On the 22nd and 23rd of June earlier this year, I took part in my second ever 24 hour race, once again at the Teesside Autodrome, and once again with the Huddersfield crew. Two teams were entered by Huddersfield this time around unlike the single from last year; the first of which, My Heart Will Grosjean, contained Alex Gunn, Sam Tearne, Stephen Letts, Ollie Milner, Jack Lynas, and Paul White, one of the few guest drivers donning the white rose for the weekend. The second team, Timo Block, consisted of myself, Luke Bath, Clio Tjonnadi, Matthew Mullen, James Whiteley, and three other guest drivers from other universities; Tom Brown from UCL, Clive Allen from Oxford Brookes, and John Woodhead from Leicester.
For myself and Whiteley, we were travelling to Middlesbrough on the Saturday morning, but we would only have a couple of hours of sleep due to an Echoviolet gig at the Exchange in Keighley the night before. The gig itself was part of the Bingley Weekender Emerging Talent heats and it seemed to go quite well despite it being our first ever live performance.
The pre-race format was slightly different to the previous year where the fastest times during the final 15 minutes of a three hour practice session determined the grid. This year, all teams would get a two hour practice followed by a separate Super Pole session. The 42 teams taking part would be split into groups of six and only have one quick lap, kind of like an amalgamation of the current qualifying format of Formula E.
For the most part, practice went by fairly smoothly, although Whiteley was involved in an incident coming out of the double chicane. One particular driver was going very slowly and with only one line through the slalom, a massive collision occurred followed by Whiteley and others taking avoiding action.
Last year’s go-kart was quite poor with very little grunt throughout the entire race. During the practice session, I asked Sam Tearne what his go-kart was like. He gave me a wink and told me that it was pretty good, and from my set of laps in practice, ours wasn’t too bad either. The acceleration out of corners wasn’t that good, but the top end was superb.
Our steering wheel was fitted with a lap time readout which cumulated over three laps before resetting its sequence, although it actually updated at the second sector line rather than the start-finish line. Still, it was an incredibly useful tool to have at our disposal and on my fifth lap, I matched my best time from last year, followed by two laps in the 1:20s. By the end of practice, Luke Bath set the 29th quickest time with a 1:20.125, while My Heart Will Grosjean were 2nd on a 1:18.717, and with the quickest first sector.
For the Super Pole session, Paul White would be the driver setting the fast lap for My Heart Will Grosjean as he was a bit of a Teesside specialist, while Luke Bath would be in the hotseat for Timo Block. White set a very quick lap with a 1:19.903 to go 5th, while Bath did a 1:20.913 to go 20th. Last year, we qualified 36th out of 44 teams, so it was already going a lot better than last year. Practice and qualifying took place in sunny conditions and the weather forecast for the race was to remain dry and warm.
Bath remained in the kart for the start of the race, while Alex Gunn took the first stint. At 12:45pm on Saturday, the flag dropped and 42 drivers sprinted from one side of the start-finish straight to their specified go-karts on the other side, but immediately after the start, one of the two Huddersfield teams had a problem, and one which I probably caused.
As the karts were sitting on the grid, I noticed some of the team members were revving their karts to make sure both engines were on. When I tried to do the same, our kart tried to drive away by itself. I only just managed to stop it in time, but when Bath drove off, there was a significant lack of speed. I presumed that only one engine was working, but it seemed to remedy itself down the long back straight. In hindsight, I really should’ve left the kart alone.
The good news was that the race wasn’t a 20 minute sprint, but a 24 hour race, so there was plenty of time for Timo Block’s race to be redeemed. As for My Heart Will Grosjean, Gunn had a good start to run 2nd behind The Eurobandit Kartel at the end of the first lap. They had Ed Barrs at the wheel, a very quick driver who raced for Bath in the BUKC, but Gunn was also quick as he stayed in amongst a group of four teams all locked together during the first hour and a bit.
Each of My Heart Will Grosjean’s stints would last 80 minutes, while Timo Block would be running 60 minute stints. Bath had recovered to 34th place before handing over to me. On my third flying lap, I had already beaten my best race lap from last year, and I was pretty happy with my pace and consistency throughout my first stint. Even more so, I didn’t experience any headaches towards the end of my hour and by the time I came into the pits, we were up to 31st place.
Unfortunately, it was revealed by a marshal during the weighing that our kart had suffered damage that urgently needed repairing. The brake disc protector had sheered off somewhere leaving the back-end vulnerable to a complete failure. It might’ve happened when I took a trip over the kerbs and tarmac run-off at the quick chicane immediately after the start-finish line, but it might also have been bad luck. After nearly seven minutes in the service bay, we were back out on circuit in 40th place with Clio Tjonnadi at the wheel.
