Birkett 6 Hour Relay, 28th October 2000

Introduction

The Birkett Six Hour Relay race is organised by the 750MC. Teams from various championships are invited to enter, with a wide variety of cars taking part - from Aston Martins to Ferrari's and Radical's. The Classic Saloon Car Club (who organise Group One Touring Cars) had entered two teams, one of which comprised the following contenders in this years championship;

Andy Cope - Team Captain
Jon Warburton - Mk1 Fiesta XR2
Sean Cockrell - Sunbeam Ti
Ken Clark - Escort XR3
Andrew Guy - Sunbeam Ti
Rick Kerry - Escort XR3
Peter Nixon - Golf GTi

Each team would be allowed one car on the track at a time, with changeovers taking place in the pit lane. The race is handicapped based on lap time and class, so every team has a chance of winning.

Qualifying

With only a 60 minute session for all six drivers to qualify, we would get a maximum of 4-5 laps each. Jon went out first in heavy rain, followed by Rick then Andrew Guy. As Andrew completed his laps, the heavens opened and the safety car came out. After some 15 minutes waiting in the pit lane for my turn, the red lights came on and the session was stopped.

By this time Snetterton's weather had really excelled itself - the rain was coming down so hard there was a river between the paddock and the pit garages. It was announced that there would be at least an hours delay to allow the rain to ease off, and the race was cut to five hours.

Eventually it was announced that any car that hadn't already qualified would be allowed three laps behind the pace car only. I've never driven the Golf in a wet race, so now the only practice I was getting would be at road car speeds - hardly confidence inspiring.

The Race

Anyway immediately after the three laps had been completed, the first cars were sent out ready to start the race. Jon started off for our team, and immediately started gaining places in the wet conditions. I am on pit board duty, giving Jon lap time and elapsed time information as he completes a full 50 minute stint.

Sean is out next for a 25 minute session, he again sets some good times in the poor conditions. Andrew Guy is next in the other Sunbeam, he spins at the Esses as the track starts to dry out and becomes especially hard to drive on. Interim results sheets show in 10th place overall and first in class, so things are looking good.

Rick's Escort is out next, and he immediately starts going more quickly as the circuit dries. The lap times come down into the 1min 38's then quickly down to 34's and even a 33 - there's now a dry line round the whole circuit.

So now its my turn. As Rick pulls off the circuit I wait for the signal then carefully make my way up the pit lane (don't want to get caught for speeding again) and then apprehensively set off at race speed for the first time. The first few laps are a learning experience as I work out where there is grip and where there isn't - then I get the lap times down to 1.31, close to a dry time. There's a lot of slow and faster traffic out there, but I'm particularly concerned by a yellow Caterham that attacks on every corner, pushing really hard to get past. I reckon he'll hold me up on the straights so I defend my line and keep him behind - eventually I lose him in traffic.

The Golf holds it's own quite well against VW Vento challenge cars and various other one make series teams, and I get the 'IN' board after 25 minutes to get a top up of fuel while Ken Clark takes to the track in his Escort. Ken has a torrid time, and has an altercation with an Alfa 33 and a Radical, as well as spinning at the Esses - a reshaped drivers door panel and bent rear suspension is the result. Sean follows again in the Sunbeam and he manages the quickest lap of the day - a 1.29 in almost dry conditions. Its now the final hour and Sean is doing the first half, me the second.

So again as Sean pulls into the pit lane I head off on the track, and immediately get stuck behind a bright yellow Vento. Its starting to rain slightly, and I make a rather ambitious overtaking move on the the inside at the Bomb Hole. The Vento moves across to block and we get very close indeed, with a faster Morgan behind adding to the pressure. I hold off through Coram and let the Morgan through, but outdrag the Vento up to Riches and get through there.

But now it is starting to rain more heavily, and the track is getting very greasy. A Capri and Ferrari 308 ahead of me both lock up and go straight on at Sear, narrowly missing each other. I do the same the next lap but manage to control the slide and get down the Revett Straight missing the apex by 20 metres...

Towards the end of the race the rain starts to ease again, and I manage to pass a Metro and Escort, both apparently in our class. Conditons are still treacherous though and my front brakes start locking up every corner - the pads have had it. I'm relieved to take the chequered flag and get back to parc ferme, the provisional results show us in 14th place overall - but more importantly, 1st in class!

So the whole team pick up trophies at the end of race prize giving to finish an excellent seasons racing.

Many thanks to Andy Cope for managing the team so well and organising the entry, and to the rest of the team for a great drive to win the class.

Next race - March 2001.