24hrs of Zolder – with Carlier Racing

Just a little while ago I went to the 24hrs endurance race at Zolder. For weeks I had been waiting for that moment and it was worth every second.

This post is not meant to talk over the results. I will write about the race itself, but also about my personal experience. I was able to observe everything from the front row, so I really got a good impression of what it’s all about. I really enjoyed myself this weekend. It’s long, hard work and very busy but also a little enchanting…

I’m about to follow CARLIER racing team. I must say, I’m a total rookie when it comes to racing but I can tell these fellas have the most admirable spirit. I’ve heard they are a very well known team and that it wouldn’t be the same when they would not start in this race. Their recipe for success is based upon passion and determination. They might not be your biggest fear as it comes to speed, but weirdly enough that’s not all that matters in racing!

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While I arrive Peter briefs the drivers, mechanics and the rest of the crew. He will guide the drivers trough the night. Three out of six participants never drove in a competition like this before. As a matter of fact two of them never drove a race car on track until three months ago. It’s the first time I’m attending this sort of event so I’m feeling nervous but excited. My partner Arno gets pointed out as fuel master. We’re almost set. Time ticks away and the tension rises.

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Right before take-off we’re all invited to the grid walk. All participants line up, the VIP’s hang around their favorite cars. Brazilian dance queens dance their ways trough the bundles of nerves. While standing on the tarmac I dream of walking here as a racer. I’ve always adored driving but I never realized I wanted more until a while ago. For now it’s a dream, but today, I promise myself I will be on track soon.

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4.30 pm. We’re off. The first hours go smooth. Erik and Petra manage to secure a pretty spot on the grid. We’re four hours later and Carlier’s bimmer has only been in the pit for 12 minutes. The only highlights these moments are Junior and Arno heading out to the fuel stop. Fortunately for them, once the tank was full, the E36 should be able to stay on track for a little more then two hours. This gives them the opportunity to get a little rest in between each fuel stop.

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As I look around all I see is happy faces. Many people gather for this event. The box is full of enthusiasts, friends and family of the drivers. I almost forget there’s a battle going on, since everything is going great so far. We’re in fortieth position, that means a dozen of cars is still behind us. Knowing that our BMW is not as sharp as the Porsches, stronger BMW’s or impressive prototypes I think we can be proud already.

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The sun sets and most people go home or to bed. Even though the cars rush along it becomes quiet around the track. The atmosphere hard to describe. For me it’s almost magical. The track becomes a world on its own. I enjoy a little walk with Arno and make some pictures.

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Then it happens. Out of the blue Didier enters with a damaged car. He got hit from behind but he’s got no clue who hit him. Luckily the damage looks not too bad. Jan takes over, but it doesn’t take long for him to box as well. Something’s wrong. The mood changes. I wonder how I would react as a driver and then I realize I’d have to work on my cool. It must have been a hard decision for him to come back in. One thing you’re not supposed to do on track is starting to doubt whether to push it or not and I’m already certain I would struggle with that.

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The car needs a proper revision and we lose a lot of time. There’s a strained atmosphere. However all we can do is keep calm and keep going. That’s exactly what Didier is about to do. He jumps in the car for another try and we all wish him well. Short after he suffers misfortune again. A second crash. Things like these happen. But I find it hard to cope with knowing that we’ll not be able to go back in higher position, unless something spectacular happens. I decide to get some rest in the trailer, where I found myself a camp bed. I doze of guided by the sound of screaming engines and after a while it comes along with pouring rain that rattles on the roof. 

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After a while things settle down again as the sun rises. At this point all the team members have driven some hours except André. I already knew he’s a good driver but this time he leaves me speechless. In his first lap he already drops one of the better lap times driven in the last hours. That man is a legend. He puts a smile on my face.

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I must confess that now the night is over I’m already counting down the moment we cross the finish line. The box is getting crowded again as friends and family gather for the last hours. The weather is a little moody, but not too cruel. A little rainy weather can even work in our advantage, since we’re not driving slicks but ordinary road tires, which gives us better grip. We lose less time changing tires and this rewards us with one step up in the ranking, minutes before the finish. We come in as forty-first. Fifty-four teams started, 10 do not get classified.

Wauw. They did it. I am touched, and tears come to my eyes. What an overwhelming moment. It’s a little weird as I think about it. Six months ago I didn’t even met with any of these people. Today it feels like I’ve known them for ages. I’m happy I got introduced. I realize Carlier racing is part of the reason why I’m falling in love with motorsports, and I can’t wait to join them for another adventure… 

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