To close my racing season, this was to be my first Birkett Relay since 2015, when I was part of a four car team in Rogue Motorsport Toyota MR2s. Then I was in a Mk3 Roadster – this time it was to be a Mk2.
WARNING: This article contains Top Gear spoilers! We were all under a non-disclosure agreement as Rogue had been building race cars for the BBC TV series Top Gear and as well as us and two other Toyota-based teams, would be running Matt LeBlanc, Rory Reid and Chris ‘Monkey’ Harris during the event. They were in the garage next to us so I was hopeful for an international TV appearance later!
Our MR2 team for 2017 started with four drivers with the expectation of signing a fifth by race day; this we did when JM Littman (who I had raced with the Creventic Hankook 24 Hours of Silverstone in 2016) but on the day, one dropped out so we were back down to four. Team manager Patrick assured us that there was sufficient fuel in a full tank to give us at least an hour and fifteen minutes and therefore we planned to do 1:12 stints with five drivers or 1:15 with four.
I’d bought a FitBit Charge 2 wrist-worn step/fitness monitor a few days before the race as I wanted to see what happened to my heart rate during the day. It recorded a peak heart rate 157bpm during the race and reported later that I’d burnt an incredible 5499 calories in 24 hours. Quite where it got “82 floors climbed” from I don’t know!
I was in the ‘C’ car so qualified in the third session of the morning, spending most of the time getting used to the car again having not driven one for so long. I don’t think I put in anywhere near a reasonable time but on completion, one qualifying screen showed my a P4 in Class C, just behind two Radicals and a Rapier so I was congratulated by JM for having posted a 2:18 lap – 8 seconds faster than my personal record on the GP circuit, which I’d set in Fareed’s Cayman GT4 earlier in the year. Something clearly wasn’t right with 750MC’s timing, confirmed as the race progressed where our times and position never appearing on the live timing screens. Patrick has asked the 750MC officials but was assured it was a “known problem” and that they had everything under control…
One of the other Rogue teams suffered two critical failures – those of Stuart Nicholls (MR2 SuperGT – catastrophic engine failure) and Rob Horsfield (MR2 Mk2 Speedster – diff) – in qualifying and as we were a driver down we offered Rob a chance to join our team, which after clearing with team manager and the officials, he accepted. We were back, then, to five drivers and 1:12 stints. After some seat juggling, JM saddled up for the opening stint and he was pit-boarded in with his low fuel warning just starting to show.
I took the third stint and had a fairly uneventful but not particularly quick drive; the only minor battles I had were with a Ginetta G40 and one of the Grove & Dean Alfa Romeos. Two of the Top Gear cars expired during my session: Rory’s Rolls Royce had ploughed a trail of destruction through the polystyrene turn boards at Copse and later, Chris Harris lost a wheel from his massive V12 S600 Merc at The Loop, leading to a safety car period. The team flagged me in after a few laps behind the safety car: going purely by the fuel state, I was convinced I’d only been out about 1/2 hour but investigation showed it was just over and hour.
With still nothing on the timing boards, we had no idea of either position or lap times, but I was pretty confident we weren’t in a podium position. Final results were eventually published, showing us 52nd overall, 14th in Class C – and in the handicap positions – which no one ever seems to know how they’re derived – 42nd overall but a lowly 20th in Class.
I’ll be interested to see the relevant episode(s) of Top Gear when they’re shown in the Spring of 2017 – I suspect an hour of qualifying and six hour of racing will be whittled down to mere minutes of screen time.