With a hectic season of racing almost to a close, we were back at Silverstone for the 750 Motor Club Birkett 6 Hour Relay Race. The event takes place every year at the end of October on the GP Circuit. You can read about our exploits in the race last year by clicking the link below. In 2022 we pushed the Golf to do 95 laps, which was over 4:15 of racing flat out. The year before it did 86. The plan this year was to try and go for even longer, with as close to 3hrs in the first stint, and a second stint all being well.
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.
There is a handy video explaining the process here:
Up to 70 teams of up 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, TCR cars, Austin A30s, Caterham derivatives and modern sports cars such as Radicals and Spires. This year we only fielded 1 team, 3 - Darkside Developments, consisting of the Golf Mk5 TDI, TTDI and TTFSI.
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 2.0 Turbo Engines and running List Tyres, we were in Class B.
As in previous years, we had to specify who would be driving which car in what order for qualifying, but then they could be used in any order for the race. We settled on the following:
3A + 3E - Golf - Class B - Scott Parkin + Ryan Parkin
3B - TT TDI - Class A - Ryan Parkin
3C + 3F - TT TFSI - Class A - Dylan Brychta + Scott Parkin
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 there is no time for Silverstone) 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 which then gives the Handicap (gross) laps. The handicap is adjusted to take into account any safety cars, and it can be adjusted where the vehicles are quicker than expected throughout the day, or slower cars are not used as much as expected.
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. Some cars and driver combos are given a limit of how many laps they can do, 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. In 2019 we were given 25 Laps, in 2021 down to 23, and in 2022 we were down to 17.
This year we were given 18, quite a bit less than our rivals who had teams with more quicker cars, such as Capture Motorsport on 19, and Area Motorsport with 25! Area had several cars that should all have been pretty similar in pace to the Golf.
A cars .................................... 9.00-9.20 - Scott - Golf - 2:25.02
B cars .................................... 9.20-9.40 - Ryan - TTDI - No Class A Time - ~2:22-2:23
C cars ................................... 9.40-10.00 - Dylan - TTFSI - 2:23.16
D cars .................................. 10.00-10.20 - Brad - RS3 - NA
E cars .................................. 10.20-10.40 - Ryan - Golf - 2:25.02
We have made a Vlog of the weekend with some of the highlights:
With the ‘grid’ already determined by your teams handicap, the 20 minute qualifying session for each vehicle 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 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, the organisers need the cars to go out in alphabetical order during Qualifying, 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!
I was out first in the Golf, and despite some showers overnight, it was basically dry and I was able to get close to the 2:25.03 I had done last year, with a 2:25.39. There was more in the car had I gone mental all over the kerbs and pushing track limits, but I needed a benchmark that I could do consistently.
Ryan in group B was out in the TTDI, managing a 2:21.57, enough for 5th overall. I'd expected us to be in the 2:21s for the TT, but seeing the pace of the TCRs in the last session, realistically the car needed to be sub 2:20 to be competitive in the ClubEnduro Race on Sunday.
Dylan was out then in the TTFSI, with a 2:22.78 with plenty more left in the tank. This car had done a 2:23.16 last season on the GP Circuit, so a little bit quicker than expected.
Brad went out for Group D in the RS3 TCR. There were no plans to use the car or driver during the Birkett, but having not driven the car since Croft at the start of the season, Brad was keen to do a bit of testing before racing on Sunday, and a quick 20 minute session was ample to get his eye in. We didn't factor in the front splitter disintegrating, the repair for previous damage clearly not holding up to the stresses of the long straights and big kerbs at Silverstone. He still managed a 2:21.99 which showed promise for the next days race.
For Group E, Ryan was in the Golf and just did a few laps to get his eye in then brought the car back to the garage for the quick refuel and tyre change, ready to do its first (and hopefully 3 hour) stint.
I then went out in the TTFSI to give me a backup car option, should anything occur with the Golf before my time was complete.
Our fastest qualifying laps are shown below:
So after basically parading round for a few hours, it was time to grid up in the pre-determined order, us on Row 4 in P8. I was expecting to drop back a fair few places on the opening laps as there were some serious machinery lining up in the assembly area, and I was sat in the slowest car we had brought this weekend.
So this was the plan. I go out and do as many laps as possible on a fuel tank of fuel and pair of fresh A052s. The fuel, without any safety cars or fuel saving would last ~2:40, as we had around 105L of fuel in the tank and previous trips to this layout used around 0.7L of diesel per minute. I thought with a bit of lifting and coasting, and the odd safety car, we could stretch that to 3hrs.
The tyres were the next limitation, in most of the 2hr races, we had been changing at least the front left tyre in the pit stop. There was no chance for this and I would need to nurse them to do at least twice what they had done in the past. The high speed right handers at Silverstone also put extra strain on the front left tyre, so I needed to be cautious through those bends, sacrificing a little lap time.
Time - 11:45 - Driver - Scott - Car - VW Golf Mk5 TDI - Planned Time - 180 minutes - Scratch Position - 8th
Qualifying had gone on a little longer than expected, so it was a bit of a panic for most to get the the assembly area in time, however it all sorted itself out and we were off more or less on time.
As expected, I lost a fair few places on the opening few laps, as most teams sent out their quickest car / driver combinations, most likely in an attempt to get into clear air and punch in some decent times.
I was happy to let everyone go through who wanted to, knowing that any battles I had early on were just going to use too much fuel and tyres to scupper the plan we had.
