Something a little different to what we normally do race wise, we decided early on in the year to enter the 750 Motor Club Birkett 6 Hour Relay Race which takes place every year at the end of October on the Silverstone GP Circuit.
Instead of a straight race or normal endurance format, the relay element is for the driver AND car. Basically, a car and driver goes out, does their stint (which can be anything from 1 lap up to 3hrs of driving), and when they come back in the pits, a second car and driver follows them down the pitlane. The first car peels off into the paddock, and the second is out on track. This is repeated for the full 6 hours.
Up to 70 teams of three to six drivers and between three and six cars can enter, with the restriction being closed wheel only, and that is about it! As the 750MC website says, there can be anything from 1960’s MG Midgets to BMW M3s, Smart cars, TCR cars, Austin A30s, Caterham derivatives and modern sports cars such as Radicals and Spires. This year a team of TDIs were going to attempt to take over :-)
With such a diverse range of cars, all with differing lap times, as well as the overall (scratch) positions, each car and driver submits their best lap time at Silverstone (or another track if possible) and then the organisers give each team a handicap rating. This is based on credit laps, so the slowest cars are given the most credit laps that are deemed to have been run before the race starts. This is added on to their actual laps, and give the Handicap (gross) laps. The handicap is adjusted to take into account any safety cars, as well as teams where the vehicles are quicker than expected throughout the day.
As you can see below, the quicker cars are given less credit laps, with the ultimate goal if the handicapper does their sums right and everyone has a perfect race is that we would all finish on the same lap. As you can see, some cars and driver combos are given a limit of how many laps they can do, and in previous years others have been given a minimum. This is if a team has a car that is significantly quicker or slower than the rest of the team, and therefore skews the handicap.
As well as the handicap race, cars are split into four classes, two for Road / Track tyres, and two for Motorsport (Slick and Wet) Tyres.
a) SALOON & SPORTS CARS (running List 1A/1B/1C tyres) up to 2000ccs
b) SALOON & SPORTS CARS (running List 1A/1B/1C tyres) over 2000ccs
c) SPORTS RACING CARS and Sports Cars/Saloons (on racing tyres) up to 2000cc, all bike engined cars up to 1000cc
d) SPORTS RACING CARS and all Sports Cars/Saloons (on racing tyres) 2000ccs & over and all bike engined cars over 1000cc.
For the purpose of allocating classes, forced induction cars will carry an engine capacity multiplier of 1.4, i.e. a 2000cc turbocharged car will be treated as 2800cc
As we were running 1968cc Turbo Diesel Engines and running List Tyres, we were in Class B. The program incorrectly shows us as Class D!
With the ‘grid’ already determined by your teams handicap, the 20 minute qualifying session is more about getting a feel for the car and circuit rather than outright pace. MSA Regs state that a driver must have driven a minimum of 3 laps of the circuit in that vehicle during the race weekend to be able to race, so we had to get 3 laps in each car we wanted to drive.
Whilst in the race cars can go out in any order, ideally the organisers need the cars to go out in alphabetical order, so you have to make sure that cars with driver shares are not out straight after each other. The sessions are 20 minutes each, and you had to be at the assembly area on the Copse Runway 10 minutes before, so there is an overlap.
Qualifying started at 9:00 promptly!
Since our submitted lap times were for the dry, and it was now wet through, I had no idea where I needed to be in any of the cars. The Ibiza was A, so out first. I did 5 laps, managing a 2:51.03, which was 15th fastest out of the 62 in that session.
Ryan went to go out in the Leon as that was B, but on the way to the assembly area, he heard a rubbing noise. Turned out one of the wheel spacers had stuck in the dry wheels, so the tyre was rubbing on the shocker. He and Paul dashed back to the garage, but by the time the spacer was changed, the gates to get on the track were closed. Luckily the organisers allowed him to go out in session C with me in the SRS Automotive Golf Mk2 so he could do the laps. Ryan managed a 2:54.29 for 22nd and I did a 2:50.68 for 15th out of 68. I was pretty happy with that considering I had not driven the car on a wet track before, and had only done a handful of laps in it about 3 years ago!
Session D was for Dylan in his Ibiza, he was 10th quickest with a 2:49.32, excellent out of the 49 in his session.
