Rolex 24 – Rollcentre’s Rolex – Eight Guys In The Top Four
Martin Short’s ‘short’ career racing Moslers has been remarkably successful within a few ‘short’ months. With no ‘shortage’ of space to tell the Rollcentre Rolex story, we tell it all here – or rather Martin himself does. But you might choose to print this one off! We’d hoped to post this a week earlier….

If we’re going to begin at the beginning, we’d better go back to the Petit Le Mans last autumn. My faithful sponsor Deutsche Bank were keen to support me doing the 10 hour race, in a Saleen – but my wife Michelle and I really believed that I should have been in the no. 1 car, and in the end that deal didn’t happen. We agreed that I’d be better off using the money that would have been spent there buying a spare engine to go to Bathurst, with the Mosler.

That race proved that we could get a Mosler to the finish of a 24 hour race, and with two cars at Daytona, we were sure that by running at a conservative pace, we would be in with a good chance of a podium. Although we’d entered and finished at Bathurst and Spa, we’re realistic enough to know that as a team, we’re not experienced enough to compete with the big dogs, those going for class wins – or better.

So both of our Daytona cars would be raced at a reasonable pace. I did have an idea that we’d have a ‘fast’ car and a ‘slow’ car, but that would hardly have been fair to the drivers in the ‘slow’ car. As it turned out, Goodyear couldn’t supply us with a GT-spec. tyre, so both cars would run with the bigger tyres, and the #30 would also run with the bigger engine.

Once I started telling people about a plan to enter Daytona (one car at this stage), I had 12 drivers who wanted to do it! Warren Mosler made sure there was a car I could use: typical Warren, he was keener for us to race a second car than to sell it to a customer, for racing later.

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But you know how things change….when it came down to it, 12 suddenly became four (plus myself). Rob Barff was one of them, and he’s got a great backer behind him, the Cobra Group, and knowing Rob as I do, it was natural to have him in charge of the second car. John Burton was actually the first to sign with us, while Andy Britnell gave me his word at the TVR Dinner. He just asked how much and agreed to drive there and then.

The funny thing was though, Andy ended up selling his business, and found that he needed to be in the UK on the Friday of race week: he e-mailed me to say he couldn’t do the race. I never got the e-mail, fortunately. When we spoke on the phone, by which time he’d realised he could still do the race, he reckoned he could hear the blood draining out of my face when I suddenly realised that he was contemplating dropping out.

Tom Herridge had already signed up, but with four weeks to go, I still needed three drivers. I was committed to two cars, I was sure that we had a better chance of a podium than if we were in the GT class, and I was pushing that point to potential drivers. I was being offered $10,000, but was determined to stick to my guns – although I was getting more and more nervous. I was still sure I would get the right drivers, at the right price, but…

In fairness to the five of us who were down to drive, it was important to have drivers of the right calibre. Then Richard Stanton agreed to drive with us, and with two weeks to go, David Shep phoned from Canada: we hit it off straight away, so now we needed only one.

The sharks were circling once we arrived at the track, hoping to get in the seat for a pinch, and I really couldn't afford it, and then Rick Sutherland arrived. John Burton knew him and we got on just great. Rick was hoping to make his ninth start in the race…a race he'd never finished. He saw the set up we had, the spares and backing from Mosler and was duly sold, and we were really pleased to have him on board. It turned out that I was offering him a chance at a podium that was soon to become a reality.

With the Bathurst car going straight to Moslers from Australia, it needed a full rebuild, so I sent five of our blokes out to Florida, on January 10. They stripped it to the tub, installed the bigger engine for a bit more grunt, rebuilt the gearbox, everything. They also helped the factory guys with preparing the #31 car, which was a year old, but for whatever reason had never been raced. It had just done a few tests, and was essentially a new car.

The biggest problem the guys had was fitting the diffusers, which were actually works of art. We had to run with the ‘Daytona’ wing of course, and two of those cost $3,600. The guys had one day off from January 10, and just about got everything finished late in the evening, the night before leaving for the track.

So there we were – 9.30 Wednesday morning, unloading at the Speedway. I knew from the previous year (in the Saleen) how crucial the time scale is at Daytona: you can’t afford to have a problem, and the time factor ended up getting me really stressed

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Once we took to the track on Thursday, it was apparent that both cars were being ‘difficult’ on the Goodyears. For whatever reason, the Konrad Saleen was fine, and we knew the Perspective car had been great on Dunlops here in the past – but here we were on the back foot already.

