The 5th annual Race of Remembrance was held on November 9-11, 2018 at the beautiful Anglesey Circuit in North Wales. The 12-hour endurance race is run as the aggregate of two 6-hour periods - 3pm to 9pm on Saturday and 9am to 3:45pm on Sunday - allowing for a 45-minute Remembrance Day service in the pit lane. I was thrilled to have been offered a seat to join the Jaffa Cake Racing Team for the weekend.
My travels for the event began on Wednesday, November 7, from my new home in Kazakhstan. An early departure, and quick connection in Moscow, had me arriving in London by mid-morning. Unfortunately, progress towards my final destination was halted by UK immigration - I was detained for about 30 minutes, presumably while they determined I wasn't returning to work, having just given up my UK work visa a month earlier.
When I officially arrived in the UK, I discovered that my checked baggage had not. In what now appeared to be a stroke of genius, I'd left all of my racing gear at the office in the UK, so the missing suitcase only contained items that could be replaced with a little trip to the local Sainsbury's.
Once outfitted, the journey onward to Anglesey was uneventful. I got tucked up in a local bed and breakfast and watched the weather move in.
Thursday was my opportunity to adapt to the new time zone. After a full Welsh breakfast, I did some exploring in the area, ending up at the South Stack Lighthouse to snap a quick photo as the pouring rain continued.
The balance of the team - drivers and support crew - arrived later on Thursday afternoon and we set about preparing the car. On Friday morning, with decals fully in place and drivers safety gear available for inspection, we headed to scrutineering where the only issue found was with the badges stitched (with Nomex thread) through my suit. An hour (and one cut finger) later, that was resolved and we were cleared to hit the track.
The team owner elected not to participate in the Friday practice sessions due to poor weather and risk to the car. That was probably a good call as evidenced by the team sharing our garage who took off a nose and splitter during an off track excursion by one of their drivers.
The qualifying format for this race required all drivers on a team to safely complete three day and three night laps each. The fastest time overall set the grid position. My first turn driving around the Anglesey Circuit occurred during day qualifying on a very wet and windy track. In preparation for the race. I spent a lot of time looking for markers that would be visible in any conditions (dry or wet, light or dark) to help with braking points, turn in, etc.
As there were 6 scheduled daytime qualifying sessions and only 4 drivers on our team, I was fortunate enough to get a second stint to help me catch up with teammates that had all raced here in prior years. While the times didn't count, I was able to close the gap to our 3rd fastest driver and within 3 seconds of the fastest.
As the weather continued to deteriorate, two of the four night qualifying sessions were run behind the safety car, including mine. Even at reduced speed, it was my first experience with the limited forward visibility and blinding reflection in mirrors from cars behind. The video isn't very exciting, so below is a screenshot to get a sense for the challenge.
We managed to slot ourselves into the 31st grid position of 45 cars participating and 5th in our 1600 cc class = the front-wheel drive Mini's with which we were competing had a significant advantage in these wet conditions.
Unfortunately, the rain and wind didn't let up on Saturday. During pre-race preparation in the morning, we had plenty of company in the garage as anyone and everyone sought shelter from the weather.
We had a plan laid out for the race with stint lengths of about 1 hour. I got the second stint of the race from about 4pm in daylight to 5pm in near darkness. After my first cautious green flag lap, I found myself behind the safety car. Three very slow laps later, I was leading the field of 45 cars down the main straight for the restart. With a focus on staying out of trouble, I was quickly passed by a few cars from the faster classes.
I enjoyed several laps of clear track before a swarm of Lotus' caught me on the back straight. About 23 minutes into my stint, I caught and passed one of our class competitors - car #81 - only then to be overtaken by another - car #11. I was able to keep in touch for a few laps until he pulled into the pits.
The remainder of the stint was mostly uneventful - other than getting myself stuck behind a Citroen C1 at 36 minutes and another safety car period at 42 minutes. I spent the last few minutes stuck behind a Morgan that was faster on the straights but slower in the corners.
My best time of the stint was 2 minutes and 10 seconds matching that of our closest rival in car #11. Compare the beginning and end of the video below for a sense of day vs. night.
