So last weekend I kicked off my racing season with the season opening Fiesta Six Hour Race. This race is a whole different ball game to your standard 15 minute sprint race. The necessity of a decent strategy coupled with some good consistent pace and some luck. Now as a team we’ve never had an issue with either the strategy or the pace but our luck has been somewhat dreadful in these races. We’ve lost chances at victory from everything to a broken wing mirror to a full on engine meltdown. However my wheel bearing fire at last October’s Endurance Race meant we certainly went down in a blaze of glory! This year I’d be driving for Alan Dawson’s Mr Gearbox Mr Clutch entry along with Keith Dawson and Sean Woods who after many years finally put the tools down and put the overalls back on. A quick test the day before showed the car was well capable of running at the front so once again we had to hope Lady Luck would be nice to us for once.
When qualifying kicked off the rain arrived moments after the green flag was shown. Most teams including ourselves reckoned that the session wouldn’t dry and that the times would be set within the first five minutes. However by the time I got in to just do the minimum three laps necessary the track began to dry just enough to drop the lap times considerably. I soon managed to jump myself to pole almost a second clear of the whole pack but was left a bit frustrated as I was called in a lap too early and missed the optimum window for the times. By the end of the session we had been bumped down to P3 behind the two Murray Motorsport cars but we knew we still had a decent shout at a win.
As I had set the fastest lap for our team in qualifying I now had to start the race. This posed some new challenges such as doing my first ever rolling start. My more pressing concern was the heavy rain that had fallen between qualifying and the race. The start went relatively well but I was boxed in on the inside behind Niall Murray in the #30 Murray car and fell back to P4. The track grip was almost non existent and keeping the car on the track was a real challenge. About fifteen minutes into the race I had the mother of all close moments as I caught a river of fuel that had been dropped at the second part of the Esses. The back end let go and by the time I’d caught it I was on the grass heading for the Armco. I somehow missed the barrier by less than an inch but I’d now dropped to fifth behind Johnny Whelan in the TWR car. Whelan was in full out maximum attack mode which hampered me as I was constantly forced to lift off to avoid his sideways car and eventually Formula Sheane champion Dave Parks passed me in the Vertical car while I’d been held up behind another Whelan moment. It took me a few laps to re pass Dave and as he spun at the second part of the Esses I was free to chase after the pack. However I didn’t really feel confident with the car so decided to just get the car through the stint in one piece. By the time I handed over to Alan we were back into P3 and the strategy game began to kick off.
As we all ran out our first stints it became clear it was a two horse race for the win between us and the #32 Murray Motorsport team of Michael Cullen, John Denning, Barry English and Hugh Grennan. They had the superior one lap pace over us so we knew our only shot at victory was to pull off an ambitious strategy. By the halfway stage of the race we were a minute behind them and as I got back in for my final stint I knew we needed a lot of luck to gain back the time.
However Lady Luck finally decided to be nice for once and as I passed a black and orange flag with #32 on it I knew the race was back on. They had lost their exhaust and the forced pitstop dropped them over twenty seconds behind us. I knew I had to drive fast but I knew they had Cullen behind the wheel who had been their fastest driver all day. I managed to maintain the gap until frustratingly backmarkers seemed to think the blue flag was a flag for defending! By the time I’d cleared the worst of them Cullen had halved the gap to me and retook the lead at the four hour mark.
I handed over to Alan and he kept the gap to Murray’s relatively the same but again it looked like we were beginning to fall out of the battle. However during the second last stint the race suddenly swung back into our favour. Murray’s had pit and a safety car had been scrambled ironically for the sister #30 car who was parked in a gravel trap. This meant the gap was cut from 50 to just 5 seconds. Sean incredibly for someone who had not raced for the best part of ten years managed to catch and pass Hugh Grennan and handed over to Keith with a five second lead with just 40 minutes left.
As the final stint unfolded it became clear that Murray’s had used their superior one lap pace to pull a gap on us. Unless they hit trouble by the end we had no real chance of catching them. The #32 Murray team took the win with us in second 30 seconds down but a full three laps clear of third place.
As a opener to the season the Six Hour Endurance Race is as good as any. For anyone who dismisses Endurance Racing as “boring”, you have no idea of the thrill and atmosphere as your stood in the garage hoping that you’ve managed to somehow make this ambitious strategy pay off. Ours didn’t quite work out as much as we wanted it to however second place is not bad going at all considering our previous luck. The race was a good warmup for both the Zetec championship this year and the 24 Hour Citroen C1 Race in Rockingham in August which you’ll be reading about here when the time comes!
Until next time
Action Images from Cregor Elliott