Somewhere just after 10pm on Saturday evening 24 September 2011, I had a Vettel moment. I refrained from waving the finger and indeed failed to shout "that's what I'm talking about!". But I did whoop, yell, holler and generally got noisy in my helmet because, at the fourth time of asking, I saw the chequered flag at the end of the Spa 6 hours!
Our weekend started after I landed at Heathrow on Tuesday 20th. We collected the car from Ken Clarke that afternoon and set out at 5:30am the next morning for the Ferry. We arrived at Spa around 3pm in the afternoon and unloaded into the garage, which we shared with the Sunbeam Tiger driven by Julian Mazjub and Ewan McIntyre. That was a blessing because we were No. 21, right under the access stairs to the Paddock admin, thus there was only a small place to park. In fact the Tiger team were doing all their prep in an awning elsewhere so only used the garage as a base during testing, qualifying and the race. Although I didn't get all their names, they were a most sociable bunch of guys and therefore made life pretty good.
As we were settling in, a rather tall German gent arrived with an unfeasably large motorhome and an equally large trailer containing a GT40. He asked if we would be good enough to move our car because he needed space for his awning. His logic was that he had three cars and only one garage and that we would be going to a hotel at night so would have no need of the space. I said no. However he was lucky because our friends with the Tiger didn't need any space so we could back our car up to the rear of the pit. Nonetheless his attitude took the shine off the day.
At dinner in the hotel that evening we got talking to a very nice couple who appeared extremely knowledgeable. They introduced themselves as Chris and Leslie a couple of real racing enthusiasts. This was their first trip to the 6hrs. We spent a lot of time in the subsequent evenings talking about the event in general and what they'd seen during the day.
Thursday was sign on day so I headed up to admin to sign on. Ken Clarke and Anthony Robinson would co drive the MGB and they were on their way. We were due to test at 5 ish so there was plenty of time to fit the new FIA approved 5kg extinguisher etc. before scrutineering. I took the car, three helmets and sets of overalls to the technical control bay, we passed!
Bearing in mind that the car had not finished a race in its previous two outings we set it up for longevity, rather than speed. The ignition was backed off to cope with unleaded and we ran a relatively tall diff. Revs were limited to around 6k. I got in and did four laps, three of which had yellow flags and one where I was baulked by a couple of Healeys. I came back in and Anthony hopped in. He came back a lap later complaining that the car was fluffing over 5k. We thought it was fuel vapourisation so we sent him out again. He was towed back later because the car stopped and would not re start. It took about two hours on Friday, but we finally nailed the problem down to the rotor arm.
Both Ken and Anthony were to get a number of laps around the circuit in their cars during the Masters and BSSCC races, but we decided to limit qualifying to four laps each. Of course this was a disadvantage to me but again, we were looking at saving the car. Ken went out first and clocked our qualifying time of 3:20, not particularly fast but not last. Anthony ran at a similar pace. My job was to bed some pads and just do three laps, which I did. We parked the car with no problems and went home.
Next morning we discovered that we had qualified..........98th! Significantly we weren't last.
Anthony was strapped in and around 16:08 the race started. We ran at 1hr stints so Anthony got a full tank and the rolling start. After ten laps the safety car came out for a serious accident at Eau Rouge. All I can say is that we were relieved to see Anthony come round in the SC snake the next lap. Allowing for attrition we were up to 72 at the 1hr mark and it was Ken's turn.
In what would be a continuing pattern for Ken, the pit lane was closed for a safety car so he sat there for about 5 minutes before he (and others) was released. After that his stint was pretty unremarkable, just a steady stream of times around 3:22 until it was time for Anthony to climb aboard again. We had decided on AKAPKP as the driver rota because Anthony preferred not to run in the dark. So at the 2hr mark we were 68th.
Anthony's second stint would set our fastest time. He had a pretty clear run which steadily got faster until he hit 3:19. Then we called him in because we were worried about the fuel. We were now 63rd.
Now it was my turn. I got the refuelling straw and queued for what must have been around 10 minutes. With a full tank and little running I was pleased to get down to a 3:22 but as with the others, my stint was noteable for its lack of drama. Back to Ken, who, once again was held for a lap due to a safety car. We were 60th.
I had the honour of running through the dark to the finish. I was in "bring it home" mode so was driving around 80%. On one lap Joe Twyman's Elite exited Radillon alongside me. We ran neck and neck up to Les Combes. He looked at me, I looked at him, he looked at me, I looked at him, etc. Eventually, knowing I would be a mobile chicane, I waved him through. Then I saw that flag and it was all over. Coming into the pits was fantastic. All those people waving and clapping, it felt like a win not just a finish. We finished 46th, having benefitted from attrition plus our reliability and consistency.
So, the roll call. On timing and pit wall management, Pat; catering and wellbeing, Aline Clarke; on catering support and back up timing (plus screen cleaning) Hannah Clarke; on spanners we had Tim Clarke and Henry. On pedals and wheels we had Anthony Robinson, Ken Clarke and me.