Scotcars in the rain at Silverstone 01 | 10 | 2010

    Britcar 24hrs, Silverstone: Friday, October 1:

    AFTER THE SLIGHT euphoria of getting to grips with Silverstone and the TeamJota-prepared Mazda MX-5 on Thursday afternoon, my preparations for this weekend's Britcar 24hrs race at the F1 grand prix track dipped severely when I opened the curtains of the Premier Inn bedroom and saw the lashing rain bouncing off the road. Nightmare!

    My progress yesterday was immediately washed away as I realised I'd now have to learn how to drive the track in the rain. And this wasn't just rain; this was bouncing six inches off the track. Oh, and just to make matters even more fun, we're the only car of the 62 entries running without a roof!

    There were two qualifying sessions today and all five drivers in my car had to do a compulsory three laps, plus an in and out. The first session was just an hour and we managed to get our last driver across the finish line with just 13secs of the session remaining.

    Silverstone in the pouring rain was an experience, to put it mildly. Sure the crew had fitted full wets to the car, but grip was still laughably — that, of course, would be a very nervous laugh — difficult to find. That, allied to the spray from some of the big cars — and we're talking full-blown racers including a number of Moslers, Ferraris, Marcos, Aston Martin and numerous Porsche derivatives — was, how shall I say, something of a steep learning curve.

    The good news was, I kept the car on the black stuff and got the car back to the pits safely. Times? Well, to be honest, they were irrelevant. Conditions were so bad, it was simply a challenge to keep the cars ontrack.

    Of course, being a night race, there was a two-hour evening qualifying session on Friday between 8pm and 10pm, and guess what; it was raining again.

    So rain, another 61 cars ontrack, huge amounts of spray ... and headlights. Could it get any better?

    Again it was a case of dong our statutory five laps in the car. Crossing the start-finish line at the end of my out lap, I entered the fast, sweeping right-hander at Copse and, in a split second, realised I'd carried too much speed. In that moment, the back-end of the Mazda broke traction with the tarmac and I ever-so gracefully spun clockwise. The car completed a 160-degree turn and I found myself stranded on the outside of the track, on the racing line facing the oncoming traffic.

    It's amazing though how you immediately switch into automatic pilot. Brake and clutch and been depressed and, and soon as the car had come to a halt I flicked it into first gear and got back ontrack before any more cars came my way.

    The remainder of that lap was — how shall I say? — an eye-opener. The big guys were even faster and the spray even thicker; and that, of course, was all accentuated by the glare of the headlights. At one stage I found myself heading into Bridge sandwiched between two cars overtaking me on either side.

    What you quickly realise is, it's crucial you commit to a racing line and stick to it. The responsibility for the overtaking manouevre lies with the faster car; so pick a line, stick to it and the guy behind can then choose where he wants to go.

    Copse this time was taken safely and the times began to come down. With the spin, my first lap was a 3min 35secs, my second as 3:05 and my final lap 3:02, well within the parameters of what the team had expected. Of the five drivers in our car, I was third-fastest, so I could live with that.

    By 10h30 we were on our way out of the track heading back to the hotel ready for a good night's kip ahead of the 24hrs race. The one big topic of conversation: what's the weather going to do over the weekend?

    The general conclusion? It's going to be gloriously dry and sunny during Saturday, and dry for the start at 4.30pm. But then the first of the rain's forecast to come again around 7pm. Sunday? Well that's just looking wet, wet, wet.

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    Jim McGill

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