During my enforced break from Mazda racing, I’m trying to keep my eye in by racing when I can. The most effective way to do that is karting. Last month, I took on a new challenge – taking part in a team endurance race over a mammoth 4 hours. I was part of a team of three drivers, participating under the banner of WM Max Racing.
I have never driven as part of a team before. It brings a different dynamic to the racing – it’s not just about what you can do yourself, as you have team-mates who each have their own strengths and expectations. When I’m racing solo, if I make a mistake it might affect my race but I shrug it off and get on with it. A mistake in a team endurance race potentially puts your team-mates under pressure and lets them down. You have to think of the big picture!
Anyway, down to the race report. There were 14 teams competing in total, with teams ranging from 2 drivers all the way up to the largest team of 8. We all assembled for the mandatory pre-event briefing in the sunshine to hear how it would all work. After the usual safety guidance, we found out that there would be a minimum of 7 pit-stops, meaning 8 stints.
We decided to split it 3-3-2, and decide who got which stint after Qualifying. The qualifying session would be 1 hour long – plenty of time for all three of us to get the measure of the kart and the track.
I went out first and laid down a marker. It felt like a decent lap and I was delighted to find out that I had ended my stint quickest. My team-mate Matt was out next, and as this was his first time on the track it took him a while to get up to speed, but by the end of the stint he was nice and close to my lap times.
Chris was last out, by which point we had fallen to 2nd in the standings by a slender margin. Despite showing great consistency, Chris wasn’t able to snatch pole, but we would still start from the front row of the grid. Since he was already in the zone, Chris was elected to start the race, with me taking the second stint and Matt the third. Then we’d work it out from there, trying to keep in clear air as much as possible.
Chris had one job at the start, which was to get into the lead. And he did it! A cracking getaway left us leading the race and slowly pulling out a gap. After 10 laps, Chris led by 4 seconds.
With the 4-hour race split into 8 stints, most people made their first pit stop and driver change at the half-hour mark. Wanting to avoid the inevitable crush in the pit-lane, we stayed out until 45 minutes before Chris handed over to me. We pitted from the lead and as I rejoined, I had a clear track in front of me and just had to keep pumping in the hot laps.
When I finished my stint, we pitted still in the lead of the race and it was over to Matt. That’s when things got a little complicated. After 20 or so minutes, Matt came across a gaggle of karts that were all battling with one another and despite the blue flags being waved, he was losing a tonne of time. We decided to bring him in for a “driver change” but it was actually Matt that went back out in the kart, to continue his stint and try and find some clean air.
Alas, he came back out right in the middle of the same group of karts! In a bit of an uncharacteristic panic, we motioned for him to come back in immediately and Chris dashed for the pit lane, leaving it so late that he was actually doing his helmet up en route to the kart. As he emerged from the pit lane, we knew we were now out of kilter with the pit stops and had absolutely no idea where we were in relation to the other runners.
When the timing screen finally caught up, it was showing us in P2, more than a lap down on the leader. Just as we were getting to grips with how the race was unfolding, the lead kart broke down at the far end of the circuit. As is the convention when this happens, they jumped into another kart and got put back put where they were on track, with the lost time given back to them. However, they took the opportunity to change drivers – without observing the mandatory minimum pit stop time – so emerged back in the lead, seemingly having gained a lap on us.
Mid-race, Chris brought the kart in for refuelling. We took stock of the situation and decided that he would go out to complete a mammoth stint, before handing over to me and finally Matt at the end of the race. We emerged now in 3rd place, awaiting the 2nd-placed team to stop for fuel. That put us back into 2nd, but we really had no way of knowing how far behind the leaders we were.
With just over an hour to go, Chris pitted the kart for the 6th time and handed over to me for my second stint. We were expecting the timing to iron itself out in this one, but no such luck. The kart broke down at the end of the lap and I was wheeled back to the pit lane to switch karts. I did the second half of my stint believing I was in 3rd place, but on adjusted time we were a lap further ahead than we thought and we were actually running 2nd.
By the time I came in and handed over to Matt for the final 40 minutes, I still had no idea what was going on! It was only when I got to the paddock and looked at the timing screens that I realised we were now on the same lap as the leaders, just 6 seconds behind! It was now down to Matt to try and chase them down for the win.
Matt and the leading kart were on almost identical pace and the gap wavered back and forth, with no-one really gaining anything. The team in 3rd place were a lap behind us now, so it was just two karts in it for the win.
However – remember that driver change our rivals made when their kart broke down? The organisers had adjusted the timing to account for the minimum pit stop time, which resulted in a 16-second time penalty for the leading team. So basically, we just had to stay within 16 seconds of them to take the victory.
At the end of a gruelling, hot 4 hours of racing, that was how it finished – our rivals taking the chequered flag but only 7 seconds clear, meaning that on adjusted time we took the win by just 9 seconds after 4 hours of competition! I felt it was a deserved victory after the three of us put in such consistently quick lap times, but equally I have massive respect for the team that were classified 2nd, as they were on our pace the entire race and meant we couldn’t afford a single mistake.
So, my first experience of team endurance racing was a success! It was enormously enjoyable, and I would definitely do it again. A massive well done and thank you to my team-mates Chris and Matt, it was a pleasure sharing the kart with them and even more of a pleasure sharing the podium!