Monday, 17 October 2011


When I was first captivated by motor racing, it was not uncommon to read of drivers being killed. Jim Clark, Lorenzo Bandini, Mike Spence; they all perished within 15 months of me visiting Brands Hatch for the first time in 1967. And through the seventies, a steady stream of names came to be added to the list of drivers who died at the wheels of their fearsomely fragile cars.

And as my teenage years gave way to my twenties, I compared my life to that of my father, who spent the same period of his life in the Royal Navy during World War II, where young men met untimely deaths on an even more frequent basis, but I never spent much time on philosophical reflection.

Now I am in my fifties, and more and more friends, colleagues and relatives are having problems with their health, often (as the NHS would put it) with ‘negative outcomes’.

And in most cases, there is no rhyme nor reason why certain folk are victims and others seem to lead ‘charmed lives’. Regular readers (should) know that I am a Christian: that I faithfully believe in heaven (and hell) and that after we finish these lives on earth there is something more to come. So I am not about to get morbid here.

All that said, nothing can prepare you for dealing with the sudden death of anyone, be it close relative, dear friend or sporting hero. But that is not to say that you cannot be prepared. Try it now - just imagine that you hear of the death of the one person on earth that you feel closest to: how would you deal with it? Don’t dwell on it though, don’t become depressed, just give it a few moments thought. Now imagine how that person will deal with the news of your death. Are there things that need to be resolved, discussed, agreed? Again, I am not suggesting anything too deep here, just planting some seeds, which might grow, especially if there is a particular need.

In the last decade or so (it might have been the death of Diana, Princess of Wales that started it), there seems to me to have started a trend for disproportionate outpourings of grief at sudden deaths, especially those that hit news headlines. I have heard it called ‘emotional correctness’, and it is an apposite term.

I am not denying the tragedy of death (particularly in the case of young racing drivers in accidents), but I sense a whiff of self-aggrandisement in a sort of “my eulogy is better than your eulogy” way. Or “Look at me I'm upset” - whatever became of private grief? Thousands of families every week go through the same sort of agonies, all suffering the same sense of loss, but without hundreds of media-types jumping on bandwagons and starting campaigns. The death of Senna changed Formula 1, that of Dale Earnhardt changed NASCAR, but after the dust settles, the “sport” continues; brave young men (and women) take risks and observers - be they in the organisation, the media or the spectator enclosures - become complacent once more.

The other thing that irks me is the use of the phrase “passes”, instead of “dies”. I am not being insensitive or uncaring here; but these things happen, reports have to be written and despite my faith, I find that the word “passing” lacks the impact of “death”. I understand that it is more common to use it in the USA, but for me, it is another Americanism that we in England can do without.

Sorry if this appears harsh - that is not my intention. I suppose I am just expressing my feelings. I never could quite get my emotions right.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Britcar 24 hours at Silverstone

It grieves me that it has taken me so long to get this blog posted. The fact is that my day job has been occupying a great deal of my time recently, and I haven’t been able to devote as much time as I would have liked to this little hobby of mine. Anyway, on the grounds that it is better to write something late than nothing at all, let me share with you some observations about the Silverstone 24 hour race.

Of course, the weather was the highlight of the weekend. Temperatures peaked at about 28 degrees C, and there was not the hint of a chance of rain throughout. For those who braved the cold and wet of last year’s event it was a stark contrast.

Silverstone, October? Surely not?
The spectators were treated to a great race, too, from the 57 starters who took part.

On the circuit PA system, we (I) made quite a fuss about breaking the 2,000 mile distance barrier, which in the end was quite easily achieved (in fact it was achieved by all the podium finishers). We also had an arcane discussion on the PA about what that represented (Hanoi to Saigon, anyone?). Well, to put it in a better context, if you would plan a route from Silverstone to Castle Combe, and then to Pembrey, north to Oulton Park, across the Pennines to Croft, then south to Snetterton, Brands Hatch, Thruxton and back to Silverstone, you would, according to Google Maps, have to drive 1020 miles. So do that twice, and you have a rough idea of how far the winning car travelled over the course of the race.

