Most people know of the Le Mans 24 hour race, and what Oxford University Motor Drivers’ Club did last weekend was in much the same vein, even if the speeds were a little tamer. The venue for the event was Buckmore Park, in Kent, which was running it as part of its 50th anniversary celebrations. The race was something of an unknown entity to OUMDC, who had never competed in anything like it before, but having lost last year’s Varsity match, they set themselves the simple target of beating the Tabs.
Somewhat surprisingly for such a long race, the team of six drivers got just half an hour of practice time, followed by 10 minutes of qualifying, which equated to only a handful of laps each to learn the ins and outs of the kart they were driving. The team judged it best to leave club president Sam Rebbettes out for as long as possible to put in a quick time, and he did exactly that, being the first driver to break the 51- second barrier, and ultimately placing us 5th on the starting grid out of 34 teams. Cambridge qualified in 17th.
At 2pm on Saturday 12th October, the lights turned green and the longest race OUMDC had ever participated in began. After the first few stints, they dropped to 10th place and resolved to hold it no matter what. Up front there was a fierce battle going on for the lead, and behind a number of quick drivers who had simply failed to put in a good lap in qualifying. The hours slowly ticked down, and the tiredness began to take its toll on drivers of all teams, with accidents and spins becoming frequent for some. At 3am the rain that was forecast arrived in force and if it weren’t for the floodlights on the circuit, it would have been pitch black.
In Formula 1, and indeed most other forms of racing, rain would call for a change of tyres to deal with the slippery surface. No such luxuries at university level motorsport. Buckmore is renowned for being difficult in the wet, with many of its corners providing no grip whatsoever regardless of the line you take. This meant that the track was heavily facouring the more technically astute teams, and punishing aggressive drivers harshly.
The rain only got heavier, meaning that the main straight was soon covered with almost an inch of water. These treacherous conditions seemed to suit the dynamic driving style of OUMDC who rose to a 9th position before the puddles of standing water forced the officials to bring out the red flags and call the race to a temporary halt. The racing was suspended until the track dried which would take a good few hours, a respite which was a godsend for several teams whose karts had broken down due to being flooded with water.
With just two hours left on the clock, the race resumed. Shortly back to 10th place, OUMDC had a large gap between them and the kart behind, but were three laps behind 9th place with little chance of closing the gap.
The chequered flag fell and not only were the Oxford team placed inside the top ten, they had also come home well ahead of Cambridge, who were 16th. At the top of the leader board were Chaos, O J Racing and Dogz who completed 1323, 1321, and 1318 laps respectively.
In total the OUMDC team drove 1289 laps, 34 laps behind the leaders, but 13 laps ahead of the Tabs. In the 24 hour period the team covered over 960 miles.
OUMDC are hoping that their dominance over Cambridge in the 24 hour race translates into dominating the varsity match as well. Varsity is due to take place in Hilary, and Oxford will be seeking to take back the crown which was stolen of them for the first time last year.