Race three, round three: Third time lucky?

Update: Northern Delboy & Rodney were actually Ben and Twigg from Vtec Direct Motorsport

MSV EnduroKA – https://www.enduroka.co.uk/

Snetterton hosted round two of MSV’s EnduroKA series. The temptation of a 12-hour race competed with it being a long way to drive another unknown circuit. If others were keen it was on. A sense of ease was released when Rob, owner of the KA and Amigo Motorsport, confirmed skipping Snetterton and focusing on round 3, Oulton Park. This also gave Rob more time to source and fit a new engine (see Race 2 for why we needed that…).

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In 2014, I attended a track day at Oulton during our house build. It wasn’t the most relaxing of times. Despite being stressed out before the day even began, lasting impressions were of a fast, fun, and challenging circuit. As per our last race, we had a few interested parties, then one, then none. Rob put a deal together and we entered as a last-minute duo with two objectives: Finish, and place in the top ten. Rob’s deal included support from two mechanics local to Oulton. As I’ve not cleared mentioning them, let’s refer to them Northern Delboy & Rodney, premier BMW specialists, Vanos-kicked-in-Yo! Edit: Actually Ben and Twigg from Vtec Direct Motorsport. Both were mega, but that’s jumping ahead a bit… Rob’s MSV relationship meant we were in garage one paired with Pistonheads. Another good opportunity to talk Clio’s with Sam and great, chair stealing, garage buddies.

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With only two drivers, qualifying was a case of banking laps and then Rob would set our fast time. Driving the car to the assembly area it was clear all wasn’t quite right. A sinking feeling, confirmed by the noise tester “I don’t mean to alarm you, but your car is missing”. The KA struggled to rev past 4000rpm in third and was clearly down on power. Coming round Old Hall Corner, someone leaving the pits managed to out-accelerate me. That low point was further followed by Rob going four seconds quicker and still only qualifying 25th of 25. Delboy and Rodney swiftly diagnosed the misfire as injector one and fixed some other niggles while Rob sourced an injector. Delboy and Rodney also fitted our pit-to-car radios and gave the KA a final once over. Even with two drivers, you have to do a minimum of three driver changes. We planned to go off inevitable safety cars and use the radios to keep in touch. This enabled Rob and Delboy to be adaptable with our tactics and stops.

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The weather was best described as wet. Wet enough race control decided we’d be starting under the safety car. Rob started and was flying. We were back to a KA on four cylinders. Delboy encouraged Rob to go faster with a mix of ‘mood sensitive’ music and ‘gentle’ encouragement. Relaying crucial information over the radio: lap times of the closest cars, threats, opportunities etc. It was impressive to see in action. Delboy also asked if I was nervous, and I was, 8 laps of qualifying with three cylinders and four seconds from Rob’s pace wasn’t confidence-inducing. It’s hard to describe the feeling of before, a knot-in-stomach feeling of “Wow, I pay money to feel this bad” with a side order of “Am I going to puke?”. Perversely, the feeling is part of the experience. Satisfying to acknowledge and still go out. All is forgotten when you join the circuit. Adrenaline takes over and it’s back to being one of the best feelings in the world. Even in a lowly c1 or KA.

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Rob was now up to 9th! A car buried itself in the gravel and the SC was deployed to recover it. Thanks to a previous SC, I was already suited and booted. Rob came in, Delboy dragged him out, I hopped in and then set about trying to catch the SC up. At first, I thought the SC was brilliant. It gave me a few laps to get some experience of the track and conditions. Rob came over the radio and offered some pointer and things to look out for. Slowly, it dawned on me we were 9th and the KAs I was now bunched up with were hungry for our place and beyond. As the SC came in things got messy, fast.

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The two cars in front were slow and the two cars behind were faster, leaving me stuck between them. After defending as best I could through Cascades, there wasn’t a lot of room left to do much. My choices were to be passed and try to follow the faster KAs through or dive the KA in front going into Shell. As the car in front moved over I went for it. Despite taking a compromised line as a result of the dive, I got a good drive out of Shell and managed to pass the second car on the brakes into Britten’s. Having made it through Britten’s I could see the two faster KAs had also made it passed. As we came down into Hislop’s I had a huge lockup, the KA went unresponsive and I had to reach for first and do the shame slalom to rejoin the track behind the two faster KAs. I radioed the pits and explain my two steps forward, two steps back position. F**k it, all that hard work thrown away with one mistake. Coming round the start-finish I was in for some further bad news… Rob was consistently lapping at a 2:40 pace, I’d just done a 2:48. The conditions were interesting, but they were consistently so for both of us. This was a lack of talent and experience.