I’m not sure how many readers here actually listened to the commentary, either at the circuit or over the live ‘webstream’, which apparently was being provided from the Britcar website - but I would be interested to know, so leave a comment for me one way or another. In any event, those who know me will know that I try, during the race, to keep track, and I find I am setting myself an increasingly tough load, in terms of working out the pattern of the race, pit strategies and average lap times. I sometimes wonder if it is worth it. Or if there is a better way.

The trouble is that it is hard work keeping tabs on the race while trying to keep a flow of commentary going, as happened this year during the wee small hours when Brian Jones, in the pit lane, and I (in the main box) were keeping our listeners informed, while the other members of the team took breaks.

It was certainly a race of attrition, just as a 24 hour race should be. In contrast to the more celebrated 24 hour race in June in France, I would be surprised to learn if any of the entrants had done a 24 hour test prior to the race, and this led to a much more interesting scenario as the Silverstone 24 hours unfolded and the race was in a continual state of uncertainty.

The official results show 43 classified finishers out of the 57 starters. However, of these, six were no longer participating in the race, and did not receive the chequered flag, but according to the regulations, there was no need to do so, the qualification criterion being merely to complete 50% of the distance covered by the winner. Of the remaining 37 cars, 21 received outside assistance, in the shape of a “tow-back” to the pits having stopped out on the circuit. By my calculations, an amazing 34 such “roadside recovery” operations took place during the race, the biggest beneficiary being the Piranha Motorsport Ginetta G40, no. 91, which stopped three times on the track and was brought back to the pits each time, in order to resume its race.

That left just 16 runners at the end, who took the chequered flag after 24 hours without receiving the organiser’s help. Then there was John Thorne’s BMW no. 60, which did not receive outside assistance, but completed only 171 laps (less than 30% of the race winner’s distance), at an average speed of 26mph, thus counting, in my book as “running but not classified”. The others, it should be noted, completed more than 70% of the winner’s distance.
The view from the commentary box
I’m not complaining though. There was a good crowd at Silverstone at the weekend, the atmosphere was great, and quite apart from considerations for the entrants themselves, to watch 17 cars plodding round the full Grand Prix circuit in the closing stages would not have encouraged many of them to return. So rather, let us applaud the efforts of Silverstone’s recovery units, for enabling more than half the field to continue racing when stricter rules would have seen them excluded.

One of the difficulties about working out the strategy in a Britcar race is the rule that enables cars to run with fuel tanks of up to 120 litres, but only to re-fuel a maximum of 75 litres per pit stop. Especially when the limit is 25 litres during safety car periods. So it is hard to know exactly how much fuel is on board any particular car, and the length of a stint is correspondingly hard to calculate.

However, the following table is an interesting comparison of the five fastest Class 1 cars average lap times for their longest two stints.

I fear that some of this might be misleading, since these are specifically the longest stints achieved during the race, not the fastest - but it is clear how much the fuel pick-up problem hampered the Strata 21 Mosler, even though it was quite quick when it was running well. And there doesn’t seem to be much wrong with the fuel consumption of the Aquila. Incidentally, it is interesting that it managed two 32-lap stints with average lap times of 2m 11.5s (Martin) and 2m 12.4s (Berridge).

The tow-back feature means that looking at the time spent in the pits is tricky, but at least for the first three cars home it is possible to look at the numbers. Consider this:

Time spent in Pits:
2 - Eclipse Ferrari: 1h 03m 50.34s (24 stops)
49 - Nick Mee Racing Aston Martin: 43m 39.01s (19 stops)
57 - Marcos Racing Lotus Evora: 1h 15m 47.07s (24 stops plus two stop and go penalties)

Note that only the time of the second placed Aston Martin approaches the sorts of times spent in the pits from last year’s race - last year, none of the top three finishers spent longer than 40 minutes in the pits. Interesting, eh?

Finally, the winning Eclipse Ferrari was one of only a few to have only three drivers on the crew. With father Mike McInerney unable to drive at night, this meant that the rota was pretty gruelling. Here’s how it broke down:

Mike McInerney - 145 laps - 5h 50m 03s
Sean McInerney - 197 laps - 8h 17m 09s
Phil Keen - 231 laps - 9h 23m 21s

For these numbers, I have excluded the time spent in the pits for driver changes, but included those pit-stops where re-fuelling, etc., but no driver change took place.

And there's more from Phil Keen on dailysportscar this week, thanks to Mark Howson’s efforts.

My home for the 24 hours...