Ecurie Ecosse

 

The Ecosse team in the pit lane after a long 24 hours of racing. Team owner Hugh McCaig on the extreme right with the drivers alongside and the Barwell Motorsport team

The Ecosse team in the pit lane after a long 24 hours of racing. Team owner Hugh McCaig on the extreme right with the drivers alongside and the Barwell Motorsport team

After a long wait Ecurie Ecosse came back into International sports and GT racing at the Total Spa 24 hours on the weekend of July 30/31 and were rewarded with a convincing 20th overall and 9th place in the class. Competing against some of the fastest cars in the Pro-Cup class, where the Audi R8 LMS GT3 factory car of Mattias Ekstrom and Timo Scheider won ahead of the BMWZ4 GT3 driven by German girl Claudia Hurtgen and Dirc Werner, the Ecurie Ecosse Aston Martin DBRS 9 was in the biggest and most competitive class, the Pro-Am, with 28 entrants.

In the past six months the Ecurie Ecosse team of young drivers led by Alasdair McCaig, Olly Bryant, Andrew Smith and Joe Twyman have worked hard to raise the sponsorship for the Ecosse team’s return and the Spa race was a test before launching a major drive to secure sponsorship for the 2012 season.

At scrutineering on the Tuesday the dark blue Ecosse car was passed, received its important scrutineering tags and the drivers were signed on.

The Ecosse Aston in full flight during the early part of the race at Spa

The Ecosse Aston in full flight during the early part of the race at Spa

It had been a dash to Belgium for all of the drivers as they were racing at Silverstone the previous weekend where Olly Bryant won the World Sports Car Masters race in his Lola T70 and Andrew Smith took third place in the Jaguar E Type Challenge. After taking pole position and leading the pre-66 racing car event in his Cooper Lowline, Alasdair McCaig had to retire.

It was a proud moment for Hugh McCaig, Patron of Ecurie Ecosse, who, twenty nine years ago took the decision to reform Scotland’s best known motor racing team. He was even prouder of the fact that his son Alasdair would be one of the four drivers in the team. Indeed it was very much a family team affair as Neil Twyman and Grahame Bryant were there to support their sons Joe and Oliver. Andrew Smith’s father, Esmond, sadly could not attend.

Work on hand on one of the night pit stops before the ECU problem.

Work on hand on one of the night pit stops before the ECU problem.

Also the four drivers put together the package to run the Aston Martin in association with Barwell Motorsport and it proved to be a great success. A number of the sponsors were present and the atmosphere in the paddock was electric in preparation for the race.

As Joe Twyman remarked “ For me this was the most important race of my life so far. OK, so I had raced an Aston Martin in last year’s 24 Hour race and won the GT4 class but this was different. I was very much aware of the history and the heritage of Ecurie Ecosse. There was also the pressure as none of us wanted to undermine the name”.

When it came to start time, Oliver Bryant was nominated as the first driver so Alasdair McCaig brought out his bagpipes and piped the car on to the grid in traditional Scottish style as if to underline Ecurie Ecosse were back.

It was an emotional moment for all the team but particularly for Hugh McCaig.

As is often the case in Spa it rained for much of the race. The Aston viewed from the rear.

As is often the case in Spa it rained for much of the race. The Aston viewed from the rear.

With a position in the middle of the grid, the team were ready to make progress during the race and right from the start they started lapping consistently. However on the second lap Olly Bryant suddenly had a problem when the power steering failed.” During the warm up lap the fluid got hot and on the second lap of the race there was a vacuum in the system which flattened the pipe.All of a sudden the steering became so heavy I had to use two hands to get the car through the corners and back to the pits”.

The next problem came with punctures of the left front tyre which, at Spa, takes a lot of the strain on the high speed corners. Andrew Smith was at the wheel when the first tyre blew on the uphill Eau Rouge corner but he managed to avoid hitting anything. “I felt the tyre go pop just as I was passing the pits and into the dip for Eau Rouge but when I reached the top of the hill I realised the tyre was still on the rim and so I slowed right down and managed to get the car back to the pits”,

The team were running on Avon tyres, rather than the popular Michelins, because Michelin were committed to supply tyres to all the leading teams doing the entire Blancpain Championship which left some of the teams to find their own tyres. Dunlop, who supported Ecurie Ecosse in the 1950s, were not able to help but Avon tyres came forward with tyres.

When night fell it started to rain and Joe Twyman was at the wheel. “ I think I was the only one to hit the really wet weather during the night and it was a tough job as the tyres were slipping and sliding so I was happy to drop only around 30 seconds during the stint”.

Andrew Smith then had trouble at Stavelot during the night when he hit a patch of oil dropped by another car. A Ferrari had hit the same patch of oil and was lying on the gravel beside the track. Andrew’s Aston Martin spun and went backwards to line itself alongside the Ferrari, thankfully, without hitting it.

Then came the second puncture and this time Olly Bryant was at the wheel.” As I came into Blanchemont 1 there was a bang and the front tyre blew. Up to that time Alasdair and I had done double stints. (Each driver was allowed just over an hour at the wheel before a pit stop but were allowed to stay in the car and do another stint). “However after the second puncture we decided to change the left front tyre after every hourly stop just to be on the safe side.

“We had all managed to get the car up to 17th place overall which was pretty good bearing in mind we were up against the factory Audis”.

The next problem was with the ECU unit that caused the electrics to overheat and the team lost over an hour trying to resolve the problem; which they believed was caused by a fault in the wiring loom.

The trouble started with a low rev misfire when Olly Bryant was driving.He pulled off the track and radioed the pits. Barwell Engineering had thankfully strapped a torch, some tools and a spare ECU unit to the roll bar. So, with instructions over the radio, Olly was able to replace the ECU and get back to the pits.

At last, the finishing line. The team cheer on the car as it ends the 24 Hour race.

At last, the finishing line. The team cheer on the car as it ends the 24 Hour race.

It happened a second time, this time with Andrew Smith at the wheel, and he managed to get it back to the top end of the pits where the mechanics rushed with a computer and new ECU unit to reprogramme everything. Thankfully Andrew stayed in the car as the marshals wanted to push the car away into the dead car park.

It was this that eventually put the team down to 17th place overall and 9th in the class but as Alasdair McCaig said “ Bearing in mind the microscopic budget we had, to finish in that position was better than we expected”.

A lot of the success was not only down to the calm and professional attitude of the team and drivers but to Barwell Motorsport who took an ageing car – the Aston Martin DBRS 9 will be phased out at the end of the year – and made it supremely reliable save for that faulty ECU.

What was also interesting was that all four drivers were within a few seconds of each other and clearly made a formidable and close knit team especially as Andrew Smith and Alasdair McCaig were having their first taste of 24 hour racing.

Team head Hugh McCaig was philosophical about the result.” We achieved what we set out to achieve with a strong finish. In a 24 hour race you need a lot of luck and going over our progress in the race there is no doubt that had we not hit trouble with the ECU we would have been much higher at the finish, perhaps even as high as 15th but that’s motor racing: I am extremely happy with the result”.

Footnotes:
Also competing in the race was one of the Ecurie Ecosse drivers from the 1980s, Belgian Marc Duez who was racing a Mustang in the same class: he finished eight places behind the Ecosse car.

Did you know that Olly Bryant’s mother is the niece of the late Sir Malcolm Campbell, the former land speed record holder?

All photographs of Spa copyright Lewis James Houghton http://lewis@lewspics.com/

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