12:45 - 1 Hour in
Position - 10th Scratch / 5th Class B / 63rd Handicap
After dropping those few places, I was pleased to hear we were still in 10th at the hour mark, so others must have had stops that ended up behind me, as I did not do any heroics on track for sure. The handicap had not been released, and it was probably a good job I did not know, as we were way back in 63rd, hopefully this would improve as the race went on.
13:45 - 2 Hours in
Position - 7th Scratch / 3rd Class B / 46th Handicap
The car was going great, with pretty consistent 2:26s and 2:27s, which is about as fast as I think it could go whilst lapping several cars at a time. I'd had to do a fair bit of fuel saving as there had only been 4 laps of safety cars so far
We were now ahead of our starting position, climbing to 7th overall and 3rd in Class B behind Capture and Datum Motorsport, who had a team of Ginettas lapping around the same pace as the TCRs.
As we got to the closing stages of my stint, the dash was still showing over 20L of fuel, and the tyres, whilst not feeling amazing, didn't feel like the were falling apart, so I decided to push, before another safety car right near the end scuppered any plans to put in some quick laps. Just after 2:50 into the race, I radio'd to Reuben and told him to get Dylan ready. I pushed at the safety car restart, and a lap later, in clearer air, was able to do a 2:26.75, close to my best lap of the race. Not bad for almost 3 hour old tyres!
I pulled into the pits and Dylan followed me out.
Actual Stint time - 174 Minutes / 66 Laps - Best lap time - 2:26.63 with ideal from the VBOX of 2:24.63
Time - 14:39 - Driver - Dylan - Car - Audi TT TFSI - Planned Time - 30 minutes
As Dylan was on the track (punching in a 2:20.80 - his fastest of the race on only his 2nd lap), the guys were frantically re-prepping the Golf for another stint. It needed a fresh pair of front tyres, with the rears looking good to just be swapped side to side, and a full tank of fuel. They managed to get 85L in, so I still had between 15 and 20L left, not bad economy at all, working out around 0.5L a minute, almost half what the TTFSI does at full chat.
14:45 - 3 Hours in
Position - 8th Scratch / 3rd Class B / 35th Handicap
The guys didn't find anything wrong with the Golf, so after a short stint, with a couple of laps behind the safety car, we pulled Dylan in.
Actual Stint time - 37 Minutes / 14 Laps - Best lap time - 2:20.80 - VBOX Ideal - 2:19.88
Time - 15:16 - Driver - Ryan - Car - Golf Mk5 TDI - Planned Time - 150 minutes
Ryan was quickly on the pace, putting in 2:27s whilst lapping a variety of cars that make the Birkett unique. Despite us planning to now take the Golf to the end, the lads could not rest as they had to reprep the TTFSI in case I needed to jump in and take over, the woes of 2022 still in the back of their minds.
15:45 - 4 Hours in
Position - 7th Scratch / 3rd Class B / 38th Handicap
We'd pulled back to 7th overall again, but still remained in 3rd behind Capture and Datum, but were at least on the same lap as the latter, and a lap down on the former. The Handicap position seemed to have plateaued in the mid to high 30s which was pretty frustrating considering our consistency and the fact that everything was going to plan. The guys had been to see Giles, who dealt with the handicap to see if anything could be done. He'd based our figures on us using the TTs more and the Golf as a backup, which the opposite was always the plan, which explained our skewed figures. In an ideal world we would have tried to sort this much earlier in the race but we did not want to tempt fate like last year and lose the Golf for a large part of the race.
16:45 - 5 Hours in
Position - 7th Scratch / 3rd Class B / 30th Handicap
Ryan was still pushing on, but the dark Autumn evenings did not favour the Golf, with no headlights, it seemed a lot of the slower cars were not able to see Ryan coming up behind, and on several occasions he was nearly wiped out. He was on the radio and asked me to be ready just in case the worst happened.
Luckily it didn't, and Ryan was able to take the chequered in the Golf, with 100% reliability. Capture also had a nightmare final 30 minutes, having to pit unexpectedly and losing 1st to Datum, and gifting us 2nd in Class B. We'd also broken into the 20s for the Handicap, but we were still 4 laps off the eventual winners, RAF Motor Sport, who got the lead in the latter stages from Area.
17:45 - 6 Hours in - FINISH
Position - 7th Scratch / 2nd Class B / 28th Handicap
Actual Stint time - 149 Minutes / 57 Laps - Best lap time - 2:26.86 with ideal from the VBOX of 2:25.23
For the 3rd year in a row we finished 7th in the scratch and dropped back a position in Class B.
However, we did achieve our main goal of giving the Golf the send-off it deserved, 123 laps and almost 5.5hrs of racing. A fantastic achievement for the car and all the team who worked tirelessly to make it happen.
Dylan was in the quickest car so had the fastest lap in the team honours. Mine and Ryan's best laps were within 2 tenths of each other which was good.
Our Cars / Drivers we were 22nd, 57th and 61st, compared to 34th, 44th, 45th in 2022, so as with last year, the overall pace of all the cars has stepped up again. I guess this means for 2024 we need to bring out the big guns and field a team of TTs that can lap in the sub 2:20s like the TCRs.
We also Live Streamed from inside the cars. As above, we have pulled out the best bits for the Vlog already.
Photos courtesy of Jonathan Elsey Motorsport Photography