I qualified 26th behind all the Masarati but ahead of the Gordini. I felt I could have gone a bit quicker as my time was set at the start and I felt it rubbered up later (but that could be my imagination). However, I made a mistake into Les Combes and so abandoned my last flying lap. It probably wouldn’t have moved me up the grid anyway (Lord knows how Darren got the Bristol around here in 4:22 last year) and I felt it more important to get some laps in, on full fuel, to prepare for the race start.
I made an ok start and this time I was lucky and the track opened up in front of me. By Eau Rouge I’d made up 5 places. Though Frank and Erwann both powered past through Raidillon. I knew I had a few faster 3l cars behind (and my 2l buddies) but I didn’t want to try anything silly in the first few laps. It turned out quite nicely as I had space to myself for most of the lap up to Stavelot and was able to settle in and feel how the car was.
Climbing up the hill I could Mark and Sebastian queuing up to pass me. But with the rest of the 2l gang close behind I didn’t want to just pull over and I didn’t want to risk a strange line through La Carrierre, especially the tricky second part. Mark got ahead into La Carrierre and I stayed out on the wide line and then followed him through. Unfortunately, he ran wide, then off, on the exit. Sebastian then drove past me down the straight to Blanchomont. I hoped to keep with him through the twistier parts, to be able to get a tow down then up the hill, as now John was catching me.
Next, we all safely got through Eau Rouge past a sideways Rory. I had a decent run up the hill and through to Malmedy and was able to get past Sebastian when he ran wide. He was right back with me though by Stavelot and he was towing John along too. Into Blanchimont he passed me and I tried to hang on in the hope of another tow. Unfortunately for Sebastian, he then ran wide and off on the exit.
That left John, Martin just behind, and me alone in our 2l fight. And we were only on lap 2!
John seemed to have a half-hearted look into Burnenville but wisely held back. Though he didn’t have to wait long as he was through along the Masta straight. Then Martin went through down Holowell. Oh well, a long way to go and I’m still 4 places up on my starting position. Just as I was resigned to a lonely race more drama ahead when Martin got mixed up passing Bruno’s stricken Ferrari at La Source. Up to 18th and having a lucky day.
At this point I started to wonder about pit strategy and race pace compared to my 2l buddies. They were both clearly quicker but I knew my 60l tank only takes 21 seconds to refuel and I should be able to get away with 3 stops. Soon I had other things to worry about as (a recovering?) Austin and then Ricardo both caught and passed me. Back to 20th.
Lap 6 and Martin was passed me again into Blanchimont.
I now settled into a long lonely stint. That gave me time to think properly about fuel. In pre-race prep I’d been using about 6.9l per lap and was planning an easy 3-stop race. Now, despite driving more conservatively, I was using 7.9l per lap. That meant I had to have 8l left in my 60l tank every time I stopped to be sure of not running out of fuel, especially if the pit box was already occupied. So I would only be able to put in 85% of a tank at each stop. Suddenly a 3-stop was going to be tight. Soon after, I had my first stop and saw that at least it did only take about 21 seconds to refill. That got me back ahead of Martin. And maybe a few others as I was now 18th. I spent the next few laps asking Crew Chief for estimates and doing mental arithmetic and hoping that I’d suddenly find some spare fuel as it was now looking like a tricky 4-stopper! It was affecting my driving so I decided to ignore fuel and just pit when I needed to. Of course, I then just kept coming back to the same old internal debate, on and off, for the rest of the race
. Afterwards, I checked my calculations and it was estimating I’d only complete 28 laps rather than the 32 (?) I did.
The game looked beautiful as the sun was setting. Or Golden Six Minutes as it’s known in 10x time photography circles. I was looking forward to driving at night. I found it really atmospheric in the pre-race practices and always found working night-shifts relaxing. I lapped Matias just as he pitted on lap 9.
Martin caught and re-passed me as night fell on lap 10. His extra lights were useful and I managed to hang on for a lap or two before his headlights slowly disappeared from view. I don’t know what had been happening elsewhere but somehow I was up to 15th. Lap 13 and Isidoro lapped me. Then Tom, then Niklas, then Darren and all, while I made my second stop on lap 15. And I nearly choked on a biscuit
I found driving through the rest of the night really challenging. I don’t know if it is the extra immersion of being in VR, but I felt like I was driving for hours and really struggled to keep my concentration. I ran wide, without incident, coming out of La Carriere then, as night was ending on lap 20, I had my main scare of the race. Coming out of Malmedy, still having vague notions of saving some fuel, I coasted rather than dabbing the breaks, ran wide and got into snap oversteer. I fought the car from lock to lock and tried my best to scrub off speed and avoid anything too solid. But it is always luck in these moments and mine held true. At the time I was convinced I had rolled the car and taken lots of damage. But the replay shows I just slid the Bristol’s well-padded rear-end up the bank and hit a post. There was no other car around so I was able to get going without trouble. The car showed no damage but paranoia convinced me something wasn’t right, and I had an unplanned, but ok, drift through Blanchimont. My next pit stop was due anyway, so I stopped at the pits to check and repair. There was only 6 seconds of bodywork damage to hammer out so I soon set off again, determined to be more careful.
Frank re-passed me coming up to La Source on lap 25 and then Isidoro lapped me again. Somehow I was in 13th. Other than that, it was a lonely run up to my 4th and last expected pit stop on lap 26.
I’d stopped a lap earlier in case my stall was occupied and I knew I didn’t need a full tank. But, to be safe, I decided to keep it simple and fill her up. Luck had one final twist for me though. Crew Chief ‘helpfully’ arranged to only fill me to the end of the race. Unfortunately, no one had explained to the Chief that I had to do an extra lap after time runs out. So the Chief left me with at least one lap of fuel short. At the time I let this bother me. But it made no difference to my race result and the 5! stops gave the pit crew a good workout.
Lap 27, a flying 3l Race leader Darren Andrews lapped me again. Lap 29 a late splash and dash and Frank passed me to retake 13th.
Sorry all, that’s a long recap for a race where I was on my own for nearly all of it!