FIA 24H Series – Paul Ricard 24H 2016

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After our virtually last-lap disappointment at Zandvoort, we headed to the very south of France, to Circuit Paul Ricard; about a half hour drive from Marseille, for Round 5 of the FIA 24H Series.

Again I was racing with Preptech UK’s Renault Clio III Cup Car, with a familiar driver lineup of myself, Cody Hill, Andrew Gordon-Colebrooke, and a new addition in the form of UK Clio Cup racer Tom Butler.

We had all visited the GTS-RS Simulation facilities in the week building up to the event, so had learned the circuit together, and felt ready to push on as soon as we hit the circuit.

Unofficial Practice – Thursday

13680126_854100298056415_7367131117532189824_oWe had a newly rebuilt race engine, after our old unit failed in the last two laps at the Zandvoort 12 Hour.

It was my duty to take the car (and new engine!) onto circuit for the first part of Thursday practice, to check all was running ok.

First few laps and the engine felt a lot better than what we had at Zandvoort, strong through the rev range and was going well – until a low oil pressure warning came up on the dash.

I was quick on the radio to Oliver (Preptech team manager) about the issue, the oil pressure quickly dropping second by second. I had the car stopped at a marshal post at Turn 5 only a matter of seconds after the warning appeared on the dash.

The car was recovered back to the pit lane, where the team deemed the engine not usable for the rest of the session, or indeed the rest of the weekend.

Not an ideal start then! The team spent the rest of the day doing an engine change, swapping us over to our spare engine, which is just a standard Clio Cup engine; we’d be losing about 40bhp as a result.

Official Practice – Friday

With the engine change complete, it was time for our other drivers to have a go on the circuit and learn the track, in preparation for qualifying and night practice later in the day.

13710498_855669141232864_5575464174852068872_oUnderstandably the other guys each got more time in the car than I, with me having already seen the circuit the day before.

The decision was given to put Andrew and Cody out in the car for qualifying. Cody did a fantastic job and put the car P2 on the grid, with the K-Rejser Peugeot RCZ taking pole by over 3 seconds Рa crazy amount. They would get an extra 50kg of ballast to take into the race, to slow their car down at least a little.

Night Practice – Friday

Into night practice, and my first proper laps in the car of the day. I was keen to get on the track and put in some quick laps, as I’d not had the chance earlier in the day to show my pace. At end of the session I was happy to be quickest driver in our car, I always go well in the dark conditions anyway, but now I felt comfortable with the circuit too.

Race Start – Saturday 2.30pm

Cody took the race start, and immediately dispatched the pole-sitting Peugeot RCZ on the opening lap, to lead our class. This was short lived however, the pace of the Peugeot simply too much to deal with. The Presenza #112 Clio also seemed to have gained significantly in pace since qualifying, so we had to settle for P3 after the opening hour or so, but comfortably gapping the others in our class.

Stint 1 – Saturday 4.30pm

My first stint was from 4.30pm, with a scheduled two hours in the car.

13735509_855275727938872_4360841208130268885_oI came out of the pits directly behind the class-leading Peugeot RCZ, and seeing the lap times from the opening stint, I thought their car would be in the distance in no time. However I managed to hold on to their car, in fact at times was getting held up, so clearly our pace was good!

At one stage I managed a pass on their car, but two laps later was behind again, I was defenceless to stop them simply driving past me down the long straight at Paul Ricard.

The Nova Race Ginetta had a heavy accident on the back straight during my stint, which brought out a Code 60 (Virtual Safety Car). Almost as soon as I’d brought the car down to the required 60km/h, a water temperature warning came on the dash, reading 110C – not great! I quickly radio’d this in, and we brought the car in at end of the lap for fuel and a driver change, while investigating the temperature issue at the same pit stop.

A blown fuse was found to be the issue, with the fan simply having not been working for a while – so reduce speed, and therefore airflow, and the temperatures went through the roof. Nevertheless, we still ran P3.

Stint 2 – Sunday 1am

13717251_854896311310147_7390441877565170254_oMy second stint was in the pitch black, and by this time we had lost the Peugeot RCZ from the race, suffering a major accident on the front straight with the NKPP Seat TCR car.

We’d had a couple of issues of our own, so were now running P3, a short distance behind Presenza’s #212 car in P2, and a few laps behind their #112 car in P1.

As I came out of the pits, I could already see the P2 #212 car, and within 4-5 laps we had gained the position back.

In an hour, I had put a lap on their car, so were now P2 by a lap. I’d also managed to set what would be our fastest lap of the race during this stint, despite darkness at 2am.

A couple of laps later, and a major issue for our car. I turned in to Turn 3, only to nearly lose the rear of the car, and then to see fluid all over my windscreen, along with seriously high water temperatures (140C).

Again I was quick on the radio, and the decision was to get the car back to pit lane slowly. Risky, but we would lose a huge amount of time if we had to stop the car and get it towed back to the pits.

At the time I had no idea as to what fluid I was losing, but the car was very hard to get back to the pits without a spin, I just kept well off the circuit to ensure I didn’t cause a major problem for everyone else on track.

Once we got back into pit lane, it was clear it was fuel we were losing, a problem with the fuel injector. The lack of fuelling had in turn caused water temperature to rise dramatically. We were also probably lucky to have not suffered a fire because of this, a bit of luck for once…

A 25 minute repair later and we were back on our way, Andrew taking over from myself. We were now P3 and 4 laps down on P2.

Stint 3 – Sunday 8am

My final stint came in the early hours of Sunday; we had since re-gained P2, and were now comfortably holding the position. The Presenza #212 car had fuelling issues of its own, while the #175 13765702_855669371232841_788431947499142233_oNilsson Clio (our other competition) had alternator issues, so we were now P2 by roughly 30 laps – about an hour and a half. Presenza’s #112 car was leading us by roughly 25 laps, so really we were in no mans land now.

With that in mind, all we really needed to do was bring the car home, with just over 6 hours to go.

We were struggling with a gearbox issue, the gearbox temperature being far too high, and gears being difficult to select from time to time.

I managed the car for the duration of my stint, finding a sweet spot for keeping temperatures low but pace decent, short shifting to keep the gearbox happy.

A hard stint, to keep concentration and keep monitoring the issue, but otherwise without issue.

Final Hour – Sunday 1.30pm

Into the last hour, Cody had reported losing 6th gear, and the gearbox being worse than ever – both Andrew and Tom, who had stints after me, concurred that the issue was only getting worse.

13710435_855723444560767_3623698662477084830_oHowever as before, we still maintained our huge lead over P3, so just keep circulating and the position would be ours.

Thankfully all held together, and at 24 Hours, we managed to cheer Cody over the line, for our first ever podium in the 24H Series.

By all means definitely the hardest 24 Hour we have completed so far, with probably the most amount of various issues, but we stuck to our task, stuck as a team, and worked through everything to get our reward.

Final Position: 34th (2nd in Class A2)

Once again a big thank to you to Paul at Sunniva for his support, without which I would not be able to compete in these events.

For the future, I am looking at various opportunities to consider the best path to take, whether my next race will be in 2016 or if we look for something in 2017 is still up in the air.

As always, any decision is financially based – if you are interested in becoming a sponsor, you may contact me to discuss how we can work together.

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