The first full-course yellow came out as soon as Tjonnadi began her stint, by which time Timo Block were nine laps behind My Heart Will Grosjean, who now had Sam Tearne at the wheel and were also leading the race. Throughout her stint, Tjonnadi was quick and consistent, and by the time the third hour ended, it was James Whiteley’s turn.
His first stint didn’t start off well with one of his engines not working properly, very similar to what happened at the very start of the race. He did one flying lap before coming back into the pits to rectify the problem, and a further five minutes was lost in the process. Once he rejoined the circuit, he settled down and used the remaining hour to find his limits. Despite a spin under braking for the first double hairpin, a few of the Huddersfield drivers complimented his smoothness behind the wheel, and with just a laps until the next changeover, he set his stint’s quickest lap, matching Clio’s to the nearest thousandth of a second.
Next up was Tom Brown, a UCL driver whom I briefly raced against during my final Intermediates race at Whilton Mill. He wasn’t the only guest driver for Huddersfield out on circuit as Paul White was circulating around the circuit still in the lead. Brown’s stint went by without any problems or spins, although he was visibly suffering when he got out of the go-kart to hand over to Clive Allen. Most of that was down to his helmet being just a little too tight, but some of that was down to him pushing as hard as he could. He wasn’t the only one having problems.
During Brown’s stint, White handed over to Ollie Milner. Although My Heart Will Grosjean dropped to 3rd, the two teams in front still had pitstops to perform, but around half an hour in his stint, Milner was back in the pits because of a failed front wheel bearing. Three minutes of crucial track time were lost and by the time they rejoined, they were down in 10th place. Nevertheless, Milner fought back up to 5th before handing over to Jack Lynas.
Meanwhile, Allen had put in a decent stint despite a spin somewhere in the first sector, but he wouldn’t be back until nearly the end of the race due to racing for other teams at the same time. Next in for Timo Block was John Woodhead, who was very easy to spot in his bright orange race suit. He was also very quick right off the bat, immediately in the 1:21s, but he also had a spin. It was actually caught on camera by the competing Warwick teams. One of their karts was going slowly due to a sprocket failure and going through the slalom, Woodhead arrived backwards in avoidance of the slowing Warwick No Koantest.
After Woodhead came Matthew Mullen, a driver with plenty of 24 hour experience with this being his fifth one. Although he’s not the quickest driver, his experience of looking after a go-kart in such a long race was important. He was out at pretty much the same time as Alex Gunn, who had taken over from Lynas. A quick pitstop for My Heart Will Grosjean put them in 2nd place. In the lead at this point were Racing Pointless, which consisted of this year’s BUKC champions from Coventry University.
With a third of the race gone, and with the first cycle of drivers complete, My Heart Will Grosjean were still in 2nd behind Racing Pointless, while Timo Block were in 36th, 21 laps behind. Like Brown, Mullen was visibly exhausted, but his lap times had dropped off significantly as well. We brought him in slightly early to give him some rest and Luke Bath took over for his second stint. He already held the team’s best lap with a 1:19.945 near the end of his first stint, but he bettered that effort with a 1:19.861 shortly before handing over to me.
Within the first few laps of my stint, I found myself in the wars with King’s College of London, whose driver was treating the day long endurance as if it were a five minute sprint. It started when I got alongside coming out of the first double hairpin sequence to which they just drove into me. I had to back off to avoid going onto the grass, but I was annoyed by their lack of racecraft. I spent a few laps trying to get past the mobile chicane before they removed themselves by t-boning the kart in front of us.
Once I was in clear track, I just got on with my race and did what was probably my best stint as the sun began to set. I managed to do 16 laps in a row in the 1:20s and all with four tenths of each other. Even though my pace dropped off towards the end, it was mostly down to traffic rather than physical limitations. At one point as well, I noticed Sam Tearne catching up to me, and he was really flying, setting the fastest lap of the race at that point. As soon as he was right behind me on the back straight, I just let him through. As My Heart Will Grosjean had a chance of actually winning this race, I didn’t want to make it difficult for them.
Clio Tjonnadi was back in the kart after I finished my stint, and she would have Stephen Letts for company. He actually turned up a couple of hours before he was due in the kart as he had been working. Not only that, but he was due back at work the following day, which meant he would have to do his three 80 minute stints in a row… in other words, four hours of straight driving!
