Blowing out the cobwebs.

So as most of you (hopefully) may know by now we race our little Mazda mx5 with the BRSCC, but an opportunity to do something a little different came up. I was working my way through the various social media platforms and spotted a team looking for drivers for an endurance race, seems interesting, not only that but it was at my local circuit; Croft. I couldn’t miss out on this really as I have been wanting to try my hand at endurance racing for ages. Now the idea of a shared drive might be a nightmare for some people, but putting your faith in somebody else to bring it home for you is truly exciting for me. It’s like watching your favourite football team (other sports are available) and once it gets to half time you and your mates don your shirts and take over.

I got in contact with Jo who runs JDC Racing and expressed my interest, we covered the details of cost, liability, blah, blah, blah and that was it, I signed up to take the seat and suddenly I had entered my first endurance race!

We drove to Croft after a long day at work counting down the hours until race time. Finally after a full year of sitting track side I was getting back on the black stuff. Saturday morning came and we met for the first time. For those of you that have followed us for a while you may know we don’t test, not through choice! we just don’t. My first time sitting in the car was when I was shoe horned in for the last 20 minutes of qualifying.

Or so we thought.

Instantly this felt so different to our little Mazda, the throw on the gears was long and numb, I was really struggling to find gears. It had ABS and traction control still active. Ooo I didn’t  like this one little bit. But I slowly built up some speed taking in the track more than anything else. I should say at this point that it was wet, very wet, even for Croft. I head around the hairpin ready to start my first flying lap and I see…the f**king chequered flag!!!! WHAT?! Qualifying had been cut short. I wasn’t a happy bunny to say the least, but I wasn’t going to spit my dummy out. It would get me nowhere so what’s the point.

We can skip some of the details of what happens next but we can just say everything got resolved.

Race One:

With endurance racing it was a rolling start and one of the other drivers, Nick, got us going. Very shortly after the safety car was back out on track. I was next with Gary our other driver putting in the 3rd stint. Race 1 closed out with us in 13th. It didn’t set the world on fire but in all fairness overtaking opportunities are hard to come by when, I think, the safety car put in the more laps that race than any of the race cars.  Honestly cars where falling off left, right, and centre. I couldn’t believe it. On the bright side though we could chalk it off as a dress rehearsal.

Even though we were the only championship there time was short, race 1 finished and we had enough time to swap the tires, dump some fuel in and send the car and Nick on their way to form up for race 2.

Race 2:

Our starting position was dictated by our finishing position in race 1, so we were 13th on the grid. Nick got a good start and was making his way through the pack, with pit stops and Nick pushing on, at one point we were actually leading the race. When Nick’s stint ended we were 5th, but by the time a driver swap was done and I headed out onto track we were sitting pretty in 22nd. My only instruction was “give it some b***ocks!” After all the pit stops were complete and a few overtakes I was sitting in 17th. This was not where we wanted to be. Jo had said previously that if we could make it into the top 5 he would be over the moon, so lets get it done...

I came out of the pit lane after scanning my tag to be greeted immediately by the safety car board. This was my opportunity to catch the pack and get straight into the race once the green flags are out. A few laps passed and we were finally set free. A quick check of the mirrors and all I could see were head lights, first task; shake them off. Meanwhile ahead of me I could see the spray from the red and yellow 461 car getting closer. I threw it up the inside on the exit of the Jim Clark Esses and that gave me the breathing room from my pursuer that I needed to get my head down. No sooner had I passed 461, I caught up with a 3 car battle going through sunny in, probably not the best place to just surprise someone given the antics of today so far. It seemed that nearly every time I came through Barcroft somebody was in the grass at the sunny's, I killed a bit speed and lined up my run through sunny out. I came out faster than the battling 3 and had the run up the inside toward the complex, I was off the normal line heading toward the braking point but this was a wet race; advantage Mike. Unfortunately 484's driver was brave and stuck it out around the outside of me but we both lived to fight another lap. On the entrance to Clervaux I seen my chance and took a dive up the inside only to be greeted by them ever so familiar yellow flags. I gave the place back. Finally a dive up the inside at tower saw me through; giving me a good run through the Esses gaining me another place before sunny in. This turned out to be 'my move' as over the next 3 laps it gained me a further handful of places and put me right on the back of the blue and orange 445, but no matter how hard Each of us tried; I couldn't pass and they couldn't shake me. Lap after lap passed each lap at least one car on average was passed, but no matter how many times Simon from SJS vehicle movements pointed that car out as my next target 445 just teased me by staying around a second ahead.

I chased 445 for the rest of my stint each time pushing a little harder, braking a little later, and a few times running a little wider than I would like, even back markers (at least that’s what I thought) didn't bring us much closer together. By the time my stint finished I was feeling it. I pulled in for the driver change only to have a phone shoved in my face displaying a TSL timing screen, I was 7th. I couldn't believe it, they weren't back markers, they were overtakes for position, I went out for an hour lapping a little over 2 minutes a lap in the wet, and passed 14 cars excluding safety car periods and abandoned overtakes due to yellow flags I averaged an over take every other lap, not bad going considering I hadn’t drove this car before this morning and hadn't drove a car in anger at all for over 18 months. These "back markers" were the racers I read about before coming here, LMP3 drivers, historic formula 1 drivers, Ginetta champions, I tell you it; it was a great feeling.

As I get out Jo warns me to take on some water and get some energy, I'm going back out to take the flag for 20 minutes when Gary comes in. Bless Gary had an issue I doubt any of the drivers in the glitz and glamour of motor sport have, he couldn't do a long stint because it would make him late for night shift. As soon as he was out of the car he dived into his road car and was on his way to work. I jump back in for the final stint of the day (Nick had left) and got the hammer down. Just before I jumped in the car I heard a car 'lock up' heading into the hairpin, that tire screech let me know one thing, there's a dry line. Car fuelled, man hood squashed, I'm ready to go. When Gary came in we were 5th but due to the driver change I tagged out in 7th. Using the dry line I could push the car harder than before, within 2 laps the lap timer on the dash board was lit up in those beautiful green LED's, I was beating our fasted lap every time I passed the timing beacon, but yet I still felt like there was more in the car. Toward the end of the race cars began dropping off the track and the only explanation was the dry line was allowing drivers to push harder for longer meaning the original fuel calculations were off, Thankfully Jo insisted we throw some in before I go out.

Finally, after a long day, I round the hairpin for the last time and see the chequered flag but more importantly the pit wall full of my team holding a pit board reading P3. P3? P3! I could not believe it this little car in its first round of the C1 endurance club brought it home onto the podium.

What a day!

Mike