In his recent column, Autosport’s national editor, Kevin Turner, perfectly articulated my bewilderment when it comes to the lack of public interest in endurance racing on a national level.
“Whereas longer races often appeal to teams and drivers, who can spread their costs or get more track time, endurance events are harder to follow for the spectator,” said Turner. “And we are increasingly used to knowing every last detail of every sporting event, thanks to a myriad number of sources. Watching enduros doesn’t seem to appeal by comparison.”
Concluding his column piece, he went on to say that endurance races “create an entirely different atmosphere to a sprint event,” before suggesting that readers should “take a look at Silverstone this weekend to experience Britain’s latest instalment of enduro fever.”
And that they did, as a record number of spectators turned out to enjoy the sights and sounds of this year’s Britcar 24hr at the home of British motorsport.
Of course, a contributory factor to the increase in race goers in this, the sixth running of the event, was thanks to the record-breaking heatwave that recently gripped the country – the weather gods giving the race organisers a break for a change – and created a weekend full of entertainment both on and off the track.
As usual, this year’s event featured a packed programme of support races, including the Mazda MX5 Championship, Autosport Caterham Academy, and the rather wacky Smart 4 Two Cup to name but a few. There were plenty of off-track attractions as well – more than ever, in fact – with a funfair, live music, and air display creating a festival like atmosphere.
But what of the racing itself? In that department the main event produced a race that was full of drama, with twists and turns all the way – classic endurance racing, then.
Predictably, the Chamberlain Synergy Aquila CR1 took pole position having set a time of 2:03.560 – some five seconds quicker than 2010’s Britcar 24hr winning MJC Ferrari. But, as regular British Endurance Championship fans will know, what the Aquila has in outright pace, it often lacks in reliability.
This proved to be the case when, having built up a comfortable three lap lead after six hours of racing, it was beset by not one, but two driveshaft failures in quick succession. Having lost the best part of 30 minutes in the garage, the Danish-built prototype – being pedalled by touring-car A-listers and Superleague Formula’s John Martin – resumed running in 11th position, some 12 laps adrift of the Eclipse Motorsport Ferrari which took over at the front.
The Ferrari F430 went on to dominate throughout the night, with the Topcats Racing Mosler staying within three laps distance in second place. There was, however, unexpected drama down at Club just before 10:00am when the Ferrari, under the guidance of Phil Keen, spun like a top into the kitty litter and had to wait ten minutes to be taken back to the pits on the far side of the circuit.
A puncture, thanks to a broken roll-bar, was to blame for his abrupt halt. It did, truth be told, inject some much needed interest towards the front of the pack, as the Berkshire lad then put in a spectacular comeback drive in an attempt to clawback the five laps lost to the Topcats Mosler.
Keen nibbled away at the deficit with each tour of the Silverstone Grand Prix circuit, producing the team’s fastest lap of the race on lap 425, and then, towards the end of his stint, another unexpected turn of events occurred as the race leading Mosler crashed out of the race.
Freddie Hetherington was at the wheel when the vehicle careered into the tyre wall at Brooklands, the result of a broken throttle. Firmly wedged up to the cockpit in tyres, the 2009 Britcar 500 winners were forced to retire once the full extent of the impact became clear. And with that, the Eclipse Motorsport Ferrari of Michael and Sean McInerney, and Keen, went on to take overall victory in this year’s Britcar 24hr.
Second place went, unexpectedly, to the Nicholas Mee Racing team who proved that reliability is king in endurance racing, as their Aston Martin GT4 ran without any major hiccups. They were followed, one lap behind, by the Marcos Lotus Evora that could have mounted a serious challenge had they not been dealt a stop-go penalty for speeding in the pitlane.
In total, some 43 cars were classified in this year’s race, a truly astonishing achievement when one considers the hot conditions drivers and cars alike had to endure for the majority of the race. Of course, going home with a trophy in tow would be fantastic, but clocking up in excess of 2,000 miles is to be applauded, and I tip my cap to all those who participated.
The fact that most of the field comprises of near-standard road cars that can endure 24 hours of continual abuse, and need nothing more than a constant supply of fuel, tyres and drivers – and perhaps the occasional bit of spanner-bashing – despite being thrashed within an inch of their 7,500rpm lives, is quite frankly astounding.
Yes, this year’s race fizzled out towards the end, and yes, it perhaps didn’t reach the giddy heights of last year’s nail biting classic. But that’s the unpredictable nature of motorsport for you, especially when it comes to twice round the clock racing where anything can happen, and it usually does.
With plans afoot to make 2012’s running of the Britcar 24hr an even bigger and better event (with more off-track entertainment in the pipeline, apparently), there’s every sign of greater things to come for what is the fifth largest 24-hour race in the world, and I for one cannot wait.
A provisional date of 28th-30th September has been set aside for next year’s event. And with two weekend tickets coming in at just £20 through the early-bird discount offer (available here), it’s definitely one for the diary.
(I would also like to take this opportunity to wish the marshal who was taken to Northampton Hospital on Saturday evening a speedy recovery. Lest we forget that no marshals equals no racing, and the ones we have in the UK are some of the best).
Thanks to Chris Harrison for the use of his splendid pictures. Like what you see? Then head on over to: http://chrisharrison.smugmug.com