Britcar 24 Hour Championship – 2008
There are no words I can type that give justice to running a car in the Silverstone 24 Hour so this report will be vain attempt at communicating what we all feel right now. Imagine a period of time where every emotion you can possibly feel is neatly lined up for you experience over and over again like waves on a beach and you’ll get some idea of just what all the teams go through to get a car to the finish, I have nothing but complete respect for any team to attempt let alone finish a 24 hour race.
Car we selected for the 24 hour did raise some eyebrows, the Astra VXR-R and the Corsa SR-R were both out the following weekend in the Dunlop Sportmaxx Championship so that ruled those out, the M3 was the logical choice but we do like to be the cutting edge on race development, there were loads of M3’s already and we wanted to do something a little more challenging. We’d spent the previous year quietly developing the road car packages for the VX220’s the turbo charged cars were now generating a healthy 350bhp in road car trim and the 2.2 engined throttle body conversions hovering around the 200bhp so we wanted to develop these into an endurance racing package. Due to the nature of the 24 hour race we were worried about the longevity for the turbo charged cars, regulations stated that the engines must be switched off in fueling and that would create a huge strain on the turbo temperatures we were also conscious that the 24 hour race is about making the finish and not necessarily lapping in fast times so we chose the 2.2 engined VX220. We didn’t want to run huge power as we wanted to keep the engine reliable so we concentrated our time on the aero package and handling as well as finding a way to get as much fuel onto the car as possible.
The main reason for us entering the 24 hour was really to demonstrate our new in car camera service. Launching next year lincc.tv is a ground breaking service where in car video and audio can be beamed directly back to the paddock and to the internet live, think F1 TV coverage but available to a wider race team operations. The idea of running the service at the 24 hour was to demonstrate the systems prowess on the longest UK circuit for the longest duration – if the system can cope with Silverstone GP circuit for 24 hours then it can cope with anything and we’re delighted to say it did. The lincc.tv service will be launched at Autosport 2009 and will be available for drivers, teams and series organisers alike.
Despite limiting ourselves to certain areas of development I’m big enough to admit that our car preparation was woefully inadequate, whilst we run a very successful race team we (I) completely under estimated the level of preparation both the car and we needed for a 24 hour endurance race, understandable I suppose, prior to the weekend the longest race we’d ever run in was 45 minutes! This meant that practice and qualifying were a little compromised with a braking issue where the pedal would fluctuate between rock hard and very soft and gear selection that progressively got worse as the time in the car continued. The good news on the car was that all the drivers reported that the cars handling was sublime with both Chris and Doug saying it was the best handling race car they’d ever driven, even Martin liked it and that’s near impossible.
Admirably the team and the drivers all got on with the task in hand and we sensibly concentrated on getting the car onto the grid so it could race, night qualifying did give us our first surprise of the weekend, going down the Hanger straight Chris come onto the radio saying he was cold…….the roof had blown off, seems as some of the fixings and shaken loose, air had got underneath the front edge and bang, off it went. Apparently the roof landed gently onto the track with minimal damage only to be run over by another car thus rendering it a bit knackered. This misfortune generated the first super human effort of the weekend, Barnie, Andy and the gang immediately said “don’t worry, we’ll sort this, let the TMS guys get some sleep, come morning it will all be done” and dutifully we left them to it. Next morning we arrived to see a completely new roof, complete with scoop for the engine airflow all fitted to the car – fantastic job.
Then we had to sort the brakes by replacing the rear callipers and hubs with standard items, re-do the car geometry and we were good to go.
The final hours to the race seemed to fly by, watching air displays, talking to spectators and prepping the car to the last second meant that before we knew it the car was on the grid. Doug was selected to drive the first stint, we were at the back of the grid but with 24 hours to go the grid position was meaningless, indeed for what happened next it was a bonus.
Green flag waved and they were off but the excitement turned to horror when we heard the sickening thud of a car hitting the pitwall, one of the Moslers seemed to lose traction over the start line, speared off to the right and clipped the back of the TVR which subsequently rammed the wall at high speed, as if that wasn’t enough one of the Ginetta G50s then t boned the now prone TVR. The safety car came out and the drivers recovered. Our thoughts are with Andy Neate from the TVR who is still in hospital, get well soon Andy.
