The RNRMMSA Car Racing Team finished off the 2018 season on 27 Oct at Silverstone GP Circuit for the historic Birkett Relay, which also paid host to the Inter Service Championships. After a mixed season where reliability and service commitments hampered our showing in the individual Armed Force Race Challenge (AFRC) standings the team were determined to finish on a strong footing.
Now in its 68th year of running the Birkett Relay is a 6hr team endurance race where each team must field a minimum of 3 cars and a maximum of 6, its run on a handicap system so it’s not just the most powerful cars that can win. The Inter Services have taken place at this event for over 10 years, with the RAF returning as not only the 2017 Inter Service Champions but as the overall Birkett Relay winners the challenge was going to be very stiff. However, this would be the first time the RN/RM have fielding a fully constituted team at this event, so our goals were set at a suitable level: 1. Finish the race, 2. Don’t finish last!
Our team had a fairly balanced mix of experience and exuberance and was made up of 5 drivers utilising 4 cars; Lt Cdr K Attwood – Mini Cooper S, Mid S Vernon – Mazda MX5, Lt M Wells RN – Toyota MR2 and Cdr R Scott and POAET J Cantwell sharing the RNRMMSA’s Peugeot 206 GTi. In this event though the team is nothing without the support crew; CPO S Hutchings would run the garage with AET L Pemble and Lt R Beaumont RN on the pitwall.
Start position is decided based on your team’s handicap with the RNRM Team’s cars being lower powered than the other 2 services we would start towards the back of the grid. With 66 teams competing at the event the start is a manic affair and chosen to lead us off the line was the 2018 RN Champion Keith Attwood. With the lights going out some 30,000hp of cars set off. Navigating the first few laps as cars jostled for position is a treacherous affair, but a cool head and some excellent consistency saw Keith pass 10 cars within the first few laps. Settling into a rhythm for a 50 min stint and making the most of the currently dry conditions the Team found themselves well within the handicap top 10 ahead of both the RAF and Army at the first driver change over.
Handing over to Rich Scott conduct the first of the double drive duties in the Peugeot all was looking good for the Team. However, at just past the 1 hr point (only 15 mins into a planned 1hr 15 stint) the Peugeot pulled off the track and onto an escape road with an apparent gearbox issue. With no pit to car radios the team had to wait for confirmation via the timing screens of the retirement from the stint before we could release our next driver onto the circuit. The Team had planned for this type of scenario though and our next driver, Mike Wells (the teams most experienced racer), was already strapped into his car waiting. The pit crew worked quickly to dispatch him onto the circuit to take over the reins.
Mike got on the pace instantly and set the teams fastest lap in short order. This helped to claw back some of the lost time with the Peugeot and by the close of the 2nd hour we were leading the Inter Services and were in the top 10 still. Work was ongoing by the support team to try and repair the Peugeot, but unfortunately we would be forced to fully withdraw the car from the race sadly stopping Jimmy from getting his turn behind the wheel. The other knock on to this was that Mike and Keith (in the Teams most powerful cars) were give a maximum number of laps they could complete, meaning the yet to race Simon Vernon in his MX5 would need to cover 2hr 30 mins of the race. Out on track Mike continued to set solid times, but coming to the end of his stint the weather turned.
The increasingly wet became perilous in a very short space of time and Simon Vernon, in only his second outing as part of the Team, performed well adapting to ever changing levels of grip on the circuit. To compound the situation he was in an open top vehicle and completely exposed to the elements. Half way through his planned stint Simon was seen to enter the pit lane. It would transpire that he had spun and made contact with one of the walls coming out of Club Corner and was pitting as a precaution. Keith’s car had been switched to a full race setup and he set out straight away with no time lost, however the spin and contact with the wall had seen the team fall down the order. The RN (at the half race/3hr point) now sat a lap down on the RAF and had slipped to 38th in the race. With Keith’s car optimised for the conditions, but with a restriction of only 15 laps he set about recovering some lost time.
The rain continued to fall, but the RN were back on a charge. Keith put in some incredible wet laps and within his short stint managed to recover back within a lap to the RAF and had moved the team back up into 27th place. Si’s car was fully checked over, refuelled, driver re-heated (it was now about 5 degrees outside) and at the just before the 4hr point of the race sent back out again to take over from Keith. Simon’s confidence was undented from the previous incident and he set out for a long run of 1hr 10 mins. The weather deteriorated even further but Simon maintained his nerve and put in a strong performance to take us to the 5hr point, still second to the RAF but well ahead of the Army.
Simon had to come in to refuel and Mike went out for a planned short period of 12 laps (maximum he was restricted to) whilst Simon’s car was checked over for the final push to the finish. Mike started to carve through the field, really showing his prowess and the gap to the RAF started to decrease again, but after 9 laps disaster struck. Braking in to Copse Corner the back end snapped round and Mike could only hold on as his car impacted into the Armco. The cause of the accident was later traced to brake disc that failed, there was nothing he could have done to prevent the outcome. Simon was rushed back out on track for the final stint.
After 6hrs, 111 laps, 406 miles, the chequered flag fell and Simon brought the team home.
Our aim to finish – achieved.
Our aim to not finish last – achieved.
Beat the Army (quickly added aim at the 4hr point) – achieved!
Overall we finished 31st with the RAF in 15th and the Army in 56th (they too had reliability issues to contend with).
For our first full assault at the Inter-Service and the Birkett the RNRMMSA Car Racing Team had pulled together and produced a result we could be proud of. It’s easy to extol the virtues of the drivers (Simon’s efforts in particular), however the pitwall and garage crew excelled; without them the aims would not have been reached.
Much to improve on, but this is a solid foundation for 2019 and a great way to round out 2018.