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Racing Lines – Esquire

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Embassy Racing produced thrills, spills and new Sony secret weapons at the legendary Spa circuit. This is driver Ben Collins’ diary of 24 extraordinary hours

THE EMBASSY RACING TEAM ARE DETERMINED TO COMPETE WITH THE VERY BEST AT THE HIGHEST LEVEL, so for me, as an Embassy driver, it was great news that the team were heading to the FIA 24-Hour race at Spa in Belgium. Preparations before the race are intense but the bulk of the effort falls to the crew, who need to rig the car to last what is effectively an outright mechanical assault. The news got even better for me when Sony decided to sponsor me for the event, their equipment being just want you need in your camp when you’re about to undertake a gruelling endurance race like Spa.
All our gear is prepared so that it will run the distance, but fate (or luck) also plays a major role. Even our in-car Sony Handycam was mounted on special dampers so that it recorded every lap we did in the 24 hours, giving us some great onboard shots for the Embassy documentary on Motors TV.

Although the race is a long-distance event, things have changed since the good old days and no one takes things “easy” to help the car along. The race is a sprint – just a 24-hour sprint. The driving is shared three ways as Embassy regulars myself and Neil Cunningham are joined by Porsche factory driver Sascha Maasen especially for Spa. We plan for three-hour stints, at the end of which you’re a spent force until your next outing. I find relaxing to some music is the best way to get a break from the intensity of the racing.

A vital element of racing at this level is communicating with the world’s media. The digital era, allied with the quality of equipment we’re using, makes it far easier to stay in touch with sponsors and press. Even in the darkness of the middle of the night, tearing through the Belgian countryside, I’m still in touch with the world. Thanks to a Sony Vaio wireless network, the team not only keep me fully informed but can also offer live footage of the pit area through the web cameras and track the huge support we receive from friends, family and fans in the form of emails during the race. The technology keeps us on the pace but it also helps lifts the team’s spirits through that connection with people we know.

We had a misfire in practice but everything is sorted for the race and we line up fourth in our GT2 class on the grid. I watch as Sacha is strapped in to start the race and the Handycams are set rolling to record the full 24 hours of race footage. The race gets under way at 4pm, and the field of Ferraris, Porsches, Aston Martins, Maseratis and GT race cars scream into the ultra-fast first corner: Spa’s famous Eau Rouge. The track is sopping wet, but incredibly no one gets tangled up and all the cars make it through.

I’m set for my first stint at 7pm. Neil flies into the pits and leaps from the car – I slide in to the cockpit and the crew go to work. The car abruptly rises on the pneumatic jacks as I finish tightening the belts, before it falls to the floor, refuelled and on four new slick tyres, and I’m gone.

Through the night we continue to swap drivers and charge as hard as possible. Two slower cars spin into our number 55 Embassy car, causing us suspension and chassis damage, and costing us half an hour in the pits. Later a wheel sticks during a routine pit-stop. The mechanics react quickly and resolve every problem to see the car through the night. As the night wears on, the right hand side of the car is held together by a combination of gaffer tape and squashed insects!
Team principal Jonathan France remains glued to the pit wall until the chequered flag finally drops and our car completes its epic journey. Incidents aside, we’ve been flat-out for 24 hours and place fifth in the GT2 class. Despite our ambitions of maintaining our podium form this is a real result. We overcame our misfortunes in the night and both the people and the equipment of Embassy racing proved their mettle again.

Impressively, my Walkman battery is still running at the end of the race, which is more than can be said for me. It’s time for a ride back to the airport, some sleep and the beginning of preparation for the race at Silverstone.

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