With the safety car out most of the team were sitting in the garage chilling out when surreal moment number 1 of the weekend occurred when all of a sudden Doug appears running through the garage. It seems he got caught short in the bladder department and thought while the safety car was out he’d nip in for a quick pee, bizarre but bloody funny. Suitably refreshed Doug got back in and proceeded to drive some excellent consistent lap times never more than 1 second different – class, Doug went three hours without an issue so our confidence was high.
As night fell Doug handed over to Martin who proceeded to demonstrate his greater night experience, lap times dropped and Martin settled into a good pace, by half way through the stint we’d climbed to 31st place (from 51) we then proceeded to have a few issues. First stop was a minor one, a blown bulb in one of the main beams wasn’t something you can really ignore at night so that cost us a little time but then Martin had a coming together with the Alfa Romeo which lead to him coming back into the pits dragging a light unit along the floor. The impact also damaged the front splitter and front clam so we attempted a repair and sent him back out. A few laps later the splitter died so we took it off. Some time passed with Martin putting in some good lap times then he came in again with a misfire, this was cured by re-attaching some of the throttle body sensors which had come loose then a few laps later he come in again – no third gear – the gearbox cables had melted in the heat. We replaced these and after three hours I prepared for my first stint.
To say I was nervous was an understatement, thus far I’d had three laps in the car, I’d never raced on slicks or at night – eep. Rolling down the pit lane was great (nice and bright there) but straight out onto the circuit I realised we needed more lights, I felt like I couldn’t see a thing, however as the laps increased it did start to feel better, and my lap times dropped little by little and then I had my first incident, coming round Maggots the car started to misfire and I nursed it back to the pits. A quick diagnosis told us it was the plugs so we changed those and the coil pack and I went out again, Ok for a few laps then the miss fire came back with a vengeance and I just managed to nurse the car back to the garage, coasting down the pitlane just in time. We repaired some wiring and out I go again and pretty soon I got my wake up moment of the race, I let a Porsche come past and he clips a Ginetta about 3 feet in front of me, how I managed to swerve to firstly avoid the Porsche on the left then the Ginetta on the right I’ll never know and the crew in the garage all shouted when it happened – it was that close. Good things in car cameras, at least I didn’t have to tell them a story to unbelieving faces – they saw it all live and lived the moment with me. The rest of my stint was unremarkable and Craig called me on the radio (when I had it, for some reason my radio only worked on the pit straight) saying 5 minutes to go then come in, then coming down Hanger straight I have a front near side puncture…….struggling to control the car I managed to get it round the rest of the circuit, get it fuelled then into the pits, tyre was completely destroyed.
Handing over to Doug we were doing well and he proceeded to clock up another three hours without incident (or toilet break) and when he handed over to Chris we were even confident of a good finish.
Then disaster. One hour into his stint Chris calls in on the radio “no drive” he pulls it up and we are towed back into the garage, after taking everything apart it turns out the flywheel bolts have sheered in the crank. To say we were in tears wouldn’t be over dramatising it at all, some of us actually were, the sheer overwhelming nature of the failure and the pressure was unbelievable but the crew stood back, spent half a second to absorb the information then got down to repairing it. In essence it was like watching poetry, not the flowery stuff you read at school but the gritty war poetry where the words hung together and created a whole. Eight technicians, the TMS crew and the able extra techs we drafted in worked together in complete unison, such was the job of removing the stricken bolts they worked in teams to remove and replace the bolts, the flywheel and the gear box whilst at the same time replace the brakes, fluids and even clean the windscreen. Its an image I will never forget, the cheer that went up when the car went back together, forward and then back to check the gearbox was deafening – we were back in the race. With three hours left (we’d lost almost three hours in fixing the car) and with Chris only having one hour of his second stint in the car I elected to have him carry on leaving me with the last hour and half to the finish. At this point we had only dropped 2 places while we were in the garage so there was still a race on. Chris finished his stint jumped out of the car and I looked at his face “We’ve lost third gear” he says, bugger. I jump in and sure enough first, second and third are non existent, fourth gear will engage but that’s it. So, for the last stint I’m left with fourth gear only.
