It’s been a big week for Stu Jones and his mates at Osborne Motorsports. A long haul flight from Sydney to Frankfurt, a massive effort from everyone in the team to prepare, drive and repair the racecar in the 24 hour race and, now, another long haul flight back to Australia.
But, if you’re like me, you would have loved to have been there too. Riding every wave of emotion, rubbing shoulders with some of motorsports elite and just generally ticking a very big box in that thing called life.
After getting the TXT from Stu saying they had gearbox problems I started feeling a bit down, and just wishing they could get the car back out on the track. My feelings picked up when I heard the car was back racing, but when I saw Stu crossing the finish line in the group of cars behind the winning Manthey Racing Porsche I had the broadest smile. I can only imagine how chuffed the team must have felt to see their car cross the line after a very tough day. Well done them!
Stu has been very kind to send through updates to AUSringers throughout his journey and his last update, written at Frankfurt airport, is the perfect postscript. We mightn’t be there, but Stu has helped bring his experience a little bit closer to Australia than the 15,000 kilometres would suggest. A big vote of thanks to Stu for his time and effort.
UPDATE 27 May: New text from Stu added below, as well as a couple of images, with thanks to AUSringers regular reader Obi.
N24 trackside report – pt6
Stu Jones: Here I am, sitting on the plane flying out from Frankfurt. It’s a good time for a bit of a retrospective of the week gone.
While I sent through some snippets during the actual race, it was all a bit of a blur. Colin and I had a plan, in order to complete the race as a two driver combo we would need to stick to some discipline for rest, hydration and eating, which we followed pretty much to the letter. The regime was in the car on track for 2.5hrs, then bring it in to the pitsâ€”get out, quick 10sec briefing to Colin on the condition of the track, and he’s gone.
I then had a quick briefing with the crew on how the car was running, tyre conditions and so on. I would ten try to wind down as fast as possible, get a quick snack, drink lots of fluids and lay down for an hour or so. Itâ€™s a strange kind of sleep, you can hear the noises around you, the roar of the cars on track, the other pit crews talking and having dinner, and you feel like your sleeping but it’s really dozing.
With about 30 minutes to the driver change its up again, take in more fluids, a high energy snack and wander back to the pit garage to get an update from the crew on what you have missed. With 10 minutes to gp Colin gets the last lap call. I have 10 minutes to suit up, think and focus on the task ahead. The car comes in, driver change and I’m off again for another 2.5 hours around the GrÃ¼nne Holle.
For us, our race ran superbly, we picked a nice safe driving paceâ€”definitelty slower in sections than we did in 2008. Last year I was racing, this year the plan was pure survival. Despite this the car still had plenty of pace and we did some lap times faster than last year. The majority, though, were about getting the car quickly and safely round the circuit. That may sound a little counter-intuitive for some, but thatâ€™s kind of what this event is like. Unless you are in the top 10 for outright position it’s not really worth driving like each lap is your last. Because if you do, there is a good chance it will be.
Up until hour 17 we were running 85th outright and 4th in a class of 14 cars. We were pretty happy with this, considering most of the cars in our class are heavily modified to suit this event and were able to lap considerably faster. Our benefit was being able to run a full 2.5 hour stint on a tank of fuel, reliably and consistently.
Sadly, when you are starting to feel comfortable disaster often strikes. Just towards the end of Colinâ€™s session he reported a lot of gearbox noise and a slipping clutch. Time to bring it in. There is nothing more depressing in an endurance race when you donâ€™t bring the car in to the pit apron, but straight into the garage. All the fellow crews in your pit box know this is not usually a good sign and scurry out of the way to let you in and then hang around the car looking, almost trying to provide some moral support that the issue wont be too bad. For us the smell of burnt gearbox oil provided a pretty good idea. The gearbox still seemed to have plenty of oil, but it was extremely hot. This meant something inside the gearbox had likely failed and was over heating. There was no choice really. Time for a change.
A bit over three hours later the new transmission was in and we were ready to race again. With four hours of race time left it really was a matter of survival. We had lost a good 15 laps while in the garage, which meant we had fallen well down the order. Class and outright position no longer mattered. The plan, now, was to simply finish. Colin went out for next next two hours and I would do the final change and bring it home for the finish.
Our final result was 105th outright and 5th in class. At the end of the day, we are pretty pleased with the result. We had a great finish, coming across the line with the same group as the lead cars, which was pretty special. I am also not too blokey to deny that there was a tear in my eye as I crossed the line. It’s such a massive event to complete and all the build up and emotion throughout the 24hrs came to a head.
Key people I would like to thank are, firstly, Colin for letting me drive with him again this year. It takes a massive commitment, both physical and financial, to prepare and ship a car overseas for this race. I thank him for the opportunity.
Our Team Manager, Keith Byrnâ€”known jokingly as â€˜The father of motorsportâ€™â€”has years of experience as a competitor and team manager in many different facets of motorsport and brings an amazing depth of experience to the team.
Team mechanics David Jupp, Andre Lineker and Ian Sadler do a fantastic job to prep and build the car in the months prior and then come to Germany to watch Colin and I try and destroy it.
Thanks, too, goes to Franz Kaiser who works in the composites division for Toyota F1 team in Cologne. Since the team bumped into Franz in Adenau a few years ago he now takes a week of leave each year for the 24hr race to come and assist. Franz works tirelessly during the pit changes to ensure all is together and safe for the car to run. This can include some of the many bump and grinds we have with other cars and are not aware of! As well as providing a bit of local language assistance with the many officials on track. He also does a cracking BBQ which we had on the Friday night before the race. A very welcome home cooked meal away from restuarants.
A special acknowledgement for Neil Trama who is the Team Engineer and provides a wealth of knowledge in engine building and all things Motec. Trust me, if you do something in the car, Neil will have it logged in minute detail for you to explain on return to the pits.
There were many who said to us in the lead up to the event that we were mad to consider racing as a two driver team and that we would not be able to finish. In the end we showed that it can be done. So, the key question we got from people about doing it with two driversâ€”would we do it again? Maybe, but not right now. We need some sleep. Ask me again in a few months time…
Thatâ€™s a wrap from the 2009 NÃ¼rburgring 24 hour race!
UPDATE 27 May: A couple of extra messages from Stu that hit my inbox overnight…
A big post script to the thankyous from previous email are to Sue (Keith’s wife) and Ros (Ian’s wife) who tended the ‘camp’ during the race, providing all manner of food and beverages to the crew throughout. Remember, these are not salubrious surroundings. The car and all parts are freighted in a 40′ shipping container and we setup home next to that in a 3x6m easy-up ‘tent’, complete with camp beds, a few chairs and some basic cooking equipment. From this they prepared lovely sustenance throughout the day for the crew. They are the unsung heroes of the event.
Finishing the race with the lead pack was pretty funny. On the second last lap as I crossed the line the time showed less than 5 minutes to go, so I knew that during the next lap the race would finish. The rules state the race is not over until you see the chequered flag. So, on that last lap I was belting up through Kesselchen and near the end that section I came up on the Manthey cars crawling along with about a dozen cars behind them. Some stayed in the pack and others forced around to keep racing. Once I realised what was going on I muscled to the second row behind the leaders. This required more aggressive racing than we had done all 24hrs to hold position. The result is what you see!