Sometimes in racing you have a day where everything falls right.
Easily taken for granted or unappreciated, these moments make up part of the 5 percent complete joy that you are promised so solemnly by the older, and the more experienced when you embark on your professional racing career.
The 5 percent elation which makes up for the 95 percent frustration which appears to come unavoidably packaged with it.
Sitting on my sofa trying to pick apart Sunday’s WEC contest, I have a smile plastered on my face because Saturday’s ELMS race at Silverstone was one of those days.
Surfing on the wave of bringing home the first 1-2 finish for United Autosports in LMP3, I’m hit by the reality of how many people had to do their job perfectly, from a standing start for the team.
When the field opened for me to pick my way through the start line carnage in the very early stages of the race, I had a feeling that that this might just be our day.
The rest of the first stint went really nicely. I was able to clear the 360 Racing car for the lead further around the first lap.
The rest of the run was about building a gap to the sister car which would become all important by the end of the race. Despite a full course yellow mid stint, I was able to bring the car in with a good sized gap from Matt Bell in the No. 3 car, who had also made his way through the traffic to the sharp end.
The mandated driver times for LMP3 soon put a stop to all that though, as I am forced to step out on the hour mark and faced an agonizing three-hour wait to the end of the race.
The sheer despair of going ‘balls to the wall’ in a sports car for long periods to lose it all over a technical issue, racing technicality or an error somewhere in our racing effort is difficult to describe.
That said, as Richard Dean and I wore out the floor of the British Racing Drivers club pacing up and down nervously, I realized that at United I’ll never have to.
In the words of senior engineer Paul ‘Flower’ Haigh, (so named because he calls everyone else ‘flower’ so much by merit of a Yorkshire heritage, that they eventually started to call him it back), “We are all enthusiasts here Alex. We care about racing to the man and that’s why we do it the way we do.”
We really did live and die together a few times. Firstly we lost a little time in the first round of stops with some seat belt issues, time which Mike Guash snatched back, retaking the lead (politely) from the sister car as he charged towards half distance.
He drove one of the rock-solid stints that he is famed for whilst winning some of the biggest IMSA races going. He never even looked like making a mistake.
Christian [England] got in at exactly half distance so with some yellows and a following wind our fuel strategy was still viable; just. He repelled the attentions of the quicker of the Graff entries to keep us in the top spot.
When his first stint went fully green I started to breathe slightly heavier. When one and a half stints went with no yellows, I ran out of intact fingernails.
It became clear that we would have to splash to make the end which, if completed under green would be a tight finish to say the least.
I reckon we could have done it but it would have been mightily close.
As soon as we sniffed a FCY board in the final 30 minutes engineer Gary Robertshaw was all over it. We got in and out under yellow with the minimum fuel we thought we could get away with to make things as comfortable as possible for Christian, who was returning to racing after over a ten year absence and doing a storming job.
He stroked our machine to the end of the race without incident although it was very tight on gas at the end when the Jota car, who won overall, crossed the line with 5 seconds to go to pursue one more lap. Meaning we all had to do one more than expected.
Building an endurance race, always feels like a House of Cards. It only takes one rash move to bring the whole thing tumbling down.
This time we got that right but the championship is far from over so we need to keep our focus, roll on Imola.