I confess, while motor racing holds my attention like nothing else on earth, endurance racing has never really appealed to me. I’m ashamed to admit that I found the likes of the 12 Hours of Sebring or, dare I say it, the 24 Hours of Le Mans, a tad tedious – I am a fool and I was wrong.
While the weather outside was being typically British, I found myself with a lazy Sunday afternoon in which I could spend 6 hours watching the World Endurance Championship race from Silverstone – 6 hours that flew by without hint of a yawn or distraction – much to the dismay of my girlfriend as the flat remained untidy. My excuse? The race was superb.
There was a time when endurance racing was more about a car making it to the finish at all rather than making it there first and to my mind, a test of mechanical reliability isn’t as appealing as a test of pure speed. Round 1 of the WEC from Silverstone showed me how naive I am and what I’ve been missing out on.
With the Silverstone 6 hours fresh in my mind, I believe endurance racing is perhaps the greatest test of all the motor racing fundamentals; the cars still have to be reliable – to finish first, first you must finish – but in the modern era of bullet-proof engineering, this test, for the most part, is passed with relative ease. This means that speed becomes a vital ingredient once again.
Each driver’s stint of 2 hours or more at a time becomes a flat-out sprint – a Grand Prix within the race if you like – and with multiple classes of car – prototypes to road-going sports cars – there’s constant action to deal with; driver fitness and stamina is pivotal but pure driving talent is a must!
It isn’t solely the cars and drivers that are tested; with competition so close, strategy and pitstops play a vital role – get them wrong and it could be the difference between victory and being first of the losers. The pitstops may not be ‘blink-and-miss-it’ Formula One style stops but with re-fuelling, driver and tyre changes needed, the whole team crew need to be operating at 100%. Six hours is a long time where the weather is concerned and while a shorter race could run in its entirety in relatively consistent conditions, an endurance race can see all sorts of atmospheric interference – particularly at Silverstone – so with all the strategic minds on the pitwall, a race-winning plan can easily be blown out of the water by a sudden downpour.
The story of the World Endurance Championship at the moment sees the mightily impressive Audi team defending their reputation as the very best from challengers Toyota, while the lower classes host a plethora of exotic racing machinery piloted by the biggest names in the sport. If, like me, you’ve never given long distance motor sport a fair chance, then I urge you to watch the Le Mans 24 hours race this year; it’s the great race’s 90th anniversary and if it doesn’t get your motor racing juices flowing then I fear nothing will.