Britcar 24hr 2011, you really couldn’t make this up…
Usually after the 24hr (this was our 4th) I writeout a race report that tells our story and hopefully a positive outcome,however this year whilst the result was excellent for us the journey is thestory.
We started preparations for this year’s race well inadvance, with the new workshop and BTCC Insignia taking time we deliberatelydeveloped the BMW E92 GT car for 24hr duty, a new exhaust, manifold, oil andwater cooling had generated more power and we’d spent some time in the windtunnel developing an aero package which was significantly better. This year wehad 5 drivers with varying levels of experience so the plan was to develop thecar to be as easy to drive as possible, it wouldn’t be the quickest in terms ofabsolute lap times but it would be 100% reliable and all the drivers couldattack the course for 100% of the time.
Driver line up this year was myself (John), Roger Green (EVOmagazine), Matt Cummings, Dan Watkins and Will Goff. All the drivers hadmultiple 24hr experience, all ran their own race cars so all knew that the endresult was the important bit, I was actually pretty confident of a decentposition.
Testing, practice and warm up showed a few issues that wecould sort as well as confirming that we couldn’t have the paddle shift(Shiftek kit now taken off and slung in the bin) as well as no tractioncontrol, pit lane speed and flat shift (this kit now also about to be removedand handed back to the supplier) but the car otherwise was perfect, each driverloved the easy handling so my hopes remained high. We qualified exactly wherewe wanted (22nd) and Roger took the first stint where he promptlytook us up to 16th in a few laps and then our race fell apart, Rogerradioed in with lost drive and coasted down the pit lane. We’d done 7 laps.
The prognosis was poor, we’d sheered an input shaft in halfwith the resulting shock shattering the clutch plates. The good news was thatwhilst this was knackered the gearbox itself was fine. Seeing as we run a relatively rare gearbox inthe UK we and nor did anyone else in the pit lane have a spare, we were dead inthe water after less than an hour racing. A quick team meeting later and wedecided we weren’t going to quit, not now, not ever so we set about seeing ifwe could fabricate one from scratch. First off was a trip down to some of theother BMW teams to see what we could scrounge, Kev Clarkes Intersport team managedto get us an input gear from one of their spare gearboxes that we could use aswell as some of their spare clutch parts we could use in building a hybridclutch from bits. We managed to borrow a release bearing from the TischnerMotorsport team running the BMW Z4 GT3 so all we needed now was to fabricate anew input shaft from the bits we had. The problem is that the input shaft isunder a huge amount of stress and spins at up to 8000rpm, it’s not something youcan just weld together and not expect to sheer straight away (the bet in thepit lane was that it whatever we did would last 2 laps maximum). So, we calledour fabricator, Willie.
Now Willie is a huge rugby fan and being Scottish was firmlysat on the couch watching Scotland get beaten by England happily drinkingbeer when we call up seeing if he canget do a spot of welding for us. “No problem” says Willie, “problem is that I’mdrunk, so whatever you want doing you’ll have to come and pick me up”. Willielives in Coventry.
So, team manager Tim get the bits we need and speeds off upto Willies house, whereupon he meets Willie, Mrs Willie (who is none toopleased about her Saturday night getting ruined) Willie gets into the car and drives to hisworkshop. Willie and Tim then proceed to weld and machine a new input shaftfrom scratch, finally piecing the shaft together it was then getting Willieback into the car and back home, then back to Silverstone with the new part. Wethen fitted the new shaft, assemble the home made clutch (a mixture of platesand basket which we had no idea would work), a release bearing (designed foranother gearbox with different spacing) and hoped. After 5 attempts we’d doneit, we’d even dragged Ben into the process (Ben does our BTCC bodywork) and wegrabbed Dan (who’d been patiently waiting in the garage for 5 hours) and out hewent. The euphoria when the car went out was palpable, even Britcar wereimpressed with a lovely message on the timing screen “Car 60, nice to see you,fit a working transponder next time can you”.
Now at this point we knew a result was pretty much out ofthe question, we’d been out for over 8 hours and no chance of catching anyone,but for us it was pride. We’ve never not finished a 24hr race and we didn’twant to give up, neither did the drivers, Roger especially had never finished a24hr race and whilst we weren’t going to win I was determined that ThorneyMotorsport doesn’t quit anything it does.
The next 3 hours were pretty stressful, the drivers allmanaged to get out and delicately shift the car to save stress on the homemadeshaft but pretty soon the home made clutch started to give up. However at thispoint we’d managed to get one of our suppliers out of bed (seriously) and he’dpopped down with a new clutch and release bearing (and a bill) so we swappedthat out and off we went again. At this point we looked at the timing screen abit more, prior to that it was depressing reading as even the Safety Car haddone more laps than us (a point some of the less supportive members of thepublic took glee in pointing out on our Facebook page) and it appeared thetough conditions (so many cars went out of the race due to the heat) had takena toll on the class runners. RJN went out with a blown engine early on so weknew they were out but looking down the list there were only a couple ofrunners left in, so if we managed to keep the car going to the end we had ashot at a class podium, however, we have to get to the finish line, our lack oflaps killed any chance of a podium if we didn’t. And so proceeded our slowclimb up the screen, little by little we went from dead last to 3rd in class, wecouldn’t make second as despite the second place Porsche also having retired wedidn’t have the time to catch up on laps. Each driver went out, maintained adecent lap time and drove as delicately as possible, however the stress on thegearbox was starting to tell, the shifting had gotten harder and harder so bythe time it came down the last two stints we weren’t sure if we’d get anygears, Will came in with the advice “If you can get 5th, keep it, nochanges”
So, out I went on last stint, one hour to go, we were 3rdin class but had to cross the line to keep it, 5th gear only, goingout from the pits was nerve wracking, 1st – no problem, 2nd– no problem, 3rd, 3rd, 3rd, nope, back to 2nd,3rd – yes, 4th, nope, 4th, nope, back to 3rd,then 2 fast hits on the stick and I’d got 5th, thank god. We thenproceeded to meander about avoiding trouble, a car span in front of me at onepoint (I’d have no chance of re-starting if I’d hit it or stalled) but after anhour we managed to cross the line to get third place in class, unbelievable.
At the time I’d said to a few people that the result wasn’t‘racing’ as such, we weren’t fighting for lap times against other cars ordicing with daring overtake manoeuvres but we were certainly ‘competing’. Whereasother teams gave up when it appeared impossible to continue we didn’t, indeedit felt as if we ‘couldn’t’ give up such was the passion to continue to thefinish line. The drivers, Roger, Dan, Will and Matt were impeccable, patientand sensible driving that allowed the damaged car go 12 hours to the line.
The real heroes of course were the pit crew, Team ManagerTim along with his fantastic team of technicians, Brian, Matt, Scott,Darren, Jim, Ash, Shane, the impromptu helpers of Ben and the largely family relatedsupport crew of Esme, Steve, Pete and even my kids Ethan and Nyah for ferryingfood and drink from pits to garage.
And of course to Willie, forever to be known as Willie theWelder for fabricating up a gearbox part whilst hammered that allowed us to getto the line. Cheers Willie, give me a call when you’ve recovered from yourhangover.
Thorney Motorsport on Facebook