Back in January of this year Nick Bailey of Skuzzle Motorsport persuaded me that taking my ARDS test and driving a car with him at the Race of Remembrance was a good idea. The event sounded memorable, a 1000km endurance race round Anglesey circuit with a pause for a Remembrance Service in the paddock on the Sunday to raise money and awareness for Mission Motorsport, a forces charity. To make it even more memorable the first 3 hours were to be run from 4pm to 7pm on the Saturday night, in the dark. Here we are 48 hours after the event and I still can’t quite take in what we’ve all been through.
I should probably start with a quick mention of the cars, Skuzzle Motorsport entered two this year after successfuly completing the event in 2014 with one MAX5 spec MK1 Mazda MX5. This year the MK1 was back with a team of four drivers who’d paid to drive it for the weekend. Confidence was high that this well proven car that had competed in Max5 all year could place well with the experience of the chaps peddling it.
The second car, and the one I’d be driving, was more of a prototype. A MK2 MX5 with a TD04 Turbo, 300bhp, diff and gearbox coolers, a fully flat floor and some very experimental aerodynamics. Myself and many others had helped Nick build this insane machine over the last nine months and with deadlines being tight we completed no testing. The car arrived at the circuit having been on the dyno for tuning and driven round an industrial estate briefly. We knew it was over boosting slightly and the bottom end was marginal for the power it was putting out. It was a complete unknown, could we even make it through the test day on Thursday to take part in quali on the Friday?
The Test Day
We arrived on Anglesey on Wednesday night and as Thursday morning dawned the cars were wheeled out of Garage 9 and embarked on a days testing. Well the MK1 did. Teething troubles for the MK2 began from the off, it wouldn’t bloody start. It was eventually concluded to be insufficient charge in the small battery and after much faffing about and no small amount of heart sinking it roared into life.
The test day was wet, really wet. The MK1 boys cracked on and got in plenty of laps to get used the car. For the MK2 we let Nick out first as team boss and the bloke who’d done most of the build. He came back grinning, we all breathed a sigh of relief. The rest of the day was spent with myself, Nick, Roger and Andy hammering it around in conditions that were far from optimal. Nick at MOT Motorsport had supplied us with some Dmack Tarmac semi slicks but in these conditions it was decided to run on the some skinny Nankang NS2-Rs to try and get some traction out of the rear end. We completed the day happy the car had put in some good track time and not exploded.
There were further testing problems however, Andy cooked the brakes on one session and we had to send him out to cool them down as he came into the pits with them glowing bright red. The key problem however was the rain lights starting to fail. Marc, one of the mechanics was sent on a 4 hour round trip on Saturday morning to Demon Tweeks to pick up a new light so we could pass scrutineering. The man was a legend, but he was in for more hard times as the weekend progressed. Here’s some short video of the cars and conditions.
Friday arrived and it was time to qualify the cars. Each car had 4 drivers, each driver had a slot to set 3 laps to qualify. This had to be done twice, once in daylight and once in the dark. Game face time. The weather was still all of the rain and wind that the Irish sea could through at us. I have no shame in admitting I was terrified. Day quali was slow and steady for myself and Roger as the novices with Nick and Andy putting in very respectable times to put the car 18th out of 45 for the start. Sadly for the Roddison’s Motorsport gang in our garage they had an off and collected a Fun Cup Beetle which meant they had a night of rebuilding the front of the car. Luckily Mission Motorsport leant them a complete road car to strip for parts.
Next up was night quali. These times didn’t count towards the grid positions but everyone needed to do their 3 laps to qualify for the night racing on the Saturday. The conditions were drying when Nick and Andy went out and set some of the fastest lap times of anyone. The MK2 was really coming alive. Here’s some video of the night quali complete with pops, bangs and flames.
And that was it. We had only gone and managed to get the car to the grid for the race. It wasn’t all good news though. Brake pad wear was higher than any of us had expected and after some rough calculations we realised we didn’t have enough to see us through the race. Luckily a fellow competitor, Adam Bessel, had spares. What a saviour!
The MK1 in the hands of Bobby, Stuart, Adam and John qualified as well and put the car in a good spot for class contention in the race.
The Night Race
Saturday, 4pm, the main event had arrived. Roger elected to take the start and the MK2, now nick named the Welsh Dragon by our fellow competitors, headed out for the rolling start. Team strategy was for Roger to do a 25 minute stint, then myself to do the same and then for Andy and Nick to split the remaining 2 and bit hours and get the hammer down. There were a mandatory 3 stops for this session and it was figured that in what was likely to be the only dryish period of the whole weekend we should max the time the two fast guys were in the car. Myself and Roger duly did our stints keeping the car going and only dropping down the order slightly. Nick jumped in at around the one hour mark and headed out onto an increasingly drying track and was very soon setting the timing boards alight with some very quick laps indeed. He had built a monster, but the monster was about to turn on us.
Nick brought the car in shortly before his hour was up and the news was bad. Third gear seemed to have gone. Andy jumped in and was sent out but was back within a lap reporting that indeed third gear was goosed. The car was dangerous to drive in the dark without the gear we used to exit every corner. Had it really come to this, we’d all had a drive but were we done after only two hours? There was only one thing for it, find another gearbox. While Nick and Roger took on the task of locating one Marc and Joe began stripping off the flat floor to relieve the car of it’s broken innards.
