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Look at that S Car Go….

 

18 Oct 2017

Dan Willan goes racing Citroën 2CV's with three-times HERO Cup winner Paul Crosby

Jumping out of the car after my first 2½ hours racing is a feeling I’ll never forget. Dripping wet, adrenaline pumping, completely wired. I honestly never thought it would be so absorbing. My family are quickly on the scene. “Dad, that looked awesome!” said my Son, Jack.

December 2016 – Post LeJog breakfast in Wick. Having engineered racing cars for most of his working life, successful Historic Rally driver Paul Crosby reveals he’d like to actually drive in a race.

January 2017 – HRCR Open Day, Gaydon. Crosby wanders over for a chat. “So I’ve been looking into hiring a car for a race. I think I’ve found just the thing.” “Let me guess – Porsche? Historic? Single seater?” “Nope, Citroën 2CV. 24 Hour race at Snetterton in August. Fancy it?” “Pardon?” “I need three other drivers.” “Really???” “Yes.” “YES!!!”

4th April 2017 – Oulton Park. ARDS test passed, over the first hurdle!

27th May 2017 – First team meeting at Tower Citroën near Doncaster, where the Team ECAS car is stored in a graveyard. A 2CV graveyard. Grassroots! Joining us are Paul’s long-term friend Philip Martin-Dye and his son Fred. Turns out ‘Fast Freddie’ is an actual racer, having started in karts and progressing to the Formula Ford Eurocup. The last car he tested was an LMP3 Ginetta. This might be a come down for him! Dad Phil also has race experience, having pedalled various tin-tops in the 70’s, so Paul & I are the novices of the team. We each try the car for size – amazingly the seat position will suffice for all of us, which will make driver changes much easier in the race. I’m first to drive the car round the little industrial estate. This stretch looks ok. 1st gear, 2nd gear, speed bump! No time to slow down enough so decide to test flight stability. Bang. Hard landing. Bloody stiff! The trouble is I now have to retrace my steps, which means going back over the speed bump……and the car is too low to crawl over without beaching. Nothing for it but another hop, before returning with tail between legs. Glenn Oswin, the car’s owner, confirms my fears. “Yes, we heard you….!” Oops. No damage done, everyone else tries the car before heading for home. The car itself looks rather ‘used’, but our short drive reveals good brakes, true steering and a surprisingly perky 602cc’s.

Race week. Better get some gear sorted – my brother, Alex, very kindly lends me his helmet, race suit, gloves and boots while my friend, Niall Frost, donates his Simpson Hybrid Head and Neck Support (HANS). I almost look like a racing driver!

Friday 18th August, 08:00. Drive into Snetterton race circuit with Crosby after overnighting at a nearby B&B. Meet the team and introduce ourselves to Tim, our head mechanic. We’re sharing a pit garage with Tete Rouge and 2016 2CV Champions Team Gadget. Everyone is friendly and helpful right from the off – no big egos here – so we try to glean any information we can then wander to race control to sign on for the test sessions.

09:00 – first 2CV test session. Fred first in the car with me suited & booted for the second half. Off he goes out of the pits, while the rest of us head to the pit wall to watch.

09:02 – he should be round any second.

09:03 – hmmm……

09:20 – Fred & car arrive on a tow rope. When the mechanics finally coax the engine into firing again it gives an almighty death rattle. That’s the practice engine gone then!

10:30 – Race engine no.1 is installed in time for second practice, where Fred puts in a few laps before coming in. My turn! That delicious feeling of nerves/anticipation/excitement/terror doesn’t have time to manifest as I’m thrust into the car, strapped in and waved out. 1st gear, down the pitlane, argh! Red light! 5 minutes of the aforementioned feelings then thankfully the lights go green. Close eye on the mirrors as I feed out of the pit lane onto the circuit, then…….then…….I realise I have no idea where I’m going. I’ve studied the circuit maps and watched several in-cars, but all of that vanishes as I head towards what looks like a right-hander. I need Martyn Taylor, my long-term navigator here to tell me where to go! Two laps later I know where the circuit goes, so start to push a wee bit. All too soon the session is over, surface barely scratched. Paul & Phil take the next practice sessions, no hiccups and we’ve now all driven the car on the track. Time to sample the catering!

