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Finally, the day I’d been eagerly anticipating all year arrived – the 24 hour Silverstone round of the BRSCC C1 Endurance Series. There’s a special, thrilling quality about 24-hour races. These marathons of motorsport test every conceivable aspect of a racing team: the drivers, the crew, the car, the strategy, the competition, and so much more. Every element is pushed to the absolute limit.

I, along with friend and formula racer Conor Murphy, Peter Hewitt, and Ian Mitchell, were sharing RABsport Racing‘s car #432 for the event. James Smith, who had previously worked with me for my Silverstone 4-hour round, returned as our race engineer. Gary Mitchell, ever-reliable, joined us once again as driving coach. RABsport’s #335 car was piloted by Ethian Symonds, Kiefer Del Piero, Chris Williams, and James Hitchin. This is our long, extraordinary journey – recounted from my perspective, and condensed for your sake (trust me). Regrettably, words can’t entirely capture the full essence of this experience; witnessing this event in person is irreplaceable, but here’s my attempt…

– Arthur

Thursday Practice & Testing

The race meeting started slightly earlier than usual. RABsport’s team manager, Richard, preferred us to knock out our testing on Thursday rather than Friday. The rationale behind this was that the circuit was likely to be less crowded and operated under an “open pitlane” format, instead of in sessions; this would provide us with ample time to make any final tweaks for the weekend, likely giving us more overall seat time.

I arrived the night before and joined Conor and Peter the next morning to inspect the car and convene with James and the rest of the team. Ian was scheduled to join us later on Friday for qualifying and nighttime practice. It was a pleasure to see all the familiar faces of team #432 as well as our colleagues in #335 and the crew. Peter, a newcomer to RABsport from team H2H, brought a wealth of experience from racing and time attacking various production cars and historics around UK circuits.

I was briefed that #432 would feel somewhat different to me during this meeting – a large portion of the suspension components had been refreshed pre-Silverstone by RABsport, so I was anticipating a sharper feel to the car, intriguingly akin to my CityCar Cup car, rather than its prior feel at Oulton Park.

The usual test day formalities were followed: sign-on, license check, a quick driver briefing, and then Gary hit the circuit for some shakedown laps before passing #432 to Peter for the first session. From there, Peter would hand over to Conor, and then it would be my turn. Having competed in the 4-hour race at Silverstone earlier this year, I didn’t feel a pressing need for extended track time beyond familiarizing myself with the new responsiveness and feedback of the car. My first session went very well – with favorable weather, a well-performing car, and a pace on par with my previous fastest Silverstone stint, it seemed a promising start to the weekend.

Throughout the day, Peter, Conor, and I had ample track time, with minimal red flags and session incidents. As we were all lodging at the same hotel, we concluded the day with a pub dinner, drinks, and of course data analysis with the laptop out over our meals, marking a great start to the race weekend.

Friday Qualifying & Nighttime Practice

Today had a more laid-back feel – no driving scheduled until the afternoon and evening, with only a team pitstop practice session post-lunch on the agenda. This pause allowed me to take in some of the support races and relax. At this point, the magnitude of the upcoming race hadn’t quite sunk in. I recall Conor and I chuckling in the truck, wondering just what we’d gotten ourselves into – I think it was still humorous then.

The afternoon featured 90 minutes of qualifying around 1800, followed by another 90 minutes of nighttime practice commencing around 2100. As is the norm, all drivers must complete their mandatory laps in both sessions on top of qualifying to be eligible for the main event. Since Ian couldn’t participate in Thursday’s testing, we collectively decided to complete only our mandatory laps and then hand the car over to Ian for him to acclimate. Ian, currently ranked 2nd in the 2023 season of the MSVR Focus Cup series, joined RABsport for the 24-hour race. No one was stressing about his ability to adjust swiftly. We also speculated that with his extended track time, Ian might print our fastest qualifying lap.

I was first on the track to set a time – my initial glimpse of the full grid, all gathered on the circuit simultaneously, made me realize the sheer number of rival teams, 51 in total. Given the congested circuit and just three laps to complete, my focus was on finishing the mandatories and passing the baton. Nevertheless, I managed to lap another 3:05.1, akin to the previous day’s timing, starting us off P26/51 for the moment.