We’d definitely lost out on ultimate pace by not doing the Test Days, but that would have doubled the cost. We were effectively five seconds off Perspective in qualifying, and three seconds off in the race – but we were going about it differently from them. They had four professional hard chargers, and were going at it much harder than us.

I saw some in-car footage of the Buckler 911 on the banking, and the driver kept one hand on the gear lever all the way round: he didn’t return it to the wheel after any of the gear shifts. And here we were struggling to tune the car in to the Goodyears – using both hands all the way.

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Should we spend more time tuning the car in, or give the drivers more time at the wheel? That was an easy one…I was the only one of the eight of us to have driven a Mosler before! So let’s tune the drivers in to the car and the circuit, and leave me to get stressed about tuning the car in.

My #30 was being a little difficult anyway: it was running 10 degrees hot on all the gauges, and we’d melted a gear shift cable as a result. We had no choice but to take the diffuser off the #30 car, and that cost us two seconds a lap. But if we’d kept it on, we could have cooked everything, so that was an easy decision.

#31 was meanwhile running perfect temperatures. I left it up to the four drivers to decide whether to keep the diffuser on or take it off that car, and having tried the car without, it was easy for them to decide to leave it on! Quite right too – they had no problems with temperatures throughout the race.

But with more downforce, they had more (rear) grip and…used less (front) brakes. On the #30 car, we ended up changing (front) discs once and pads twice. On the #31, they were using the rear brakes much better than we were, which saved their front brakes. But their rears were down to 2mm of pad left at the end, which caused Rob a concern or two in the last stint.

So that’s more or less everything that happened up to the start of the race – and although we’d had our difficulties, I was aware that Perspective were changing an engine…..almost right up to the start.

After an hour and ten minutes, we were second in class! The way it started, it couldn’t have gone better for the #30. I’d started, the economy was excellent, and at 70 minutes, with almost everyone else having pitted, a yellow came out, I pitted, Tom (Herridge) took over, and we were second in GTS. That happened again – at least once – and somehow we were four or five laps up on our #31, and I was thinking that if it carries on like this, things could be looking very good indeed.

Then at five hours we had a wheel bearing fail. It was the left rear, and it looks as though the peculiarities of the Daytona banking had been dragging the wheel across the track, and loading up the inner edge of the bearing, an unusual situation. We’d developed a stop gap measure to beef up the bearings as soon as we’d got hold of this car last autumn, but since Daytona, we’ve developed a proper fix, with help from Glebe Engineering in the UK and Mosler Automotive.

I found out later that Perspective were tightening up the bearing nut at every second pit stop, to save them having problems, and we followed suit.

Then in the ninth hour, we had an outer CV joint fail. One of the ‘fixes’ we’d put in place was to fit a GKN CV joint, instead of having the output shaft and CV joint as one unit, but we think the CV failed because we’d had a couple of spins, maybe with the driver’s foot on the brake. One joint failed, and then the other – at about 11pm and 3am.

Before the first CV joint went, I was back at the motorhome – we were prepared, we had two! – listening to the radio, and heard that Tom was being towed in. I hurried back to the pit, and watched Luke and the lads doing a brilliant job to replace it. We did a pad change at the same time.

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I was in the motorhome when the second one went, but felt there was no need for me to be there watching the repair – so I left them to it. I got about an hour and a half’s kip, snuggling up to Michelle and Morgan, then I was ready to go for the dawn stint at 5.30. It was lovely, just fabulous. I did it last year too, in the Saleen.

dailysportscar.comWith our problems, we were going to need other cars to have problems, including our sister car, and we didn’t want that. Perspective were pounding round, the #46 Morgan Dollar Corvette was still looking immaculate with only a quarter of the race left – so for us in #30, maybe a podium was out of our reach.

But with the car running faultlessly at dawn, I was trying to get some time back…then I thought, what’s the point of a second or two here and there? We just had to keep going, and we inched up the order from sixth to fifth, then the Saleen had problems at 11am and we were fourth.

With 90 minutes to go, I hopped in for the last time, just as the Saleen went back out, two laps down on us. I pushed as hard as I dared, and we both pitted for a splash of fuel with 45 minutes to go. We gained about 18 seconds on them then – I think they did a driver change – and although they came past me once, I knew they had to pass me twice more, and they weren’t going to do that.

