Our season racing in the new EnduroKa series hasn’t exactly been straightforward. From exploding driveshafts at Donington to missing cylinders during qualifying at Snetterton, we’ve had all sorts of issues.
But all of this pales in comparison to our most recent race at Cadwell Park, where a whole season’s worth of drama smacked us in the mouth in one punishing day. Each issue saw us slowly slide down the order, until our race came to an abrupt end 30 minutes before the chequered flag came out.
Here’s how it went down.
Qualifying went - for once - fairly smoothly. Team helmsmith Stu put us a respectable 12th on the grid, and despite Alex and I being completely new to Cadwell Park, we weren’t hugely far behind.
Unfortunately, the sister car run by Lawrence Davey Racing didn’t fare so well. A thermostat failure led to the poor little Ka cooking its engine, forcing an engine change. With the race kicking off just an hour after qualifying, the car was never going to be ready in time for the start. However, an incredible spannering effort saw the number 29 Ka take to the track about an hour and a half into the race.
Heroic stuff, but the diversion of resources did mean the number 19 car’s pit stops weren’t quite as smooth as they could have been. Which was only a small problem in the grand scheme of the misery that was about to unfold.
Having gone from 12th to 7th during the opening laps, Stu was continuing to push hard. This led to a spin, resulting in most of that hard work being in vain.
The second spin for the Ka was even more painful, with the car ending up buried in a tyre barrier on Park Straight. As a testament to how strong these little vehicles are, Stu was able to get back on track, pitting later on to get the remnants of the outer front wing ripped off.
Already on the back foot, my stint took its own crashy turn when a competitor went for a gap that did not exist. Cue a massive thump from behind at Mansfield, and a little pirouette across the grass runoff. The impact felt huge, but again, proving itself to be a tough little bastard, our Ka came away with only a loose rear bumper.
The incident was one of two spins during my time behind the wheel, although the other one was all on me.
Giving a hint of mechanical problems to come, Alex peeled into the pits with a coolant warning light. After a quick check, he was sent back out, but the speed of the stop didn’t matter - every trip down the pit lane proved to be massively costly due to its unusual arrangement.
Cadwell’s pit lane doesn’t have garage facilities, and the solution was rather complex. Competitors had to peel in just before The Mountain (the track’s famous steep uphill climb, not the zombie dude from Game of Thrones), go through the paddock, twist back around to scrutineering for driver changes and fuel, before switching back again to go through the assembly area and back onto the track. All while sticking to a speed limit of 30kmh.
Alex had the longest single session in the car of the three of us, so I’ll hand over to him for this one:
Racing at Cadwell Park is the equivalent of a mosh pit in a tent when it comes to UK-based race tracks. The left/right to get up the mountain is tough, threading a KA through Hall Bends and around the immediate right hairpin is brutal, and the right/left through Gooseneck (with massive elevation change) demands big balls to take flat out, even in a car with only 68bhp.
Add to that an outside temperature of 31 degrees, a full race suit (including fireproof trousers, long-sleeved top and balaclava), and you’re looking at an in-car temperature approaching 40 degrees. That means that you sweat a lot, become dehydrated, and lose concentration (and the will to live) pretty quickly. Which is why after two hours behind the wheel I was absolutely ruined. My neck hurt, I craved water like never before, and breathing was beginning to be a struggle. When I did eventually come in for a driver change, I remember the glorious feeling of fresh air hitting my face. And then the overwhelming desire to pass out on the grass.
I like to say that “I’m pretty much a racing driver”, but if this is the reality of being a real racing driver, then screw that!
While we liberally doused Alex with water, Stu headed out for his second stint - a one hour blast to the flag. At least, that was the original plan. Instead, Stu was back in the pits, with number 19 suffering more temperature problems. It’d boiled off much of its coolant, but due to the massive pressures involved, we couldn’t safely take the cap off to top up. All that was left to do was send the car back out again, and cross our fingers.
Our thoughts and prayers weren’t enough. With half an hour to go, our Ka was back in the pits with a broken thermostat (the same issue we had with our sister car), and also cooked its engine. Game over, and my first ever race retirement. ‘Gutting’ just doesn’t quite cut it.
With one more endurance race plus a day of sprint races - all at Brands Hatch - still to come, there are still a couple of chances for us to have a weekend where everything goes right. Here’s hoping.