Conor took over and in his brief stint secured an impressive 3:04.1, elevating us to P21 as he exited. Next was Peter, who accomplished his mandatories and clocked in at 3:07.4 before handing over to Ian. We were now back to the mid-P20s as more teams rotated through their drivers. Ian spent the next 45 minutes familiarizing himself with the car and the additional corners from the GP configuration. As anticipated, Ian steadily improved his lap times, eventually recording a 3:04.2, just shy of Conor’s pace – a nice win considering his short time in the car!

However, to my surprise, our qualifying order rapidly descended. It appears many teams saved their fastest drivers for the end – in the final 15 minutes, we plummeted from the upper P20s to mid P30s, ending the session at P40/51. This was somewhat disconcerting, to say the least. The unexpected outcome necessitated a revision of our race strategy – James was already immersed in his witchcraft, deciphering new tactics on his computer. Meanwhile, our counterparts in car #335 achieved a worthy P18 in qualifying – well done!

There wasn’t much downtime before the night practice, but we had a moment to analyze our data and discuss the qualifying results. The night practice was brief, to preserve the car. We planned to complete the mandatories, and if any driver felt the need, one or two additional laps. As the sun set, the reality of driving at speed in the night dawned on me — as the saying goes, the night is dark (… and full of terrors! No? Anyone?).

Once again, I was the first to drive the car, this time into the twilight. What followed was a surprisingly enjoyable, albeit brief, stint. Now, after having driven both the dusk and dawn stints of the 24-hour race, I must admit, I find the night quite exciting. It calls for a distinct kind of vigilance, but I found my pace level matched that of daylight driving versus many competitors that adopted a more cautious approach, especially while braking before corners. This offered ample opportunities for effortless, clean overtakes. After my stint, I handed the car over to Conor, having clocked a 3:05.7, essentially matching my daytime pace.

Despite this being a practice session, it was gratifying to see us ranked P25/51, with Ian clocking the fastest time at 3:04.2. This not only hinted at how RABsport #432 might fare against other teams in the night, but also suggested that the night was serving as a sort of equalizer – some teams that had quick drivers during the day didn’t necessarily have the same advantage at night.

Saturday / Sunday 24h Race

And so, the main event is upon us. After a restful night, I find myself at breakfast with Conor in our hotel, my mind focused solely on the daunting task ahead. In roughly eight hours, I’d be engaged in an intense marathon of staying awake for approximately 24 hours straight, performing just under 7 hours of driving across three stints. Come Sunday, with some luck, either a teammate or I would be driving #432 across the finish line. This is it, the 24 is here.

We left the hotel early, as James requested to review the updated race strategy with us before the main team meeting for #432 later in the afternoon. Due to our P40 position post-qualifying, we had to revise our initial plans. As James aptly described it, we were now playing the “long game”. This meant maximizing everything – fuel, stint lengths, car preservation, and minimizing pit stop durations, among other factors. The idea was that while our rivals exerted maximum effort from the outset, we would persistently clock laps at a steady pace, sidestep issues, and gradually ascend the ladder.

Consequently, we selected our conservative driver, Peter, to start the race. His mission was straightforward, at least in theory (it’s not) – to survive the start and deliver a consistent two-hour stint amid the crowd of 51 competing cars, striving to stay with the group to capitalize on any safety car incidents, which would allow us to regroup with the leaders. Then, I would take over from dusk into the night. Conor and Ian would follow, each taking back-to-back stints through the night, aiming to seize as many positions as possible during the period when mistakes are most likely to occur. I’d then return for the stunning dawn stint, followed by Peter after a night’s rest. Conor and Ian would each have another stint, and then, if all went according to plan, I would have the privilege of driving #432 across the finish line. If that sounds like an exhaustive rotation of stints and driver changes, it’s because it indeed is…

Stint #1 – Into the Darkness (1945 In, ~2hr 15m past)

As Peter’s stint drew to a close, he’d given us an immaculate start, steering clear of the multiple incidents that plagued the initial hours of the race. He handed me the car in flawless condition in P29/51, having climbed 11 spots. Our strategy seemed to be paying dividends already. Multiple safety cars during his stint kept us on the same lap as the leaders until the end of his run. Time to get to work!

My goal was to step up the pace for this first stint. I was comfortably matching my fastest pace from the March round during testing on Thursday, so I thought it feasible to shave off a second or two this stint, aiming for a 3:04 flat. I knew I wouldn’t be driving again until dawn, so recovery time was assured.

