Another of my racing ambitions, to race in the annual 6 hour 750MC “Birkett” relay race at Silverstone, has been fulfilled after a last-minute invite to join a team of Toyota MR2s run by my friends at Rogue Motorsport. After an invite to race in a SEAT Supra Cup car fell through, I didn’t expect to be anything but a spectator (again) this year so I was greatful that my long-term race coach and friend Malcolm Edeson pinged me an invite to join his team of four cars for this year’s event.
The Birkett is always popular and this year’s race attracted 69 teams, with a wide variety of cars from BMWs, Radicals, Sakers, Morgans, big old Jags – and swarms of Caterhams – to the MGB V8s and a Chevrolet Corvette in the garage next to hours. A fact omitted from the programme, this latter team included Brian Johnson, lead singer of AC/DC and committed petrol head, and his shared drive of one of the MGBs was being filmed as part of another series of “Cars That Rock“. My long-term racing friend Rebecca Jackson brought her Boxster to be part of 5-car mixed team of Porsches and Ginettas.
After substantial overnight rain, qualifying on a wet track was inevitable and given this was to be my first time driving this version of the MR2 I was a bit apprehensive. I lined up with all the other ‘B’ cars (the cars of each team have a letter indicating their group) and we headed out for 20 minutes of qualifying and although I only need complete three laps, I stayed out for the full session to get used to the controls. My naturally smooth driving kept me heading in the right direction, which was more than could be said for quite a few of the other cars – in fact for comparative pace I did better in this session than in the race – I can’t remember being overtaken once. Unfortunately the pedal position didn’t allow me to heel-and-toe, so I had to carefully rev-match on downshifts to avoid upsetting the car – even more important in the wet.
The original plan was for Malcolm – being the fastest and most experience driver – to start the race and to run for as close to 95 minutes as possible but he encountered an electrical issue, possibly in the fuel injection system. To avoid me having to sit ready in my car for 95 minutes, we had the third-slot driver Martin Farrelly ready in front of me in the garage for the first 1/2 hour. With Malcolm coming in early, Martin had no choice but to take his MR2 Mk.II (the only non-Roadster in the team) out to continue the race.
However, even plan B was cancelled when a serious collision between Copse and Maggots corners began a very long safety car period and Martin chose to pit, leaving me to join the convoy which lasted an entire 30 minutes – a great way of learning the lines for a novice driver I’ll admit, but Silverstone being my home circuit, I didn’t really need that much extra training! When the safety car finally went in, I got a mere 10 minutes of racing before being hit in the side by something small and blue on my way through the Vale cut-through. There was quite a bang but I avoided the gravel, was able to rejoin and even though the car felt OK, I was getting tyre smoke in the cabin and decided to pit to have the car checked over.
Our 4th driver, also appearing in his first Birkett, Will Powell took over and the Rogue mechanics descended on my car to check and repair the damage. Whatever hit me holed the outer surface of the sill and pushed both layers of the left door forward, as well as displacing the bumper and damaging the rear light. There was some damage to the rear wheel too and although the car didn’t feel badly affected, a check of the geometry was required to confirm nothing amiss with the suspension. After careful adjustment with a sledge hammer and suitable application of gaffer tape, the car was ready for me to take over from Will so I could complete my 90 minutes.
Malcolm did a second stint to complete his originally allotted time and encountered the same electrical issue as before and had to be recovered.
At time of writing, out of 69 entries our team finished 65th across the line and 63rd in the handicap results. Although things didn’t go to plan, this was my first taste of “proper” endurance racing involving multiple drivers and team tactics and given I wasn’t in the best of health, I reckon I did ok – not necessarily in terms of pace, but in terms of keeping my concentration and situational awareness at all times.
My thanks to my co-drivers Malcolm, Will and Martin for inviting me, and to Patrick and the whole Rogue Motorsport team for supplying the car and running it.