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The 12 Hours of Yorkshire - Written by “The Wannabe Racer”

Endurance racing. A feat of both mechanical and physical prowess that dates to the 19th century when the first organised automobile competition took place; albeit called a “reliability test” back in those days. It was typically reserved for the rich, the daring and the few. Nowadays, it is open for any mere mortal to take part. Enter the 12 hours of Yorkshire. A charity motorsport event focused on raising money for the county’s ambulance services. As grassroots endurance racing goes, it is an event every aspiring racing driver, young and old, should experience.

Here is our story of how this humble charity event sparked a passion that enabled all those who took part to live their own Steve McQueen fantasy and left our team craving for more.

The excitement for the event started to snowball a few weeks prior, where our motley crew of drivers would regularly exchange words of wisdom and excitement over WhatsApp. Some of us had taken part in low level competitive karting before, but only on a small scale. However, this didn’t limit our competitiveness or our will to take the event seriously on a larger than socially acceptable level. After purchasing two-way radios and headsets to wear under our helmets, one team member even confessed that they had decided to buy a Camelbak to wear back to front under their race suit to allow them to sip water them through long driving stints.

In the early evening on the day of the race, team members started to descend on the Leeds TeamSport indoor track. A track with a formidable reputation. Whereas some TeamSport tracks adopt a concrete driving surface (allowing karts to drift around corners with ease), Leeds’s track bears a surface that is fully covered in tarmac, which, once warmed up following the first few laps of a race, enables the karts to showcase a surprising amount of grip, despite only getting up to 40mph. To add to this, the Leeds track also has one of the most testing sections of any TeamSport track. This involves a long sweeping left-hand bend where you get up to almost full speed, before taking a sharp left turn into a long chicane that dives under the bridge and followed by immediately going back uphill and turning right. Doing this section at full speed, combined with the almost adhesive like grip of the tarmacked surface with what feels like Laguna Seca “Corkscrew” levels of steepness is a challenge for any driver, let alone the uninitiated.

As other teams began to arrive the more humorous side of grassroots motorsport became apparent. On this occasion, this was symbolised by the dietary choices of those taking part. Ranging from numerous £2 Pizza’s to donut multipacks, and from the sensible litre bottles of water to the unhealthy amount of energy drinks. Despite everyone’s questionable choices in food and drink, it was clear that everyone was there because of their passion for motorsport and wanted to get their taste of what it was like to race at the Le Sarthe and Daytona circuits. As the metaphorical dust settles on the registration desk, we all enter the drivers’ briefing feeling confident that we were able to master the approaching 12-hour challenge.

With zero hour approaching fast, our first driver, Alex, sets up his intercom system and accompanying Campbak ready for the start of the race. Making the daunting walk to the pits with the weight of a rhapsodic team on his shoulders, anticipation continuing to fill the venue. Being the supportive team that we are, we then think, what could help Alex at his time of need? This turns out to be playing the “Chariots of Fire” theme tune through the team radio, much to our amusement. Once the drivers are settled, they then make haste onto the track for the inaugural warm up lap. With tension building and their grid boxes drawing near, the drivers began their final preparations with karts weaving left and right to entice some temperature into the tyres. As the low-level rumble of 14 rampant 4 stroke engines came to a halt on the grid, silence then descends between the onlookers.

Without a moment's notice, the lights are out, and they are off. On the first lap our driver Alex makes himself as wide as possible to prevent the oncoming attack from drivers behind whilst trying to make up ground on those in front of him. Each driver trying to make a lunge for an early advantage before the pack starts to spread out. The variety of abilities becomes clear in the first hour, with more experienced drivers showcasing their prowess with the friendly nudge in the rear of a slower driver in front, invoking a quote from Robert Duvall’s character in Days of Thunder “rubbin’ son, is racing”.

What ensues for the next 12 hours is a wonderful cocktail of adrenaline, sweat, petrol, rubber, caffeinated beverages, and noise. As the first set of fuel stops begin around the two-hour mark, each team begins to settle into their own rhythm; a hypnotic hum of engines fills the air as karts race off into the distance. Very much like the sound of a 911RSR driving off into the distance down the Mulsanne straight (only with more of an ambling noise of a lawnmower engine and a lot less into the distance).

As the race enters the early hours, multiple driver changes have taken place by now. Off the track the conference facilities at the circuit become filled with a scattering of makeshift beds, occupied by exhausted drivers trying to grab a modicum of sleep. I myself managed only 40 minutes of sleep throughout the whole evening due to the raw buzz that I was experiencing from my first endurance. Whilst I knew there would be things that the team and I would be experiencing for the first time, the biggest surprise for me was the sheer amount of adrenaline which was being dumped into my body. For me, this highlights why events like this, even at the grassroots level, are important for one’s well-being and how much it feeds the soul by making you feel truly alive and present. Funnily enough this only lasted until just after the chequered flag when my body crashed in spectacular fashion.

Entering the closing hours, the breadth in ability of drivers continues to be on display. At this stage of the race this is highlighted by the consistently fast times of the more experienced drivers and teams like “Porsche Sport”, “Muggles” and “We are Human”. This ‘flat out’ consistency perfectly summarises the mantra of endurance motorsport where out and out speed, resulting in the most distance covered, reigns supreme. Rookie teams by comparison begin to show signs of wear and tear and yet, still persist in their individual automotive quests. A level of determination only rivalled by the determination of each team’s depleting pit board marker pens. An appropriate metaphor for the inevitable decline of driver concentration due to the relentless nature endurance racing. Happily however it is clear that team spirits remain high, even this late in the race, symbolised by comical pit board messages including “let the VTEC kick in”, “hurry up!” and “Fancy a cup of tea?”.

As the chequered flag falls there is a collective sigh of relief that we had just managed to successfully complete our first endurance race. The passion and camaraderie between drivers and teams is evident as all karts limp into the pits past an equally exhausted crowd to the sound of weary applause.

I acknowledge that I have talked about this event as if we were trying to put a human into space. At the same time, I only have to look at the name of the event to remind myself why we were really taking part and that competing in this event was a tremendous privilege. The event itself raised an astonishing £7000+ for the Yorkshire Ambulance Service Charity and will inevitably go to good use across the county by supporting local services. A special mention must go to Oliver Dean (the event organiser) and the Leeds TeamSport staff who were awake for the full 12 hours! I doff my proverbial hat to you all.

Despite the understandable physical and mental toll the event took on every driver, organiser, and staff member, one thing is for certain. I will be returning for more next year.

Written by Tom Matthews (The Wannabe Racer)

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