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Saxon at the Green Hell. After the disappointment of Silverstone, Saxon was determined to get a good result at the Nürburgring 24-Hour race…
Thursday’s free practice and night qualifying were completed without too much drama and the Cotswold Saxon Team achieved everything it needed to. Most importantly, each driver registered the necessary two laps to qualify for the race. The only incident that occurred was Ric being attacked by a Porsche at turn one on his out lap! It appeared that the Porsche overshot on the outside of the right-hander, caught it and turned to the right and collected the Saxon Motorsport No. 111. Fortunately there was only minor front end bodywork damage to the nearside, not enough to stop Ric continuing and familiarising himself with the car but just enough to spoil Cotswold BMW’s stickers. Saxon finished the session in 100th place, meeting expectations given that the team hadn’t attempted a full-pace lap.
Friday morning qualifying took place on a wet but drying track so it was time to test the intermediate tyres. Ric jumped in first to get a couple of dry-ish laps as rain was forecast for later in the session and he needed some time in the car with some decent Tarmac under him. However, a rear suspension problem put him into an exciting spin just after the Carousel, from where marshals recovered him to the inside of the circuit at a point where it was impossible to return him to the pits. Travelling by motorbike along gravel forestry tracks, chief engineer Jon Taylor and Dave Price found the stricken car to assess the damage. Ric stayed to look after it until the recovery truck arrived. As the car could not take any further part in qualifying, the best time from night qualifying dictated the team’s grid position.
Once the car was returned to the garage the suspension issue was quickly corrected; it was possibly due to the earlier contact with that errant Porsche! Then the team set about preparing the car for the following day’s race. This entailed fitting new discs and pads (which would need to be replaced again during the 24 hours) and a thorough check of each nut, bolt and component throughout the car. With this complete, the team relaxed, watched the top 30 qualifying ‘shootout’ between the GT3 cars and looked forward to a quiet warm-up on Saturday morning before the race began.
Race day arrived with a typical foggy Nürburgring morning but that soon cleared to allow team owner Nick Barrow to get a couple of steady laps in to confirm the setup after the suspension changes the previous night. Once complete, the engineers and mechanics did a final check of the car ready for its next 24 hours on track.
Race time (a 3:30pm start) approached and the cars were released on to the grid an hour before the formation lap. The day had started dry but rain was promised around the start time so teams were nervous and prepared for last minute tyre changes.
However, the weather held and Jamie Morrow, Saxon’s driver for the first stint, was strapped in and set off on the formation lap in 107th place.
Sure enough, though, the predictions of rain were fulfilled! Three laps after the race was given the green light, rain and hail were reported around the track.
Partly by good luck (in being on the right part of the course at the time) but in no small part due to his skilful driving, Jamie avoided all of the ensuing mayhem. Up to 75 cars were reported to have left the Tarmac in the wet conditions, with no fewer than 25 needing assistance from recovery vehicles. This led to the race being red-flagged at 4:00pm.
It was 7:00pm before the organisers deemed the track and conditions to be good enough to consider a restart and Jamie elected to continue his driving stint. The session began at 7:40pm with three formation laps behind the safety cars before the race finally was allowed to get under way again. Jamie drove a solid stint on wet tyres, handing over to Ric at 10:30pm.
Ric started well but unfortunately suffered a recurrence of the after-effects of a previous accident and had to withdraw after three laps, unable to drive safely. This left the team with three drivers to complete the remaining 16-and-a-half hours. This was a considerable additional strain, reducing each driver’s rest time out of the car between stints by a third.
Dave Cox was next up and took over the car – still fitted with the same intermediate tyres which Ric had used for a drying track – and completed a solid 11:30pm-1:40am stint. He then handed over to Nick, who changed to slicks for the first time in the race.
The team was competing against a variety of competitors within the Alternative Fuels class, including a Porche Cayman running a petrol/ethanol mix, a diesel Audi A4, and a Chrysler Viper on LPG. At this stage of the race, the Cayman was setting the outright pace in the dry, the four-wheel drive Audi having set the pace in the wet but falling back 30 seconds per lap in the dry. However, the Cotswold Saxon BMW, with its very efficient 3.0-litre diesel engine only needed refuelling every two hours or more and was starting to reel in the more thirsty Porsche which was pitting every one-and-a-quarter hours. The next few stints were spent chasing the class-leading Cayman, eventually pushing it into an error resulting in a long stop for repairs after a neck-to-neck session.
Saxon has recently been working with Drenth to further develop its gearbox to suit the 135d. As with any race car, development of one component leads to the need to improve others in the chase for reliable performance. The higher output of torque from the team’s newly developed engine and the extreme mileages of 24-hour racing had pushed the gearbox to its limits, leading Nick to report a gearbox problem during his second stint around 9:00am on Sunday morning. Immediately the team’s engineers and mechanics sprang into action and a complete gearbox change was achieved in under 22 minutes! The car left the garage, still in Nick’s hands, to the applause of the Audi and Haribo-Mercedes teams who were sharing the garage space. They were all highly impressed by the fast, efficient work carried out by the Saxon boys.
The swift work protected the thee-lap class-lead built up by Dave, Jamie and Nick, and the car rejoined the race retaining a two-minute lead over the second-placed Audi.
With three hours to go, Nick had finished his final stint. He’d driven well, pulling away from the chasing A4 Audi, rebuilding the lead after the transmission problem. Jamie then took over for his final two-and-a-half hour session in the light drizzle that moved around the course, generally keeping it damp in many places. He still managed to pull away at about 30 seconds a lap when the track was clear and built on a two-lap lead. The team hoped that this lead (about 24 minutes on a wet track) would be enough to allow Dave Cox a careful run to the finish without too much pressure, but there was still three hours to go!
Jamie put in another competitive stint and indeed handed a healthy two-and-a-half lap lead to Dave Cox, who gradually gained overall race positions through the mid-50s, and took the Cotswold 135d towards the flag for the last two hours. The team was left in the pits nervously watching, hoping for the best and fearing for any potential accidents or mechanical issues. Jon Taylor’s race car ran faultlessly to the finish line in Dave’s safe hands. When the final results were released, Dave had completed the race in 52nd place but, much more importantly, first in the Alternative Fuels AT class. The Saxon machine had delivered on the promise shown at the Hankook 24-hour race in Silverstone, cruelly curtailed by a faulty turbo component, and given the team a well-deserved win.
Team drivers Jamie Morrow, Ric Shaw, Dave Cox and owner-driver Nick Barrow received their trophies on behalf of the team – who had been awake for 32 hours and put in a tremendous performance to service and support the car and drivers.
By the time you read this, the team will have just taken part in the next round of the Creventic Touring Car Endurance championship at the Slovakia-Ring, 40 miles east of Bratislava. Hopefully the guys will have repeated their winning performance. We’ll be sure to let you know…