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Projects - 24hr Racing with Team Top Gear

Race Prep

DJ were asked to assist in the build / prep of the 330d BMW used in the 24hr Britcar at Silverstone in September ’07, we naturally jumped at the chance to help our favourite TV program out, and after a mammoth 21 hour shift involving Del, Nathan & Adam installing a DJ rear wing to the car and also working on other key aerodynamic aids we were asked back to help at the actual race (should prove to be interesting as being hill climbers we’re used to cars doing sub 60 second runs, about as far removed from 24hr endurance racing as you could imagine!)

Qualifying

Come race weekend Nathan went down on the Friday for the night time qualifying session, this was going great with first time racer James May describing it as “like driving backwards through a supercar showroom”.

That was until the final few laps when James May had to limp back to the pits with the car suffering from a serve lack of power and struggling to change gear. We quickly diagnosed the problem as a blown turbo, shot clutch and a leaking inlet manifold; luckily we had a very comprehensive spares package so set about pulling the car to bits (that’ll teach us for laughing at the team next door who’d started an engine swap a few hours earlier). Well with this little list of things to crack on any thoughts of a few beers and a comfy bed back at the hotel soon went out of the window!

Mechanical repairs were completed about 10am the next morning, unfortunately despite all the new components fitted the engine still wasn’t playing ball, luckily it was at this point the cavalry arrived in the form of Del & Andy from DJ arriving and various BMW technicians to give the engine a much needed tune up. At this point (11am) and having been up since 8am the previous day Nathan and the other mechanics that had also been up all night slunk off for a couple of hours much needed sleep in one of the plush BBC motor homes. This left the others to concentrate on getting the engine running sweet, one area of concern was the injectors, so it was decided to replace these unfortunately BMW in there infinite corporate wisdom had deemed that these would have to be removed using a special tool, naturally we didn’t have this special tool, but we had the next best thing Del! He came up with the genius idea of removing the fuel rail and bolts and then simply cranking the engine over until the pressure in the cylinder released the injector from its seat. This worked better than anyone could have hoped and the series of 6 dents in the bonnet shows we were wise to have closed it!

With the ecu re-wired and re-programmed it was now a race against the clock (and the actual race had yet to begin!) to get everything back together, we knew we were going to be down to the wire getting it all back together so had a word with the marshals who agreed to let us miss the warm up lap and start from the pit lane, even with this special allowance we still barely made it out on to track in time, having missed the actual start and having to catch up with the tail end of the pack, before we could even start battling for position, now that was cutting it fine, even for our own last minute standards!

Racing Begins

So having started from the pit lane and being forced to chase the pack it wasn’t exactly the start we’d hoped for, but it was time for the drivers to get in amongst the action and try and make up some ground (at this point an executive decision was made; James May would be going out last!).
Luckily with some impressive driving on the part of Clarkson and The Stig (would you of expected anything less?) we quickly started to gain track position and overtake some of the opposition.

The car was running great and after the first pit stop, which was somewhat chaotic to say the least, we fell in a nice rhythm with only minor problems for the next few hours.

Nathan would now like to take this opportunity to apologise to Richard Hammond though, perhaps in hindsight and with regards to a certain incident in the presenters past, it wasn’t the best idea to explain that he shouldn’t be too worried that he’d taken one of his tyres down the canvas, especially by saying the worst that could happen would be a blow out…………

Hammonds Crash

Come about 11pm everything was still working as it should and we were more than holding our own, we’d made up a lot of places out on track and Stig had set the fastest lap time for the diesel powered class. So obviously Hammond decided this wouldn’t be making very good telly so he took it upon him self to ram a Mosler into the pit wall (I should at this stage, for legal reasons, point out that I made up that last sentence purely for dramatic effect). What actually happened can be best described as a racing incident between 2 cars going at significantly different speeds at night. However the end result was the same, one broken Mosler, but more worrying though a very poorly BMW.

The broken BMW and a somewhat shaken Hammond were quickly brought back to the garage by the marshals. Team manager Steveand Clarkson then set about throwing all none essential personnel and hangers on out of the garage leaving the mechanics free to work.

The crash had caused the left hand side suspension to collapse, luckily with out damage to the shocks though, the head lamps, front wing and passenger door all had taken a fair beating too and last but by no means least the force of the impact had sheared both lower engine mounts. But after many new parts and copious amounts of tank tape we had the car good as new (well it was drivable again). After that effort we tracked down Hammond who couldn’t apologise enough, we quickly pointed out a round of brews would do wonders for our sprits and he duly scurried off to oblige!

The Fog

Dawn was fast approaching, and with it came the thickest fog imaginable, conditions got so bad that cars were crawling round the track and all thoughts of serious racing were fast going out the window, it didn’t take a genius to work out that if things didn’t start to get better soon then the race would be paused, luckily we had a genius on our team and they came up with the kind of  master stroke of tactical race planning that even Ron Dennis would have been proud of “lets send James May out” so Clarkson was brought in and a protesting May sent out in his place, luckily his protests didn’t last for long, as the fog continued to thicken and the race organisers decided to temporarily halt the race and order the cars to line up on the grid under parc ferme conditions, now Captain Slow was in his element!

The fog also gave the rest of the team a much needed chance to grab an hour or so of sleep and boy did we need it.

Morning

With the fog lifted and racing resumed it was back to business as usual for the team and drivers, and come lunch time everyone was surprisingly up beat at having made it this far.

Final Stint

It was after lunch and with The Stig at the wheel that the performance of the car was starting to drop, so it was brought back to the pits, despite changing various parts the consensus was simply that our poor old BMW was slowly dying after nearly 20 hours of constant abuse it wasn’t really a surprise though.

So now it was a case of damage limitation and watching the clock slowly tick down, as the last half hour approached everyone was becoming visibly more nervous as for the last 30 minutes the recovery rule no longer applied, so if your car had a problem out on track your race would be over. Now the last 30 minutes were some of the most nerve racking of our lives, but finally we made it across the finish line, finishing 3rd in class and 39th overall (out of a field of 60+ cars), most of which were significantly quicker and run by professional teams.

What a weekend though, but I’m not sure why they call it 24hr racing, I think 72hr would be a better description.

Stig & Clarkson leaning on a DJ wing

Del prepping the car

Night time pit stop 3

May about to leap into action!

The calm before the storm

BMW on the track

Night time pit stop with Nathan

The Stigs pit board

Pit stop with Del

BMW on the Main Straight

Nathan and Clarkson after Hammonds Crash

The battle damaged BMW riding the kerbs

The chequered flag

Hammond, May & Clarkson after the race

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