It was my turn in the Leon for session E (notice my letters spell ACE!), another car I had limited experience in. I did 5 laps in it at Donington before the engine melted, and never got a full lap in testing here at Silverstone last week. The car felt great, even in greasy and wet conditions, and I punched in a 2:45.44, enough for 4th in a session with 27 cars.
Last but not least, Ryan was in session F in the Golf Mk2 with a great 2:48.91, enough for 3rd out of 21.
Not that the positions mattered, we were starting on row 16 of the grid, in 31st position regardless of what happened! Basically the grid is supposed to represent the speed of the teams, so the quickest start pole, and it gets slower the higher up the grid you get.
Stint 1 - Driver - Scott - Car - Seat Ibiza TDI - Planned Time - 90 minutes - Position - 31st
With Qualifying taking up 2hrs, by the time the cars were all back in the garage, it was well past 11:00, and we had to be at the assembly area in the first car for 11:20. Luckily there were no issues highlighted during quali, so a quick refuel and check over the Ibiza, we headed over to the assembly area to wait for the grid!
By 11:30 we were gridded up and waiting for the green flag. Procedure as with most endurance races is a full lap behind the safety car before it peels into the pits and we get racing. We still can’t overtake until we pass the green flag at the Start / Finish line, so the idea is to stay close until that point.
The Z4 two cars in front of me must not have had that memo and was almost the full pit straight behind the next car in front, so after I quickly got round those two, I had a massive gap to make up before I could do any more overtakes! By the end of lap 1 I had gone from 31st to 19th, not a bad start considering everyone in front was part of a quicker team, but it just shows how the wet weather can turn things on its head!
Over the next 3 laps I climbed up to 14th position before a BMW crashing caused the first safety car of the day. Luckily it was a quick recovery, and we were back racing a lap later.
Another BMW and another massive gap! This time a 1 series left such a massive gap between him and the rest of the pack, I could not even see them down the full length of the straight. Very frustrating!
I managed to get us up to 9th position by lap 9, but then I hit something on National Pit Straight at speed. The car just under-steered at Turn 1. Suspecting a puncture, I radio’d to the guys to tell them to get Ryan in the car, and did another lap while Leon was made ready, before jumping in the pits for our first switch over.
This was 35 minutes in, almost an hour short of my target time!
Best lap time - 2:49.08 with ideal from the VBOX of 2:47.76
Stint 2 - 12:21 - Driver - Ryan - Car - Seat Leon TDI - Planned Time - 120 minutes - Position - 9th
On my outlap I managed to overtake a fair few cars, despite the car being all over due to cold tyres! 5th gear was still a problem with me missing that a few times and letting the engine sing a bit as I hit 3rd instead!
The first full lap was 4s quicker than my qualifying lap, even though weather conditions were far worse, Scott’s pep talk must have been ringing in my ears. The only cars to overtake me for a long while were the odd Radical, which all ran motorsport wets and were capable of 30s+ a lap quicker in the dry.
For some reason the V-Box decided to start my lap timing on the new pit straight rather than the old one!
The conditions were getting worse as more rain fell, but grip felt fairly consistent so I kept pushing a little harder and tried to use the rear end to steer more and more, especially in the tighter slower sections. People were all over the place, especially in the RWD cars!
12:35 - 1 Hour in - 7th Scratch / 9th Handicap
On Lap 26 there were Yellow Flags waved, then a Green flag shown. I started to get back up to race pace when a Radical was stranded in the middle of the track with no wheel! No idea why the Green Flag was been shown! I knew this would cause a safety car so I overtook as many cars as I could, the first one being a Mini that would haunt me later!
13:45 - 2 hours in - 5th Overall / 2nd Handicap
At the start of Lap 28 we came onto the Pit straight for another safety car lap. The Mini I overtook earlier decided to cut my stint short by running straight into the back of me! The most annoying part of that whole thing was the fact no-one from their team ever came to apologise or even check if the car was OK.
When I came back in after 1.5 hours of driving, the car had only used 34 litres of fuel. With an 80 litre tank so could have easily ran to the 3 hour maximum stint time the club allows.
