Our second round of the 2016 season was at Zandvoort in Holland, for the 12 Hour Race, part of the FIA 24H Series championship.
The circuit is bumpy, technical, and very challenging – with unforgiving run-off areas around the circuit – probably only vaguely comparable to Brands Hatch or Oulton Park in the UK.
Our drivers remained as before, with myself, Cody Hill, and Andrew Gordon-Colebrooke completing the line up.
Thursday – Testing
For the Thursday test, we ran the car with identical setup to our outing in Dubai, with used tyres.
This worked ok, the car balance was good, but braking was difficult with either front or rear brakes locking, and worsening each time we tried to adjust setup to improve it.
Pace was pretty good though, so we went into Friday (qualifying day) reasonably confident we could be competitive in our class.
Friday – Qualifying (3rd in Class)
In the Friday morning test, we had made some changes to the car overnight in an aid to improve braking balance.
Each of us drove the car and came back reporting it was highly unstable, I had a spin at Turn 3, simply braking in a straight line and the car went round, which lost me a lot of confidence in the car for the rest of the session (and indeed the day). Can’t remember actually spinning a car on warm tyres before, so this set me back quite a lot in terms of confidence.
We changed back to the previous day’s setup, and went into qualifying hoping we would be rid of any balance or brake issues.
Cody took to qualifying, and put in a great time of 1:58.962 – ok, more than a second off pole, but we knew our race pace was good if not better than the cars in front of us.
Friday – Race Part 1
With the 12 Hour at Zandvoort, it is split into two parts, a 3 hour on Friday, followed by a 9 hour on Saturday. So the laps you do on Friday count towards the overall race, and your grid position for Saturday too.
Cody also took to the start, and did well to keep up with the RKC/TGM pole-sitting Honda Civic, and K-Rejser’s Peugeot RCZ.
Unfortunately an hour into the race, we had a throttle cable bracket fail, and so had no power, the car needed to be towed back to pits.
5 Laps we lost with this issue, and it was my turn to take to the car. Already we had an uphill battle on our hands, with 11 hours to go.
My stint was pretty uneventful, working to gain back my confidence from the morning’s issues, and eventually got down to lap times which put us quickest in class on the circuit at the time.
At the end of Friday we had a competitive car, but a task ahead of us to re-gain the lost time. We were all committed to the cause and Saturday we were to give it 100% every minute to try and claw our way back.
Saturday – Race Part 2
Lap by lap during the race, we had zero issues, and continued to push each lap to the maximum. Our aim was to catch Team Sally Racing in 3rd (also in a Renault Clio), who were 4 laps up the road from us. On a 2 minute lap, that’s a pretty mammoth task to catch, even with 9 hours remaining.
Each lap, all of our drivers were taking 4-10 seconds per lap out of Sally, a real gulf in performance – but Team Sally are veterans to the event, their car is generally faultless, so we had to keep going, keep pushing, to make up the time.
With 10 hours of the race gone, we were now just 1 lap behind 3rd place, and we were un-sure about whether Team Sally would need to fuel again.
If they didn’t need fuel, we’d need to take 4.5 seconds per lap out of them to catch them. With Cody in the car for the final stint, it was maximum attack to try and reel them in. Team Sally had also reacted to us, putting their quickest driver in the car, to try and stay ahead.
With 40 minutes remaining, Team Sally came in for a quick fuel stop – this was our chance – 11 hours of 100% pushing, to get back on terms with where we should have been all along.
Cody came by the pit lane before Team Sally could exit the fuelling area, and so we were up to 3rd, our first podium looking certain in the 24H Series.
We backed off the pace, now in the knowledge that we had the quicker car, and race position, over Team Sally – so could afford to take it easy for the remainder of the race.
1 Lap to go, mechanics rush to the pit wall to cheer the car across the line.
On the timing screen: ‘Car 167 Stopped at Turn 6/7’ – silence in our pit garage, all eyes on Oliver with the team radio to find out what had happened, but silence on the radio too.
It turned out Cody was stopped on the inside of the circuit, with a massive engine failure, with literally 10 corners to go.
The absolute most cruel ways to finish the race, we were left to watch all our hard work undone in an instant, with Team Sally inheriting the podium position that we had pushed all day for. But that’s racing, as they say. Not sure I’ll ever witness a more harsh end to a race.
We look forward to 24H Paul Ricard on 15-16-17 July, as we look to work towards an actual podium this time!
Once again a big thank you to Paul at Sunniva Carpeting, for without your support, this would not be possible.