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Lockdown Writing Challenge: Endurance Racing At Club Level

Sam McKee on racing his road-going BMW at Snetterton

Motorsport writing isn’t necessarily easy, but it is accessible and almost anyone can give it a good go. As part of DSC’s ‘Project Positivity’ drive, we’ve asked readers to submit features of their own as part of a wider Lockdown Writing Challenge.

The response has been staggering, with dozens and dozens of readers already submitting pieces of work to the DSC editor. Over the coming weeks, we’ll be posting the best of the bunch on DSC.

Here is the second, an experiential piece from Sam McKee, who writes about his experience going endurance racing at club level:

The final meeting of the 2018 season brought my road-going racing car’s endurance debut in a 750MC Club Enduro race. Meant as a trial before a full championship campaign in 2019, this two-hour race was a serious undertaking. The sheer amount of equipment needed was an effort to pack into the car, but she was still driven three hours to the circuit in Norfolk and clocked her 190,000th mile on the way.

A capacity entry made qualifying a busy affair, with no fewer than 50 cars on Snetterton’s three miles of Tarmac. I eventually found some space and scored a half-decent lap time to put us 7th of 17 Class C entries, and 37th overall. This didn’t worry me; it’s a long race and grid position isn’t everything. Going the distance was what concerned me most.

The car had never been driven at race pace for more than 45 minutes at a stretch, and what happened after that was a leap into the unknown. With the tank brimmed all the way up the filler neck and everything we could think of double- and triple-checked, it was time to go.

I was no longer truly new at this, about to start my 12th race. I’d never touched another competitor in any of them, never had to make an unplanned pitstop, and I was strapped into easily the most dependable car I’ve ever owned. But a rolling start in a field of 50, from MX-5s to fully-fledged GT4 cars driven by professional racers, asking this home-prepped car to do a genuine endurance race? I was nervous. I had no idea what was going to happen out there.

After the usual agonising wait in assembly, the car felt fine through the green flag lap and everything seemed to be warming up well. The field looked in good shape and as I came around Coram towards the pit straight I could see the red lights on the gantry to signal the start was going ahead. Close right up to the car ahead, third gear, get ready… hear the engine notes rise as the race leaders open the throttles, and go!

When the lights went out, all thoughts of “it’s a long race” fell away. By the end of the first lap I’d put nine more cars in my mirrors, and it felt stunning. The euphoria then felt like a victory in itself. Over the next half-hour I felt out for the limits and settled into a groove, recording times in the 2:18.6 – 2:20 range, matching qualifying pace and fighting my way up to third in class.

A safety car at the half-hour mark gave time to cool the car and my mind, before resuming into a great battle with the #52 MX-5. It was really hard work to break away from this obviously well-set up and nicely driven car, but I finally managed it before coming into the pits after 70 minutes’ racing.

Unlike our previous events, this was no simple driver change. In this two-hour race we’d cover 144 miles of Snetterton, three-quarters of a Grand Prix distance, and the car’s 62-litre fuel tank wasn’t enough. Club Enduro’s rules mandate a three-minute stop, but it’s still a challenge.

The Tuff Jugs we were using are less than a tenth the cost of the ATL closed-loop refuelling system favoured by some of our competitors, but they’re slow, and each 20-litre jug takes 80 seconds to drain into the tank. Practicing beforehand, the fastest we’d managed was 3min35 including the driver change. In the race I took a judgement call based on the safety car period and slightly slower fuel burn than expected, giving her only 30 litres instead of the full 40. After a remarkably seamless stop we got the car out with Adam at the wheel after 3min17 stationary.

Rejoining fifth in class, Adam was straight into the thick of battling for position, and any thought of a gentle rhythm was abandoned – afterwards he described it as a sprint race that lasted nearly an hour! After almost 90 minutes strapped in and focused, I finally got to release the tension and exult at what we’d achieved so far.

It felt fantastic standing on the pit wall seeing the car come through lap after lap, with Adam clearly pushing hard and going faster every time round. So much was he improving that he set his fastest lap of the race, indeed the quickest he’d ever driven around Snetterton, on the very last lap after almost an hour in the car! I couldn’t have hoped for better proof of car and driver being entirely up to the task.

It felt quite surreal seeing him take the chequered flag – the car still looked immaculate and wasn’t showing any issues. She was now a bona fide endurance racer. Incredible!

We finished 7th in class and 27th of 50 starters overall – the latter being particularly satisfying, with 12 cars from quicker classes failing to outperform us or even finish at all.

But the position wasn’t really the point: our goal had been to try Club Enduro ahead of contesting the championship in 2019, to find out whether we were going to be able to do it competitively. The answer was a resounding “Yes!”, and just getting across the line in a car that was still fit to drive home afterwards felt better than some podiums I’ve scored.

To have been fighting near the front and feel the car still performing her best after dozens of laps was astounding. I’d been on high alert feeling the brakes, the tyres, the suspension and listening for any telltale whine, knock or rattle that told me we were in trouble and I’d need to back off.. But it never came, and she was just as good at the end as in that opening lap. Nothing quite compares to the feeling of beating not only competitors, but the challenge of surviving the race itself.

We came away euphoric, and hungry for much more.

Do you want to write a piece of your own for DSC? Email graham@dailysportscar.com with your submission. And remember, no opinion pieces!

Featured image courtesy of Sam Nudd