As soon as I discovered I’d be taking the graveyard shift of 2019’s final EnduroKa round, I was a nervous wreck. The thought of spending several hours racing in the dark - trying to not to stuff our plucky Ford Ka into Paddock Hill‘s massive gravel trap or hit any of my competitors - filled me with dread.
It didn’t help that our four-man squad was hit by issues many hours before I was due to get in the car. A sizeable hit up the rear in the first hour of the race bent our torsion beam out of shape, and by the time it was bent back to where it should have been (mostly - we ended up with some wicked camber angle on the rear left), we’d lost 19 laps and tumbled right down the order. Yet more time was later lost through a succession of penalties and an unavoidable accident.
Any hopes of a result high up the order were completely dashed, but it didn’t matter - the mostly dark two-hour stint I did in the car was easily the most fun I’ve had in the series all year. We finished 27th of 35 runners, which considering the circumstances didn’t seem bad at all. Plus, I can now say I’ve raced a Le Mans winner - Nick Tandy competed in the winning JTR Ka. And when I say raced I mean lapped several times - but whatever, it still counts.
Here’s what I discovered racing in the IndyKa 500:
This isn’t exactly helpful if you’re doing a 24-hour race, but for our 500-minute (eight and a bit hours) race at Brands Hatch, it was possible to have the last stint - mine - start at dusk and finish in the dark. That meant no driver was chucked straight out onto a dark track.
What I found was that - as is the case with road driving - I adjusted to the light levels nicely and didn’t even notice the point at which it got properly dark. My nervousness, it turns out, was for nothing.
My nervousness was due to what I experienced in qualifying the previous day. The session started at 16:00 and I went out at 16:30, by which time it was already dark. Brands hatch - a track I know well-ish - suddenly felt very alien, while the sea of bright spotlights in mirrors proved to be both scary and a distraction.
Many a motorsport crash has been caused by one driver going for a gap, and the other shutting the door, not realising there’s a car up the inside. It’s so easily done.
One upshot of racing at night is that you’re much more aware if someone’s going to go for an overtake - you’ll see headlight and spotlights illuminating the ground as they prepare to make that dive. You’ll then be more wary about taking the line and potentially making contact.
My fastest laps of the weekend came long after the sun went down. The reason? Visibility simply wasn’t a problem. I could see exactly where I was going, the lines I needed to take, and the cars up ahead I was hoping to overtake. Because of that ‘sea of spotlights’ mentioned earlier, what’s going on behind is a little trickier to ascertain, but you soon learn to deal with it.
There is a caveat to all this, though. How well the track is lit does vary around its course, and on a larger circuit, there are inevitably going to be some darker portions.
Big strips of LED lights can be bought online for peanuts these days. As such, a lot of competitors - ‘our’ number 19 car and its two sister vehicles included - ran flashing underbody lights for the full Fast and Furious effect. It added a nice light-hearted touch to this final round of the season.
Although I was initially reticent about my after-dark stint, it ended up being the perfect way to round off the year of racing. Finishing at night somehow made it seem like more of an achievement and more epic. There’s a sense of emulating World Endurance Championship heroes by racing in the dark, and not just because we shared a track with one of them.
We’ve had an absolute blast racing in the inaugural EnduroKa season. There have been many ups, and probably more downs than we might have liked, but overall, the experience is thoroughly recommended.
If you go for it and split the costs with mates, the series offers that rare thing - ‘cheap’ motorsport which genuinely is just that. The arrive and drive packages we’ve caught wind of are brilliant value too, considering the time you get on track.
And now our budget endurance racing journey is over, it’s time to thank a few people. MSVR for inviting us along for the ride, Lawrence Davey for building us a wicked little Ka which - somehow - survived a whole season of brutal treatment, Martin Davey for keeping the car going, our teammates, and Chris Gregory for giving up his weekends for pit crew duties.
The question is, what do we try racing next?