it's a good feeling. The other reason is the experience out of the car, the teamwork and camaradary, not just in your own team but with ALL the other teams taking part, even your opponents in class. One thing you can be sure of in 24hr racing is that you are going to have problems, you don't know what they will be but you know they are coming. At the end of the race, finish or not, you almost feel like you have been through a mini Poseidon Adventure where you and your team are fighting for survival against the odds. Strong friendships are made in a short time and often long lasting.
THE RACE - QUALIFYING
Qualifying is held on the Friday and consists of 1hr of day (light) qualifying and 2 hours of night (dark) qualifying. Each driver muct do at least 3 laps in each to qualify to race. Our qualifying at least was essentially just a shakedown run. Two of us, myself and Michael Hartley had driver the car in the 24hr before so we did the minimum requirement, drove the car relatively hard to ensure that all was well. The Daniels Motorsport car had won the 24hr race the previous 2 years and in fact I won in the same car last year, so we pretty much knew it would be top notch, which it proved to be. The other 2 drivers had not driven the car before so they did longer stints. Simon Taylor had years of experienced driving more highly modified Civics, had won Championships and was an extremely quick driver. We knew he'd be able to extract good times from the Civic but were keen to ensure he didn't drive the car too hard and risk reliability. Stuart Brooks had done the 24hr before, in a Porsche in 06 and a 350z in 08 but had never raced front-wheel drive before so time in the car was very important.
THE RACE - THE ADVENTURE BEGINS
I had been chosen to start the race as I had done in 07. Britcar followers will be aware that there was a very serious incident at the start which meant that the race went straight into Safety Car conditions and in fact this continued for almost an hour whilst the incident was cleared and a huge oil spillage which left oil on every corner on the racing line was cleared. Finally the green flag was shown and the race proper began. I was trialing a new solid-state video & data system from Race Technology (it's first ever test) and the first 10 minutes of the race are on YouTube here
I'm sure readers aren't intersted in a blow by blow account of what followed but some highlights :
- After 2hrs we had engine hesitation problems which was later diagnosed as a clogged fuel filter. We had to remove the fuel pump and filter, wash the filter out, and replace costing us around 20 minutes.
- The above happened twice more during the next 12 hours requiring the same process. The cause was down to debris being in the fuel supply system provided by Britcar and some of the other teams had similar problems. Part of the reason we suffered more was that the car has always been prepared as a production spec car, hence standard production components used throughout whilst other teams with modified car would be using race spec fuel filters.
At around 3am the driver reported that the car was jumping out of 4th gear, this had turned into the terminal loss of 4th gear by 4am.
At first this was costing us over 10 secs a lap but I worked out that it was better time wise to live with it as a gearbox change was a very long job on the Civic. So, we decided to live with it for the rest of the race and hope 3rd & 5th did not get effected. We had a similar problem in 07 when we only had 5th gear for the last 30 minutes of the race. It took a few laps for my to work out the best way of coping with the loss of 4th gear and get used to not going for it by mistake. However, by altering my lines in a few corners, concentrating more on carrying speed rather than getting the lock off early to apply power (which we didn't have as 3rd to 5th dropped well out of the VTEC) I was able to get within 1.6 secs of my best ever/and the cars best (full gearbox) time as did Simon Taylor.
We finished 22nd overall from 51 starters having completed 526 laps and almost 1,700 miles. We lost just over an hour with the fuel issues and probably a further 20 mins with the gearbox issues. Had we none of these we would have finished 10th overall with around 560 laps completed.
It was another fabulous event, my early a.m. stint just as the sun was rising was a highlight, and the finish, although not a win this year, was still as emotional. My thanks to all the Daniels Motorsport Team for their hard work during and prior to to the race and to my fellow drivers who drove a brilliant race.
Honda Civic Type-R (Car 69)