Clarkson on: motor racing
You may not understand the appeal of motor racing. You may not like it. But me? I have never understood how it is technically possible. Think about it. If you are in the lead, you take the fastest line through the corner which means the chap behind has to be on a slower line. This means he cannot get past. It is impossible.
And how do you outbrake someone into a bend? The chap in front will brake at the last possible moment, which means you have to brake beyond the last possible moment. And to make matters worse, you have to brake more because you'll be going faster, and you'll be off line.
Any attempt, therefore, to make an overtaking manoeuvre in motor racing can only result in one thing: your untimely and extremely painful death.
This is one of the reasons why I have always found it easy to say no when someone has offered me "a drive". There are other reasons though. I look stupid in racing overalls. My head is too large and misshapen to fit in a helmet. And for some extraordinary reason, I'm always busy doing something else when the invites arrive. "Oh I'm sorry. I'd love to. But I've just looked in my diary and I'm planning on laying an egg that day."
Once, however, I gave in. It was for a charity of some sort, and though it would be held in front of a Silverstone Grand Prix crowd, we'd all be driving measly Honda Civics. Better still, I wouldn't be up against lantern-jawed superheroes called Clint Thrust. It was a field full of people like John Alderton and Jeremy Irons.
At Stowe, on lap one, I put my theory about the impossibility of overtaking to the test and found it flawed. I did get past. But I don't know how, because I had my eyes shut from the moment I stamped on the brake pedal.
It was so frightening I began to hyperventilate, which caused my visor to steam up. And as a result, the chap I'd got past retook the place immediately.
The next lap, I realised I was catching him again and that if I wasn't careful, I'd be in a position to overtake once more at Stowe. Since I'd tried it once, and had found the experience to be less enjoyable than catching genital warts, I lifted my foot ever so slightly from the floor.
No one was any the wiser and it meant I didn't have to do any silly hero plunges into the corners. Everyone was happy, and I came third. Feeling a bit sick and vowing that I'd never do it again.
So I don't quite know how I ended up back at Silverstone for last year's Britcar 24. But I do know this. I loved it. And that makes me very angry.
Over the years, I've tried my hand at all sorts of things that you might call hobbies. I collected stamps as a boy. I had a train set. I've attempted to put up shelves, gardening, reading, chess, jigsaws, golf, tennis, painting, bird spotting, and looking at pornography on the internet. And I've been extremely bad at all of them.
And then, at the age of 47, when it's far too late, I discover something that I can not only do, but which, more importantly, I absolutely adore. Endurance motor racing. At face value, it looks like normal motor racing.
"An overtaking manoeuvre in motor racing can only result in one thing: your untimely and extremely painful death"
There are motorhomes, and laptops and people in branded shirts rushing about, pretending to be Bernie Ecclestone. But there is one difference...
For the first half of the race, everyone is keen to do as many hours as possible. And for the second half, everyone wants to finish. This means that when you want to overtake someone, they get out of your way. There's none of that scrabbling around that you get in a sprint race.
And what made this doubly enjoyable was that our little BMW diesel, which we'd bought from the classifieds, for £11,000, was such a joyful car to drive. Even with a revised engine management system, it wasn't what you'd call fast. In fact, it was what you'd call slow. But with lower, stiffer suspension, slick tyres and bigger brakes it cornered and gripped like no car I'd ever driven before.
All the way from Stowe to the pit straight, it was an easy match for everything up to, and including, the 911s. On one occasion, I made a lunge for the supercharged works Jag and, even though I'd started from a long way back, I damn nearly made it.
Lesser stuff: Golfs and so on? They were a breeze. Our car could outbrake them easily and outgrip them as well. Often, the stuff that comes out of the Top Gear technology centre is a bit of a disaster. But that BMW? Jesus. It was astonishing.
Truth be told though, you never really compete out there against other cars. When you come across a pair of tail lights in the night, you don't know what it is, what class it's in, whether it's 200 laps ahead or 300 behind. So, it's not really racing.
Honestly then, what you do is spend most of your time competing against your team mates. Trying to go faster than they did. Sadly, in my case, this was a waste of time. There was no way I could be as fast as the Stig, even if I'd fitted warp drive. And, without wishing to be too disloyal, May and Hammond were a bit pedestrian.
I therefore spent most of the time competing against myself. Trying to make each lap a little bit faster, and a little bit smoother and a little bit kinder to the tyres than the one that went before. I found this more satisfying than almost anything I've ever done. Certainly, it was more successful than my shelves. Or my golf.
And, for the first time, I began to understand all that motor racing chit chat I'd heard over the years. When the tyres go off, you really can feel the grip going. And when we lost the front splitter, which I'd only attached because it looked good, we also lost four seconds a lap. Yes. One bit of plywood makes you four seconds a lap faster. But it was the night time I enjoyed most. Aiming for a corner you can't see and then feeling the inside tyres kissing the rumble strips was so wondrous that sometimes I think I may have even been nursing a semi. Conversely, aiming for a corner you can't see and then finding it's not there because you're on the other side of the track is so alarming that your blood boils and your teeth move about.
As a result of this massive range of emotions, you never feel tired. Not even when the tyres are shot or the tank is empty and you have to pull in for a break. You sit there, in the garage, with everyone telling you to get some rest, but you can't because your blood is fizzing like champagne and you are just so excited.
Strangely, however, I never felt like I was in any danger. Everyone assumes motor racing is only one stepping stone from the Pearly Gates, but at Silverstone, in a diesel BMW, it felt no more perilous than sunbathing. Mainly because the barriers are all so far away I would have died of old age before I hit them.
It's not a cheap thrill this. Quite apart from the cost of the car, and the modifications, our tyre bill at the end was £6,000. Money, though, should concern no one engaged in a pursuit of happiness. It was invented for spending. And I can think of nothing I'd rather spend it on.
Oh and just in case you think these are the ramblings of a senile old man who thinks he could have been Michael Schumacher if he'd been given the chance, consider this: James May aka, Captain Slow, agrees with every word. Next year, I suspect we may be back.
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I realize that this particular entry is rather old, so this comment is several years out of date, but I just watched the endurance race episode today. Mr. Clarkson, I got the sense from that episode that despite all the catastrophes that befell you and the team in that race, you really did enjoy it. I hope, if you haven't already, that you do get to do it again, and I wish you all the best.
and I completely agree