The next 90 minutes will be some I remember for the rest of my life, there is no doubt we’d got the handling on the VX220 nigh on perfect, the lack of front splitter compromised some turn in (it was a bit big to start with but we still needed it) but the car pretty much out handled everything out there in the corners. The guys in the garage watched with fun me waving past the quicker cars on the straights then catching them up through the bends then wave them goodbye down the straights – it was frustrating but strangely fun at the same time, however in the last half hour of the race there was no recovery allowed so if you fell off you were out of the race so I had to calm down on corner entry speeds and safely bring the car in.
To say we are delighted with the finish is a massive understatement. There were a lot of people (including a lot of Lotus owners) who said we wouldn’t even make the start let alone finish the race – there was even a sweepstake on it so to them I am happy to say – never write off Thorney Motorsport – ever.
As regards to the team, I have nothing but praise and admiration for every one of them to the extent that I will list each and every one rather than the usual thanks to everyone involved type reports you so often see. And for our sponsors, without them we really wouldn’t have got onto the grid, we had guys from Westcoast/Apple mucking in with spanners and BBQ’s all weekend so you could see that the team means as much to them as it does to us. Special mention needs to go to the guys from APC our partners in the Lincc.tv project, to have live TV pictures from the car for the entire 24 hour race beamed into the garages was not only hugely entertaining for the team and the crowd (we regularly had a crowd of people watching at the back of the garage) but immensely useful for the team watching how the car performed.
Thorney Motorsport/Lincc.tv Team
Doug Setters – old man of the team and hugely consistent driver, his ability
to question everything no matter how small kept us fresh and alert all
Chris Setters – Nice and quick and easy on the car, great fun in the garage
and real drivers driver.
Martin Dower – Clown like demeanour belies true driving skill, great fun to
have around even if he is smashing up the car like a crackhead.
John Thorne – “Please tell the commentator I only have 4th gear – this is
embarrassing” & “But the roof was cable tied ANDduct taped!”
Team Manager – Craig Jamieson
Stunning job in walking into a garage where he knew no-one to 24 hours
later being the most respected person in the team, we could not have done
it without him.
Time Keepers/Fuel strategy – Karen Gibson, Dave Mullender
At one point Dave asked me to look over his numbers in calculating fuel
useage, he showed me one page of what he and Karen had been
calculating and my eyes glazed over, rocket scientists, both of em.
TMS Technician – Nick Taylor
One of the cars primary builders and filled with more grit and determination
than a John Wayne film, he’d have got the car to the finish even if it meant
all of our lives were sacrificed.
TMS Technician/Pitwall Controller – Richard Abra
Multi tasking go getter, not only one of the cars primary builders but also
liased with drivers on a radio that only worked half the time.
TMS Technician – Darren Martin
Another one of the cars main builders, ability to walk in, look at a problem
and get stuck straight tin without even a question.
TMS Technician – Steve Spender
No sooner had he finished a BMW race car for a customer he jumps straight
in and helps with the VX220, no job too scary!
TMS Technical Support – Adam Lister
You wouldn’t expect much from our web & artwork designer would you, but
you’d be wrong. Equally adept at configuring and installing the camera
equipment as he was cleaning windscreens at pit stops. A Jack of all
trades, he even designed the Lincc.tv website & logo.
Technician – Iain Mackenzie
A true friend of TMS, not only do we tune his car and charge him but he
comes and works like a trooper in keeping a race car on track.
Technician – Daren ‘Barnie’ Steel
I swear to God he had a halo round him when he sorted the flywheel bolts,
great fun to be around and one of the hardest working techs I’ve seen.
Technician – Mark Tapscott
Dougs regular technician and I can see why, didn’t know a soul in the
garage and within 20 minutes was managing tyre useage and strategy like
he’d been at TMS all his life.
