A recent report suggested that on average, Top Gear takes up to 44 hours of digital TV every week and has dethroned American comedy Friends to become the most repeated TV show on the box. Equally startling revelations are that if you drop something, gravity will pull it to the ground and women like to buy shoes. Who’d have thought, eh?
Fortunately most of Top Gear’s back catalogue warrants another viewing, and with the channel Dave sometimes showing the same episode three times a day, there’s a good chance of stumbling across a classic instalment of the motoring show.
Those encouraging odds were clearly in my favour a few months ago when, during a spot of channel surfing, I caught my favourite episode: the one where the lads participated in the 2007 Britcar 24hr event in a souped-up BMW 330d. A brilliant glimpse into what’s special about endurance racing, it led me to pose the question “why don’t we go to the Briticar 24hr race this year?” to my other-half.
So we did.
With more bananas in my backpack than in Gordon Brown’s belly and copious amounts of Red Bull to boot, we bowled up at Silverstone a few hours before the main event and the anticipation for this, the first Britcar 24-hour race since 2008 (thanks to the recession), was almost tangible.
I took my seat in the media centre opposite the pit straight for the start of the race. Here there was tea, biscuits, and the much desirable combination of warmth and shelter. But none of the atmosphere. So I stepped back out into the crescendo of noise that engulfed Silverstone’s Grand Prix track as 60-odd cars began their fight for victory.
Predictably, the Aquila CR1 driven by WTCC star Rob Huff waltzed off into the distance early on, and within the first hour had lapped almost the entire field. Less fortunate was Paul O’Neill in the Chevron GT3, who took the accolade of becoming the first race casualty. The BTCC driver spun out at Stowe, bringing out the first of many safety car periods that would blight the racing action.
If it was any consolation to O’Neill and his crew, at least they didn’t have to face the ultra tricky conditions come nightfall when the heavens opened and saturated the circuit. With much trepidation, those who weren’t keeping the marshals busy with visits to the kitty litter made their way into the pits for a change of suitable rubber.
It wasn’t long after bolting on a set of wets that the race leading Aquila had to make an unplanned pitstop. What initially seemed to be case of a faulty rear light quickly transpired to be a cracked rear suspension issue that saw them holed up in the garage for a good forty minutes. Philosophically, Huff claimed he was happy to be anything up to thirty laps behind, such was the pace of the car.
The Aquila eventually made it back into the race before Kelvin Burt went careering off at Bridge, due to a stuck throttle. Somehow he dragged it back to the pits, but to no avail. Disappointingly for a car that had been so incredibly quick just a few hours previously, had now retired in fourty-seventh place – some seventy laps off the pace.
From the midpoint of the race onwards, the spectators who battled fatigue and harsh weather conditions were treated to an absolute titanic battle for supremacy between the Jet Alliance Porsche and reigning Britcar champions MJC Ferrari.
Once the lengthy safety car period was out of the way, as daylight began to descend upon Silverstone, the Jet Alliance Porsche went about extending its lead, assisted by MJC being penalised several laps for various pitlane infringements.
With the clock ticking away, the leading pair who had been battling it out for the best part of twelve hours then produced one of the most fantastic climaxes to an endurance race ever.
John Gaw, at the wheel of the Ferrari, started his final stint almost a minute behind the Porsche driven by Mikael Nykjaer. But lap after lap Gaw reeled him in, chipping away at the Dane’s lead, until finally, with just over an hour remaining, he made an audacious manoeuvre going into Becketts and trundled off into the distance.
It wasn’t all over though. The Porsche took the lead once again when Gaw darted back into the pits for a change of tyres and a sip of fuel, leaving Nykjaer the arduous task of trying to retake the lead on some pretty worn out rubber.
But it came to nothing. Several minutes later the Porsche came in for its final stop and was fuelled more than its Ferrari rival. Even so, there were question marks as to whether Gaw would be able to extract the most from his machinery given it only took on board a single 25 litre can of fuel.
It quickly became apparent this wouldn’t be the case as the leading pair remained equal distance for the final thirty minutes in what was an epic, nay, truly splendid race. The Ferrari taking outright honours, with Gaw slowing to a snail’s pace as the MJC team scaled the pit wall fencing to bask in the glory of winning Britain’s only 24-hour GT event.
Some 52 cars saw the chequered flag, a truly astonishing achievement when one considers the atrocious weather conditions that dogged the majority of the race. The old saying “it’s not the winning, but taking part that counts,” has never seemed more apt. Of course going home with a trophy in tow would be awesome, but circumnavigating Silverstone’s GP circuit non-stop for a total of 560 laps is to be applauded and I tip my cap to all those who participated last weekend.
Yes, most of them were being run by professional outfits, but that any near-standard road car can endure 24 hours of continual abuse, cover 1520 miles and need nothing but a constant supply of fuel and drivers, despite being thrashed to within an inch of its 7500rpm life, is quite frankly astounding.
As events go, the 2010 Britcar 24hr ranks as one of the best race meetings I’ve ever been to. It has provided plenty of memorable moments for me to dine out on for years to come; but the one that will linger with me the most will be the rather surreal period when standing in the Luffield terrace at four in the morning. Pitch black, mist in the air, and watching a train of cars navigate their way around the series of turns, illuminating my surroundings with their headlights. Simply brilliant.
With news that the Britcar organisers have secured the rights to another five years worth of 24 hour events at Silverstone, things are definitely looking up for the series, which if rumour be believed, is to become a fully fledged championship next season: the MSA British Endurance Championship.
It may not have the prestige of Le Mans, or attract the publicity it so richly deserves, but give it time and I predict that as far as endurance races go, the Britcar 24hr (or whatever it’ll be called) will take pride of place on many a racing enthusiast’s calendar.
So, see you on the terraces at some ungodly hour next year, yeah?