The second I was told that 24 Hour Pedal Car racing was An Actual Thing, I knew I had to give it a go. I rounded up a posse of like-minded 24 hour racers – Phil, Budge, Dave and Guy – hoodwinked Michael into doing it (“it’ll be fine, just go for a couple of runs around the reservoir before the race or something”), arranged a car for us to hire (It’s a rental let’s go mental!) and we were all set.
I’d met a few pedal car racers during the tandem ride me and Guy did at Goodwood last year. Lovely people – dead enthusiastic about what we were doing, the world of Human Powered Vehicles and as it turned out, the pedal car racing ‘scene’. Did you know there’s a pedal car racing scene? There is….
Plans were made between Pedal Car stalwarts Alan Goodman (who helped adjudicate our world record attempt) and Pedal Car league organiser, Jes Featherstone. We were going to make our debut at the Shenington 24 Hour race, where teams would drive on a challenging karting circuit in a Le Mans-format that anyone (like us) who’s taken part in an endurance mountain bike race would be familiar with.
That’s pretty much where the familiarity ends. Apart from mine and Guy’s recumbent cycling experience from last year, none of us really knew what to expect. We wouldn’t get to see the car until the day of the race and we had no idea how a pedal car race normally unfolds.
We all decided on a running order (Guy was late, so we had to improvise a running order for the first couple of hours). Our strategy wasn’t really discussed, apart from “try not to crash” and “let’s see what happens”.
What happens is that some cars go around the track very slowly. Some go around the track very quickly. We opted for the latter of the two strategies and basically went mental, trying to go as fast as possible, no drafting and overtaking everything that we found ourselves behind. We went for 30 minutes in the car each – you can throw caution to the wind and not bother pacing your efforts if you’re going flat-out for half an hour with two-and-a-half hours to have a sit down and some food and it seemed to serve us well.
The weather at first was pretty boring. Nice and sunny, but predictable and grippy. But then for the last few hours it got interesting – the wind picked up and the rain arrived. Lots of rain. Visibility was getting quite poor and the spray (filled with small fragments of rubber from hundreds of tortured pedal car tyres) from everyone’s wheels was reaching 8 or 9 feet into the air. It was a hell of an environment to be tearing around a track in a very fast, built-for-grown-ups pedal car.
Guy drove for three 30 minute stints before having to head back to work but in that time managed to have the car airborne then drove away from a 4-car pile-up. Dave took the Crash With Style Award of the weekend though by clipping the kerb on the inside of a hairpin, sending the car tumbling over and coming to rest on Dave’s head. Awesome!!
We finished in 4th place. Not bad for our first effort. Things might have been different if we’d thought about drafting other cars a bit more often but the mountain biker-mentality took over and we just drove full gas as much as possible. Maybe we’ll be a bit more tactically aware next time….hmmm. One thing’s for certain, the competition at a pedal car race is as fierce as I’ve experienced in any bike race – many of the teams were fit enough and fast enough to drive for hundreds and hundreds of miles over the duration of the race, the second and third places on the podium were decided by a finish line sprint. Fast, committed, highly-skilled and tactical racing. Brilliant.
Thanks to Alan, Jes, the Apollo Team for the loan of the car (and for mending the car when we wore our tyres out) and everyone involved in the Shenington 24 Hour race – racers, caterers, helpers and hangers-on. See you next year and cheers!