Time moves very slowly when you're beached in a gravel trap and the field you've worked so hard to escape is barreling past. It gets even worse when the marshal explains that the recovery vehicle needed to tow you free is a full five minutes away. A minute is a millennia. Five of them an ice age. Plenty of time then to blame oneself for a monumental and entirely avoidable cock-up when chasing the leaders down in the first 45 minutes of a five-hour endurance race. Matt Bird's personal record for crash-based expletives was broken, I assure you.
It was all going so well, too. Racing Pete, Matt, Ollie and myself were feeling optimistic ahead of the race, despite the never-ending rainfall and giant pools of standing water strewn around the circuit. We'd stuck it on P2 despite the challenging conditions, with starting duties handed to yours truly as reward for going quickest. Cue frenzied wipers, massive spray and the kind of exploratory lines that serve to make lap one a savage succession of lock ups and snap oversteer.
Successive laps were predictably about building up pace from there. Callum McDougall in the 114 car made a break as George Wright, in the fast starting number 111 Octane Junkies car, fought his way up from sixth on the grid to snatch second. Instinctively I fought almost as hard as the wipers to retake the place - but after a few laps it was clear that Octane Junkies was the car to follow, not pass.
There's nothing like deep standing water and a constantly changing surface to make a KA feel like a serious racing machine. Oulton's flowing first few corners were taken at probably no more than 70mph, but in these conditions, the car felt more alive than a startled python - and almost as dangerous. Still, tucked in behind Wright, we started clawing back the few seconds of advantage that had been eked out by the front-running McDougall.
Most of the grip (relatively speaking) was found off line, with Old Hall corner's line now somewhere in the middle of the track in order to avoid the deep puddle at the apex. The following (and scary at speed) Cascades needed a very delicate application of the brakes so as not to lock a wheel down the hill, before you could gently aim the car at the apex and get back on the throttle before the rear-end had a chance to over rotate.
Then came Island Bend - surprising, in that it only needed a lift at 80mph and then blind faith to see you through - followed by Shell Oils hairpin, which had dried a preferable channel on its inside camber. The braking zone of Knickerbrook was the toughest; anything more than 50 per cent of pedal pressure and the fronts would instantly lock resulting in an inevitable expedition across the grass.
A challenge, then. But who wouldn't revel in it? I did - right up to the point where it all came apart like wet sponge cake. Naturally the scene of the crime was Island Bend where no amount of faith prevented a savage split-second blur of understeer, grass, locked wheels, swear words, gravel trap, stop. Then more swear words. Lots more.
Followed, inevitably, by shame. The first and most important rule of endurance racing is consistency. The second is not leaving the track in such a way as to require the attention of a tow truck. By the time I was free, the pack were two laps ahead - or what felt like a galaxy far far away. One tenth's worth of misjudgement and 45 minutes of hard work, not to mention the hours of preparation put in before the weekend, was all undone. Sorry lads - for the billionth time.
The final few minutes of my stint were spent trying to regain focus and just do the best I could, but the real work began when Ollie, Matt and then Racing Pete took over. Fortunately, the lads were the perfect pupils of rule number one, and despite losing time (rather than gaining it) under a couple of safety cars, the number on the classification sheet kept shrinking. As the rest of the field started losing bumpers and wings and other body parts to the barriers and each other, PH soldiered impressively on.
So much so that by the time Pete crossed the line, we were up to ninth; highly respectable when you consider that I handed the baton over in 23rd three hours earlier. And thanks to a penalty for another team, that was swiftly upgraded to eighth. First and second went to Frugal Racing and Octane Junkies, who, after five hours of racing in supremely difficult conditions, conspired to finish just 0.035 seconds apart. Kudos, lads.
PH will be back, of course - unbowed. It's the 6 Hours of Cadwell in a month. The lads can't wait. Which has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that I can't make it.
We'd like to thank our dealer Sevens & Classics for their continued support with loaning a trailer to us.
Pic credit: John Dignan