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There wasn’t much time to look at lap times, lots more battles ensued and the conditions were challenging. Couldn’t keep track of our place but knew I was losing out overall. Confirmed by Delboy over the radio saying I’d done a 2:47 and then what I thought sounded like we were 16th… It wasn’t clear and it didn’t matter. The facts were I was losing places and that hurt after all Rob’s efforts to get us into 9th. I had to find some more speed. Further confirmed when Delboy came over the radio and said: “You’re doing really well. If you could find a little more pace it would help our position”. Rough translation, SPEED UP!

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Scratching around my deflated bag of talent, I seemed to get good runs out of Cascades, through Island and carried good speed through Lodge. But I was slow through the chicanes, Old Hall and Druids. Unfortunately, I’d managed to repeat the lockup into Hislops. Despite trying different lines I kept locking up and struggled to regain traction and get the KA turned in. On the third lockup, I cracked one of the issues! Turns out selecting fourth instead of second isn’t helpful. With that realisation in the bag, I came up with a workaround; Brake hard just before the 100m board, release some pressure and focus on managing the brake pedal still in third, anyway anyhow get the car in, then deal with the over/understeer one-handed while timing shifting to second to when fully off the brakes, use crude (read stab the accelerator pedal) rev-matching to stop any transmission lockup when finding second. If that sounds busy and a mess, it was. However, it stopped having to do the slalom of shame and helped defend going into Hislops.

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Eventually established I could get away with taking Lodge in third and be a little faster through Old Hall. These three and settling in saw my lap times drop down to high 2:46s. Not ideal, but better than high 2:48s! By now I’d been out a while, another SC came out and Delboy came over the radio to say pit this lap. Coming into the pits I was exhausted, mentally and physically. The stint was a constant battle, a combination of the conditions, slow lap times, competitors and the demands of Oulton. Getting out the car I was a bit of a mess. Rodney asked me to do the tyre pressures and I declined, in no state to do that. Instead, I hauled my sweaty self to the timing board to see our position. Delboy was at the busy end of getting Rob in and back out. Looking at the timing board I couldn’t find us, I scanned three times and nothing! Wow, was I that slow we’re on another page? Then… there we are… In fourth! As the timings settle and update to reflect the other teams also pitting under the SC, Rob is back out in ninth. Somehow, two contributions and a fluke have occurred.

  1. I didn’t leave the circuit and despite being slow was at least consistent and brought the car back in one piece with no penalties
  2. I was in the car long enough for Rob to bring us home. The regulations state you must do three driver changes and a driver can’t drive for more than 2 hours without another driver going out. Rob’s first stint and mine added together meant less than two hours remained of the race. Rob could drive the rest of it! With one more stop requiring him to get out of the car with both feet on the ground. He could then jump straight back in and head out again.
  3. The Fluke, despite my slow pace we’d held our position. It doesn’t take a maths wiz to calculate if I could drive at Rob’s pace we’d be higher up the order, but given all that did and could have occurred, this was a relief and small comfort.

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Just under two hours later Rob brought the car home, in sixth. Rob offered the final laps or another stint but given his pace vs. mine, it was a no brainer to leave him out. Rob prioritised my signatures at Dony, it felt more than fair for him do the majority. At one point fourth looked possible! That slowly slipped away and sixth, given qualifying, seemed a massive achievement! We’d done it! We’d finished, and we were in the top ten!

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My stint earned the final two signatures required to earn my National A licence and no longer be classified a novice. But, and it’s a big but, my biggest fear of team endurance racing was being off the pace and letting people down. In my prior 2 races I wasn’t that far off the pace, this time I was. This was also the most demanding stint I’ve done. The KA was never settled, the conditions and close racing meant there was 0 time to catch my breath. Irrespective of if it was the KA or my limits, I spent most of the time at it. I’d be amazed if my heart rate dipped below 160. With Croft I did a lot more prep work, including watching MANY hours of youtube laps, studying the track map, and spending time talking to as many people as possible. With Donington, I’d driven it a lot, had some coaching, and love the circuit already. For Oulton, I didn’t do much prep and put too much stock in having driven it 5 years ago in an MX5. Therefore I need to make some changes to my approach, a new plan of action:

  1. Improve fitness
  2. Driver Training
  3. More track time and karting
  4. Learn Corner Names better
  5. Return to sim racing

Thanks to all involved, especially: Rob, Northern Delboy & Rodney, the exceptionally busy/damp marshalls, and organisers MSV.

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