Back at the H-Karts gazebo, John Woodhead revealed a hand injury obtained by touching the hot exhaust, meaning that he wasn’t able to drive anymore. Some urgent reshuffling of the stints was required. I experimented by adding ten minutes to everyone’s stints including Tjonnadi’s current one and it actually worked out perfectly. However, there was another problem in that because Clive Allen wasn’t actually due back until with two hours and 20 minutes to go, someone would have to do a fourth stint. As she was busy racing with other drivers, Tjonnadi obviously wouldn’t have known that her stint was being extended, but she handled it brilliantly as she continued to lap quickly and consistently before handing over to James Whiteley.
Within the first few laps, Whiteley had two spins, the first of which was at the corner immediately after the pit exit where he made it as far as the gravel and had to wait for a marshal to push him out. Regarding his second spin, he had been having trouble with his visor closing itself and this caught him out under braking for the first of the double hairpins. The irony of his two spins was that he had a bit of a pep talk from Sam Tearne just before heading out onto the circuit. Nevertheless, he got it together and improved on his personal best lap towards the end of his stint.
Right as Whiteley was due to hand over to Tom Brown, both teams received the signal from race control that their mid-race service was due. The services went in order of kart number, and as Timo Block and My Heart Will Grosjean were numbers 41 and 42, they were the last to be serviced. Under the rules, no driver change was allowed during the service which saw the circuit mechanics changing the front tyres and giving the kart a once over, so Whiteley did one more lap before Brown took over.
My Heart Will Grosjean’s service occurred just as Stephen Letts began his 3rd stint. When he took over from Tearne, he was a minute behind race leaders Racing Pointless. Once all karts had their service, Letts was a lap ahead of them and in the lead. His second stint in particular was mind-blowing, 70 laps and only four of them weren’t under 1:20. Another point to consider was that he had never driven at Teesside before… that’s just how awesome Stephen Letts is.
Meanwhile, Tom Brown diligently got on with his work and survived the full 70 minutes without any major dramas, but Timo Block’s race was continuing to unravel. Originally, James Whiteley had volunteered to do the extra stint in the place of the injured John Woodhead, but he was in desperate need for some sleep, so I took that place instead. That wasn’t the problem. Matthew Mullen was due after me but he was nowhere to be found and not answering his phone. He had gone to a nearby hotel immediately after his first stint for some sleep which he meant he couldn’t be informed of the new stints. It was eventually decided that Clio Tjonnadi would drive in his place if he didn’t show up.
On top of all this, My Heart Will Grosjean had a key pitstop coming up and needed to concentrate on the changeover between Letts and Ollie Milner. The shortage of available people meant that the changeover between Brown and myself was a lengthy one. During this stint, I had the mindset of not pushing myself too hard in order to conserve myself for my final scheduled stint. As a result, I didn’t break into the 1:20s, which was just as well as I didn’t particularly like the feel of new front tyres anyway.
When my pitstop came, it was indeed Tjonnadi getting ready to take over, but she was wearing Tom Brown’s helmet rather than her own as she needed a clear visor and Milner was using hers. Whereas new tyres didn’t suit me, Clio seemed to like them as despite driving earlier than planned, she was even quicker than before, setting her personal best lap in the process, a 1:20.601. Her pace was particularly strong towards the end of her stint, mostly thanks to her super-smooth driving style not draining her fitness levels as much as those who hacksaw at the wheel. Meanwhile, Jack Lynas had taken over from Milner and kept Racing Pointless in check with good pace and rock-solid consistency before handing over to Paul White.
With two thirds of the race gone and one more cycle of drivers to go, My Heart Will Grosjean was still leading the race by nearly a lap from Racing Pointless, while Timo Block were 35th and with Luke Bath back at the wheel. He was pushing hard from the moment he left the pits and set a new personal best lap of a 1:19.695. Also during this stint, he set the team’s three best sector times within nine laps of each other, which showed how much he was going for it.
Just under two and a half hours after I stepped out of the kart, I was due in again. At this point, my body was a fatigued wreck, anything I ate tasted disgusting, and I was rather concerned about how long I’d last. Once I got back on track however, I was fine, and unlike my third stint which was more about survival, I just went for it. Throughout my final stint, I kept an eye on the lap time readout on the steering wheel, which showed that from the second sector line where it was updating, I was doing laps in the low 1:20s. After I got out of the kart however, I checked the live timing and it revealed that my fastest lap was a 1:19.890, which I was properly delighted with.
I have Ollie Milner to thank for my personal best time. He overtook me twice during my third stint, and he advised me to take a tighter line and trail brake going into the second of the double hairpins, and this helped out a lot. Towards the end of my stint, I noticed Alex Gunn catching me. When he got close to me, I made a mess going into the first double hairpin sequence and used that as an opportunity to let him through. This was Huddersfield’s best opportunity to win the BUKC 24 hour race and I wanted to do whatever I could to help out.