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Rob was in #31, and he’d backed right off because his rear pads were so low, so I passed him three times. I’m not sure if I’d have been so cautious in that situation, but supposing I’d been in that car, and had gone for second place…it might have all gone wrong, so Rob did the right thing. Especially as I found out today that a tooth was missing from the gearbox pinion! All credit to Hewland, the box didn’t fail, even like that.

dailysportscar.comThe #30 car had the air jacks fail at six hours, so we had to jack it up NASCAR-style after that. Then the radio played up, it was the #30 that had all the niggles.

I left Car 31’s drivers to decide what length stints they would do, and they decided on an hour at a time. We stuck to an hour and ten minutes, and I felt that if they'd gone for longer stints they could have been in contention for the win - maybe. They were only 5 laps behind the winning Perspective car at the end….

But although I was disappointed for us in #30 not to be on the podium, it was great to see the #31 drivers up there, especially for Rick Sutherland, after nine attempts at a finish. And perhaps ‘my’ car finishing behind the sister car is good for business anyway. Running two cars the way we did was the right way to go about it.

The race was different this year, obviously, and from a personal point of view, yes, it was better for me and my team. I had £300,000 worth of equipment out there, with some inexperienced drivers, so it was better not to have the SRPs wanging past: that was a great relief.

And the TV coverage last year was all prototypes. This year, there was much better coverage of all the classes, although of course I’d have to admit that the SRPs did add to the spectacle. They’re the true spirit of sportscar racing. Disregarding the spectators for a moment, because I do this for my enjoyment, for the enjoyment of my drivers, and as a business, it was safer this year, and we had a better chance of a good result. But the SRPs did make it a grander event. The Daytona Prototypes were not as quick as no doubt Grand Am hope for, and I don't really like the egg shape that they have. I am not sure how expensive they end up at, but the Mosler at $230,000 has got to be a good buy….and look how pretty it is!

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We’ve got some work to do though. With the car as it is, we just can’t wear out the tyres. We still had the mould lines visible on the front tyres after six or seven stints. I don’t think we used more than ten sets throughout the meeting, on both cars.

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We'll have found the secret to making the car go quicker when we start wearing out the tyres. But we've had no time with our Rollcentre car: look what we've done with it. We ran it at Donington park, with no testing. Then we took it to Zolder, got a finish, shipped it to Australia, got a finish, shipped it to Florida, rebuilt it and raced it and got another finish. 4 races from two cars, with 4 finishes and 3 podiums. We've learned a huge amount about it just by racing it.

My car and Shaun Balfe's car are now back in the UK, and we've got a number of changes planned - and some time to test them before the British season starts. I know the car looks quick, but it hasn't had the development that the Tuscan R or the Porsche GT3R has had, and we are going to have to work hard over the next few weeks to be there.

You’ve announced that Tom Herridge is my partner for the British season, so we won’t go into any more detail there. But Tom did a great job at Daytona, he’s fitter than a butcher’s dog – and still complained about the heat in the car. With no windows, somehow the hot air swirls into the car and stays there. But he didn’t put a foot wrong.

Rob Barff gave it his all. He was very quick, he earned the respect of the other drivers, and I think he’s going to get a high profile drive in America as a result….
Richard Stanton was a really solid performer, and could go almost as quickly as Rob, although perhaps not for as long.

Andy Britnell was very nervous about the whole event. This was his first endurance race, and although his brother and a mate came out with him, he kept the partying to a minimum, and enjoyed himself enormously. He couldn’t thank me enough afterwards.

Rick Sutherland. Well, Michelle liked him straight away, and that’s always a good sign. We agreed a deal almost instantly, and Rick’s reaction was “Let’s do this thing.” It was fantastic to see him on the podium.

John Burton is a lovely chap, he’s got a lot of great history behind him, he was well prepared – and he brought his own physio with him. Richard was a great help to us all. John struggled initially with the lack of downforce, but that’s understandable. He did a really solid job.

David Shep is a top bloke. I signed him up after a phone call, he was a great team player and he knew exactly what he had to do – and he did it. And his wife is another Michelle!

And my star pit crew were marvellous, with guys and gals joining our team from the UK, Belgium, Barbados, Australia and Mosler USA as well, we had a truly multinational feel. With nearly 40 people there it was a logistical nightmare, but my old mucker Colin managed to keep everything in check, and Warren Mosler made sure that we had all the help we could get from the factory. And of course Michelle coped with feeding and pandering 8 drivers through the 24 hours, and also somehow managed to feed and pamper 13 month old Morgan! Incredible!

Thanks to everybody that made it happen.

Next year we will push that bit harder….

And I'm Martin Short.

 

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