I was at this year’s ADAC Nürburgring 24 hour race with the fully race prepared Lotus Exige Cup 260 being raced by the Stratton Motor Company in the SP 3T class. My role was on each pit stop helping with topping the tanks and providing fire cover due to my experience as an MSA licensed Specialist Marshal. Dressed from head to toe in a Nomex fire retardant race suit I would was either to use the regulation exhaust cover on stops to keep the red hot tip enclosed and unable to ignite any spilt fuel and to attach the tank vent equipment. This allows the air which is rapidly being displaced by fuel to leave the tank via a route other than the fill pipe, speeding up the process and adding an element of safety to the procedure which is inherently a dangerous act especially under the pressure of a race environment. Other team members were involved in the pit stops as during this brief window the car needs to be visually inspected, tyres checked or changed, driver swapped and screen cleaned etc.

Endurance racing is never going to be easy, that’s what makes it such a great class of racing to watch. Preparations are made to the car to cover all and every conceivable possibility before the race, nothing however can prepare against the unexpected despite all precautions and after almost 6 hours of solid and position gaining racing the Lotus Exige Cup team of Stratton Motor Company ended their chances of success due to fire. We’re still unsure of exactly what caused the fire which lead to the dramatic exit of the race but Roger Green of EVO Magazine who was driving at the time exited safely and unscathed, nothing was evident from a mechanical inspection after the car was returned to the paddock.

Up to this point the car and drivers were progressing incredibly well through the field. Of 199 starters, we were placed 99th so exactly mid grid. Gavan Kershaw of Lotus Car took the first drive and immediately gained places with impressive speed and consistently good laps times no doubt helped by his thousands of hours experience in the Exige and it’s contempories in his work. Matt Cummings also saw gains during his stints in the car with incredibly similar laps times through the race, the key to success in which is consistency. Roger Green before the race had explained to me that one of the hardest elements of a 24 hour race is maintaining focus and concentration as this isn’t a 20 minute sprint, remembering to relax as well as be at ten tenths, both of which are of paramount importance which helps greatly maintaining consistent lap times and is really the dark art of the race, the zen of endurance.

Guy Evans, Team Manager and mentor was doing well with the team really beginning to perform well and operations were becoming slicker and slicker at this point in the race. The hardest part of his job is dealing with the few unexpected, small but significant problems which require instant assessment and decision making. We’d had minor problems which were all dealt with swiftly and professionally and my hopes were high for a seriously good result and even the few hours I’d planned for sleep were put on hold due to the ever building excitement and constant adrenalin of working in the race. Pit stops were speeding up and the car was really on tune, driving very fast and the drivers were all putting in excellent times and were very happy with their progress.

At a couple of minutes shy of 6 hours in, we saw TV coverage in the garage of the car on fire. It appeared that Roger hadn’t seen the flames which were gaining in their momentum with flares from the rear of the car and wheel arch until they reached closer to the cabin. After carrying on for an incredible 5kms the heat ruptured a tyre and Roger slowed to the edge of the track and bailed out rolling to safety. We all felt huge relief to see him behind the armco and look ok, the fire marshals arriving and doing their job.

All in all, a sad end to what was becoming an excellent performance, the positions at this point in the race were 82nd overall and more importantly the team had progressed up to 11th in class from starting in 19th. Matt has resolved to get the car back to race spec and return for another go in 2011, fingers crossed I’ll be there too!

The race was won in a surprise victory by the BMW M3 GT2 driven by Augusto Farfus, Pedro Lamy, Uwe Alzen and Jorg Muller which completed 154 laps of the ‘Ring and our class was eventually won by car #133 with 141 laps.

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