Eventful Oulton for First Endurance Race

Oulton Park in Cheshire played host to what was supposed to be my first proper taste of endurance racing where I was guesting in the Britcar Endurance Sports and Touring Car Championship having had my round of Trophy cancelled. But unhappy circumstance – in the case of a serious accident shortly into the race – meant 90 minutes became 45.

Joining me for this weekend and the rest of the season were two new partners: Hogan Web Development and piginhat Mobile Application Development and their logos now take pride of place on each door. I was also visited by Tony Hurst of The Open University’s IET who has a keen interest in race data logging and analysis, and I hope to be doing more work with him as a result.

Having suffered from slight dehydration at my Trophy round at Thruxton, I’d bought a Camelbak insulated hydration pack through Amazon and we fitted it to the roll bar just behind the driver’s seat. Instead of water, I filled it with my normal pre- and post-race tipple Lucozade Sport, which hydrates better than water and replenishes lost minerals. Although the weather was cooler than it was at Thruxton, we actually had more sun than forecast and my Nomex race gear was in serious need of a wash once I got it home!

Although I have raced on this challenging circuit before, I’d booked a full day of testing on the Friday to re-familiarise myself with its challenges and to see if I could knock a few seconds off my lap record – set in the BRSCC Porsche Championship in 2013. To my annoyance, I didn’t manage to do so until qualifying on the afternoon of race day, where I shaved just 0.6 seconds off the time I set last season – I was hoping to be at least 4 seconds quicker. As usual, one or two corners continued to be a specific problem and I think a small grid meant I was only rarely in a position to pursue other cars – which always makes me go faster! Here’s a video of my fastest lap:

Confusion over exactly which qualifying and race sessions I was supposed to be in made me miss the compulsory drivers’ briefing and I had to make the unenviable visit to the Clerk of the Course’s office to apologise – fortunately he accepted my excuse and I avoided a £170 fine!

In the event I wasn’t due out on track until the afternoon, by which time the heavy rain that appeared on Friday had vanished, so I headed out to the other side of the circuit to get photos of my team mate Guillaume Gruchet in his Britcar Endurance Championship race. An accident immediately after the start led to the retirement of three cars and a long delay before a restart and Guillaume eventually finished 7th overall and 5th in class in the Porsche 997 Cup, giving him vital points to retain his strong Championship position.

Britcar Endurance Race 1
Team mate Guillaume Gruchet in the Porsche 997 Cup

I was to join Guillaume for the first time in a race in the afternoon, alongside big guns including the Spanish duo Javier Morcillo and Manuel Cintrano in the massive Mosler, Michael Millard in the very quick Rapier SR2 and the lovely Anna Walewska in her Intersport Racing BMW. Also ahead of me would be an Audi R8 and no less than three Ferrari 458s – serious machinery to be lined up against!

Assembly area before the afternoon qualifying session – photo © Marc Waller

I already knew I couldn’t match their pace and therefore my real aim – as well as testing my stamina for longer races – was to finish without incident, failure or contact and I’m very glad that was the case.

The crash of the Chevron GT 3 at the top of Clay Hill lead to a red flag and with no one on the grid I headed into the pits along with the #66 BMW Z3. As we waited to be re-gridded, the air ambulance landed next to the Oulton Park medical centre to take driver Alistair Lindsay away for precautionary X-rays. The pit lane marshals did their best to keep us informed and after around 20 minutes the teams pushed us back up the pit lane to rejoin at the back of the grid for the restart, the race now shortened to 45 minutes with the requirement for a compulsory pitstop now scrapped.

Great panning shot – photo © Marc Waller

At the drop of the chequered flag, I was relieved to find that 48 minutes and 20 laps of the 2.69-mile circuit did not leave me unduly drained and in parc ferme I took the opportunity to talk to professional race driver and coach Calum Lockie who has always been one of my inspirations, having first met him on the grid of the Britcar 24 Hour at Silverstone. I might have finished only 14th out of 17 starters, but it was still an immensely enjoyable race and credit must go to Newbridge Motorsport for again delivering a faultlessly-performing race car. And I must thank the BRSCC marshals and officials who were severely tested by the various incidents – I think the marshals got to use every flag in the box!

My next race will see me return to the 3×90-minute Trophy format at Snetterton on 9th August.