Technician – Andy Holland
One of the guys who can build a roof in 6 hours, “go on, put a rope through
the roof scoop – you could pick the car up by that now”
Fuel Crew – Rob Sadler
Possibly the most dangerous job in the crew (especially when the Moslers
were fueling) and never once asked for my credit card number whilst I
stood by as he filled the 110 litre tank.
Fuel Crew – Pete Jackson
Perfect gentleman, until he threw up on my sons trampoline at the post
race beer up. Great fun and worked like a maniac.
Fuel Crew – Steve Bryden
Annoyed me by looking better in my old race suit than I ever did. Stood by
and made sure none of us went up like candles in re-fueling.
Support Crew – Ian Matthews
No job too big or small, if we needed Ian got it, no questions no complaints.
A true pillar of the team.
Support Crew – Jason Bohanan
Asked for a tiny part we needed for the car, looked at the back of the
parts truck (which looked like it had been rifled through by committed
gypsies) and turns and says “2 seconds boss” – class
Support Crew – Hannah Gutsell
How on Earth she kept 25 people along with numerous guests, free loaders
and interlopers fed and watered I’ll never know. Brightest smile I’ll ever see
at 4am thats for sure.
Our partners in the Lincc.tv project and managed to get full in car live
coverage for the whole race – super impressive and really got involved.
Always nice to have your sponsors cook you breakfast…..these guys
cooked lunch and dinner too. Great fun and real team members not
Love Your Logo
These guys have been doing our team clothing for years and we’ve never
thought they’ve got enough credit for it, really do manage to get us looking
winners even if we’re not on track sometimes.
Kept us supplied with things to help us stop, pretty needed really, sadly we
didn’t use many pads they were that good so pretty good deal for them
Retail Display Systems
We were the only garage to have complete shelving fitted throughout, the
mickey taking comments from other teams asking for a bag of apples were
overwhelmed by the luxury of not scrambling around trying to find things –
more help for racing that I imagined.
Purveyors of all things safety, nice and comfy Schroth harness’s kept us all
safe for the race despite drivers being varying sizes from normal to oompah
I’ve never seen so many Pro Race 1.2 wheels in one place, you can never
have enough wheels for a 24hr race and TD got them all to us in style.
I’m overwhelmed at the support and encouragement from all the
supporters. The members of VX220.org.uk were there to cheer us on and
we took huge encouragement from that. Even a few members of the Lotus
Owners club (SELOC) came over and wished us well….some of them were
even sober when they did it. We are used to racing in front of fans but the
crowd and the public generally were just so warm and friendly, to have a
couple of guys come up in the afternoon and nearly plead with us to get
the car fixed so they could see it cross the finishing line was so touching.
The whole of the TMS crew worked so hard for this as well as the loyal
bunch of volunteers but I have to personally thank my own family. My wife,
Esme has suffered with barely seeing me over the last few weeks and she
worked like a mad thing all weekend. Our daughter Nyah is only 10 months
but I’m sure she let out a special little gurgle when we crossed the line and
Ethan, our 5 year old son who amused/annoyed the team with full garage
length knee slides on the polished floor courtesy of Mclaren F1 team, he’s
carrying around the 24hr Medal like its an Olympic gold.
And what of next year?
Well, if you’d have asked me on Sunday night I’d say we were mad to try it again, but since that all I have had is phone calls and emails from other teams, sponsors and supporters all saying what an inspiration we were. To have another team manager come into the garage and compliment the guys on how well we had worked (he’d just stood there watching and taking pictures) is a real shot in the arm. Ian came up to me today and said “forget outward bound courses, if you want to get better team work just enter the 24 hour again” such is the glue that this race has created here.
We’ve proven the VX220 chassis can last the distance in the most gruelling of conditions, our throttle body conversion which we developed with Webcon performed faultlessly which is an impressive statement to make. We’re still mulling over options for next year, the easy choice would be to prepare one of the E46 M3’s and we’ve even got customer who wants us to run his E39 M5 but I’m fairly sure that the VX220’s will feature again, this time with more power.
Thank you to all of our supporters we really couldn’t do it without you.
Further High Resolution Photos are available HERE
Downloadable Document of Race Report HERE
Photographs are courtesy of Derek Binstead, Iain Mackenzie & Adam Lister