Best lap time - 2:46.93 with ideal of 2:45.00 (VBOX shows 2:46.82 which was the fastest in our team)
Stint 3 - 13:53 - Driver - Dylan - Car - Seat Ibiza TDI - Planned Time - 90 minutes - Position - 6th
So having taken to the circuit for the first time in qualifying, in damp conditions, I was a little less apprehensive about joining the race with the rain coming down harder than ever. The car had felt a lot better than expected in the wet. Initial turn in to the corners was good, and the front would always start sliding before the rear, meaning it was a little more predictable. All you ask for. Talking to Scott and Ryan after qualifying, we were surprised by the high grip levels, and also the fact that nearly everyone else was tip toeing around and struggling. Potentially a favourable diesel characteristic with a nice heavy front end helping each of the cars out.
I entered the race right into the middle of the safety car train, so had to be briefly held at the red light at the end of the pit lane. Once released, luckily there was only one lap before we could get going. The first few laps were all about making my way through the traffic that had formed under the caution period, and regain an understanding of the grip levels. With the rain harder, it was the visibility which was the biggest challenge. Heaters on full in the car to stop misting up, it was a case of spotting the other cars rain lights through the spray, and remembering to brake for corners that you can't see. Sadly with a large grid, and varying degrees of competence on the circuit, there were only a handful of laps in between the safety car periods. At one stage, it looked like the safety car was out there just because of the standing water rather than any incident. The Ibiza performed faultlessly however, and I could set about trying to stay consistent with lap times and lose as little time as possible in the traffic.
14:45 - 3 hours in - 6th Scratch / 2nd Handicap
It was great having the team inform me of the gap to the next car ahead, and also their race number, as there were so many lapped cars in between. It was nice to set myself targets. It wasn't long however until another safety car was deployed, and this time, it was close to the end of my stint. The team called me in to minimise the time lost whilst trundling through the pits, passing the baton on to Scott in the Red Ibiza. With three cars to use until the possibility i could get called on.. surely we would be able to bring the cars home without any trouble. This being the Birkett however.. things didn't quite go to plan and I did have to end up getting radioed back up and sat in the car ready to go again.. as Scott will explain !
Best Lap Time - 2:51.25 - No VBOX
Stint 4 - 15:19 - Driver - Scott- Car - Seat Ibiza TDI - Planned Time - 90 minutes - Position - 5th
The plan was for me to go out in the Leon as that was probably the quicker car in these conditions, but as it had not been fully checked over after the bump, and Ryan was not able to go out in the Ibiza (as he had not qualified in it), I went back out in the Ibiza. I could have gone in the Mk2, but if the Leon was not fit to go out, Ryan would need it to take over from me.
Just as Dylan was getting to the end of his 90 minutes, there was a safety car, so we decided to pit then. This meant I had to quickly get in the car, leaving Harry with my half eaten protein bar and most of my water still in the bottle. Not ideal!
15:45 - 4 hours in - 5th Scratch / 2nd Handicap
After spending an enormous amount of time under the safety car (6 Laps - almost 30 minutes!), I was conscious of someone running into me like they did with Ryan. Instead, I was nearly on the other side of it when everyone stopped dead on the Hangar Straight!
We managed another 3 laps before the safety car was out again. At this rate the safety car would be in the top 10 with how many laps it had done! As much as they were annoying, it did group a lot of people up meaning we could do a lot of overtaking when we restarted!
The plan was for me to go as long as the 49L tank would let me (which with all the safety cars would have been almost the end of the race!) but around lap 31, around 77 minutes into my stint, the car started to behave strangely mid corner. If this were a straight race, I would have stayed out and managed it, as my lap times were not suffering too much. However I knew from the radio that Ryan was poised in the Leon, so I pitted to give Ryan another stab at it.
Best lap time - 2:49.95 with ideal of 2:48.34
Stint 5 - 16:36 - Driver - Ryan - Car - Seat Leon TDI - Planned Time - 80 minutes - Position - 5th
On my outlap I took it slightly easy to warm the tyres and noticed three BMWs battling, they had more pace on the Wing Straight so I knew they were going to get round me at some point. The first cut me up under braking and the second smashed into my rear wheel as I turned in, despite me leaving at least 2 cars width on the inside.
God knows how the tyre stayed on the rim but I pushed hard whilst screaming on the radio. Knowing the next car inline was flat cold and Scott had not had time to get out of the ibiza and into the Mk2, I knew I needed to do another lap. The rear was shaking violently but the grip was still there so I just hung on and hoped it would get me round!
For some reason the internal footage from this stint was corrupted. It was captured on the live feed at an angle that makes it look like I turned in a bit too much, but you can see how much room was left on the inside.
