Race Ambition Realised with a 4th Place Finish

After a very long and tiring weekend, I have fully realised my ambition to race in the 24 Hours of Silverstone – a dream I’ve worked towards through four seasons of racing. Not only did we take part – and cross the line – we finished 4th in class.

We’d had problems on the Wednesday test day (see earlier post) and although the cars ran ok in the Saturday morning warm-up session, the black car had some strange electrical problem while in its place on the starting grid and the white car was still in the garage with a failed Accusump and was forced to start from the pit lane – putting us in absolutely last place.

Accusump failure just before the start
Accusump failure just before the start

Merill took the first stint in #162 and we basically set off with the intention of running for as long as we could. The black car’s issues were fixed with the aid of a diagnostic tester and it started from the second but last row of the grid with my race coach and great friend Malcolm Edeson at the wheel.

Rogue Motorsport 24H Series.com Silverstone GH6_5846
Merill taking the first stint – note the 41 showing our starting position of last place © Gary Harman

With the driveshaft problems, we’d not been able to run the car for long enough on the GP circuit to work out our fuel usage with any accuracy and had to rethink our strategy when we factored in the restrictions of a maximum of 50 litres if you refuel during a Code 60, and the rule that no one person can drive for more than 2 hours in a single stretch. We therefore decided that each driver would double-stint with a brief refuel to top off the tank approximately every 55 minutes. An added complication was that the team owner Patrick was going to have to drive both cars, but was limited to an absolute maximum of 6 hours in each, so we wanted to arrange it that he would have as few stints as possible. The three remaining drivers would therefore do four 2-hours stints each and then any remaining time would be decided later.

Rogue Motorsport 24H Series.com Silverstone GH6_5859
#162 being chased by one of the many Seat Leon Supercopas © Gary Harman

I took the 2nd stint, 16:00 – 18:00, meaning I would ease into driving in the dark and had a really good drive, although my laps were always going to be at bit slower than the other drivers. I didn’t need the extra LED lights on – dipped beam headlights were enough – but some other cars didn’t turn their lights on at all, making them almost impossible to see. It was spitting with rain as I finished the stint, still on slicks, but from then on it rained pretty much continuously through the night: with no wind, a thick mist enveloped the circuit making visibility extremely poor. Some drivers said afterwards that they were the most difficult conditions they had ever raced in.

We had just one set of wets for each car

In the middle of the night #163 suffered a few instances of total electrical failure, leaving the driver stranded on circuit with no communications – and worse still, no lights! This lead to this car being out of the running for a while with the Rogue mechanics frantically looking for a solution, leaving #162 to drive on through the horrendous conditions brought on by hours of drizzly rain. Coincident with a brake change, the ABS failed meaning I had to be that much more careful under heavy braking, particularly at the Vale chicane as the gravel trap isn’t far away from the edge of the track.

24H Series.com SilverstoneGH6_6147
A fantastic night shot © Gary Harman

During my second stint, I had a massive spin at Club corner – a notorious spot for cars hitting the new Wing pit wall – and went off at Becketts into the gravel, but was able to drive through and continue. After just 1 ¼ hours of my night stint though, I called in for an early driver change – I didn’t really want to have to do a short stint but I felt that had I continued, I might have made more severe mistakes and maybe damaged the car. Endurance racing requires a different mindset from sprint racing – you always have to think about the other drivers and how they would feel if you crashed the car and led to a DNF; this race was also part of a championship so the drivers who are going to compete in later rounds would need the points.

After another shower and attempt at sleep in the motor home, my third stint was at dawn on an almost completely dry track. I’d taken a tinted helmet visor with me in case low sun was an issue, but didn’t need it. It was early Sunday and it looked like it was going to be a glorious day…

24H Series.com SilverstoneGH6_6257
The #163 sister car through Club Corner with The Wing in the background © Gary Harman

Sunday’s stints continued without incident with our cars but two of the Clios above us in the A3 class were forced into retirement and for the first time, a podium finish became a possibility. At the same time, as it was looking like we would actually finish, we didn’t want to do anything to undermine the chances of that and all drivers needed to remain focused and avoid costly mistakes – difficult when none of us had managed to get much sleep.

Driver and tyre change for the #163 car
Driver and tyre change for the #163 car

The little Toyotas plodded on and to our considerable delight – and frankly amazement – both cars crossed the finish line a little after 16:00 on Sunday – together, in formation. #162 – my car – was 26th overall and an absolutely amazing 4th in class. The sister car #163 picked up a rather bizarre 10 second track limits penalty so although they cross the line together, having made up their lap deficit from its electrical issues, it finished 27th overall, 5th in class. It was an even better moment for some of the co-drivers and the Rogue team, who had taken part in the 24 in previous years (under the old Britcar banner) but never finished. And it could be the first time a road-legal car has driven to this race, competed, finished and then been driven home – we’ll have to confirm that later.

Here’s a short iPhone video of both cars taking the chequered flag.

I extend heartfelt thanks to all at Rogue Motorsport, especially Patrick Mortell (owner and co-driver in both cars), Carolyn (owner’s boss), Matthew (team manager) and Jim (radio); #162 co-drivers Merill Readett and Alric Kitson; #163 drivers JM Littman, Clive Bailye and of course Malcolm Edeson – who has also done the majority of my race coaching. Also to Richard and the lads at Newbridge Motorsport who encouraged me and eased me into endurance racing through Britcar. Quite where my next ambition lies I’m not sure…

Race statistics for #162
Total laps: 432 (119 by me)
Miles completed: 1581
Fuel used (approx) : 130 gallons
Hankook race tyres used: 16 (including 4 wets)
Driver stints: 14 (4 by me)
Fastest lap: 2:34.1 77 (not by me!)

Big thanks to Gary Harman for many of the photos here – he’s posted a full gallery of photos to Flickr.