Talk about rain! Dave and I travelled down to Silverstone on Saturday when the UK was under a thick, heavy blanket of rain bearing cloud – and it poured for 2 days solid. The Birkett 6 hour relay race was underway when we arrived and all I can say is that I was glad it wasn’t me having to race in those conditions; apparently the safety car was out on track for 2.5 hours out of the 6; no wonder!!
Given the number of cars participating in the Birkett, the paddock was packed and we were fortunate to find space to park up. The awning was quickly assembled, the MR2 unloaded and driven down to the scrutineering bay just in time for it to open at 2pm, a couple of hours earlier than usual. No issues arose with the car and it wasn’t long before we were warm and dry back in the VR2U Racing Team lorry hosting some fellow competitors who are becoming familiar friends.
We woke to a beautiful cloudless morning sky, although it was a rather chilly 5°C outside. Qualifying starting at 0950 but we had gained an hour’s sleep due to the clocks going back an hour for winter so we both felt rested. The session was shared with the Club Enduro competitors resulting in 66 cars out on track together; for that reason I made sure I was at the assembly area in good time to avoid being at the back of the queue.
The track was damp and slippery and I had only been out on the GP circuit once before at a track day (numerous races on the National and International layout however) so it was a case of building up pace slowly. After the first lap I noticed a couple of dashboard warning lights had come on, specifically the Battery caution and the Engine Overheat caution. The water temperature looked fine but the alternator was not charging the battery so it was obvious I was not going to be able to complete the full 35 minute session. I decided to limp around the 3 mandatory laps to ensure I qualified to race and then peeled into the pits for help.
Dave quickly noticed that the alternator belt was missing! Despite his best efforts there was no way we could repair the car in time to get back out on circuit so he made the car safe and we returned to the Team lorry for repairs. I had to leave virtually straight away to attend the mandatory drivers’ briefing and left the car in Dave’s capable hands. On my return it was all fixed and prepped for the race. What a great support Dave is; without doubt, if it had not been for him, I would not have made it out in time for the race.
Given the shortened qualifying session I ended up 20th on the grid out of 29 cars, 6th in Class C and placed behind two Class D cars. This was certainly not what I was hoping for but the sense of injustice made me feel all the more determined to race hard and that is what I did from the outset. In the first lap I managed to get past 5 cars and overtook the leading Class C car on the first bend of the second lap. From then on it was a case of trying to pull out a minimum lead of 10 seconds since I had an additional 5 second success penalty to serve during the pit stop for coming 3rd in the previous race. It was a great relief to see the time gap on the pit board, manned by local friend Robin Jones, increase with laps until I had the margin I was looking for. The pit stop went smoothly and it was without doubt the greatest sense of elation I have yet experienced in racing when the chequered flag came out and I knew I had won my class at the iconic Silverstone circuit on the last race of the season.
After the cool down lap a marshal directed me to pull over in the pits where a garland was presented as well as being interviewed live. It was a wonderful moment, one that I will not forget for a long time; it was genuinely a great team effort and we all felt a great sense of elation. Unfortunately this was not to last. About an hour later we learned that a competitor who had finished ahead of me had been incorrectly classified as a Class B car but had in fact entered into Class C which relegated me to 2nd. It was such a blow and whilst I would ordinarily have been delighted with a podium finish, it felt a massive let down after the sheer delight of being first.
At the time of writing I still do not know if the mistake was the competitor’s or the Club’s. If it was the competitor’s I feel the decision to award him the victory was wrong. If it was the Club’s mistake, I can accept it since the organisers had such a challenging weekend to manage that I can understand how a detail like this could slip through the nets. It doesn’t take away the sense of disappointment but as they say, that is part of the highs and lows of motorsport.
The race was streamed live, although the link went down half way through coming back towards the end. Here’s a link to the first part of the race and a link to my moment of glory when I was interviewed immediately after the event:
The Roadsports Race starts at time 1:10 on the following link
My interview starts at minute 12:12 so you will need to wind the clip back a bit.
Looking ahead to next year there is much work to be done on the car over winter and I am already chomping at the bit to get out and race. Bring on the 2020 racing calendar!