Our great friend Mark Eakin has become a Weekend Warrior! The term is used for those who volunteer their weekends to gain motorsport experience with a team, it’s a wonderful way to begin a career in motorsport or simply learn new skills!
Without further ado we’ll pass straight to Mark! enjoy!
My first weekend working with Team HARD RCIB Insurance Racing was for lack of a better word EPIC!
It all started on the Thursday morning before the Thruxton rounds of the British Touring Car Championship (BTCC), when I had to get over to the team base in Rochester to meet some of the guys and help get things loaded into the trucks to take down to the track. It wasn’t too long before our first issue of the weekend appeared, in the shape of a lorry tail lift motor. Unfortunately the one on one of the older trucks was a bit worse for wear and we decided it was best not to put it under too much strain by trying to load the cars, once that was decided it was a case of doing 2 trips with a van and trailer down to the track to take 1 car at a time, the 3rd we were able to get into the other truck. First trip down was uneventful, I followed the van in my car so I could leave it down there for use over the weekend.
Eventually we got all 3 cars to the track by about 6pm, and luckily (for me) most of the garage set up had been done by the other lads so most of what was left was unpacking the details of the garage and working out who was staying in which hotel for the weekend.
Day 2 was when my work really started, when we had to get the hospitality area built and set up. Last time I did this, it took us 2 days to get it all built, this time, now we’re a little more practiced it only took just over half the day on Friday. We could get quite a good view of the track where we were if you stood up on top of the truck too. One of our team was a man that used to work for Mercedes AMG F1 up until the end of 2014, and thankfully he was able to put his organizational skills to good use here or we would have probably made a right mess. So with some good tunes on the stereo and a lot of banter we cracked on and I’m glad to say it was finished with time to spare on Friday afternoon. Even if the Boss man Tony Gilham had to get the golf buggy to try and flatten the floor out!
Saturday rolled round right on schedule as ever and this was when the work started getting manic. Most of the guys in the team all know their roles, some of them work on different cars each weekend but everyone knew what had to be done and was able to do it without a fuss. I was there to lend a hand wherever I could and (hopefully) not get in anyone’s way in the process. Most of my work around the garage involved keeping the cars looking clean and shiny, making sure after each session I cleaned off any dead bugs and molten rubber.
What really shocked and impressed me was how well this team works under pressure. That came first, after FP1 when the car of Chris Smiley snapped a drive shaft, at this point once anyone working on the other cars setups had finished what they had to do everyone would chip in where they could to help get Chris’ car back together ready for FP2. Unfortunately during the next session the same car decided to lose all drive again out on track. Once back in the garage it was discovered that it needed a whole new gearbox to be able to get out for qualifying.
Amazingly and all credit to these guys, they managed to strip the whole front end of the car off, get the engine out, strip out the old gearbox, source a new one from a friendly team, prep it, attach it to the engine, get the whole unit bolted back in place and rebuild the front end of the car in under 2 hours and get the car into the pit lane just after the qualifying session started.
Sadly though a fuel issue quickly ended the session for Chris and all focus was placed on Michael Epps and Jake Hill in the other 2 cars. It must be said at this point that most people in the team before most of the work had been started, thought this would be the end of Chris’ weekend and the fact they not only managed to fix the problem but get the car into the circuit again that day was nothing short of incredible, and watching them work together like that was amazing!
Sunday was another day of highs and lows (thankfully more of the former). The first race ended early with a bit like up when on of the Honda Yuasa cars caught a puncture then was collected by another car in its way into the pits. Unfortunately for us, Jake Hills car got caught up in the melee and needed some work to the front crash structure before race 2, but, saying that we still had all 3 cars finish race 1 with 2 of them in the points. Race 2 was another interesting one as TOCA decided that for safety reasons, the races were to have the total laps shortened and quite a few teams were getting punctures on the highly abrasive and extremely hot track. Jakes car was fixed, again in record time by the incredible Team HARD mechanics, with a new front end bolted on in time to make it to the grid. Another chequered flag fell and again we brought home more points and had all 3 cars finish!
Race 3 was more of the same, this time we ended the weekend with all 3 cars within the top 20, 2 of which scored points again. Needless to say when the last flag fell we were all mighty relieved and very happy with the results as Team HARD now stand ahead of some of the bigger teams in the championships.
But there was still work to be done! All the garage had to be dismantled and packed away in the trucks, cars had to be loaded AND the hospitality area had to be taken down. The garage was the easy bit, some parts took longer than others (like stacking all the flooring in the back of the truck) but generally it didn’t take us too long. The worst part of that came when we had to load 2 cars into the back of the now fixed truck that couldn’t lift on Thursday. The lift was working fine taking parts and other bits, but when we loaded a car onto the back, it decided it was too much and that we needed to help. So with 1 person on each corner of the lift and 1 in the car with his foot on the brakes, we proceeded to lift and push the tail lift up enough so that the cars could be loaded into the upper deck of the trailer!
Eventually when that was all done, all we had left was to finish taking down the hospitality area, thankfully this was a bit more simple and it all went away without much fuss, we were just losing daylight by this point. I think by the time we drove out of the circuit it was about 9:30pm and most of us had a nice long drive home to look forward to. I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy to see my own bed as I was on Sunday night.
Before I sign this off I want to take the opportunity to thank all the gents and ladies at Team HARD, especially Tony Gilham, for giving me the opportunity to come into the team and help out as and where I could. It really opened my eyes to the amount of teamwork and effort that goes in to making a race weekend run smoothly (and we don’t even get to watch the races). All the crew here are incredible guys and I can’t wait to see them all again when we head to Oulton Park for the next 3 rounds of the Dunlop British Touring Car Championship.