This year’s Dubai 24 Hours turned out to be an amazing race for all of us at Team Cooksport. It had everything, amazing highs, some lows and some miracles created by Mike and the Cooksport mechanics.
I was given the responsibility to start the race on Friday and, as I lined up on the grid with the other 92 cars, I had no idea what was ahead of us.
As the grid cleared and I fired up the engine to start the rolling lap, I put my foot on the clutch to select first gear and it immediately went to the floor. I had no clutch! As the other cars pulled away, I pumped the clutch pedal and, as the last car headed down the start and finish straight, I managed to get the clutch back and was able to select first gear. With a little wheel spin, I left the grid and chased after the rest of the cars.
All our work in qualifying in second place in class had now been lost, and I would have to start as the last car at the back of the rolling grid. We completed two rolling laps and I crossed the start line in 95th place. There was nothing else to do but push hard to chase down the cars in front and get back up the leader board. By the second lap, I had passed the two cars in front and a lap later picked off another car. I pushed as hard as I could and, by the end of the first hour of running, we were up to third place in class, and I had set the fastest lap in the class.
As I pitted to hand over the car to Jon, after completing 38 laps in the car, we were securely in third place. As the car left the pits after the pit stop, we dropped down to 5th place but still on the lead lap.
The clutch issue had disappeared; it was thought it had been simply some air still in the system after it was bled before the start of the race. The game plan was now to lap as fast as we could and get the Cooksport Renault Clio back up the leader board. We continued to complete lap after lap without any further incidents.
As other cars hit trouble, or were involved in on-track incidents, we continued to roll off the laps. With the track plunged into darkness and the car having completed 182 laps, I took over from Josh. I completed another 42 laps before again handing the car over to Jon; we were now up to second place, back on the lead lap, and the gap to the leading car had also been reduced.
Everything was running well and driver changes were being completed without any issues. Jon handed over to Shayne. Then on the 287th lap the car coughed, slowed and stopped at the side of the track. With over 14 hours completed, the car was now stationary at the side of the track. Speaking over the radio, it was quickly identified that the car had run out fuel. An anxious wait, which seem to go on forever, before the recovery truck collected the car and it was towed to the fuel station. A quick refuel and the car headed back out on the track. Unfortunately, the wait to be recovered had been long enough to lose sufficient time to drop us down to third place in class.
The chase was now on and Shayne handed over to Josh. Josh pushed hard and completed 19 laps before he radioed in and, it was decided to call him in early and for me to get back into the car. Back in second place, I completed another 38 laps, which also included setting the team’s fastest lap for the race on lap 360, just before I handed the car over to Ollie.
Ollie completed another 40 laps before handing the car over to Jon on lap 405. However, as Jon left the pits nobody know what was just around the corner.
Jon was just completing his 15th lap when an incident with the CWS Ginetta took him off the track and into the barrier, badly damaging the front of the car. The car was now off the track and, as Jon got out of the car, everybody in the team thought the race was over!
The team spoke to Jon over the radio and it was reported back the front right-hand suspension was badly damaged and the front strut, hub, wheel etc. would probably need to be replaced at least. The garage was quickly made ready to receive the damaged car and possible replacement parts were even provided by the Stanco & Tanner Motorsport team, sharing the garage with us.
The car arrived at the back of the garage on a recovery truck and was quickly pushed into the garage. The damage was very bad. The right-hand wheel was bent out and damaged, the front bumper smashed and the left-hand wheel out of alignment.
The wheels were removed and the Cooksport mechanics assessed the damage. As there was less than 4 hours to the end of the race, there was only time for a quick repair to ensure we retained our 2nd place. Cooksport’s experience racing the Renault Clio now came into play.
Having seen similar damage on Clio Cup cars, it was decided that we might be able to just adjust the track rod ends to straighten up the wheels enough, as there was not enough time to replace components. With liberal use of tank tape, the front bumper and bodywork were reattached and it was hoped this would be enough to get the car to the end of the race.
Due to Jon being involved in an on-track accident he was not allowed to get back into the car, so I was asked to get kitted up and I jumped back into the car as it was pushed out of the garage. Unsure if the car was fixed, or if it would drive correctly, I was instructed if the car felt wrong or it was not safe, to come straight back into the pits.
As I exited the pits, we were still in second place but the gap to the third-place car had reduced. The car did not feel too bad but the steering wheel was badly out of alignment and I was going into fast corners with the steering wheel at very unusual angles. Lap by lap, I was able to push a little harder and I managed to maintain a gap to the 3rd place car. After 23 laps, I pitted and handed the car over to Shayne with just over an hour to run.
When the right-hand front wheel was removed, there was a large groove cut around the whole circumference of the centre of the tyre, all the way to the metal carcass, caused by contact with the damaged body of the car. This was the cause of the huge amount of tyre smoke filling the car every time I turned left!
The responsible part was bent out of the way and four new wheels and tyres fitted to the car and Shayne was given the job to take the car to the end of the race.
As the clock slowly ticked down to the 24 hour mark, Shayne maintained the gap to the third place car, but he was not able to lap as fast as before. Fortunately, in the stint, a code 60 was triggered which helped to hold off the third-place car a little longer. With 4 laps to go, 2nd place looked like it was ours for the taking. Then on the next lap, Shayne picked up a front right-hand puncture. He managed to get the car back to the pits. The front right-hand tyre had been completely cut though by the damaged bodywork as the wheel had moved back into the wheel arch. The destroyed tyre was replaced and he left the pits with just two more laps to complete before the chequered flag would fall on 2017 Dubai 24 Hours.
An issue with the clutch at the start, running out of fuel, a major impact with a Ginetta and two damaged tyres had all been overcome by Team Cooksport. A “miracle” performed by the Cooksport mechanics to repair the car after being hit enabled us to finish in a well deserved 2nd in class.
Team Cooksport has completed their first 24 Hour race, with what is basically, a standard Renault Clio Cup car and secured 2nd place, an amazing achievement! Standing on the podium with Josh, Ollie, Shayne and Jon was a perfect end to our first race together and just reward for all the hard work of everybody at Team Cooksport.
Well done everybody, and bring on the next race…