The epic endurance race that is life!

Motorsport.com's columnist Prashanth Tharani shares his experience of competing in the 24 Hours of Paul Ricard. He was the lone Indian among 200 plus drivers.

It was my first time at the historic Circuit de Catalunya and I was there for a test session in my teams brand new Seat Eurocup race car.

The sun was beating down on us and I sat down to have a much-needed drink. That is when I decided to write about something that was on my mind for the previous 24 hours.

Endurance racing - testing your skills

I finished my 24 hours of racing at the Paul Ricard circuit in France. Sitting in the pits after the gruelling race, reeling from the excitement of finishing it, I cannot but draw comparisons between an endurance race and life in general. 

An endurance race is not a typical race where you are going as fast as possible for a short period of time. It's a race where you're going as fast as possible for the full 24 hours.

It takes immense physical and mental strength to get through one and see the chequered flag at the end of the 24 hours.

During the race, one is coping with a deteriorating car. The tyres start to lose their grip as the temperature increases and even the brakes start losing their bite while the engine temperature shoots up as you're pushing the car with ambient temperatures at 35°C.

In the dark - night stint

When the light starts to fade and you're entering the night, the emphasis is now on being careful and still maintaining the pace in the race. You can no longer see your reference points on the circuit and when the faster GT3 cars try to lap you, you're blinded by their lights.

And yet, with all this happening, you're going as fast as you can, chasing that one dream - finishing the race and if possible winning it!  Pretty much what you do in life isn’t it? 

It's all about the ups and downs that we all have in life and how we manage those situations. Like the time where you can't see your reference points on the circuit because there is no light and yet, you have your muscle memory helping you by telling you exactly where to brake, where to turn in and where to get back on throttle.

The 24 Hours of Paul Ricard

I was driving the Seat Supercopa car in the  A3T class for Zest Racecar Engineering with my three teammates, Martin Gotsche (Denmark), Nanna Gotsche (Denmark) and Robert Taylor (UK).

We finished sixth in class at the end of 24 hours of racing and 35th overall. The team faced various mechanical issues all through the race but we overcame those obstacles and completed the race.

We had an engine heating issue at the start because of the ambient temperatures. It was so high that we had to make sure that we did not overcook the engine and that meant that we had to short shift and keep a constant eye on the water temperatures.

The team did add a "water wetter" to the engine coolant and that helped a bit but we still couldn't afford to use the toe from the other cars on the back straights.

Onto to the second stint

During my second stint in the night, we lost a wheel bearing. I had only one-way communication from pit to the car because my communication button wire was undone from the steering wheel to the steering rack.

As I took the car into the night, I had a string of fast laps well over a few seconds faster than our immediate competition and I knew that we would get closer to the car in fourth.

About 20 minutes into the stint, I got a whiff of burning smell. I couldn't clarify about it on the radio. Two laps after that, at the fastest point on the circuit, I lost my left wheel bearing and my car started to crab at an angle.

I limped my way to the pits and once I reached, I was told that the wheel bearing was the cause and that it was so hot that it fused with the rear brake rotors.

The team had to pretty much rebuild the entire brake and bearing assembly on the left rear section of the car and that cost us about 40 mins in time.

Close to the finish

The second major mechanical fault happened with a few hours left to the finish of the race. When my teammate Martin was at the wheels, he lost the front right damper.
 
Just about 10 minutes into his stint, he came back on the radio complaining about bad handling and the team called him in. They had to remove the damper and replace it with a new one and that took about 45 mins.
 
The two major mechanical issues put us back by about an hour and 30 minutes during which our competitors racked up a sizeable lead. We had to nurse our car home in the last minutes of the race as we wanted to make sure that we took the chequered flag.
 
Endurance racing is as much about luck as it is about talent. The team spent days preparing the car for the event and making sure everything was spot on. But we were happy to see the chequered flag.
 
I also managed to register the fastest lap for the team. Now, I cannot wait for the 24 Hours of Barcelona in August.

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About this article
Series Endurance
Event 24H Paul Ricard
Track Circuit Paul Ricard
Drivers Prashanth Tharani
Article type Commentary