The first half of my stint was marked by a glaring sun on the back half of the circuit, making it a challenge for many of us to spot our brake markers. Since it was going to turn pitch black eventually, I couldn’t use my mirrored face shield. For now, the struggle was real. On several laps, I improvised a “stunt” I’d seen rally drivers do – shielding the sun with one hand as I approached my brake marker; certainly not my preferred way to drive…

An hour into my stint, I’d gained a few positions, moving to P24. However, a series of inconveniently timed safety cars disrupted my rhythm – but that’s the nature of the game sometimes. With the sun now completely set and energy levels still high, I hunkered down. For the next hour, I fell into a deep state of concentration where everything ran like clockwork. I was hitting all my markers, the driving felt fluid and effortless, smoothly guiding me towards the end of my stint. At my peak, I clocked a 3:03.1 lap, shaving off a full 2 seconds from my pace, and managed to maintain a 3:04 average overall – more than pleasing. Even better, I handed over the car to Conor in P15/51, 25 places up from the start of the race, just under five hours in. Our “long game” strategy was paying off brilliantly, and we were just gearing up for Conor and Ian’s nighttime attack. (2207 Out, ~4hr 40m past)

Stint #2 – A New Day (0530 In, ~12hr past)

I managed very little sleep following my first stint. Instead, I joined James to watch Conor’s first night stint, socialized with the crew over a late dinner in the team truck, and then held a debriefing with Peter and Conor after he finished his first stint. We discussed various aspects of the race so far – car condition, track status, competitor teams, among other things. The car was still in remarkable shape, albeit a slight fight in the corners due to vibrations and pull in the steering.

Having finally retired to bed for what turned out to be a short one-hour power nap followed by an hour of ceiling-gazing, I returned to our garage. Ian had just completed a long stint of almost three hours, and Conor was back on the track, sitting at none other than P7/51. They had put up an amazing drive, along with Conor’s first stint, propelling us eight spots up to a top-10 position. Our strategy was now shifting towards a defensive approach.

Around 5:30, it was nearly time for me to resume my part in the race. As the sun began its ascent over the horizon, Conor was flying in P12, laying down what would be our fastest lap of the race—a 3:00.8. This caused a cheering uproar in our garage. Conor’s final twenty-minutes of his stint trailing one of the leading cars, getting a lesson in perhaps one of the best racing lines on the grid and a bonus tow, was undoubtedly one of the race’s highlights. Our entire team was glued to the screens, eagerly awaiting every lap he completed. His time edged closer to the coveted sub-three minutes with every lap, sparking an infectious wave of high-fives and claps – tremendously charged-up atmosphere.

However, there was a slight hitch. Every time Conor crossed the start-finish line, it sounded like a turbocharged touring car roared past. This didn’t go unnoticed by the others, including race control, who radioed us that we would need to address the issue. Our #432 crew was preparing – we knew some part of the exhaust kit had failed, but the exact piece was unknown, so we had all parts at the ready. This repair had to be meticulously quick, as James estimated we would lose at least ten positions.

The plan was for Conor to pit normally, undergo a standard pitstop, then roll the car into the garage, lift it, identify and fix the problem as I was getting strapped in, lower the car, roll it back out, and go go go. For reference, our standard stops, inclusive of tire changes from pit entry to exit, took about four and a half minutes. I’ve always been impressed with the RABsport crew but this was nothing short of remarkable. They promptly identified the issue, naturally the most complex one it could have been – the exhaust manifold had failed completely. There they were, under the car, working on the scorching hot exhaust parts, disassembling the manifold, reconnecting the new one, and mating it back to the engine. We exited the pits in under 13 minutes – the team had executed the repairs in roughly 8 minutes. A phenomenal effort from the boys.

I began my stint in P27/51, indeed a few positions lost, but I was packed with energy and resolved not to disappoint. Time to press on. I slipped back into that deeply focused mindset I’d only experienced for about 30 minutes during the first stint, but this time, it lasted throughout my 130-minute drive. During those two hours, I clocked a 3:01.8 lap, faster than any other lap I’d ever completed in a simulator or real-world session, with an average of 3:02.9. Fully committed to my attack, and inspired by Ian and Conor’s night work, I was more motivated than ever. One hour in, I was at P22/51. Two hours in, P18. By the time I exited, I’d moved up to P17 – a tremendous drive. We were now sitting next to our colleagues in #335 who sat in P16. The baton was passed to Peter, then Ian, and Conor again for another full rotation. (0739 Out, ~14hr 10m past)

Stint #3 – Bringing #432 Home (1501 In, ~21hr 30m past)

Upon completing my dawn stint, the combined effects of fatigue and aching hit me all at once, like a bag of bricks. My dad pushed me to get some proper rest. So, after another meal, I retreated to bed. I must have fallen asleep almost instantly because the next thing I knew, my alarm, set for about two hours later, was already going off.