My second stint on Sunday afternoon ran from 12:15pm to 1:45pm - a full 1.5 hours behind the wheel was the longest I'd ever spent in a race car. To help me, team boss, Sam, offered some "encouragement" before I headed out onto the track.
I was fortunate to have some of the best weather of the weekend coincide with my time in the car. As I entered the track, car #11 was just ahead. The track surface was dry or drying, but curbing was still covered with water.
Proving that I was still a rookie, at 42 minute in, I turned on the wipers to clean up some spray from the car ahead. All I managed to do, however, was smear that spray all over the windshield and worsen my visibility for the next 50 minutes or so.
I thoroughly enjoyed the long stint. With so much seat time, I was able to try different lines, different gear selection, and push hard enough to set the fastest lap time of the weekend for our team of 1:53.6 - helped, of course, by the improved track conditions.
At the end of the stint, I was able to catch and pass car #11, which also ran the same stint length at the same time. Below is one of my favorite highlights from the weekend - some rolling chicane Citroen C1's - as well as the full video from my second stint.
The Jaffa Cake Racing Team managed a 3rd in class finish among 7 competitors at the 2018 Race of Remembrance. We lost out on 2nd not due to pace, but due to strategy. An after-the-fact analysis showed that car #11 in second place made better use of safety car periods to execute the minimum number of 4-minute pit stops.
Bring on 2019!
Brake, brake, brake - stay on the gas
Part of summer vacation 2018 was attending 3 days of Team O’Neil Rally School in New Hampshire with my wife, Jill. After she picked me up from Boston Logan International Airport, we started the slow drive through traffic to Littleton, NH.
The next morning, we headed to another local hotel where staff from Team O’Neil led a procession of students to the training facility about 20 minutes out of town.
Day 1 began with a brief classroom session, after which we moved to the skid pad where there was one front-wheel driver Fiesta and one instructor for every two students. Exercises included (1) steering with the brake on the skid pad - turn the steering 180, gas at 75%, then steer the car with the brake, (2) slalom at 35 mph, turn the steering 90, brake to move weight forward and rotate the car, center the steering then release the brake to straighten things out, (3) slalom with more offset - meaning more brake to rotate and (4) accident avoidance with stopping, brake and release, and lane change maneuvers.
Skills were developed through exercises that focused on individual driving inputs, like braking, while minimizing others. After both students made 4 attempts, the pair would move to a different car / instructor to provide exposure to another teaching style that might better match the students needs.
I struggled to adapt to gravel from tarmac - steering with the brake instead of the throttle, and performing actions in sequence rather than together (e.g. turn then brake, center steering then release). Jill and I both sucked at the accident avoidance, but we’re blaming that on the instructor leaving the directions a little too late.
Day 2 involved a longer slalom with increasing and decreasing radius turns - short to long going uphill, then long to short coming down. At the bottom of the downhill section, the course ended with a 90 left requiring a pendulum turn. In the front wheel drive cars, the Scandinavian flick required turning to the right with “turn then brake”, then while still braking, counter-steer followed by releasing the brake and throttle at the same time to pivot the car around. As it pivots, center the wheel again and start feeding in throttle.
I actually did okay with the mechanics, eventually getting the timing right, but didn’t have the instincts available to correct for anything unexpected (e.g. getting sucked into the thick mud just wide of the driving line, etc.). We then focused on the pendulum turn alone - just a 90 left in the middle of the skid pad. It was the same mechanics and I got the hang of it, ramping up the speed for the last couple of runs.
In the afternoon, we moved to all-wheel drive Subaru’s with more power and boosted brakes. The big difference in technique was lifting off the gas prior to turning. You still brake to rotate the car, centering the wheel in the new direction before releasing the brake and blending back on throttle. We also practiced getting the car light over a crest, where it was important to get the turn complete and straight the steering input before landing.
On Day 3, we continued the uphill and downhill practice runs, but also added two rear-wheel drive BMW’s to the mix. The E46 was a challenge to drive - it took very little throttle input for the back to start overtaking the front of the car. The older E30, however, was a hoot with just enough power that you could really steer with the throttle.
