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Back at it for Round 2 of the C1 Endurance series, this time at Oulton Park after a four week break from Silverstone. Yet another new track for me to learn, and some pretty big surprises over the course of a short two days!

– Arthur

Friday Practice & Testing

Well my morning started off, interesting, to say the least. The team had put in a fresh engine for the start of this round so I was excited to give that a whirl while learning the new circuit. 0930 comes around – time for the first session, gear up, get in the car, head out of the garage and start finding my way around the first few corners as I remembered them from the sim.

By the first chicane after Turn 3 I could feel the car struggling to make power which was especially evident in the straights, and it was louder under acceleration than it should’ve been. As I continued my way around the warm up lap it became clear something wasn’t right and as I came around the final turn the dashboard lit up with errors and STOP messages – luckily pit entrance was just past the hill at Deer Leap so I dove right in and killed the engine as I made pit entry – into a coast all the way to the garage… oof!

In case it isn’t obvious, that’s a blown engine… first lap of the morning – not a good start for #432. Not to fret though, RABsport is ready and within 15 minutes a new engine was rolling out of the truck thanks to Silverlake and in 90 minutes the car was ready again with yet another engine.

I’ve written a dedicated post about Oulton Park Circuit in an endurance spec. Citroen C1, so give that a read if you’re looking for my take on the circuit. Coming from Silverstone and that being my only recent benchmark aside from Donington (and this was in an MX-5), Oulton comes off quite daunting at first pass. The circuit is nestled in a thick forested area and as such, it’s surrounded by barriers – tight ones, and on all sides, with little run-off area aside from in Cascades – if you go off at an awkward angle, without the time or distance to recover, there’s a strong chance you’re hitting something, as my teammate did in #335. Luckily they also have fancy airbag style walls in front of all the high impact areas, which said teammate had the opportunity to test out.

Once #432 was ready again I had the chance to go out for a full session with dry-ish conditions. Old Hall was giving me a lot of trouble from the start. I couldn’t quite resist the urge to turn-in early and as such ended up scrubbing plenty of speed compared to my faster colleagues in #335 but on the bright side I took their word for it on Island Bend and was sending it full throttle through this section within a few laps. By the end of the day I had found myself in the mid 2:24s, versus #335 pace around 2:21.9 – still some work to do!

Saturday Qualifying

Early start this morning with qualifying session kicking off just before 1000 which forced scrutineering and drivers briefing to before 0900. The curveball I didn’t see coming was team boss Richard hitting me with a “we have a bit of an issue” during my breakfast, “meet me in the truck when you’re done eating”. Well say less, straight to the truck then. “So your co-driver isn’t going to race today, he doesn’t want to do the drive”. You may recall, said teammate had an off yesterday during testing and as it turned out unbeknownst to me, it shook him up quite a bit, in addition to concussing him from the HANS doing its job on his neck.

By this point in the season, I’ve come to simply trust Richard knows best and that he has the solution to problems, but this admittedly didn’t seem great. Without my teammate, my drive was now at risk, at least competitively speaking, as I wouldn’t be able to drive beyond my 2 hour limit in a single stint. So what now then? Well Richard wasn’t about to let this all fall apart for me and confidently, at least it looked like it, told me “let’s go find us another driver”!… and as Richard does, a mere 20 minutes later he had found a C1 Racing staff member, racing kit on hand, up for the last minute drive (thanks Toby!).

We got Toby all up to speed with the plans, and made preparations for the 50 minute quali. which was kicking off within the hour. Because Toby hadn’t had a drive in 2023 yet, the plan was for me to get my mandatory laps in plus 1 or 2 to get us positioned, and then hand it over to Toby to get back into the swing of things.

I frustratingly never met my best testing time from the day before and only ended up managing a 2:25.4, 8/10s off yesterday and only good for P28 on the grid, but Toby got his laps in which would pay off in the race, and our teammates in #335 also struggled to match their times from yesterday – seems the track surface wasn’t favorable to us because otherwise we hadn’t changed anything on car setup.

Saturday Main Event Race

It didn’t feel very long from quali. end to race start – just some lunch and a bit of driver coaching / data analysis in the middle and we were being called to assembly for 1450 race start. I was going to be starting again, a la Silverstone Round 1, and in line with my last race plan, bang out a 2 hour stint (about 48 or so laps in this case), at as close to identical pace from start to getting out for driver change as possible. I’d also be doing two mandatory pit stops without driver change that we’d stack (which would once again have me make a time-costing mistake… for later). The goal was to leverage my consistency in lap times to slowly work our way up the grid over the first half of the race. Toby would then get in, and finish the remaining 1.5 hours of the race with the objective of defending wherever we were position wise.

The start was quite clean overall, but unlike at Silverstone I felt a bit more confident defending my position today, even though I knew I still needed my signatures from this race meeting. No matter, elbows out going into Old Hill, kept the inside line and surprisingly all of us got through unscathed, at least in front of me.

My stint went on rather uneventfully – had a handful of one-on-one battles for position over the course of the drive but generally just focused on racing my own race and as I did we progressively climbed the ladder. I did have a fun opportunity to be a good teammate to our sister car #335 when I saw it and another car mid-fight for position. Let’s say I made #335’s pass of me a lot simpler than that of our mutual competitor, but no illegal blocking of course…

My time was closing in on limits so I knew my mandatory stops pre-driver change were coming and sure enough I eventually saw my pit board call. In on next lap, park the car, and proceed with the awkward song and dance of a no driver change stop where I still have to get out, and back in – this my first of two, before my third and final exit of the car. Well… as I seem to do now RE Silverstone, I mistakenly forgot to tag out of pit lane on my way out of the first stop – heat of the moment, adrenaline, tiredness, not sure but I buzzed straight out of pits without tagging out. This sealed the need for a mandatory stop by Toby later on, and therefore about 90 seconds lost, granted we did go for a fancy two-car stack after a safety car which worked out nicely.

Come in for the second stop, this time being gently yelled at by Richard during my in and out to tag out (well-deserved…). Actually tag-out this time, and then once again back in on next lap, this time to officially exit the car and swap with Toby. We were P21 even after my mistake – now up to Toby to drive us home safely.

In the end we’d finish P20/35, 8 places gained from qualifying which is a great feeling and good reward for the effort and a fastest lap set of 2:24.6. Sister car #335 would end their race P14/35, fantastic drive for them as well from a P20 qualifying position, and a fastest lap of 2:21.1

In Closing…

The real winners this weekend was the RABsport team, drivers aside. There were times on Friday and early Saturday morning where it genuinely seemed like we had an insurmountable wall to climb to make race start. They worked incredibly hard to keep both cars in race condition after a challenging Friday involving the engine failure on #432, and accident on #335. Team boss Richard kept a surprisingly cool head (probably quietly sweating, but a pro at showing otherwise) considering everything that was going on. He gave the group clear instructions and the team executed flawlessly – a truly pro-effort outfit.

Onto the infamous 24H of Silverstone round!

Media used: Arthur Simondet, Richard Barnard, Tom Evans Photography, Jon Elsey Photography