I woke up to several text messages instructing me to return to the truck and garage for a final strategy discussion for the remaining four hours or so of the race. Conor was currently in the car, so Ian filled me in on the car’s status – “the vibrations and steering are worse, but you can outdrive it. Otherwise, the car feels strong.” Fair enough, could be worse after 20 hours.

James was engaged in his customary arithmetic in front of the screens and pulled us together to outline the plan. Conor had managed to secure P18/51. According to James, with a bit of luck with safety cars, we planned to stretch Conor’s stint to nearly zero fuel. Then, we were betting everything on a single, final stint that would take us all the way to the finish line with no further stops. This relatively critical task we’ll say, fell to me; our entire 24-hour effort now hinged on my performance and, it seemed, a decent serving of luck (thanks James).

Just before 1500, Conor came into pits, practically running on fumes, and passed the driving to me for the final time. I must have had around 2 hours and 30 minutes to go as I exited pit lane. It was a tough ask fuel-wise, and we were banking on some especially slow safety car laps. Almost like clockwork, I received a race control radio message notifying me of a safety car deployment just as I was maneuvering through the Maggots and Becketts complex, 30 seconds into my stint. I immediately slipped into fifth gear and tip-toed between not blatantly holding up traffic and also catching the safety car…

The safety car period was short-lived, lasting only three laps, but I suspected that was all we needed. My mission was now one of fuel conservation – coasting ahead of slow corners, drafting behind other cars for clean air, short shifting; I implemented every fuel-saving strategy I knew. I remember engaging in a side race at one point with a fellow competitor, capitalizing on his tow, though some might argue I wasn’t entirely sticking to the plan… During one of my passes of the start-finish straight, I spotted James, unexpectedly not in front of his monitors but on the pit wall (where he wouldn’t be unless mad), brandishing and pointing at the Fuel Save sign. Despite the lack of direct communication, his facial expression conveyed his message clearly enough. Time to slow down.

With about 30 minutes to go, I noticed several teams adopting the same strategy as us, with some cars just creeping along to avoid running out of fuel. A few cars had stopped at various points around the track, probably the unfortunate result of their strategists’ slight miscalculations. We were holding steady at P16/51, unable to catch P15, and P17 was a lap behind. My only task was to finish the race. When race control broadcast the ten-minute mark to all cars, signaling the race’s imminent end, I knew we were likely dangerously low on fuel. When the race leader’s final lap was announced over our comms., the finish line seemed tantalizingly close.

As I passed the start-finish line, I knew I was down to the last 16 corners, just 5.9 kilometers… But, right as I began the first turn, the car coughed, hesitated for a moment. My heart plummeted. In mere seconds, I had already mentally pictured myself pushing the car if that’s what it came to. I quickly shifted into fifth gear, slowed down even further, and turned the car back and forth in the hopes that any remaining fuel would slosh into the right place.

Following an agonizingly tense last lap, #432 made it. At 1731, we passed the checkered flag for the last time, securing our P16/51 position. We successfully finished the 24-hour race, gaining 24 positions from qualifying, and bringing #432 home in nearly the same condition as we got it. That’s one 24 hour notched.

In Closing…

Wrapping up this incredible story, I can’t help but underscore what a tremendous experience this has been. My deepest gratitude goes to the entire crew at RABsport from the Tony-ies sitting out on the pit wall and managing initial car setup, to Jack and Andy leading the charge with repairs, and Lewis and Miles gearing up for fuel I can’t count how many times, all of you made it happen for us. Additionally, our team principal Richard for his leadership, our race engineer James for not only crafting the strategy but also instilling in us the confidence to pursue it, Gary for his consistent support on the development side, and, of course, #432, our persistent little racing car that stayed the course throughout the weekend.

For those contemplating participating in a 24-hour or any endurance racing, whether in this series or another, let me assure you that besides the indescribable feeling of accomplishment upon finishing this kind of event, there’s nothing else in circuit motorsport that provides the wealth of knowledge and skills you’ll gain from these events. It also supports invaluable additions to your logbook in terms of hours under race conditions.

I close out with the thought that I see another 24h for me this year… Portimão anyone?