Wednesday, 12 August 2015

British 24 Hours 2015. Teesside, 14-16 August. Preview

(Click here to read part 1 of the race report)
(Click here to read part 2 of the race report)

I know exactly where I was 8640 hours ago.

I stood with a very special group of people on the second step of a podium overlooking a windswept kart circuit in the northeast of England. Exhausted, euphoric, sad that it was all over.

And there hasn't been a waking hour since when the thought of getting back on that podium, of going one better, hasn't entered our thoughts. This is what the British 24 Hours does. It doesn't just get under your skin. It permeates your bones.

This race is defined by its venue. If kart circuits were Marvel Comics characters, Teesside would be Hulk. It's a supersized, hang-on-for-dear-life monster of a circuit; a joy to race on, but disrespect it at your peril. Its scale attracts over 70 teams from across Europe to do battle in one of the oldest and most prestigious endurance kart races in the world.

In a dry race the leading teams will cover over a thousand laps, or 2,100 kilometres, at an average speed of more than 60mph. In 2014, the total distance covered by all the teams would have stretched three times around the globe.

Just like any story, the setting provides colour and depth, the race a narrative - but it's the people that give it life. Only once in a season do friends and rivals from a dozen national and international karting championships come together; competition on track is fierce, but the sense of occasion and community is one of many things that make this a very special race weekend.

As ever, there are good causes to be found throughout: Teesside is a staunch supporter of Help for Heroes, and the incredible Kartforce crews of wounded veterans return to take on this toughest of challenges again.

In 2015, as usual, it's the blue riband event of the European Prokart Endurance Championship, and features four races in one: two classes for owner drivers and two for rental karts supplied by the circuit. There are no barriers to entry, particularly in the rental classes - your granny could enter if she so desired. But such is the standard that a dream team made up of F1 or the WEC's finest would have their work cut out against the regulars.

I'm privileged to race with the Corporate Chauffeurs team, now in our fifth year at Teesside. Just like in 2014, our generous sponsor has helped fund two entries. Kart #11 features half of last year's lineup and two newcomers. Club 100 frontrunner Russell Endean and British 24 Hours regular Jonny Spencer will be joined by Bradley Philpot and Ryan Lindsay - who need little introduction. Both are race instructors alongside stellar CVs in karting and car racing. If they have a glimmer of the luck that deserted them last year, Corporate Chauffeurs #11 will be tough to beat.

Last year's podium-finishing #22 lineup is unchanged: captain Alex Vangeen, Michael Weddell, Lee Hollywood and myself. Lee and Michael are the superstars; heading into our fifth British 24 Hours together, Alex and I have more experience than raw speed, but we'll be there or thereabouts.

The two driver crews will be ably supported by my wife Marianne - also in her fifth year at Teesside - with Arnaud Tinet, Chris Hollywood, Marie Mcgeachie and Charlie Fitton. They'll help keep everybody fed, watered, informed and rested through what's likely to be our toughest weekend ever at Teesside. With faster, thirstier karts for the popular Club Hire class, we're expecting up to 50% more pitstops than in previous years.

A huge race like this is as much about the journey as the result; come what may, we'll make the most of it on track and off. But a Corporate Chauffeurs 1-2 is what we want. We've worked hard to be better prepared than ever before, and we'll move heaven and earth to make it happen.

Testing for the British 24 Hours starts on Friday 14 August. Practice and qualifying takes place on Saturday morning, and the lights will go green at midday. Social media will be awash with updates; the hashtag for the race will be #British24 and we'll be using #CCB24 for Corporate Chauffeurs. Live timing will also be available online. As always, any and all remote support will be much appreciated.

After months of anticipation it's time for checklists and packing, for ticking off the sleeps and counting the minutes. It's about to get real, and I can hardly wait.

To everyone competing this weekend: best of luck, and keep safe.

Game on...

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