This event I had never planned to enter, until Thursday afternoon, when I received a message asking if I’d like to come to Barcelona for the 24 hour race – a team was missing a driver so urgently needed another driver – I’d need to be there the next day ready for official practice and qualifying.
Obviously the answer was yes! And so come 1am on Friday, I was in the hotel in Barcelona, ready to be at the track for the next morning – via last minute flights and hotel bookings and a ton of rushing around – somewhat different to the weekend of instructor work I had planned at Elvington in York just the day previously!
The team, Presenza.eu Racing Team Switzerland, are another team running a Clio Cup car – but this is a new Gen4 Clio (the new shape), whereas the Preptech UK car I drove previously was the old Gen3 model.
With that in mind, the team gave me the whole hour of official practice to myself to learn the car, and then gave me qualifying too, to better get to grips with it.
Although it’s still a Clio, there are quite a few differences in driving style in order to get the most out of the car, but I adapted to this fairly quickly.
By the end of the day I’d settled in well with the car and the team, and we were all ready for the race the next day.
Saturday/Sunday – Race Day
For the race, Luigi Stanco (Italy) would start the event, followed by Michel Shaap (Netherlands), then myself, followed by Stefan Tanner (Switzerland) – very much a team of differing nationalities and languages.
My first stint in the car, I was told by our team manager, Patrick Liechti, that Michel had reported the car was a bit loose on the rear – no problem, I thought, I’ve driven far worse.
Three laps in, the car felt ok, and I began pushing on in search of lap time. Heading through the fast Turn 9, a corner which in a Clio is just a slight lift and then full throttle again, the rear of the car started to step sideways, so I corrected it, only for it to continue sliding – turns out “a bit loose” actually was “it’s gonna try and kill you every corner”!
A big moment through Turn 9, via the gravel and back on circuit via the MotoGP track, meant I had now found out just how bad the car actually was.
From then on it was just a case of trying to nurse the car for the duration of the stint, with what turned out to be a broken left-rear damper, trying just to keep the car in a straight line and out of trouble.
We were lapping well off the pace, but the team were hoping for a Code 60 (safety car) in order to fix the car with minimal time loss. Unfortunately for us that Code 60 never came, and so we lost a whole heap of time with this problem, but still the car was in the race and a long way to go.
Not an ideal first stint in a new car! Probably the worst handling and hardest cars I’ve ever driven, when in the practice day previously it was one of the best.
My second stint, now with the damper repaired, was more like it – back at full pace, in the night which I enjoy so much, and able to start pulling back laps on the opposition. We were now running P2, a couple of laps ahead of P3, and about 7 laps down on P1.
This stint was totally uneventful, the way it should be, the car handling really well.
By now the field was quite thin on the ground, with a lot of retirements through the night making traffic a lot easier to deal with.
One of those retirements was my Preptech UK team mate, Cody Hill, who had an unfort unate wrong-place-wrong-time accident with his MSG Motorsport Porsche and the Scuderia Praha Ferrari 458 – both cars ending in the pit wall at around 3-4am.
Cody ended up being taken to the medical centre via an ambulance, which I have to say was one of the most sickening things I have witnessed – to see your mate being taken away in the back of an ambulance is not a fun thing.
Stint 3 – 6am-8am
My final stint in the car was a repeat of my midnight stint, this time with the sunrise and low light coming in to play.
Again an uneventful stint, but now we had brought the gap down to 3 Laps to the P1 K-Rejser Peugeot RCZ – so with 4 hours to go, we were in with a shout of a race win if anything were to go wrong for the Danish team.
Race Finish – 26th Overall, 2nd in Class
At the chequered flag, Michel would finish the race, putting in some stunning lap times, but still the gap to the leading Peugeot remained the same; we’d have to settle for P2.
Nonetheless, we’d finished an impressive 26th overall out of 65 starting cars – not bad for a Clio!
A big thank you to everyone at the Presenza.eu team for making me feel so welcome throughout the weekend, a shame to not get a win but a good result nonetheless!