Back in the eighties, I often went to Snetterton for the Willhire 24 hours (in fact, in 1989, it was the Willhire 25 hours, so organised in order to celebrate the Norfolk van rental company's silver anniversary). In some ways, despite the differences, the Britcar 24 hours retains something of the character of the Snetterton race - although it hasn't, in my experience, achieved the same sense of carnival.
As an unashamed fan of 24 hour races though, there is something special about having a round-the-clock endurance event within a couple of hours drive of home. By no means is it, or does it try to be, Le Mans; but neither is it the Nürburgring, Spa or Daytona. In the view of series creator, James Tucker, Britcar has its own ‘culture’, which is all of its own, and which shapes the character of the 24 hours.
It was a little disappointing, then, to see just 33 cars take the start of this year’s race (and two of those were in the pit lane as the pace car led the cars around for the start). I attended with my 11-year old son, Robin - it was not the first race meeting he’d been to, but it was his first 24 hour race and I must admit I wasn’t sure what he’d make of it. We’d hired a campervan for the occasion, which we’d been able to park directly behind the commentary box, and my idea was that he’d find it easy enough to crash out, and allow me to follow the race.
But he gave it a go, and he is fully 13 years younger than I was when I saw my first 24 hour race - by the time he reaches my age, it’s entirely possible that he’ll have seen more than 100 24 hour races (especially as there are so many to choose from these days).
What of the race itself though? In many ways, it was a wonderful demonstration of endurance racing in the classic sense. Very few, if any, of the competitors had run a 24 hour test prior to the event, and very few, if any, had a trouble-free race. What was particularly enthralling was the ability of the winning BMW to do so against competition that was a good deal quicker than it, over a single lap. But reliability issues intervened, preventing any of the Class 1 cars from closing the gap.
Average lap times always make interesting reading: here are the top few.
17 - Neil Garner Mosler: 2m 08.958s
6 - Team LNT Ginetta G55: 2m 10.276s
16 - Mike Brown Aston Martin: 2m 12.515s
28 - MP Motorsport BMW M3 GTR: 2m 17.155s
51 - Optimum Ginetta G50: 2m 18.948s
52 - Corum Sport Chevron GR8: 2m 19.182s
33 - Team Tiger Marcos Mantis: 2m 19.625s
26 - Cor Euser Lotus Evora: 2m 20.299s
Note that these are the averages of the fastest 200 laps for each of the cars shown.
The MP Motorsport BMW's times are clearly the class of its class - but to an extent, this is also due to the way that the averages work - if you complete more laps, then you have a bigger sample and so the fastest 200 represents a smaller percentage of the total number of laps.
You can read elsewhere the detail of the misfortune to strike the Class 1 cars - Jake Yorath on dailysportscar.com or Bruce Jones in Autosport - so here I will list the effect that those misfortunes had, in terms of the time spent in the pits for some of the leading runners. Note that in the case of those cars that received a tow-back to the pits, this is something of an estimate, since the timekeepers are unable to record a proper "Pit In" time if the car comes into the back of the garage on the back of a lorry - in these cases, I measure the entire time lost from the point that I became aware that the car had stopped, until it emerged again from the pit lane.
75 - Red Camel Seat: 53m 31.822s (12 stops)
28 - MP Motorsport BMW M3 GTR: 1h 10m 03.374s (25 stops)
79 - Brunswick Automotive BMW: 1h 14m 33.452s (17 stops)
98 - MMC Motorsport Seat Supercopa: 1h 19m 14.612s (20 stops)
60 - Perfection Racing Aston Martin GT4: 1h 26m 20.409s (21 stops)
16 - Mike Brown Aston Martin Vantage GT3: 1h 44m 39.658s (30 stops)
17 - Neil Garner Motorsport Mosler: 4h 06m 38.597s (24 stops)
6 - Team LNT Ginetta G55: 8h 47m 05.679s (24 stops, incl 2 tow-backs)
51 - Optimum Motorsport Ginetta G50: 8h 52m 27.750s (24 stops, incl 2 tow-backs)
Finally, remember too that the regulations demanded that each pit stop had to be a minimum of 90 seconds, from pit in to pit out, which obviously impacted the lengths of time shown. In the case of the #75 Seat, one of its stops was a stop / go penalty, as its first pit stop was five seconds short.
In the end, it was the pit stops as well that decided class 4, as a look at the average lap times in the class shows:
75 - Red Camel Seat: 2m 31.459s
79 - Brunswick Automotive BMW: 2m 30.758s
98 - MMC Motorsport Seat: 2m 29.009s
Again, the averages are over the fastest 200 laps for each car.
In an era where 24-hour races are increasingly becoming 'sprint' events; where reliability issues are the exception rather than the rule, I found this year's Britcar race refreshing in many ways.
I'd also like to see James Tucker's vision for the race come true - in which the race morphs from the Britcar 24 hours into the Silverstone 24 hours - certainly global awareness for Silverstone 'brand' is greater than that of Britcar. But if that is to happen, then the race should be more truly representative of the eligible cars out there, by which I mean that we need a proper grid of GT3 cars.
As I've already suggested, there are enough places for GT3 cars to participate in 24-hour events these days: the job of Silverstone and Tucker must be to make that happen on these shores.
Footnote: If anyone reading this wants more detailed analysis of lap times for any particular car, please let me know... I'm sure I can dig it out of somewhere!