I looked at the words ‘Lotus’ and ‘Endurance’ for a few seconds before deciding that it was obviously an oxymoron. I mean, who in their right mind would actually believe that you could toss a plastic grenade between 3 drivers for 9 hours without it exploding? Think about it, we are all aware of the Lotus acronym (Loads Of Trouble, Usually Serious!), which in truth may not be as accurate as it once was thanks to Toyota, but still, these are basically posh kit cars assembled by inbreeders from Norfolk! Now, I’ll concede that quality control should be fantastic when you have a QC man with three eyes, but if they all point different directions, some mistakes will sneak under the radar! I decided that my cynicism was probably a little unfair, after all I have had virtually fault free trans european jaunts in my brothers 111R, which included back to back track days in different countries!
My brother Bodie had taken part in this event last year and despite an early retirement due to engine failure, he was eager to have a second bite at the cherry (odd turn of phrase that, how small does your mouth have to be to need two bites at a cherry?). Having missed his debut drive, I was interested to see how he got on second time around. So I packed a weekend bag and headed for London. It was here that I met my other regular partner in crime Doyle. In typical fashion, Doyle had prepared for my arrival with the usual array of intoxicating substances that precede every early start we undertake! As a result race day dawned grey under the weight of alcohol abuse and sleep deprivation. The drive down to Brands Hatch itself was fairly sombre, partially due to the dark clouds overhead but mainly due to the dark clouds in our heads!
We missed the start of the race by half an hour, which was a little disappointing as the sadist in me always enjoys the first couple of laps of a race from a carnage perspective. As it turned out this didn’t matter anyway, the start had been completed in a gentlemanly fashion and by the time we were trackside the tempo of the race had been set. Bodie escorted us down to the pits and gave us a general introduction to the pit crew and team drivers. ‘The Internationals’ was the team name for the day, derived from the mixed nationalities of the drivers, David – British, Bodie – Irish and Niels – German. The pit crew were a decent bunch of lads from all walks of life, who were busily trying to remedy an early fault with the car when we arrived, not the most auspicious start to the race but they seemed confident they could get the car back out and running fairly soon. I took one look at their semi-perplexed faces and offered to make cups of tea and coffee immediately, I got the feeling everyone had suffered an early start that morning and nowhere near enough caffeine had been consumed to make reasonable mechanical decisions! Once the drinks had been handed out, Doyle and I decided to get out of the way and go for a stroll around the other garages to see what else might pique our interest.
It’s probably worth explaining the nature of this particular race at this point, in many ways it’s the season finale for Lotus competition, all the other race series have finished and this is a last hurrah before the winter stops play until next year. There’s a broad mix of classes of car and experience levels which leads to very different lap times and overtaking challenges. The teams range from enthusiastic cheque book racers like ‘The Internationals’ to the thinly veiled factory team competing under the ‘Stratton Motor Company’ moniker. Today 26 teams would start the Indy curcuit, the question was, how many would actually finish?
We ambled through the pits, casually taking in the atmosphere in each garage, which for the most part was very relaxed and friendly, nobody seemed precious about race strategy or current mechanical issues. However, when we arrived at garage No.1 we stopped dead in our tracks, the Lotus factory had brought along some serious hardware to show potential customers, two GT4 spec Evora’s stood resplendent before us! A stunning green and yellow car offset by a twin sister in Gulf racing colours, both to die for, or in, if you lack the necessary skills! Frankly, I could have sat and drooled over them for the rest of the day, but as Doyle pointed out at £120,000 each, I was about £119,950 short of the asking price! My thoughts turned to crime, how many rural post offices would I have to hold up to raise the purchase price? Eventually I relented to Doyles pleas and we left to continue exploring what else Brands had to offer, much to the relief of the Lotus employees who were eyeing me with great suspicion by then! If only they knew what sinister and ironic plans I had been hatching – Royal Mail in Norfolk, beware of a spate of robberies county-wide! You have been warned!
‘The Internationals’ were back in the race at this stage, David was behind the wheel and lapping within 3 to 4 seconds of the leading competitors, a mighty effort considering the leaders were running a 400Bhp Evora and he was pedalling a 160Bhp S1 Elise! Bodie was due to take over soon, so we wished him luck in our most heartfelt manner, “don’t crash it you Muppet!”. Then we headed for the stands overlooking Paddock Hill bend. We found a good vantage point and settled down to observe Bodie’s progress. After a couple of laps we noticed that Bodie was taking a very different line through the corner by comparison to everyone else which I thought was odd. I started to wonder if Bodie was suffering from ‘respect retardation’, a frustrating affliction that affects the driver of a car that doesn’t belong to them! I am a long standing sufferer of this condition, having done all my track days in Bodie’s cars, symptoms include; braking early, taking a safe line rather than the correct racing line through corners and showing far too much mechanical sympathy for the car, all because it’s not your toy to break! Still, he was lapping consistently, albeit 3 seconds a lap slower than David! To his credit though, he drove for over an hour without any incidents or mechanical issues, which was more than could be said for poor Niels who would take over next and suffer gear selection problems within a few laps of his first stint!
We returned to the team garage when Bodie came in for the driver change and proceeded to give him our ‘expert’ opinion based on his Paddock Hill antics. He listened intently before telling us to ‘Fuck off and go get our own racing licences!’, a fair point – well made! Niels was suddenly back in the pits with the aforementioned gear selection problem. Third and forth weren’t selecting, which is a rather large drawback on a track that predominantly requires third and forth gears. The team mechanics pulled the car apart in minutes, but this wasn’t going to be a quick fix! At this stage it was suggested that they prep the back-up car. Now, I have to admit, up until this exact moment I hadn’t really noticed the second car in the garage, another S1 Elise which I thought belonged to another team, but as it turns out, if you have a second car and some spare race numbers, you can change cars! A roof and seat were hastily attached to the second car while I made another round of tea.
By late afternoon things took another twist when the back up car stopped selecting gears too and Bodie had to revert to the original car. Unfortunately the running repairs on the original car didn’t last and he was back in the pits within a few laps. The atmosphere in the garage was changing, doubts of finishing were creeping in, though nobody actually dared to say it. I felt bad for the mechanics who had been slaving away since early morning, I felt bad for David, Bodie and Niels who were facing another DNF for the second year in a row, but mostly I felt bad that I couldn’t afford one of the GT4 Evora’s down in garage No.1! There was just under 2 hours of racing remaining, 7 teams had retired and ‘The Internationals’ were looking like they were going to be next to pack up early, things were getting tense! David decided to go back out and try to nurse the back-up car home. Unbelievably, he started to put in lap times within a second of when the original car had been running properly!
As darkness drew in, the little sadist within me decided to go stand by Surtees corner and wait for the mistakes to creep in amongst the by now fatigued drivers. In truth I stood there marvelling at how little the lap times dropped despite the pathetic lights on most of the cars and the dampening track surface. Then suddenly it was all over! The factory, sorry, ‘Stratton Motor Company’ had won, but more importantly ‘The Internationals’ had finished!
On the drive back to London my thoughts turned to next year, can I convince Bodie to put a rollcage, extinguisher and electrics cut off in his car? Should I go get my race licence in Spring? Watch this space!