During the weekend’s Britcar 24 hour race I learned from chatting to the Aston team that when company CEO Ulrich Bez races at the Nurburgring 24 Hours he won’t drive in the dark.
When night falls, he calls it a day until sunrise and let’s the paid help take over. Slightly odd, I thought to myself, as dusk enveloped the Silverstone pit lane. I’d never raced at night before, but I enjoy driving in the dark – and watching Le Mans in the hours before dawn is one of the major reasons I make the trip.
So I was rather looking forward to getting behind the wheel of ‘our’ Aston N24 for my first stint of nocturnal racing.
How wrong I was. What I expected to be a slightly magical tour of Silverstone in the gloom turned out to be the most mentally draining two hours of my life. Driving down the pitlane, everything was tickety-boo, with light spilling from the garages and the car’s interior having an atmospheric, shadowy look.
But out onto the circuit proper, everything went dark. The first corner after the pits at Silverstone is Maggots, a near-flat sixth gear left kink which you just nick as you dash across to a fifth gear right where you can take loads of kerb.
At least, that’s how it went in the daytime. But if you miss the apex of the left-hander because, well, it’s pitch black and you just can’t see it, then you’re travelling far too fast for the right-hander and about ten yards offline. Something pretty similar happened on the next corner, as I missed the braking point, and the one after that, as I chopped another apex. By the end of the first lap it was clear my whole stint was going to be an exercise in not crashing.
Then there was the traffic. Our Aston had decent mirrors by race car standards. But the Moslers, the fastest cars on the Britcar grid, were sometimes just too low for them. I’d be about to turn into corner when, with after a maelstrom of lights in the mirrors, something spectacularly fast would appear exactly where I was about to put the Aston.
Overtaking slower traffic was only slightly less fraught, having to trust in both yourself and the other bloke to leave enough room. To say I despised the whole experience would be no little understatement – and trying to imagine what the same thing is like at the Nurburgring, with crests, no trackside lights and smoke from campfires, is terrifying.
After two hours I had to be pretty much prised out of my seat. My next stint was in the early morning light and I had the best two hours of my driving life: I could have stayed out all day.
So when you watch F1’s inaugural night race this weekend, remember it’s nothing like as easy as it looks.