Buy One Get Two Free!

It’s been a while since I last wrote anything so this entry is a bit of a bonus special (code words for long!)

First weekend to talk about is the British Touring Cars at Oulton Park. This was my 2nd weekend working with the family at Team-HARD Racing, also it was another track I had never been to before.

Myself and 3 of the other guys bundled into a car and started heading up to Cheshire late morning, so we arrived at the track a little after lunchtime to start setting up the garages. The truckies had been at the track since the morning so I think they were happy for something to do at last. Thankfully this time we had actual real garages to set up in rather than the awning we had to use at Thruxton so garage set up didn’t take too long. Once that was done, those of us not working on the cars went to make a start on the hospitality awning.

If we thought it was tough setting up on slightly uneven ground last time, we were in for a shock this time. The truck was parked up on a nice slope just on the inside of turn 1. Great spot to watch from, but not so great to set up a big awning that attaches to the side of the trailer. The main problem being, once the feet of the trailer go down it levels out, so the awning is coming from a level onto a slope. This provided us with some headaches.

Day 1 wasn’t so bad as we only put up the framework, but day 2 was a nightmare trying to get everything to fit properly, but they don’t call us Team-HARD for nothing, we managed to get it all set up eventually, maybe with a little help from some gaffer tape but ssshhhh no-one noticed 😉

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Then we get into the race weekend proper, practice and qualifying didn’t go too bad, could always be better but it set us up nicely for race day where we had some good and some bad races, the best being race 3 on Sunday afternoon when Jake Hill went from starting 26th to 9th place! We had some results with Michael Epps as well over the day which meant we took away from valuable points from the weekend.

Packing down wasn’t as hard as at Thruxton and we had everything done about an hour earlier than the last time, shame we had a longer drive home!

A couple of weeks later and it’s time to head out again, this time even further up to Croft in Yorkshire. Not a part of the world I’ve visited much and the rumours were true, it definitely had its own weather system up there, the forecast could change faster than I can snap my fingers, most of the weekend it worked in our favour.

This was to be another weekend where we had not only the hospitality awning to set up but the garage awning too. Thankfully we were able to have them parked right next to each other just beside the track at turn one, again some great viewing to be had from there all weekend, which our Team-HARD VIP’s can vouch for as most of them never left the hospitality all Sunday apart from to come on the gird walks!

It was this weekend that I had what some would class as a bit of a promotion, really the normal guy that takes care of the VIP’s couldn’t make it for this weekend so I was asked to stand in. A few years ago I would have hidden when asked to take on something like this, but 2016 seems to be a year for me throwing myself in at the deep end so why stop now! As well as looking after the VIP’s on Sunday, I was put in charge of the Team-HARD golf buggy, which was mainly being used to get drivers and mechanics where they needed to be (usually further up near the pit lane!).

Race day was absolutely crazy for me, I was running up and down the paddock in the buggy getting equipment/drivers/grid girls all where they needed to be most of the morning before race 1. At the same time as this I had to go and meet guests as they arrived at the gates to show their passes and get them into the circuit. This was fine for a while until it all started getting close to the start of the first race, then it was a rush to get things sorted so that I could get back and take my guests out onto the grid for their first (and mine) grid walk of the day.

Thankfully most of them knew what they were doing and I knew most of what needed to be done so between us we managed just fine and everyone had a good day for all the grids. The races could have gone better for us but we still came away from the weekend with more points in the bag (this is becoming a wonderful habit for Team-HARD!).

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Around the time race 3 was due to get underway the clouds came over, during the race the rain started falling, then when all was said and done, and the team needed to start packing up, that’s when the heavens opened! For a while it didn’t matter too much as we were packing away everything inside the awning. It got messy when it came to taking down the awning itself. A few of us, needless to say got a good soaking!

Eventually we got everything packed away, and by about 9:45 on Sunday evening we were leaving the track for the last time and starting the stupidly long drive back down to Kent. This took quite a while as between 3 of us in the van we had to swap drivers a couple of times before we started falling asleep behind the wheel. Thankfully we made it home safe and sound but about 1am!

I still have to pinch myself on these weekends to realise yes I am actually doing this, I am working with a real life race team, and I don’t think I could have picked a better bunch of guys to volunteer to help with this year. Team-HARD aren’t the biggest team on the BTCC grid by any stretch, but the amount of effort these guys put in to getting their cars out there and making everything run smoothly is incredible! I’m really proud to call myself one of the weekend warriors with these guys and girls.

But wait, there’s more!…..

Ok this was more of a recreational visit, but I was originally going to be working with the team. Last weekend myself and Sandra made the trip out to Spa-Francorchamps for the British GT weekend. If anyone reading this hasn’t been to Belgium before or has seen the Formula 1 races there on TV, you need to go. That’s it. It’s so much easier to get to than I realised, just a small 4 hour drive from the channel tunnel and you’re in the middle of the Ardennes Forrest driving around on road that used to be part of the original circuit!

The only thing I will say is, be prepared for lots of walking up hill if you want to get around and see a bit more of the track. The furthest away from the paddock we ventured was up to the top of Eau Rouge but that was plenty tiring enough for us thank you very much. But what a view you get from up there! The whole place is breath taking.

As it was a British GT weekend we had friends in various paddocks, also Team-HARD were running not only in the main British GT race but also had some of their cars out there for the VW Racing Cup.

