First high-speed runs of Daytona Prototype in the United Kingdom
At Silverstone yesterday Anglo American Oil Company Ltd, Sunoco and GRAND-AM presented the top four competitors in this year's Sunoco Rolex 24 at Daytona Challenge and also demonstrated the No. 39 Daytona Prototype of Zak Brown during the course of a test day.
Present were the current leader of the challenge Jean-Eric Vergne, the Red Bull backed Frenchman who is also leading the Cooper Tires British F3 International Series at present, Ross Kaiser from the Radical UK Cup, Matt Griffin who drives a Ferrari in the Avon Tyres British GT Championship and Jody Firth from the SPEED Sports Prototype Series. To give them an overview of the Crawford DP03 chassis also present was Derek Johnston, winner of last year's inaugural challenge. He was able to explain the massive scale and significance of the Daytona event, and was clearly also disappointed at now being ineligible to win the drive. After hearing his account of finally getting to race at Midnight in this year's event, it was obvious why he was so very distressed at the thought of not getting to race next year.
Unfortunately, on arrival at the circuit, the Porsche 4 litre flat-six engine was proving rather too loud to be allowed out on track, at least according to the man with the noise testing equipment. 102 decibels was all that was allowed, but the Porsche was registering around 110 dB down the back straight, so it was back to the garage for the prototype for some high-speed if somewhat ad hoc modifications to the exhaust system to try and cut the noise to an acceptable level. It was all achieved with a great deal of ingenuity and some pretty impressive lateral thinking on the part of the United Autosports boys. It might not have been pretty, but it was certainly effective enough and a couple of laps by Derek meant they would be able to run in the afternoon, and that the scheduled hot laps for the press would happen, albeit slightly later than planned.
Meanwhile, AAOC provided some very fine burgers and salad for lunch, with beer for anyone feeling nervous about the prospect of being strapped into the passenger seat and whizzing round Silverstone at around 150 miles an hour, 6 inches above the ground. After an introduction to the four drivers now leading the race for the Daytona drive, anyone planning on getting involved was shipped off to the circuit office to sign a disclaimer and be fitted with the all-important wristband which presumably would protect us from harm if it all went pear-shaped and Derek binned it with us on board.
Prior to that, however, the main business of the day was still in progress, with each of the four being briefed by Derek before being sent out for a handful of exploratory laps each. It was slightly unfortunate that some of the people they were sharing the track with had a tendency to get over-excited and fall off into the gravel, thus brining the session to a temporary halt while they were rescued. Eventually everyone managed to get some mileage in though there was severe frustration on the part of the drivers that there was so much slower traffic out there. On the positive side, it at least meant they were no longer likely to exceed the noise limits as it just wasn't possible to get enough power down on the straight, or at least not unless you wanted to risk running up the back end of a Caterham 7.
Finally it was time for the media hot laps. Long sleeves, long trousers and flat shoes were the order of the day, naturally, and I had dressed accordingly. There then followed something of a struggle to find a crash helmet that wasn't too big. The first one I tried simply slid forwards and completely blocked my view. The next one proved too loose as well, as was adequately demonstrated when young Mr. Vergne grabbed hold of it and shoved it in various directions while I was still wearing it. I finally found the smallest helmet in the place, which meant I was moved towards the end of the queue to go out since someone was already using it and I was going to have to wait for them to come back before I could get hold of it and get ready to go out. It was with some trepidation that I finally strapped the "skid lid" on and steeled myself to try not to throw my lunch back. However, there was a further delay after the team decides they needed to change drivers, partly because Derek was now getting frustrated at the lack of a clear run.
The 500bhp 1,010kg monster was dragged back into the pit garage, and Derek clambered out while the fuel tanks were topped up (the Crawford DP03 runs on 104 octane Sunoco 260 GTX unleaded petrol, which is the control fuel for Grand AM, and there were 91 litres of the stuff somewhere just behind the seat I was about to be strapped into so no worries there then). Derek's replacement, Paul O'Neill, had just arrived in the garage after spending the day teaching at the race school, and was ready to have a taste of the Crawford. After a very cursory briefing from Derek and from team boss Richard Dean, he slid into the driver's seat while I attempted to fold my legs into the well on the passenger side. It was easier than I had thought it would be having watched a number of other passengers struggle, so perhaps my current fitness regime was helping. Once in, one of the mechanics clipped me into the six point harness and adjusted it to hold me in place, rather than leaving me loose to fly around in there and end up in the driver's lap!
Paul looked across, said "Shall we?" and fired her up. It felt very stable as we headed along the pit lane, despite the fact that all the drivers had complained about it pulling to the left under braking. Hopefully we wouldn't be needing to do too much of that anyway. The power came in surprisingly smoothly and although I was hanging onto the roll bar and the side of the seat to stop myself shifting around, it didn't feel anywhere near as alarming as I'd feared it might be. And despite the heat building up as we waited to go out, there was a breeze coming into the cockpit from somewhere as we headed out. The braking into Copse didn't seem too painful either, though it felt very strange to be unable to see the edge of the track from so low down in the car. With very little traffic out at last Paul was able to start getting a feel for the car and didn't hesitate to pick up speed quickly. We didn't talk in there - I doubt I could have made myself heard over the noise of that 4 litre brute of an engine in the back, and anyway I was busy getting a new perspective on the circuit that I normally only see on foot (I run round it every year in a charity event). Needless to say it looked very different at 150 mph so close to the ground.
Additionally I had a brief "where am I?" moment when we reached the new Abbey section which looks so very different now that the building work has finished. The rapid changes of direction through the tight curves there were very disorienting on top of being so unfamiliar to me, and it took me a few seconds to realise that we were through and back on familiar territory and heading for the final bend. And then it was all over as Paul pulled into the pits to collect his next passenger. I sat and waited as the mechanics opened the door and unstrapped the belts, before helping me out, a big grin on my face despite the fact that I'd been regretting that second cheeseburger somewhere around Luffield!