Ben Auty - My Experience at the Citroën C1 Championship - Part 2
Welcome to Part 2 of NMA Student Ben Auty and his experience at the Citroën C1 Championship. If you haven’t read Part 1 yet, a few weeks ago Ben got an amazing opportunity to work for Patrick Watts Racing in the BRSCC 2023 Citroen C1 24 HOURS. He was kind enough to write about his experience.
In Part 1, Ben wrote about how the experience came about and the preparation needed to work in a 24 HR race. If you missed it you can check out part one by cling HERE.
In Part 2, Ben speaks about his experience during the race, and highlights the highs and the lows that come with endurance racing.
Back over to you Ben!
Citroën C1 24 HR race Weekend Schedule
We had a team meeting discussing the plan for the race. The plan consisted of running the cars in 2 hour stints before pulling them in for refuel, new tyres and a driver swap. The reason for calling the cars in at two hours is because we were concerned about the front tyres lasting any longer. This theory was based off a C1 race earlier in the year where the tyres were wearing faster than expected due to Silverstone’s resurfacing. Fuel could last around 2 hours 15 minutes from full without safety cars. Rear tyres were lasting between 6-7 hours. They were the factors determining the plan.
My role in the pit stops for the race was fuelman. Every planned pitstop, both cars would need 40 litres of fuel. The rules stated that no venting can occur when refuelling so the process is painfully slow, it really does feel like 10 minutes to fill the cars when in reality it’s a couple of minutes which is still two thirds of an average laptime
Ben in action during a Pit Stop
Come race start it’s all in the hands of the drivers, I went with Morgan and #507 to the holding area, belted him in and wished him good luck before he embarked on his journey up the grid.
Both cars stayed out of trouble at the start which is not easy to do in a C1 race. #506 was slipping back a little and #507 was making its way through the pack. Around an hour and a half into the race and after a few safety cars, #506 and #507 were together on the road in P24 and P25. Coming into the village complex they unfortunately made contact with each other.
As you can imagine, the garage was an interesting place at this time shall we say. In my honest opinion, I thought racing incident straight away. Never-the-less, #506 was stuck out on track and wouldn’t start so we prepared the garage for the recovery truck to deliver the car and assess the damage. The car needed aligning as best as we could and the starter motor was broken so we topped it up with fuel and bumped it down the pitlane and #506 was back out on track, albeit 5 laps down.
We saw #506 on the back of the Recovery Truck an hour later which is when it adopted its rightful nickname of “Boomerang”. This time it had taken a trip through the gravel and bounced back off the tyre wall head on. Luckily it was mostly bodywork damage and this gave us a chance to fix the starter motor. However, we did diagnose that the fuel gauge was no longer working. It was going to be a long race on the pitwall, timing #506 until it would be ready to come in for a refuel.
‘Boomerang’ back in the Pits
Going into the night Morgan and Marcus had made great progress and got #507 up to P19. Oliver, Ed and Orlando had worked hard and kept plugging away in #506 which was now 12 laps down on the leader and in last place. The beauty of 24-hour racing though is you never know what is going to happen. As long as you are out on track, progress can be made and you should never give up.
From my point of view and the rest of the team in the garage it was about preparing for your next task early. So as soon as a pitstop was completed we would get everything ready for the next one which would be due in a few hours. The reason for this was one, so that we were ready for an unscheduled stop and two, would allow us to rest before the next stop. Rest does not equal sleep though! That is a luxury that your body will decide when it will let you do that or not. I had far too much adrenaline to sleep or rest in the late evening/ early morning.
I chose to go on the pitwall and keep my colleague company and make many many coffees. I was having a blast though, keeping on my toes watching the timing screens and the pitlane, hoping that our car did not come in unexpected. When that did happen, we could spring into action and get the car out with no problems quickly. It was mostly vibrations the drivers could feel (this was tyres dying) or they had contact and could hear a rubbing noise (we would pull the bodywork out).
We also made the call in the early hours of the morning to run #507 to fuel. Meaning that the drivers would now have to signal to us on the pitwall when they were going to pit for low fuel. The tyres were holding up better than expected so it made the most sense to keep the car running until it was going to run out of fuel to make use of the optimum tyre window. Also, with the amount of safety cars occurring in each stint, fuel was lasting around 2 and a half hours.
I managed to grab an hours sleep at 4:30am, by this time the come down from the coffee had fully kicked in so a power nap was required.
Ever done a pitstop in the early hours of the morning? Ben has!
This from this point on followed the plan nicely so it was about being on the ball and nailing the pitstops. The hardest part of the race for myself was after the last pitstop. It was the first moment in 40 odd hours that I could let myself relax. As soon as that stop was complete I wanted an ice cold beer and to be teleported home. I think because I relaxed the tiredness could get to me so I quickly made myself busy by starting to pack up the non-essential items in the garage and reflect with drivers and other team members.
When the chequered flag flew and our cars came over the line in you couldn’t help but feel emotional. A LOT of effort had gone in getting those cars to the finish, something that the PWR team had not achieved for 3 years. The cars paraded down the pitlane to a guard of honour from all the teams. #506 finished 39th, an amazing feat by all giving the state the car was in. #507 finished P17. What felt amazing about that, was the strategy called made around 1am and some phenomenal driving took us from around 30th and into the top 20.
An exhausted Ben speaks to driver Marcus Short
Overall, what an experience! I learnt so much over the course of the weekend. I learnt about this form of motorsport but I learned a lot about myself too. The challenge of a 24 hour is something I would recommend to anybody. Like with all motorsport you have to be so focused and zoned into what you are doing and demand the very best from yourself but to keep that up over a 24 hour period and make no mistakes, receive no penalties and get two cars to the finish is something that I am immensely proud of.
I would like to thank Martin for thinking of me and offering me the chance to come to this race. Patrick for accepting me with open arms into his team and trusting me to do the job as well as taking the time to teach me and offer invaluable nuggets of knowledge throughout the weekend. Pam and Kirk for keeping me fed with the most top quality food you could ask for. Morgan, Marcus, Ludo, Amiee, Oliver, Orlando and Ed for their exceptional driving and their trust of me. The trust probably means the most to me!
Leo, Rory, Ash, Pete and Tony for their advice, guidance, and trust. I couldn’t have asked for a better team of techs to be around and I hope to work with you all in the future. To come away nailing all 25 pitstops is something we all should feel proud of.
Lastly, thank you to the National Motorsport Academy for giving me the knowledge and confidence to be able to accept such a challenge on two days notice. Ed especially for when my monkey brain is running through all scenarios, he is always there with the advice I need to hear.
Thank you & onto the next one!
*All images taken by Joseph Perry*