There was still a bit of uncertainly over who would be driving in my place afterwards, and there was even talk of bringing in a driver from another team to fill in some time for us, but when I came into the pits, there was Matthew Mullen getting ready to jump into the go-kart. He arrived back at the circuit during my stint having overslept. Unfortunately, his pace was nowhere compared to his first stint as he struggled to lap under 1:30. I had a look out on the circuit to try and work out why his pace had vanished, he was staying well out of the way of everyone who got near him and losing lots of time as a result.
All of a sudden with five hours of the race left to run, the red flags came out and all karts were required to stop just before the start-finish line. The initial assumption was that someone had crashed and required medical attention, but it turned out that the computer had failed and needed rebooting. By this time, Sam Tearne was back in the kart and My Heart Will Grosjean were now two laps in front of Racing Pointless.
An hour later, the race was restarted under full course yellow conditions for a couple of laps before everyone was back up to racing speeds. Mullen pitted as soon as the race went green as he was nearing the end of his stint anyway, and Whiteley took over. He felt much better after a kip in his car and unlike his first two stints, he didn’t spin off! Although he narrowly missed out on improving his personal best lap time, he described this stint as his best one.
Next up was Tom Brown’s final stint. He had a similar mentality for his final stint as me and Bath did in just going hell for leather, but his stint was interrupted by mechanical issues. Once he got back out onto the circuit, he too improved on his personal best lap of the race with a 1:20.593 before handing over to Clive Allen. At this point, I was asleep on the grass, but I woke up to help out on the final Timo Block pitstop. I noticed that the right-hand engine looked a lot shinier than the left-hand engine. Allen revealed that he’d had an engine failure during his stint and that the shiny engine was in fact brand new. Despite this, he was another driver who improved on his personal best time during his final stint, only by a few hundredths, but an improvement nonetheless.
Meanwhile, My Heart Will Grosjean had been forced to alter their pit strategy in order to fend off a threat from Racing Pointless who were stopping one less time thanks to the red flag. It was Jack Lynas who very selflessly gave up his final stint in order to maximise the team’s chances of victory as he assumed the role of radio communication, which Paul White had provided for the team. White took over from Tearne, and he had eased his pace in order to look after the kart as much as he could.
Only one more driver remained for each team; Ollie Milner for My Heart Will Grosjean, and Matthew Mullen for Timo Block. Mullen’s pace didn’t really improve much compared to his second stint. At this point, he was just bringing the kart home to the finish and continuing to stay out of the way of others as Timo Block eventually finished in 38th place.
As for the other team, huge and unwanted drama was about to unfold at their final pitstop. I remember watching the circuit waiting for kart number 42 to come round with Milner at the wheel, but he didn’t appear for a while. I immediately assumed that something had gone wrong and when Alex Gunn returned from the pits, he informed us that a fuel line broke during the pitstop.
As luck would have it, 2nd placed Racing Pointless also had a mechanical problem at their final pitstop, a stuck throttle, so incredibly, My Heart Will Grosjean were still leading! The gap to Racing Pointless had been reduced to a minute, so Milner could pace himself until the end, avoiding all the kerbs and trying to protect their knackered go-kart as much as he could. The final few minutes were tense, but Milner was able to stroke the kart home and take the chequered flag for one of H-Karts greatest ever moments, rivalling the 2015 BUKC championship win and Josef Jaques becoming the 2018 BUKC drivers championship in the Lightweight class.
We all congratulated each other on the work that was put in by everyone involved as a 24 hour race is one of the most difficult, if not, the most difficult races in Motorsport. Seeing everyone’s delight when Milner crossed the line to take the chequered flag is certainly one of the most memorable moments I’ve ever experienced, and a moment which Alex Gunn described on the live stream as “absolutely unbelievable.” The guys really deserved it after a difficult season in the BUKC, and for Milner and Lynas, it was the perfect way to finish off their BUKC career.
As for myself, although my team ended up 38th out of 42 teams, I was really pleased with the majority of those within the team. In particular, Clio Tjonnadi was impressive; very quick behind the wheel, but she also adapted to the ever changing conditions within the team fantastically. James Whiteley was another one who impressed me. Considering this was his first time at Teesside, his first time doing a 24 hour race, and his first time doing any sort of professionally run event, he did tremendously well.
Compared to my first 24 hour race, this one went a lot better for me on a performance and fitness level. I suffered a lot from headaches last year whereas I only started to get a headache towards the end of my final stint. Hopefully I’ll be able to take part in next year’s edition because even though it’s knackering, it’s one of the most rewarding experiences for those who love go-karting.