After a few cycles through the slalom in each of the front-, all- and rear-wheel drive cars, we prepared to put all of our new skills to the test on a short rally “stage”. We walked the loop that would be added to the skid pad and slalom section, studying the road camber and crests. Again, we had a chance to tackle the course in each type of car. While I loved the older BMW for being so tail-happy, there was something oddly satisfying about making a FWD Fiesta drift around a bend (even if it wasn’t very fast).
The Team O’Neil Rally School was a mind-bender for me after focusing track skills over the last few years. A lot of the right things to do on track were the wrong things to do on gravel.
Thanks to the staff at Team O’Neil! We can’t wait to come back and learn more next year!
It was great to be back in a race car just a month after visiting Circuit of the Americas with NASA Texas. And Donington Park, nestled in rolling hills in the center of England, was a brilliant new circuit to visit during my time in the UK.
Rounds 7 & 8 of the Max 5 Racing championship were hosted by the British Automobile Racing Club alongside the feature event - the British Superkarts Championships. With average speeds over 100 mph, these things were incredibly quick!
Arriving after work on Friday evening, I was able to walk a lap of the 2.5 mile track before nightfall. The track was mostly fast and flowing, with significant elevation change, and the lap closes with two tight hairpin turns. The expectation for adhering to track limits is higher in the UK than the US, reinforced by electronic sensors embedded strategically in the track. After one warning for exceeding track limits, time penalties are imposed - 5 seconds for the 2nd infraction, 10 seconds for the 3rd, etc.
On Saturday morning, we had some time to enjoy the unseasonably warm weather from the grandstand overlooking the back-side of the track.
My challenge was to get up to speed quickly. With no practice session scheduled, my first laps took place during qualifying - trying to set my fastest lap while still learning the track. The track walk seemed to help. While I qualified 6th of 7 starters in the class, I was just a few tenths off the group ahead, and a second off pole position on a 2 minute lap. Unfortunately, my session was cut a little short - the car ran out of fuel before the end of the session due to a faulty fuel gauge. Here is a video of the 2:04.4 lap that I managed.
The first lap of Race 1 was an eventful one. A missed braking point at the first hairpin resulted in a significant impact between two cars in the class - both retiring before completing a racing lap. I temporarily jumped to first place, but managed to find 5th gear instead of 3rd. Two cars swooped past and I fell to 3rd. On lap 3, I was able to move up a spot as Car #192 in front ran wide through "Old Hairpin". I spent the rest of the lap closing in on Car #11, and finally moving into the lead going into Turn 1 on lap 5. I was able to hang onto the top spot for the rest of the race, eventually pulling ahead while the cars behind fought hard for 2nd and 3rd position. The full video from Race 1 is below.
And to the victor belong the spoils - a Max 5 Racing trophy for 1st place in Class B for Round 7 of their championship!
My finish in Race 1 earned me pole position for Race 2. Despite a decent start, however, I found myself in 3rd place by the time we got through Turn 1. For the first couple of laps, the top 4 cars ran line-astern, but not quite close enough to call racing. By the end of lap 3, I managed to catch and pass Car #192 at the first hairpin to move up to 2nd, only to make a mistake in Turn 1 on lap 4 and give the spot back a few turns later. At the end of laps 5, 6 and 7, the top 4 cars crossed the start-finish line within 1 second of each other. This was good racing. Car #11 and #192 swapped places on lap 7, and I managed to move back to 2nd on lap 8, only to drop back to 3rd again on lap 9. With the squabbling up front, the 4th place car had regained some ground and we finished on lap 11 with the top 4 cars less than 2 second apart.
A 1st place and 3rd place finish was more than I expected coming into the weekend. The circuit was spectacular and the racing was gentlemanly - a great way to spend a weekend.
I'm not sure when I'll be back on a race track with either NASA Texas or Max 5 Racing, but there are more motorsport adventures planned for 2018. More to come!
It’s been too long...
My last turn behind the wheel at a race track was WAY back in October 2017 - just after moving from the US to the UK. After a very busy six months of work, I found an opportunity to get back to visit my NASA Texas friends during Round 3 of their 2018 season at Circuit of the Americas.
