This weekend the Saturday night around Silverstone will be filled with the varied engine noises of some 50 cars during the middle portion of the 2011 running of Britain's most gruelling race.
The Britcar 24 Hours is Britain's only true 24 hour challenge and this year is fittingly run on the Arena circuit, the latest iteration of the home of the British Grand Prix. The challenge of the 3.66 mile circuit is compounded by the endurance test of men and machine and the time of year.
Just like the twice-around-the-clock event at Daytona in January, and very unlike the French midsummer benchmark for 24 Hours as much as half the race is run under the cover of darkness, with little or no artificial light around the track. Thankfully, for anyone who has braved previous editions the vagaries of the British weather appear to have delivered the 2011 race from the rain that blighted the 2010 weekend. Whether the ubiquitous Britcar 24 fog can be avoided remains to be seen.
The field – with over 50 cars expected – is split into four classes, spanning cars from bespoke racing machines to production based Renault Clios and MG ZRs with a range of drivers to match.
Leading the entry list, carrying the no.1 plate is the four man Ferrari crew of MJC Ltd. The team saw off the challenge of JetAlliance Racing in 2010 after a battle that lasted for much of the race. While their Austrian rivals opted out of a return to Silverstone the MJC team of Witt Gamski, Keith Robinson, John Gaw and Phil Dryburgh are reunited with the Ferrari 430 from a year ago.
Gamski and Robinson dominated the Britcar GT season in 2010, winning all but the final race, but have endured a less auspicious 2011. After getting off to a winning start at Silverstone in March, they were narrowly beaten at Rockingham the following month. Their season came to an end at Donington Park in May, when the car spectacularly blew its engine in qualifying forcing an expensive rebuild by Michelotto in Italy. The car will only return to competition on the 24 Hours weekend.
“Cristiano Michelotto's built us a new engine, a slightly stronger one, slightly different top end,” Robinson told The Checkered Flag at Snetterton, the last Britcar round before the 24 Hours. “We've been very lucky with engines, we just pushed the envelope. With the Michelotto engine we had we hadn't had a failure for three years, so we can't moan at that, it's going to happen. The chassis' been totally stripped we've done the important things.”
“Last year we didn't think we were going to win it. We went there hoping for a finish or a podium and to come back twelve months later as current winners. It's going to be hard to win it for the second year, but that's our aim. We've got a good chance of doing it but there's going to be a lot of strong people out there. It's going to be tough, but we're going to give it our best shot.”
Gaw and Dryburgh have enjoyed more success in the regular Britcar season – rebranded the MSA British Endurance Championship for 2011 – winning at both Castle Combe and Snetterton in a Scuderia Vittoria run Ferrari 458.
Behind them, numerically at least, on the entry list are an assembled mass of teams trying to pry the no.1 plate away from MJC.
These include another Ferrari 430 run by Eclipse Motorsport and driven by Michael and Sean McInerney and Phil Keen. The father and son McInerneys are the only team have beaten MJC in a straight fight this season, Sean holding off Keith Robinson during a tense run to the flag at Rockingham, and the trio also won the four hour race at Donington Park.
There are the normal Britcar collection of Moslers, with two examples entered by Britcar stalwarts Topcats Racing and Strata 21 respectively. Though one of the Chevrolet engine cars won the first Britcar 24 in 2005 reliability and fuel consumption has been their weakness in latter races. Whether the longer race can actually help cancel out the fuel mileage disadvantage remains is debateable, as is the potential of the four man Strata 21 team which combines the team's regular drivers Paul White and Calum Lockie with Javier Morcillo and Manuel Cintrano – normally of Azteca Motorsport. Morcillo and Lockie are two of the fastest men who normally grace the Britcar paddock and their partnership will likely be central to Strata 21's strategy.
ARC Bratislava and Rowe Motorsport pick up JetAlliance's mantle as top international challenger, fielding a Porsche 997 and BMW Z4 V8, both in the premier class.
Also in the top class is the Aquila CR1. The Danish 'mini LMP' racer was the class of the 2010 field on speed, romping to pole position then to a comfortable in the opening hours of the race before a catalogue of mechanical issues first delayed then ended their tilt towards the title.
The 2011 version of the CR1 – heavily revised still has the pace. Bob Berridge piloted the car to pole at Spa-Francorchamps, but the driving line-up lacks the obvious star power of the 2010 team but a team, anchored by Berridge and featuring sportscar racer Gareth Evans and Australian single seater man John Martin should still challenge if they can get anything near the potential from the car.
Of course, unlike some 24 Hour races around the world the chances of winning are not limited to the top class – JetAlliance ran in Class Two in 2010, which is also where one of the stand out line-ups lies.
After sailing to the Class Four victory last year Ginetta return with two works run cars – a G40 looking to retain that class title – and a G55.
The G55 boasts a mouth-watering team of Lawrence Tomlinson, Martin Short – one of the winning drivers in 2005 – Colin Turkington, Matt Nicoll–Jones and Mike Simpson. The quintet have the abilty to challenge for overall victory, and could dominate the class to same extent that the G40 squad did last year.
Perhaps the closest racing should take place in Classes Three and Four among the cars more closely based on their production counterparts. Teams and drivers that not only have their own races to run, but are set to have a restless 24 hours, being constantly passed by the faster traffic.
A total of nine different manufacturers are represented in Class Three with Mazda and Toyota models with an element of factory support. Among the rank and file of BMWs, SEATs and Ginetta G50s lie some experienced drivers and team who will take advantage of any problems among the faster cars.
Aaron Scott and Craig Wilkins, dominant in the regular season with their Dodge Viper, switch to Ginetta and Jemco Racing. Optimum Motorsport – another experienced Ginetta crew bring four equally Ginetta familiar drivers Lee Mowle, Joe Osborne, Stuart Linn and Gary Simms.
Also fielding a Ginetta at Scuderia Vittoria. As well as projects in The Clio Cup, British GT and their involvement in Gaw and Dryburgh's wins the team helped run the Vita4One Ferrari 458 that finished fifth in the Spa 24 Hours. Silverstone, however, will host the squad's first race under their own name, team principal Piers Masarati explained to The Checkered Flag what brings teams to the Britcar 24.
“We're doing it because it will be a fun race, anyone who does the Britcar 24 Hours is not thinking it's the Spa 24 Hours and is there to do it for fun as well, and we're there to it for fun also as well as do well. A lot of effort will go into being competitive. Finishing the race will be the first target and anything we get from there is a bonus really.”
How Scuderia Vittoria – already twice British Endurance Championship and twice British GT race winners this year – fare in their first 24 Hours will be just one of many storylines to play out at Silverstone, and The Checkered Flag will be covering the entire race live with hourly updates, text commentary and news from the Silverstone pitlane.
“It's fantastic – it's going to be an amazing weekend,” Robinson's words are all you really need to know.