The Britcar 24 Hours

Allegedly, Ranault gave away 150,000 tickets to its event at Donington Park last weekend – and 50,000 turned up.

By ‘free Renault event’ standards in Europe, that was a poor turnout: by UK motorsport standards, it was a fabulous turnout. Meanwhile, 50 miles south, the maiden Britcar 24 Hours was being held – in front of a dismal crowd.

EERC supreme James Tucker was simultaneously infuriated at the lack of promotion and thrilled at the event itself. The phrase “not a promoted event” kept cropping up throughout the three days, implying that there was no desire on the part of the circuit to attract spectators. What a crying shame that was – especially because it was such a very good 24 hour race, and the public could hear the excellent commentary, thanks to the relative ‘quietness’ of the cars.

The 55 entries that turned up were voicing their support for the Britcar 24 Hours, and the reliability of the 53/55 was truly remarkable. The top three finishers barely had a problem between them, while the Cirtek Porsche in fourth suffered two separate, but relatively minor, problems. Arguably, the reliability of the top runners was better than at Le Mans.

But there were stories galore last weekend, the like of which you don’t find at Le Mans. Our favourite was the driver of the Mercedes 500 SEC, who pitted under the Safety Car because he was cold. The team threw in a coat (or was it a tartan picnic rug?) and sent him on his way.

The same car managed to set its fastest lap of the race under the Safety Car! How could that happen then? Presumably it was being hurried along by the pack behind…

And it was 14 hours before the big Mercedes needed a tyre change…. “If you’d like to sit in our customer lounge and enjoy a coffee, we’ll let you know when your car is ready, sir.”

That was the spirit of the Britcar 24 Hours: racers enjoying themselves. It may have been comparable to “your first day at the Jim Russell Driving School” (M. Franchitti), but there were relatively few incidents. The likes of Kelvin Burt, Franchitti, Tim Harvey, Adam Jones, Nigel Greensall, Steven Kane, Shaun Balfe and Martin Short were going like the clappers almost the whole time they were at the wheel, but typically they (almost all) had a safety margin in hand. This was classic endurance racing, not the ‘knock ‘em off’ type that features in one so-called endurance championship these days. If there was contact, it was because someone inadvertently got in the way – but what better way to get racing experience than to race over 24 hours?

The weather of course did its best to foul up the event, but failed. Even the mother and father of all thunderstorms on Friday evening only added to the aura of the maiden Britcar 24. Drivers actually parked on the track during the night qualifying session because a) they didn’t know where they were and b) the tarmac and the grass looked exactly the same! The Safety Car crashed and took out its lights, so Adam Sharpe shepherded it home, in his Falcon.

We had the prospect of a mid-race engine change in the Noble (which didn’t happen), the invitation from one BMW team for a member of the public to lend them his road car engine (no one took up that offer, but cue Sam Hignett to say “the grunter’s ****ed”), two (or was it three?) diff. changes in the Guy Smith / David Leslie / Harry Handkammer / Anthony Reid BMW, the diff. of one of the Falcons going back to Andy Dawson’s workshop for a mid-race rebuild, a marshal struck by lightning (he shrugged it off and was on duty on Saturday and Sunday) and a jacuzzi in the paddock.

“We wondered what we could do to be different,” explained Pete Morris, “and someone came up with the idea of a jacuzzi.” Apparently, it was the most invigorating experience, and just what a tired driver needed before or after a stint. Thoughts turn to the Hawaiian Tropic girls in a jacuzzi at Le Mans next June……

So crap weather, a poor crowd – and Sam Hignett, as expected, didn’t manage to stay awake for 24 hours. Drivers are wussies, as predicted.

Scheduling the event at the same time as a big Renault freebie at Donington Park was dire misfortune on the part of James Tucker. There has been relatively little discussion of the Britcar event during the past few days, but all those who were there knew that they had been involved in a genuine endurance race. Well done everyone who made it happen. Stick out your chests with a sense of pride.

The challenge for 2006 is to get the public through the gate. Can it be done? And if the weather is poor again, can I borrow the travel rug, Herr Mercedes Driver?

We thoroughly enjoyed covering this event – and at times it was an absolute hoot to write about. Thanks to all of you who made it so memorable.
Malcolm Cracknell (who didn't fall asleep, even for a moment)

 

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