19:00 – Qualifying 1. Fred goes out first and sets a 1:57.6. My laps give a best of 1:57.8, happy with that and much more comfortable with the car and the circuit. Paul & Phil get 10 laps each then it’s back into the garage to install race engine no.2 (to make sure it runs ok).

21:15 – Qualifying 2. Fred goes quicker in the dark, clocking a 1:56.9. With time limited Paul & I just do three laps each so that Phil can have some more seat time. He’s still getting his eye in after 25+ years out of a race car! It’s amazing how different everything looks in the dark. The night stints are going to be something else…

By the end of the evening, we slot into 24th on the grid, 15th of the UK 2CV’s. As expected the Belgian Hybrid 2CV’s (motorbike engine, wider wheels & tyres, streamlined bodywork) are at the front, followed by the 998cc Mini’s. The quickest 2CV, however, is some five seconds faster than us. Crikey! There’s only one thing for it now – poring over our data with a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc, classily served in mugs! (someone forgot the glasses….). This is my first experience of a data-logger, and I’m hooked. Looking at the lap traces is fascinating, especially when each of our fastest laps is over-laid on one graph. Tete Rouge, who are a chunk faster than us, shared their quickest lap trace so that we could see where we were losing time – are there any other race series where that would happen??

Saturday 19th August – Race day. Team breakfast,  a proper fry-up which is now leading me to believe that this catering is the best thing ever! With the car now in race spec (fresh tyres, race air filter, readjusted suspension) we decide Fred should do the Warm Up, as he’s starting the race. All of a sudden we’re over a second quicker than the previous night, going 4th of the 2CV’s. Must be that race air filter! Driver’s briefing done, it’s time to talk tactics over lunch. The butterflies are fluttering but I make myself eat, knowing we have a long night & day ahead.

16:30 – pitlane opens for 2CV’s. After the obligatory team photos with the cars, Fred drives round to the start/finish straight. We walk onto the grid (I’ve always wanted to do that!) and wish him luck.

17:00 – the safety car leads the field around for a rolling start. Flashing lights off, it comes into the pits and WE ARE RACING!!!17:00 – GO GO GO! Fast Fred goes ‘kamikaze’, taking 4 places on lap one and another 3 on lap two. Team ECAS are 17th overall and already 8th 2CV! Fred then settles into a safe pace – we all know there’s quite a long way to go. Towards the end of the first hour, he bangs in a trio of 1:53’s to match the leader’s pace. We’re now lying 14th OA & 6th 2CV, Get on!

1 Hour – Before the race, we were advised by fellow competitors to pit under a Safety Car if we’d been out for over an hour. A full tank of fuel usually lasts 1¾ to 2 hours, so the ‘pit window’ was anything after 60 minutes. At 18:10 we had our first Safety Car. As second in line I was suited up just in case, but surely Fred would double stint? “Get your helmet on Dan, just in case”. Car in, Fred out, refueling started. “Are you going again, Fred?” “No, you go Dan.” Oops – really? I don’t quite feel ready, but here we go – in the car, belts on, door closed. Just me and a 2CV. 1st gear, stomach still in the garage somewhere, “Clear – GO!” This is it. They’re all going to overtake me. I’m going to crash or break it. I’m not a racing driver! Why am I doing this to myself??? A drama free out-lap followed by a 1:55. That’s ok. I’ve managed a couple of overtakes. Hmmm, maybe I can do this! A couple of 1:54’s then a 1:53. YES! Blimey, it’s hot in here…..

2 Hours – 15th OA & 7th 2CV. My lap times are a bit inconsistent, maybe due to traffic and trying different lines. I’m constantly looking out for the Belgian Hybrids too, who at 15 seconds a lap faster are never far away. It’s great to get a decent chunk of time in the car though – the handful of practice and qualifying laps already feel like a lifetime ago. I just start duelling with cars 72 & 35 when the yellow flags come out, swiftly followed by Safety Car signs. I’ve done an hour, better head in. Pit lane entry (my first pitstop, now I feel like a real racing driver!), down to 2nd gear, our garage is the first one. Easy eh? Err, no……. Garage two looks much better……oops! Tim the mechanic frantically waves me in then pushes me back into our slot. “Sorry, got a bit excited!” I jump out, expecting to see Phil or Paul helmeted and ready. Neither are. “Who’s going next?” “You are!” “Really?” “Yep, you’re doing great!” Cool.

