Report by Mark Nicholson Photos by Robert . A team publicising the Welsh Championship contested the 69th running of the Birkett 6 Hours Relay Race at Silverstone on Saturday 26th October.
69th Birkett Relay – a tale of endurance!
October 26th saw the 69th running of the Birkett Relay Race on the Grand Prix Circuit at Silverstone Birkett track map. For those unfamiliar with the Birkett Relay, it is a unique 6 hour Endurance Race for 70 teams of 3 to 6 cars and drivers and is two races in one – a “scratch race” for outright victory and perhaps more importantly, a “handicap race”. The handicap, gives teams a number of credit laps, which are added to the actual laps completed to determine the winners and it therefore allows teams with lower performance cars an equal opportunity for victory. The Birkett has a history of poor weather and this year was certainly no exception with the Safety car being on track for 150 minutes over the 6 hours! (Ironically it was dry & sunny on Sunday!)
Team 19 – The Drivers plus the support Crew! L to r Dave Krayem, Chris Everill, Colin Dunn and Damain Longotano. Back Row Team Manager Mark Nicholson, Ken James, and Mike Moss
As a late entry, the WRDA was given the number 19, and entered an eclectic Team of 3 cars and 4 drivers, consisting of Chris Everill and David Krayem in Chris’s Ginetta G55, Damian Longatano in his Westfield and Colin Dunn in his Renault Clio. All the cars went through Scrutineering without difficulty and all Drivers were signed on and ready to go when Qualifying started at 9 am, with Colin being first out in what can only be described as appalling conditions of driving rain and strong winds. By 11am, all 3 cars and 4 drivers had completed qualifying and thanks to Chris’s efforts, we were well placed in P10 on the outside of Row 5 and with the front 4 rows made up of Radicals, Sports Racing cars and BMW M3s all running with none or low Credit Laps, we had a great opportunity for a good result as the Handicappers had allowed us 18 Credit laps.
At 11.45, the race started in torrential rain behind the Safety Car, with Chris taking the start and a strategy to run him for 40 minutes before bringing him in and sending Colin out, followed by Dave and then Damian. After 10 minutes, Chris had got up to 7th and after 25 minutes was up to 5th about one second away from 4th. After 37 minutes, our fortunes changed, with Chris being taken out by a backmarker and sent across the grass and deep into the gravel. It was clear that the recovery wouldn’t be immediate, so Colin was sent out to carry on. From the images being live streamed by Alpha Live, the car looked in reasonable shape although there was clearly some damage at the front, however when the car was brought back to the paddock, it became apparent that the damage was much worse than it at first looked and we had to take the unfortunate decision to retire the car. So now we were a 2 car and 2 driver team!
Colin ran his 30 minute stint without any major dramas, keeping us in contention for a decent result and with 70 minutes run, he came in as planned and Damian went out into the fray. Damian was time constrained by the size of his fuel tank, but we hoped that he could run for about 25 minutes, so Colin’s car was checked over and refuelled and Colin was also checked over and also refuelled ready for his next stint. It was already looking like a big ask for the Team with only 2 cars and drivers and over 4 hours to go, but the mountain became much higher when after 3 laps, Damian came in with gearbox problems, so Colin was quickly strapped in and sent back out.
Unfortunately Damian’s gearbox issues proved to be terminal, so from what had looked an hour earlier as a really promising position, we now only had one car running and over four and a half hours remaining! Colin kept up a good pace until a slight mistake took him off into the gravel, from which he was able to escape, but it had caused a serious vibration, so somewhat unexpectedly, he arrived back in the garage and it looked like potentially it was game over! The team set to and got the car up on jacks and all the wheels off and cleared out the gravel which had got everywhere, before checking the car over and finding no obvious problems, it was reassembled and Colin was strapped in and sent back out to see if the problem had gone, which it obviously had because he stayed out and got stuck in and started posting some very respectable times.
All the time, the weather was getting worse and with a combination of the cold, the rain and the wind, it was pretty miserable in the garage and the Pit Wall and there was plenty of discussion about calling it a day and going home, but the Clio wasn’t complaining and neither was Colin, who kept going to the point where it looked like we would actually finish.
And that is exactly what happened. After yet another prolonged Safety Car period because a Mini was parked on top of a Caterham, the race was Red Flagged with 20 minutes to go, which avoided any time issues for us and Colin took the flag and for me, created a reputation for the WRDA that we are not quitters, even in the face of such adversity. If you ask me privately, I’ll tell you about Colin’s time in the car and although he had never been round the GP Circuit before the event, he certainly knows his way round now and has absolutely earned the title of Endurance Racer.
Popular opinion (when we had all warmed up and dried off) is that we must do the event next year as we now know what to expect and will be much better organised with more cars and drivers, but in the meantime and for the record, in no particular order thanks need to go to the following people, without whose support none of this would have been possible:
WRDA, for their contribution to the race entry costs.
Chris Everill and Neil and Alf, for bringing the Ginetta and Dave Krayem along and putting the team 10th on the grid and then running in 5th before the incident which took the car out of the running.
Damian Longotano and Vince, who despite a week or more of preparation, repairing a cracked axle, installing a new gearbox and a 500 mile round trip deserved much more than a handful of laps in the race.
Colin Dunn and Eric and family and Mike – what can I say? Hundreds of miles up and down the country to get the car to Silverstone certainly paid dividends, with the Clio being the only car available with nearly 5 hours of the race still to run!! The running time for the car represents the lion’s share of a seasons racing, so a superb effort and some very impressive lap times in the appalling conditions. Mike Moss, for spending hours on the Pit Wall in shocking conditions and then demonstrating his culinary skills by keeping everyone fed and watered.
Robert Allender and Ken James for being there to support us.
Everyone else who I’ve missed above, because without you all, this couldn’t have happened.
Despite the welcome contribution from the WRDA, the Drivers have all dug deep into their own pockets to run their cars and pay the entry costs (£1,650.00) to do this event and will need to dig even deeper to get the cars repaired and ready for next season, so if you are going to the Awards Dinner, buy these guys a drink, because they represented the Club brilliantly under the very difficult circumstances and deserve it! Report by Mark – a very proud Team Manager.
Preveiw -The Welsh Championship team consisting of Colin Dunn, Damian Longotano, plus Chris Everill and Dave Krayem, with Mark Nicholson as the team manager, each team member drives a stint and then pits to allow the next team car to carry the’baton’ until the 6 hours are up!
The event is really two events in one. In addition to trying to win outright ‘Scratch Victory’ by recording the highest number of laps there is also the more hotly contested ‘Handicap ‘Victory’, which in theory could be won by any of the teams.
Each team is credited with a certain number of credit laps, presumed to have been run before the race started. The results are then calculated from the credit laps and the actual laps covered by each team in the six hours to see who has beaten the rest (and the handicapper).
In addition to overall scratch and handicap awards, there are a number of class prize to ensure all teams have a chance of silverware.
Dating back to 1951, the race was the brainchild of one of the 750 Motor Club’s founder members – Holland ‘Holly’ Birkett. Following his death the event was subsequently renamed in honour of him.