Mimi’s Little Sister had been borrowed last fall for the NASA Eastern Championships at Sebring. That didn’t go so well - a melee at the start meant that Mimi’s Little Sister made contact with Karen, the car belonging to another friend from Texas.
The repair work was very well done. The front clip was completely replaced, including hood, fenders and headlights, while a new radiator was fitted inside. As a pleasant surprise, the repaired car was brought to COTA sporting a new livery.
Practice sessions on Friday morning were cancelled due to lightning storms in the area. We hunkered down in the trailer to wait out the weather, while the car was tucked under the canopy initially, and later moved into the trailer when the wind really picked up.
We were able to salvage two sessions in the afternoon. With standing water in Turn 14 and continuing rain, the wet weather tires came off the rack for the first time in two years. While not particularly meaningful given the dry conditions forecast for the rest of the weekend, it was good to experience and, likely, more relevant for future racing in the UK.
Blue sky and sun greeted us at the track on Saturday morning. With the first NASA National Championships being held at COTA in September, drivers from across the country (fast ones) made up the nearly 60 car Spec Miata field. At the morning driver’s meeting, in addition to the standard welcome message, track limits were discussed. With no sausage curbs installed, the rule for the weekend was “if it’s paved, you can race on it!”
The first practice session was an opportunity to try a racing line that didn’t fuss things like white lines or curbing. While I could wrap my head around running wide on turn exits to maintain momentum, I struggled to fully cut corners with all four wheels inside the track surface.
I definitely left some time on the table when it came to qualifying. I found myself caught behind a slower car, but didn’t managed to get past quickly. After wasting a few laps trying to get by, I backed off to create some space, but it was too late. The checkered flag came out and my best time was 2:48.8 (not quite as quick as my 2:47.7 from 2017), leaving me 45th of 53 on the grid for Race 1.
The huge field made for an interesting start. By the time the back of the pack turned onto the front straight, the leaders had been given the green flag, stringing out the second half of the field. A few faster cars from the back moved quickly past us during lap 1 and a mistake in the braking zone on the back straight during lap 2 cost me another couple of spots. By the end of lap 3, I was stuck in a gap between two groups. I was able to use the esses on lap 4 to move up to the back of the group ahead, nearly grabbing one place in the last turn. I got that spot and one more through the esses on lap 5, but lost one again after the running too deep in the braking zone in Turn 12. After holding position through lap 6, I ended up side-by-side with another car going into the esses at lap 7, but being on the outside, I fell back and accidentally left a whole for another car through as well. I got lapped by one of the Spec MX-5 cars going into the last turn of lap 7. At the time, I didn't appreciate that the checkered flag shown to the Spec MX-5 winner also applied to me, so I raced lap 8 with the two cars just ahead. Catching and passing them was all for not on the timing and scoring sheet. I finished in 39th with a best lap time of 2:49.2 - here’s the video from Race 1.
Qualifying on Sunday went a little better. Grid was based on the fastest lap times from Race 1, so speed differentials wasn’t an issue. And I made the space I needed to get some clean laps. The best time I could post was 2:47.4, setting a new personal best by 0.3 seconds. That got my up to 42nd of 53 cars for the long race in the afternoon.
However, as I rolled to grid for Race 2, I could smell, then see, smoke in the cabin. My main electrical disconnect switch failed internally. I was able to turn it off and stop the smoke, but it wasn’t looking good for the race. Thankfully, friends at the track were able to purchase and install a new switch, getting me out on track as the main pack came through for their second flying lap.
I was able to enjoy 30 minutes of track time, even if I wasn’t racing for position. By lap 7, I caught the back of a small pack, picking off 1 car on the inside of turn 11, then another in turn 14. After that, I just made space as Spec MX-5s lapped me, and drove to the finish 3 laps down in 41st place - not the result I wanted, but better than a DNS (Did Not Start).
It was great to get back in the driver’s seat and race wheel-to-wheel again. The car is tucked back in the trailer until the next event - whenever that may be!
Bryan Bursey, driver, founded Underbite Racing in 2015.