Confidence built, the next stint is simply fantastic. During my first run I rarely looked at the data logger, but now I start using it and, feeling totally comfortable in the car, the lap times become more consistent. Then my first proper duel, with car 97 (Team Lion, multiple 24 Hour race winners). He slipstreams down the back straight and draughts past. Should I let him go? No way! A good run through Coram and Murrays puts me right in his tow along the start/finish straight, then I’m back ahead into the hairpin. What follows is 6/7 laps of the most intense driving I’ve ever done. I also learn the true meaning of a ‘bump draught’ – he slipstreams then literally bumps into me from behind, thereby pushing me along the straights! Desperate to stay ahead I launch the car at crazy angles into Nelson & Murrays. Not the fastest way, but it keeps me ahead. I’m sure at one point he backed off, thinking I was about to spin. Eventually, he pulls into the pits, but in my mirror, I can see him waving. Now that was fun!

3 Hours – 12th OA & 4th 2CV. I’m still going and it’s getting dark. Crosby on the pit wall gives me the international hand gesture for Hooters. I assume he means lights….

20:15 – Pretty dark now, but the lights on the 2CV are good. The trickiest part is the fast left after the back straight – not being able to see the apex as you turn in is quite disconcerting.

20:20 – Is that rain?

20:25 – Yep, definitely spitting.

20:30 – Nooooo!! What’s happened??? No grip anywhere – understeer, oversteer, wheelspin in 3rd gear….in a 2CV! I’ll brake nice and early for the hairpin – lock up. Brake gently – lock up. Brake really gently – lock up and running out of track… I have the slowest spin ever but keep the engine running, straight back into 1st and away again. Then I’m saved by the Safety Car, so head into the pits for Phil to take the helm. I warn him about grip levels then grab Crosby in a bear hug. “This is the best thing ever! It’s mental!!!”

Jumping out of the car after my first 2½ hours racing is a feeling I’ll never forget. Dripping wet, adrenaline pumping, completely wired. I honestly never thought it would be so absorbing. My family are quickly on the scene. “Dad, that looked awesome!” said my Son, Jack. I jibber on for a while with my Wife, Ange, Jack and daughter, Mary before one of the mechanics pushes me towards the food. “Eat!” Still massively buzzing I force some curry and rice down then realise I need to change into something dry. The next best thing after the catering? A tumble dryer in the pit garage, honestly!

4 Hours – 10th OA & 3rd 2CV. With Phil hitting 1:55’s and 1:56’s I’m advised to get some rest before my next stint at 02:00ish. Back to the van, lie down, toss and turn, nope, no chance of sleep!

5 Hours – The tone of the cars on track has changed – Safety Car again. This means I might be out a bit sooner, so I head back to the garage. Paul’s first stint begins with a dull 8 laps behind the SC after a huge accident and the subsequent cleanup. I choose not to look at the cars as they’re brought back to the paddock…..however the drama puts us briefly in the lead of the 2CV’s!

6 Hours – 9th OA & 2nd 2CV. We seem to be keeping our noses clean while others suffer problems. Team Gadget blow an engine but manage to limp round to the pits, where the mechanics change the entire engine in 8 minutes – 8 minutes! It takes me that long to fasten the HANS tethers onto my helmet! Tete Rouge was involved in the aforementioned accident and have retired, so we now have their lads as part of our team!

7 Hours – After earlier issues that pesky Team Lion 2CV has got back ahead of us, dropping us to 11th OA & 3rd 2CV. Fred is back in the car to begin back-to-back night stints with me, while Paul & Phil “rest and leave it to the racer and the night rally driver.” Phil retires to a bed but Paul can’t tear himself away from the action!

8 Hours – Fred has a great stint that lifts us back to 10th OA & 2nd 2CV. My race suit is dry so nearly my turn again…..

9 Hours – Back in the car but struggling for pace. Can’t get below a 1:55. Over-driving in the dark? The Safety Car appears at 02:40 so I bale out and let Fred back in. Jack’s waiting in the pits. “I set my alarm for 02:00 so I could come and see what was happening!”

10 Hours – Fred’s times aren’t quite as quick as earlier either, several 1:54’s but only one 1:53. Definitely harder to nail a lap in the dark.