Mazda Mender stepped up and had a gearbox we could have, sadly they were a four round trip away and no one nearer had anything we could use. Roger jumped in the trusty Skuzzle Volvo and headed out across wales to get the box, the rest of us kept out of Joe and Marc’s way to let them crack on. The race came to a stop after the allotted 3 hours and after a bite to eat I headed back to my hotel. Despite the drama I still felt on a high and I was confident the boys would have the car ready for the morning.
We were not the only ones to suffer in the night section. The lead car, a Lotus Exige, went up in flames out on the circuit and our garage sharers who had been up all night fixing the MK4 MX5 had an off in the first few laps ending that cars race weekend.
I awoke Sunday to see Facebook updates showing Joe and Marc had worked through to 6:30am to get the car ready for the restart at 9am. Absolute hero’s the pair of them, the four us driving owe them a huge debt of gratitude. When I asked Joe if he was tired after no sleep he just replied. “Nah I’m buzzing, it’s Motorsport Baby!!”
The Day Race
The main event had arrived. 6 hours of racing began at 9am with Andy going back out under instructions to drive with a little sympathy and keep off the curbs. We needed to try and preserve the brakes and the gearbox as best we could. He went out and did an hour in conditions that suited a man who mostly drives rally cars. We were 18 laps down on the next car in class. His Facebook status in the morning had read “I’m starting the race this morning from the back of the grid after a gearbox change. We won’t have anything like the pace we had in the dry, but I’m going to do skids on live television.” and he was true to his word.
After about an hour Malcolm, our crew chief, spotted he was pulling in some very quick times and decided to call him in before he broke something. It was my turn next. The car roared in and a quick inspection showed the rear pads were dead and the fronts half worn, time for a pad change at the back. Marc and Joe with no sleep from the night before set about swapping them over while I sat in the car waiting to go. I’ve never felt so much like a proper racing driver as that moment, the car sat up on stands while I sat in it listening to the windy gun and mechanics buzzing around.
With the pads changed I was sent out only to find myself under safety car after the Spinal Track Golf and a Toyota GT86 had had a coming together. I followed the safety car round for a few laps before we were all pulled in for the Remembrance Service in the paddock. This is why we were all here, not just to race but to remember. What followed was a 30 min service to remember those who had fallen or survived but still suffered physical or mental scars from their time serving our country in the armed forces. It was very emotional and the first remembrance service I have ever attended. Jim from Mission Motorsport finished the proceedings with a cheer of of “lets go race!’. It was time to get back out.
I was now in for an hour of worsening conditions with driving rain and gale force winds. Not the best in a car with no roof. I felt I held my own and had some fun battles with a couple of the BMW compact cars and the MX5OC entered MK3. Just as I was starting to think I should consider coming in the Safety car was deployed. I decided to come in and take advantage of the slow lap so we could change the front pads which we knew would likely need changing at my stop. A good decision as it turns out as the pit wall had a board out for me to come in anyway.
Next out was Roger, who took the wheel while the conditions deteriorated even further. I should mention here that in the car it was horrid but for the wives and girlfriends who were manning the pit entry and pit wall it was positively horrendous. My good lady wife Lizzie and the others spent 6 hours stood in the driving rain and wind getting soaked to the bone to make sure we came in and knew where to go. It’s not just an endurance race for the drivers, it’s an endurance test for the whole team.
Roger’s stint was eventful with several cars falling off or collecting one another right in front of him. After a period of time he felt he was not lapping quick enough in the conditions and was suffering from a lack of visibility in the car and brought it in. The plan from here on in was to do the last few hours between Nick and Andy as they were super fast in the wet. We’d already made up a good chunk of laps on the car in front of us and Nick went out on a mission. For the next hour he rung the neck out of the car through the spray, delivering some blistering times. He caught and passed the car in front of us but had to bring the car in for a screen clean as he could not see a thing. The decision was made to change pads again and send Andy out till the flag.
That came sooner than we thought. With the conditions so bad that MotorsTV had given up broadcasting and the Marshals huts were struggling to see each other the race was abandoned just as Andy went out into the pit lane. With an hour left on the clock it was not the finish we wanted but against all the odds we had brought an untested 300bhp MX5 to the finish. An epic achievement by every single member of the team. Despite losing an hour and a half of race time we finished 38th out of 41 finishers, some achievement. There were hugs and tears a plenty for all the drivers and crew.
The MK1? Those boys did an immense job all weekend and brought the car home 3rd in class with a faultless and professional drive from all of them.
2015 Race of Remembrance was something so very special and there are plans already afoot for 2016. I’ll be there, so should you.
Thanks goes out to:
Nick, Marc and Joe for creating such a bonkers car.
The drivers: MK1 – John, Stuart, Bobby and Adam. MK2 – Nick, Roger and Andy (can’t thank myself!)
Crew Chief: Malcolm
The pit babes: Lizzie, Kat, Kirsty and Linda
The spanner men: Joe, Marc and Tom