Best lap time - 3:06.18 with a wheel hanging off!
Stint 6 - 16:43 - Driver - Scott- Car - VW Golf Mk2 TDI - Planned Time - 90 minutes - Position - 6th
After 77 minutes in the Ibiza, around 16:45, I was looking forward to finishing that protein bar and having a good drink. As I pulled around the back of the paddock, I was just about to unplug my radio when I heard Ryan say something about a crash. Before I could hear anything else, I jumped out of the Ibiza and rushed over to the Mk2, which had not been fired up since 11:00 and didn’t have the radio installed (since we were swapping it from the Ibiza). The guys did an excellent job of checking over everything, throwing the radio in and getting me strapped in ready to go. Just in time for Ryan pulling past the garage, I was ready and drove down the pitlane not knowing what to expect, and still thinking about that protein bar!
The car was wheel spinning like crazy, clearly the tyres were stone cold and needed to get up to temp fast. Not easy when it is less than 10 degrees with standing water all over! Luckily the safety car had been deployed for a separate incident so I had a lap to get settled in, just as the final hour approached.
16:45 - 5 hours in - 5th Scratch / 1st Handicap
Back past the pits, I overtook one of the 3 Amigos BMWs, the guys who were currently 2nd behind us in the handicap. The car was still a little dicey, with a nice slide at Stowe.
What is the main thing you need when its raining? Wipers! Half way into lap 3, just as I was concentrating on not hitting the Area Motorsport Civic passing me, the drivers side wiper arm decided to attack the wing mirror. With them turned off, it was not as terrible as it could have been as the guys back in the pits had used about one bottle per car of Rain-X. Lifesavers
Lap 6 into the Vale Chicane, the wheels locked up massively as I slid out of control towards another driver who was tuning into the corner minding his own business. The gravel trap is dangerously close there (several cars were beached throughout the race) so I knew a bit of a slide was probably the best way to save it. I gave it a bit of a flick, banged it into 1st and hit the throttle. This JUST saved me and I carried on, looking back at it I should have kept the steering straight as I did a bit of sawing at the wheel! Gutted as up to that point I was almost 1s up on my best lap time during that stint! Unfortunately the Live Feed was on Ryan’s face at that point, so they only caught the back end of it as I rejoined the track!
By this point the standing water all over the track, especially at Stowe was becoming a bit of a problem. At that corner, if you took the wrong like, the car just aqua planed and you had to hang on until it gained grip. The next few laps were pretty uneventful, the only thing I had to worry about was a vibration under acceleration. It felt like a CV joint was a little dry.
Going into Club corner onto the new Pit Straight, a Caterham a few cars in front span and hit the wall. Unbeknown to me, an Austin Mini had not seen it and crashed into it, resulting in the strangest looking accident I had seen, with the Mini on top of the Caterham’s wheel! A couple of laps behind the safety car, then we were brought through the pitlane with the chequered flag being waved. They had red flagged the race 20 minutes early.
Best lap time - 2:50.26 with ideal of 2:47.49
With us being in 1st position for the handicap at the 5hr mark, we were then playing the waiting game to see where losing the 20 minutes of running time would put us on the handicap, as it would need to be recalculated.
It turned out, if the race was not red flagged, we would have been 1st in the handicap as we were only 10s behind the 3 Amigos I was lapping quicker than their final driver. They were doing ~3:00 and I did a 2:51.54 and 2:56.66 on the final 2 laps. Gutting but this is racing!
So that was it, 2nd Place in the Handicap at our first attempt, we were very pleased with the result!
I was more impressed with the 6th overall finish, and we were only 2 laps behind Area Motorsport in 3rd and Red Rascals in 4th. Maybe if we did not have the two bumps, and did the planned stints (4 in total instead of 6), we would have been much closer to the top? Who knows! We can try again next year, and pray for rain! There were 150 minutes (2.5hrs) of safety cars! That definitely helped fuel economy!
Out of 282 Cars / Drivers we were 31st, 41st, 46th and 55th fastest on lap times. If it were dry, I am sure we would have been a bit further down the order!
The event was Live Streamed on YouTube and Facebook by the guys at AlphaLive, you can watch the full video below if you have a spare 6 hours! All the tasty parts of our cars have already been added to our video: