The Birkett Relay Race- Teamwork makes the dream work
The 750 Motor Club’s colossal, annual flagship event, ‘the 69th Birkett 6 hour Relay,’ brought all of the Club’s championships to the Silverstone Grand Prix Circuit, situated in the heart of the UK’s ‘Motorsport Valley,’ on the border of Buckinghamshire and Northamptonshire. Easily the most famous race track in the country, Silverstone is the host of the Formula One British Grand Prix, even hosting the very first F1 race in 1950. Similarly to most other British race tracks, it was once a large WWII airfield but the Silverstone venue is easily the largest and most daunting.
In contrast to the usual Armed Forces Championship, each team has only one or two entries into the race weekend. However, each of the total 65 teams is made up of approximately 4-6 cars and drivers. The RAF and Army Motorsport teams both sported two separate entries, whereas the Armed Forces Team and the RNRM only needed to focus on one entry of six cars each. This event is also the Inter Services Teams Championship but instead of competing against only each other, the teams would also be up against a monstrous selection of competitors from every championship within the club. It is the test to find the absolute best of the best.
All track action took place throughout the Saturday so any minor issues or damage could become incredibly costly. Not just for one driver, but potentially the whole team. The stakes are somewhat higher than usual.
All competitors are placed in classes so they can set qualifying laps with cars of similar performance levels around them- in the hope of reducing the inevitability of slower competitors hindering quicker ones. An average is calculated from the lap times and a team starting position determined from that. In which, any of the six cars is permitted to start the race. The RNRM qualified in 56th position out of 70 on an extremely cold and soaking wet track. There would be some work to be done in the race to achieve the ultimate goal- to beat the Army Motorsport team for the Inter Services Title.
The ultimate strategy for a 6 hour endurance race tends to involve being consistent, not pushing too hard, but most of all, preventing mistakes or mechanical failure. Reliability is key. However, in motorsport, things never go to plan. Before the race began, disaster struck as it was noticed that the Ford Fiesta of Rich Beaumont had a cracked front brake disc. A trip to source two brand new discs took time but perhaps prevented a disastrous brake failure on track. Happily, as only one car would take the start, the Ford Fiesta would not actually be needed until mid-race. Richie Scott, in the Peugeot 206 would start the race in the same arctic conditions as qualifying.
Since the issues experienced by Formula One and MotoGP with rain drainage after the entire Silverstone circuit was resurfaced, the track was completely resurfaced earlier in the year once again but with improved drainage and smoothness. This meant the race could go ahead even in the treacherous conditions.
After 1 hour, towards the end of the first stint, the team were positioned 44th, with a good 12 cars being overtaken out on the circuit by Scott in the Peugeot. However, the AFRC team, and both Army teams were considerably higher up the order. The Peugeot 206 had also sustained slight impact damage to the front right corner after a minor on-track collision.
After 3 hours, the team sat in 31st place, but fantastically sat 9th on the Handicap table where the advantages and disadvantages between cars are somewhat ironed out. Astonishingly, in these 3 hours, the race leader had only completed some 61 laps (3 laps ahead of 2nd place). That is less than a Grand Prix lap count in double the time, such were the extreme conditions affecting the pace.
Rather inconceivably, the weather soon took a turn for the worse just before Beaumont in the Fiesta headed out. The subsequent sense of despair with a possible early race end, that would have disadvantaged the team (the powerful Mini set to go out for the very last stint) was soon overturned though.
The front wheel drive Fiesta seemed to be the secret weapon as the heavens continued to open. Climbing up to 24th place as the rain claimed multiple other victims, causing safety car after safety car. A bold strategy call didn’t entirely go to plan as Beaumont was bought in slightly early for the Vauxhall Astra of Adam Dewis to take advantage of slowing lap pace behind the safety car. Even with this, after the 5 hour mark, we were 4th with Handicap.
As light faded fast as the weather refused to subside, the race was red flagged at 5 hours 40 minutes, with 20 minutes to go. The race was not restarted and the results declared from the lap before the flag was shown.
After an action packed race, the Royal Navy Royal Marines ended up in 23rd position- out of 70 teams- and unbelievably in 6th overall with the Handicap applied. In addition to this outstanding effort, 2nd is Class B was also awarded to the team. Eventhough the team could not quite clinch the Inter Services Teams Championship (won by the Army), they could be extremely happy with finishing the race, and in 2nd out of the Armed Forces teams.
This event marks the last time Gareth ‘Stirling’ Moss’s Vauxhall Astra would take to the track, with an all new racing car to come next season for him.
Congratulations to Rich Beaumont for completing his first ever season in any form of motorsport and already having completed enough events to qualify before the Birkett race.
Another mention has to go to team leader, Keith Attwood for ultimately preparing the entire team for a very successful campaign in the Armed Forces Race Challenge.
Congratulations to the entire Royal Navy Royal Marines Car Racing Team on an impressive season. Hopefully a championship win is wrapped up in 2020.