11 Hours – We’re now 8th OA & 2nd 2CV, but 3rd placed Team Rebellion have closed to within 3 laps (equivalent to a slow pit stop). I’m back in at 04:50 and feel determined.

12 Hours – I’ve now realised that the data logger in the car also shows predicted lap times. It’s totally addictive, to the point where I’m checking it before and after every corner and along every straight. It works though, as the lap times are getting better. Midway through my stint dawn begins to break. It feels almost magical racing round in the morning light. Croz does the Hooters sign from the pit wall again – he must mean lights off. Less drain = more power! With daylight broken I crack my first 1:52, with a “WHOOP!” in the car.

13 Hours – I find myself behind one of the 998cc Minis, who are generally 2-3 seconds a lap faster than the 2CVs. Remembering Team Gadget’s advice I try to stick with him, culminating in the most exciting 5 laps of ‘my’ race! The Mini is faster down the straights, but I can brake later and carry more speed through the corners. Total commitment through every turn gets me right onto his rear bumper, where I can stay tucked into his tow down the straights. It feels banzai and heralds our fastest lap, a 1:51.9 (average speed 63.8mph). The very next lap reminds me that there’s still a long way to go…….trying to hang on to the Mini we catch some backmarkers at Coram. The Mini goes around the outside into Murrays, I keep the inside then, nearly three abreast, realise I’m going to either run out of track or hit the backmarker. It’s hard to back off when the red mist is down, so I keep my foot in and clatter over the kerbs, avoiding contact by an inch or two. Phew! I’ve done nearly two hours, maybe I should quit while I’m ahead???

 

14 Hours – With Phil back in the car I suddenly realise I’m exhausted – the exhilaration of the last stint has done me in! I can’t tear myself away though…..

15 Hours – Breakfast time. Full English with monstrous sausages. Diet of a racer. (Constitution of several Oxen as well – especially with chocolate pudding, Editor)

16 Hours – Phil & Paul are back-to-back stinting while Fred & I rest. We’re still lying 2nd 2CV with a handy 5 laps over 3rd.

17 Hours – Can’t avoid it any longer. Sleep time.

18 Hours – zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

19 Hours – Back in the garage to catch up on news. Despite looking dog-eared our Team ECAS car has run faultlessly so far.

20 Hours – Paul has a cracking stint to cement 7th OA and 2nd 2CV. He’s all smiles as he pits and gives the car to Fred. Lunchtime!

21 Hours – A mega consistent run from Fast Freddie, but the nerves are starting to jangle again. Can we really do this?!?

22 Hours – My last stint starts at 15:00. In a way I didn’t want to go out again – what if the car breaks? What if I miss a gear and buzz the engine? What if I go off??? Fortunately none of the above happens as I take a nice steady approach. The trouble is,  when you’re not totally on it you can make a mistake. Approaching Murrays with a bit too much speed I end up having to throw it in and immediately I know the rear end is going to take some catching. I save the spin, meekly heading down past the pits, where I can clearly see Croz laughing……….

23 Hours – Safety Car, so into the pits so Paul can drive the last stint. It’s all yours Croz!

24 Hours, 2 minutes and 41 seconds – I join Phil, Fred and all the crew from Team ECAS, Tete Rouge and Team Gadget, who are hanging over the pit wall to cheer Paul as he takes the chequered flag. Seeing the wee car come around the last corner nearly brings tears to my eyes. We’ve done it!

Everyone piles into the pitlane to welcome the cars back, and as Paul appears the purple & yellow snail gets swallowed up in celebration. All cars head to Parc Ferme, where the top 3 are subjected to post-race scrutiny. With engines checked the results are finalised and we head for the podium. 24 hours. 699 laps. 1386 miles. 15 pit stops. 1 tyre change. 7th Overall and 2nd 2CV. Time for a beer!

It takes a couple of days for what we’ve achieved to sink in. 2CV’s might be one of the cheapest forms of racing, and yes the cars get mocked by outsiders, but none of us could believe how intense and challenging the racing was, nor how much fun we had. Experienced racer Fred summed it up by saying it was the most enjoyable weekend of motorsport he’d ever had. Would I do it again? In a (rather slow but jolly exciting) heartbeat………

 

 

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