Our season in the inaugural season of the EnduroKa is now in full swing, with TeamCT’s second race in the series in the bag. It’s the biggest event of the year, too - a 12-hour epic at the Snetterton 200 circuit.
The ’12 Heures du Norfolk’ was anything but straightforward for us, with our Ford Ka racing car running on only three cylinders during qualifying. As a consequence, we qualified stone-dead last, a painful 14 seconds off the pace and eight seconds slower than the next car on the grid.
A new coil pack fitted overnight helped unleash the full 69bhp might of the Ka’s 1.3-litre inline-four, thankfully. We did the sensible thing and fielded the fastest driver in our four-man squad - Citroen C1 and Mini Challenge veteran Stu Lane, for the start of the race. He put in a storming performance that saw the number 19 charge from 24th to 5th in under two hours.
Two stints each from Stu, myself, Alex Kersten and Andy Grear-Hardy plus a couple of delaminated tyres later, we finished a solid 11th of 25 starters. More pitstops than strictly necessary cost us a few places, but given our issues on the Saturday, we were over the moon to have ended well into the top half of the order.
Now we have a vague idea what we’re doing, we thought we’d ponder what we’ve learned about budget endurance racing so far.
Before entering EnduroKa, I competed in a season of the Caterham Academy. Barring any circumstances out of your control, it’s generally all on you. I had thought, then, that sharing the responsibility of driving with three others would alleviate the pressure. But it’s not that simple. Yes, it’s nice knowing it’s not all on your shoulders, but there’s the added worry that a poor performance will be letting other people down. It doesn’t matter how much they tell you it’s all for fun and to chill out - stressing out about this is hard to avoid.
During my second stint at Snetterton, I estimate I overtook over 10 cars and was overtaken myself (I think) twice, maybe three times max. And yet, I gained only three places. The thing is, some of those cars will have been several laps ahead, and some a few laps behind - it’s tricky to know at the time. I had an epic battle with car number 100 that lasted about 15 minutes, only to find out after I’d got out of the car that the team in question was five laps ahead of us. It’s possible I didn’t actually win any of those three places on track - it might just have been that the cars in question were pitted when I passed them.
Before your stint you can try and familiarise yourself with where some of the other teams are, paying particular attention to who’s immediately in front and who might be coming up behind you. But that’s not necessarily going to be helpful - given the length of time pit stops take, the order will continuously be jumbled around over your hour and a half to two hours in the car.
Pit board messages can help too. But the best solution I found was just to get my head on and focus on pushing out consistently quick laps, passing slower drivers as safely as possible, and not fighting too hard your mirrors are filled with a car that’s clearly faster. Or you could just shell out for a radio system…
Endurance racing is a true rollercoaster of emotions. There’s the extreme anxiety you get as your first stint approaches, the enjoyment of the seat time itself, the massive high that comes after, and finally, boredom. As the adrenaline wears off, it’ll dawn on you that your next session isn’t for another four and a half hours. Perhaps you’re only doing the one stint and you’re done for the day very early on, or worse, you’re going last and have nine hours of sitting around before jumping in the cockpit.
Helping out with pit stops breaks up the monotony, but there are inevitably lots of long stretches with nothing to do but sit around staring at the live timing screen.
Perhaps think about packing a book along with the Nomex stuff…
As alluded to in my race overview, it’s not enough just being quick and consistent - it’s also really important to think about pit stop strategy. Refuelling in EnduroKa is done with gravity-fed ‘tuff jugs’, which take a good few minutes to brim the tank. It’s against the rules to stick the next driver in the car until the fuel cap is back on, and with only four people allowed to work on the car at one time, tyre changes aren’t going to be the speediest.
All told, it’s best to expect a loss of at least two laps for every stop. Which is fine, as everyone else is going to have to stop for fuel and driver changes too. But we could have reduced our number of stops, of which we eventually did nine. Going for two stops each was good for avoiding driver fatigue and meant reduced the length of those boring downtime stretches we talked about in the last point, but it did slow us down. What we perhaps should have done was send at least two of the drivers out for a single, longer stint each - as long as the car can go on one fuel load. Some teams managed to do the whole race on only six stops, reducing time spent strapping drivers in.
Along with the seven driver change swaps, we ended up doing an extra, unplanned fuel stop due to a miscalculation of how much needed to go in, and one driver cough Alex cough unnecessarily came into the pits for a five-second time penalty. See above for the pit board message he was subsequently shown by the team manager…
It’s all too easy to rush when you’re getting strapped into the car. You wouldn’t dream of leaving the pits without everything nice and tight, of course, but what you may end up doing is head out with a seating position you’re not entirely happy with. At least, that’s what I did on my second stint - I could have done with being further back, but by the time it occurred to me, I was already belted in tight and it was too late to do anything about it.
Cue spending the next five laps getting used to an uncomfortably close seating position, and after an hour and a half in the car, quite a few aches.
I grew to love the Seven Academy car I raced last year and was heartbroken when it was sent back to Caterham. But that’s nothing compared to how I feel about the little Ka. As I walked away from it in Snetterton’s pits for the last time of the weekend and gave it an affectionate tap on the roof, it hit me. At that point, as far as I was concerned, it was the best car in the world.
It had taken 12 hours of abuse involving multiple contacts with competitor cars, several thumping sausage kerb jumps and a few spins. Yet it just kept going, remaining quick (for a Ka) and hilariously chuckable throughout. Our dependable little endurance racer. How can you not fall for such a thing?