A last-minute invitation from my team has led to a return to racing, to co-drive a Porsche Boxster in the Britcar Endurance Championship.
My plan for the 2015 season had always been to enter shared-drive endurance racing, but the threat of redundancy from work dissuaded me from purchase of a BMW E46 M3 that would have been our drive for races in either Britcar Endurance Championship and/or the new British Endurance Racing series. After a decision to leave racing for a while, I had only really considered entering the annual 750MC Birkett Relay as a possibility but when the offer of a seat came up in the Porsche 987 Boxster that Newbridge Motorsport are running this year for a Canadian driver, I jumped at the chance. Fareed Ali has done some racing in his native Canada but had held a desire to race some of the UK’s circuits for some time. To date he had been racing solo in the Britcar Trophy Championship of 45-minute races but in order to gain extra signatures on a UK race license, the team suggested he also enter Britcar’s Endurance Championship in the Sports and Touring category.
And so it was that I received an invitation from my team to co-drive with Fareed at Snetterton in his Porsche Boxster, a later 987 model that in theory should be almost identical to the 986 I owned and raced for three seasons. I was able to get some time in the car on the free practice day with ex-F1 driver Mike Wilds and WTCC double champion Rob Huff both present from their coaching of Fareed earlier in the day. Mike had set a blistering 2:11 – an indicator rather than a target, he said. My own personal best was 2:21.282 which I’d set in a Trophy race in August of last season so although I wanted to get as close to this time as I possibly could, I had to be realistic. I got three laps in at the end of the session and being somewhat rusty I didn’t manage to even equal my own record let alone approach Mike’s time.
It was an early start to race day with sign-on starting at an uncivilized 07:30 and we had 30 minutes in which to both qualify. It had rained overnight but had pretty much stopped before we arrived so there was much head-scatching by all teams as to which type of tyres to fit – wets or slicks. Erring on the side of caution we all went for wets and Fareed headed out first. The session was interrupted for around 10 minutes as a Porsche 997 Cup managed to bury itself in one of the few gravel traps but Fareed managed to complete four timed laps before returning to the pits for my quick session. Its was slightly unfair on him as I completed 7 full laps before the flag dropped. To date I’ve never really been happy driving in the wet but my control in these conditions is improving and I put us 8th on the 10-car grid just ahead of the TeamBRIT Army veterans that Newbridge also run, in a VW Golf. There were two 90-minute Endurance Championship races on the same day, with the Sports and Touring class – that the Newbridge cars were both in for Race 1 – to be run first. The wind having picked up, the track was completely dry by the time the rolling start grid passed under the gantry with Fareed taking the first stint. He narrowly missed a time penalty when jumping a red light at the pit lane exit – over-excitement I think!
After 19 laps I took over and my lap times started falling; by 10 laps into my stint I was posting consistent 2:20 times but my team boss Richard demanded more over the newly-fitted pit-to-driver radio and on the final lap I shattered my record with a 2:17.591. We cross the line 7th overall from 10 starters, 4th in class.
Both of the Newbridge cars entered the second race in the Invitation class, the rest of the Sports and Touring drivers having left over the lunch break – including two BMWs that had considerable power and pace over us, despite being in the same class. The team swapped tyres to another set of part-worn Dunlops and Fareed and I switched over to allow me to take the rolling start. I knew from earlier times that I should be able to stick with our team-mates’ TeamBRIT Golf and although they got a better start, I stayed with them for a few laps until a spectacular spin at Riches when I fluffed a gear change on lap 4. Recovering quickly, I increased my pace into the 2:19s to catch them again and biding my time I got past at the Agostini hairpin simply through out-braking them. My best time came from lap 18, just before pitting, at 2:18.262 – so unfortunately just not quick enough to improve my personal best.
Fareed completed his stint without incident and we finished 4th overall and 1st in class – earning the pair of us a class win trophy – my first of 2015. Fareed also picked an award for ‘Driver of the Day’ despite his early red light infringement.
At time of writing, the plan is now to join forces again for the last two rounds, firstly Silverstone International and then in early November at Donington for the “into the night” season finale.