After the last update it was all happy smiles at Osborne Motorsports as their car, after arriving in Germany over a day late, had been rushed to the track in time for the race. The first qualifying session had been run and Stu had great confidence in the car and was looking forward to more time behind the wheel in the second and longer qualifying session.
Well, it is safe to say that the second qualifying session didnâ€™t go according to plan. Simon Evans took the car out first and it wasnâ€™t long until he had received some minor panel damage courtesy of another competitor. Nothing major, but a cautious return to the pits was in order. Under such circumstances one wouldnâ€™t expect the engine to spit out a conrod. But, sadly, that is exactly what happened. So, no extra qualifying time for Stu or Colin. More importantly, there was an engine to replace. Basically the only thing the team doesnâ€™t bring with it from Australia is fuel, and luckily, there was indeed a spare engine. The teamâ€™s crew worked away late into the night and had the car ready for the race at about 2:30am. The race would start in just over 12 hours. The good news was the guys were able to post a time that qualified them for the event, albeit in 204th position on the grid. This was my last contact with Stu before the race and he was filled with hope, excitement and relief all at the same time.
I wasnâ€™t able to speak to Stu again until after the race on Monday morning. Although, while the race was underway I was keeping an eye on the official placings and saw that the guys were making solid progress through the field. I got a text from Stu at around the 17 hour mark and he said the car was running strong and they were just about to break into the top 100.
Around the 21-22 hour mark I noticed the car was being listed as being in the pits, a status that remained for far too long. The rest of the race as it turned out. I was unsure as to what the problem was and just hoped that everyone was okay. Team mechanic Andre Lineker, who was unable to attend the race this year, posted on AUSringers after the race that a brake failure had caused a premature end to their race. And that, pretty much, was that. They had completed 103 laps and were circulating with pretty consistent and solid lap times. It was a savage blow for the team after the rotten luck they had already endured prior to race day.
I spoke with Stu this afternoon (Australian time) and he confirmed that a component failure had caused him to crash on the approach to the Bergwerk corner. One of the brake rotors appears to have exploded and Stu could do nothing to stop the car from ploughing into the armco in the process ripping out the front suspension strut. Stu was faced with the tough call of passing on the news back to pit lane.
With typical Germanic efficiency a flatbed was on the scene within five minutes. The car was craned on to the truck and delivered back to the pits. At this stage Stu was not aware of the failure and was shouldering the responsibility of the accident and he just kept wondering â€˜what ifâ€™ â€” was there anything that could have been done to avoid the incident? On arrival back at the pits it was soon clear that something mechanical had failed and, while still bitterly disappointed, at least Stuâ€™s mind could rest a little easier.
The team had a new brake set up this year and, with limited testing available prior to the event, they have found out the hard way that changes may be required to last a full 24 hours.
It was great to finally catch up with Stu and when we spoke he had only had a few hours sleep, he said his brain was still rushing at a million miles. Despite the bitterness of the early retirement, Stu was finding it hard to put his feelings and experiences into words. He described the event as an â€˜astounding experienceâ€™ and one gets the feeling that you probably need to witness the event first hand to get a true appreciation for the enormity of what is basically the worldâ€™s biggest club race.
The number of people attending was massive and even when the team was doing the engine change there seemed to always be 10 or so spectators sticking their head under the bonnet and having a squiz. At 2am Stu saw a guy walking his dog through pit lane, then turned and saw two young girls who had clearly had too much to drink. It seems the event attracts all sorts and the event is one big party. So much so that when Stu was trying to get some sleep during the night he found it difficult due to the music blaring out in a corporate function above the teamâ€™s pit. The event is a true test of oneâ€™s mental toughness, in every sense.
