David Bartrum's Blog
2nd August 2014
At Paul Ricard for the Blancpain race at the end of June the pace of the car was very good. But quite early in the race we got black-flagged because the rear bumper worked loose after we got hit at the start by a Ferrari. The bottom of the bumper dropped down and was dragging on the floor and it looked quite drastic and made a lot of noise.
So we had to come into the pits and repair it and lost two laps. Once you lose time like that, you can’t get it back in a three-hour race. It was an impossible task and that was that. We didn’t get any help from having a safety car.
I then left Paul Ricard and rushed back to the UK overnight by various planes, trains and automobiles. I got to Croft about 10.30am on Sunday morning and had to walk into the circuit due to the traffic. I landed at Teesside at about 9.30am and got a taxi as far as I could.
But I made it. We hadn’t had a great qualifying but the race day was as frantic as usual for the BTCC at Croft. Mat did a really good job to get the car where he did and Gio was up there as well. He did his usual trick of pulling his own name out of the hat and got himself on the front row for the third race. He got the lead very quickly and then he and Andrew Jordan made contact and unfortunately we came off worst. But Gio pulled off a fantastic save and it should have been a bigger shunt than it was. We did get a podium as Mr Shedden decided to drive through Mat and they reversed the result and gave us the third spot.
We left Croft on Sunday night, went straight back to the workshop, got changed and back in the bus and went to Spa for the GT test. It was an official Blancpain test and we took both cars and it was a very good test.
We came back from that, re-prepped the cars ready for British GT and went back to Spa for the race weekend. We got second and fourth in qualifying, which was good, and managed to convert that to a second and third in the opening race. Michael led the race in the Oman car and was doing really well, but unfortunately the weight really hurt us as the Astons had gained another 15kg. That went on top of our existing 75kg to make 90kg in total, which is a lot to ask of a car at Spa.
Michael was leading well but Phil Keen came upon him in the Porsche with its new restrictor and went ahead, so we had to settle for second. But we were very happy to get both cars on the podium.
We dashed back home, as we knew we had a monumental task to get the Oman car ready for the Spa 24-hours. We stripped both cars down and rebuilt the Oman car; put everything back in the truck, including the kitchen sink, to go back to Spa for the third time in three weeks.
It wasn’t our first 24-hour race, but it was our first in Europe and our first for nine years. I underestimated the occasion and didn’t realise how big an event it is. It is the next biggest race to Le Mans and it was absolutely fantastic.
The trucks had to get there on Sunday and we rolled up Monday morning, wondering why we had to be there for a week. At that stage, Spa was just like it had been for the British GT race two weeks before but suddenly, the security becomes a lot stiffer and that’s the first thing you notice. You set your garage up and start to see things arriving: Audi puts up its hospitality wigwam and you start to realise how much the manufacturers have put into that event.
In the pits they build structures in front of the trucks with doors on and you realise the buckets of money that go into this one race. On Tuesday morning we were the first car to scrutineering and you start looking at all the other cars queued up outside. The names on the cars really made you think: people like Rene Rast, Frank Stippler, Stephane Ortelli, Augusto Farfus and Jorg Muller. You think ‘these guys are going to be tough to beat’. Michael Caine is a second-hand car dealer from Newmarket!
After scrutineering they said we were going to have a blast down to the town, eight miles away! Because we’d been first car for scrutineering, we were first in the queue. So we sent the bus off, filled with guys and sent another one behind in case we had any problems. That was one crew to receive it and push it into position and another crew with a tow rope in case it didn’t make it, because you don’t know what’s going to happen to clutches.
But as first car, we had a clear run. To be in Spa town centre on a Wednesday afternoon with thousands and thousands of people was quite something. Then, with Mr Ratel being the theatrical man he is, we had the drivers’ and team managers’ meeting in the theatre! They do it with a bit of style and panache.
At that point it seemed like we’d been there for a long time, but we’d not really done anything yet. You got on track on the Thursday and we didn’t have a great qualifying with 37th place from over 60 cars. I wanted top 20 so we were quite despondent with that, but it was so hard to get space. But Darren Turner and Pedro Lamy were only a couple of spots ahead of us.
We did the night qualifying, which was quite something and you suddenly realise there are tens of thousands of people there. Every time you go into the circuit in the morning, more tents are going up.
We spent Friday rebuilding the car for the race and once again the build up the race, with the cars lined up down the hill, was quite something. We decided to try and battle our way forward but 40 minutes in we got a call from Steven to say that the steering felt funny. It appeared that he got hit or sent wide at the start of the race and hit a kerb. That broke a bolt in the top wishbone and the cam shim fell out. We obviously took the decision to pit him and I was very proud of the team. The guys turned him round in three minutes and he was straight back out.
Everything was ready and everything was built up and it was all done right. We got back into the race in 56th position and thought we were done for. But then it all kicked off and there was safety car after safety car with crash after crash and then a red flag. We got a bit of a benefit from that and started to work our way up the order.
By the time we got to 11 hours we were up to P17. I was watching the monitor and doing my calculations about the drivers who were going to get in the cars and realised that we could end up with P11 or P12, which would have been a really good result. It was about three o’clock in the morning and suddenly our car started tumbling down the screen.
Davey came through on the radio about 30 seconds later and said ‘that’s us, the safety car is out’. Ahmad was off at Blanchimont avoiding a spinning McLaren and that was the end of our race. Ahmad was quite shaken and they shipped him out to Liege Hospital, so I had the experience of Liege Hospital. But he was okay and that was the end of our adventure.
I thoroughly enjoyed it and I was very proud of the team, drivers and everyone involved. We were P17 and we were going forwards, but that was the end of it. We very much feel that it is unfinished business. On top of that, you learn a lot and you now know what it is all about and what is expected of you. There are a few things I’d do differently, but not many. So we’ll go back and have another go.