Six hours is a very long time, was my first thought as I came through the gates of Silverstone. Twenty minute sprint races, half an hour for touring cars, even up to two hours F1 races, that I was used to. But six hours of solid racing? That was something entirely different.
I have to admit I was hardly prepared. The most I had watched of an WEC race prior to rolling up on Sunday morning was the odd ten minute snippet of Le Mans. I had intended to do some research beforehand but with one thing and another I hadn’t. I complacently thought that I would be fine, I kept up to date with what was going on in the world of endurance: Mark Webber had retired, Audi dropped out, Porsche were set up for Le Mans and so Toyota should be ahead this weekend. I was on top of it.
And with that air of self satisfied confidence I settled down to enjoy the final European F3 race of the weekend, a decisive win for Callum Ilott , in the sunshine. Sadly that was the last of the sun, and the last of my real grasp of what was going on.
Watching as the grid filled up with what seemed like about eighty million drivers, cars at a wonky angle at the side, I couldn’t help but focus on the differences between the WEC and the single seater racing I was so familiar with. Even though I was expecting it, I was still surprised when the cars, rather than slowing down to stop in their grid slots at the end of the parade lap, sped up and just started racing.
The two Toyota cars began to pull away from the following Porsches, I began to wonder how I was supposed to know which of the three drivers were in each car at any one time. Even with my trusty binoculars the timings screen was too far away to make out and my phone had taken a violent dislike to the WEC live timings app. At first it was possible to make out the commentary, but as the cars spread out and the blare of the engines became relentless it was out of the question.
After about 15 minutes I eagerly jotted down that the ByKolles car had retired, seeing it being pushed back into the garage, only to spot it whizzing around as ever five minutes later. As the rain began to fall, it was fair to say that I was fairly bemused. The #7 Toyota stopped on track just by the pit entry and although it got going again it seemed like Toyota’s hopes for a one-two were rapidly diminishing.
By this time the temperature had fallen and the spectators were huddled under layers of coats and blankets. The remaining four hours seemed to stretch out in front of us in an eternity of cold and drizzle. To distract me from my burgeoning hypothermia I started identifying each car as it went round with my programme, and finally, embarrassingly late, I discovered that the cars class and position could be identified by the colour and number of lights on their side. This revelation changed my day.
At twenty past two there was a full course yellow, due to a car being on fire as far as I could discern. Ten minutes later and the safety car was out as the #7 Toyota hit the wall at Copse and I later learnt that Jose Maria Lopez had been taken to hospital for a check up following the incident. With all this excitement I decided to brave Twitter, despite being desperate to avoid any news of what was going on in Bahrain, to find out exactly what was going on. With the aid of the internet, my understanding of the race was significantly improved.
As the afternoon wore on the crowds had dispersed all around the circuit but as the skies began to threaten rain and the race went into its final hour people were drawn back to the stands at Club and the International Pit Straight, ready for the denouement. The race had saved its best for last with half an hour to go, Sebastien Buemi in his #8 Toyota was chasing down the #2 Porsche driven by Brendan Hartley for the lead. With twelve minutes to go he made the move and went on to take the win for Toyota.
As the fireworks exploded as the cars crossed the line, I appreciated that endurance racing is a very apt name for it, for both the drivers and the audience. It had been a freezing, perplexing, long six hours watching a very different kind of racing to what I was used to. But it had provided world class racing, genuine competition and far more action for your money than any F1 race. With actual preparation and more than four hours sleep the night before it could become one of the highlights of my racing year.
Anyway, where can I watch 6 hours of Spa next month?