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We didn’t see the podium we deserved but got a solid haul of points to keep the team at the top of the GT4 standings, not bad for a team running their first season in the British GT championship! We’ll have to see how the last 2 weekends play out, but fingers crossed for a class title in our 1st season!

I think I’ve rambled on enough for now, I hope everyone is enjoying the insight into what its like to “work” in motorsport. Next race weekend for me will be the British Touring Cars at Snetterton at the end of this month. If you’re there make sure you come over to our garage and say hello!

British GT Round 5 Preview – Spa Francorchamps

With Silverstone’s damp and dank 3 hour race completed, the teams in the British GT paddock rubbed their cold hands with anticipation in advance of the annual trip to Europe, and Spa Francorchamps is the venue for the 5th weekend of racing this season.

The championship’s annual run into Belgium has proved notably popular, not only with the regulars travelling from the typical grey summers of Britain to one of the world’s most famed circuits, but also with the wildcard entries preparing for the gruelling and notorious Spa 24 Hour race to take place shortly in the Blancpain Endurance Series.

So, we have an expanded GT3 field for the weekend’s racing, with Lamborghini team Grasser Racing and the mighty German Black Falcon squad arrive with a pair of Mercedes AMG GT3 machines.  Team Parker’s second Bentley also returns for the Belgian round.

GT4 also expands once more as the GT4 European Series returns to partner their British counterparts for the trip round the picturesque and torturous Ardennes circuit. The two classes are reinforced further by two additional Aston Martins from Beechdean and Stratton Racing.

Spa though, is a tricky prospect for any racing driver. It’s one of the longest and toughest tracks of the year, and the 2 hour race in prospect will no doubt put some of the drivers through the toughest conditions of the season, with the famous ever-changing weather of the South East of Belgium potentially separating the course into a wet half and a dry half. Add to this the tricky fast sections such as Eau Rouge and Raidillion and the underrated but equally daunting Blanchimont then you have a recipe for a grand test of driver skill.

Jon Minshaw and Phil Keen will arrive at Spa on a high following their excellent strategical victory at Silverstone last time out, and with Barwell chasing championship honours, another win at Spa would be welcome, provided they can overcome the inevitable ballast and pit stop penalties. Championship leaders Derek Johnston and Jonny Adam endured a DNF at Silverstone and will hope to recover valuable points at Spa, and the loss of penalties will unleash Adam in the second half of the race for a big push for victory. Bentley’s weekend at Silverstone was equally torrid, but with testing for the Spa 24H putting Seb Morris fastest of everyone and everything they cannot be ruled out from being in a powerful position come Saturday afternoon’s action.

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Another happy chappy after Silverstone was Joe Osborne, who secured second place alongside Lee Mowle in their BMW Z4 in its swansong season. Lest we forget that at Spa 24 Hours last year, MarcVDS piloted a similar machine to victory, so it’s not a car to rule out at any stage, in spite of the pitstop penalty to be applied to the AmD team. Also riding high on many stages is Rob Bell, who switches back to Ecurie Ecosse having secured Blancpain Sprint victories at the Nurburgring last weekend in his almost now omnipresent McLaren, and will be looking to make the most of being unpenalised for this weekend.

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The GT4 class results will no doubt hang upon the performance of the very nearly peerless Optimum Motorsport Ginetta #50 of Graham Johnson and Mike Robinson. The #75 TeamHARD/RCIB Racing Ginetta pairing of Stilp and Phillips took the win at Silverstone and now face their first test with a full time penalty. It was also pleasing to see Nathan Freke and Anna Walewska on the podium at Silverstone after many trials by fire in the #73 Century Ginetta. The Ginettas may have their work cut out at Spa, as another victory for the marque will no doubt see the heavy weights back on their machinery for Belgium. Aston Martin will hope for more, with Beechdean’s juniors being bolstered by the arrival of their sister car, piloted by Paul Hollywood and Jamie Chadwick, who returns to the squad where she won the 2015 title.

Whatever your point of view of the Spa circuit and the challenges it brings, this will be one of the most hotly anticipated races of the season. With only 2 rounds remaining once this weekend is complete, drivers will want to begin the steady downhill roll with points on the board to bring everything into contention for the showdown round at Donington in September. It’s an ideal place for the brave driver to showcase his championship credentials. The most commonly asked question will be “did you take Eau Rouge flat?” Any driver worth his salt will try it at least once, but it’s not about how fast you climb, but how strong you stay for the rest of the journey.

Echoes from an Ardennes forest:

Spa is unusual as it is the only Saturday race of the year. This is to make way for one of the “oddball” events of 2016 on the Sunday. The Spa 25 Hours for the VW Funcup, modified VW Beetles. Again, a very sharp contrast to the astounding line up of sports cars in the GT paddock.

Stratton Motorsport have brought back Andrew Jarman for their return to the GT4 scene. Jarman partnered Jody Fannin at TF Sport last year. Fannin, sadly, will not be racing at Spa, following a paddock incident for PFL Motorsport at Silverstone.

Yes, it is THAT Paul Hollywood in the second Beechdean Aston Martin GT4. He’s making the big step up to British GT racing having been a massive car aficionado for a long time. We’re quite a fan of the guy, if only because he owns some truly awesome cars in his garage.

©Pete Richardson / Cassandra Hebbourn