Even starting the event had its own little saga. As the car left the pit garage they noticed a fuel leak and quickly pushed the car back in to repair the faulty hose. Once done the team had just seconds to get the car out of pit lane before it closed in readiness for the race start. Given the way the weekend had been going it was no surprise to anyone that the red light came on to signal pit lane was closed. They were only a metre or two from crossing the exit! The guys pleaded with the pit marshall to let them out, but no luck. It looked like they would have to start the race from pit lane.
A few minutes later the marshall at the pit exit, who had been innocently chatting away on his radio, said to the team â€˜in a few moments there will be an electrical fault and the light will go green, if youâ€™re quick you should be able to get out before the fault is rectified.â€™
This example typified the attitude of the event organisers. They would be strict and firm with the rules when it mattered, but ultimately they want people racing and their flexibility here was greatly appreciated.
For the most part the car was running faultlessly. Colin drove the first stint (generally two and a half hours), Simon went out second and Stu drove the third stint. Just as Stu came in for his driver change it had started raining, nothing too heavy, but it soon picked up as Colin took over. The team run the race on semi-slicks so Colin had some protection as the rain became heavier. However, lots of cars were running slicks and it was carnage out there for most of Colinâ€™s second session. Fortunately, he kept out of trouble and no doubt has plenty of tales to tell and some great racing experience gained.
Stuâ€™s next drive was during sunrise and he commented that it was a surreal experience as the sky lightened to see the marshalls starting to repair the damaged armco from the damage caused during the night. Just hearing of these small anecdotes here and there made me so envious!
The experience seemed filled with stories of great camaraderie, be it between the other Australian teams, the crowd participation or any number of examples.
Stu shared a couple with me. The first was in regard to their pit garage. Up to eight cars share the pit space and at the start of the event the crews are a bit stand offish. Space is at a premium and the crews can be quite protective of the territory they have claimed. But by the end of the race the crews were helping each other out when a car came in, or cooking up a feed to share around. Itâ€™s just great to hear stories like this where people just want to pitch in to make sure their fellow competitor is able to do their best.
The other example of great camaraderie shared started not long after the guys arrived in Adenau. A few of the team were wearing their Toyota shirts and a local walked past them wearing an almost identical shirt. It turns out this guy is the head of composite materials for the Toyota F1 team. Despite the Monaco Grand Prix being held on the same weekend he was able to spend the weekend with the team offering his advice and assistance whenever they needed. Simple things, like being able to speak German and having a few local contacts were a great help to the team throughout the event and you could tell that Stu was genuinely thankful for his contribution.
Stu gave me a few updates on some of the other Australian teams and they werenâ€™t the only guys to suffer heartache. Shaun Juniperâ€™s Porsche RSR was pushing for a top 10 position until his engine blew up. Tony Quinn, in another RSR, was plagued by brake problems at the start of the race. They were able to get the car out and it was putting in some really good times until it was punted off the track while Craig Baird was driving. The damage was repairable, but after the slow start to the race it was decided to call it a day. Ric Shaw had a gearbox failure in his RX-7 but was able to have it replaced to allow him to finish the race. Amazingly, his crew completed the change in 27 minutes! Mal Rose, too, was given an almighty scare when his car got a puncture on the last lap. I can only imagine his teamâ€™s relief as the affected rim held up as the car crawled across the finish line.
Of the other cars, the standout for Stu was how well the Manthey team regrouped after their #1 pole sitting car overheated almost as soon as the green flag dropped. The car went on to win the race in reasonable comfort, despite a few scary moments from the sequential transmission with about 40 minutes to go. Stu also mentioned how impressed he was with the Volkswagen Sciroccos. He said their preparation, presentation and professionalism was of an incredibly high standard.
Before we finished our chat Stu passed on how hard their crew had worked and he was amazed at how dedicated they were to making sure the car was as good as it could be.
I asked Stu if he wanted to drive in the NÃ¼rburgring 24 hour again, â€˜ABSOLUTELY!â€™ came the reply, no sooner than the words left my mouth. â€˜I have unfinished business and Iâ€™ll be back.â€™