Phantom Strikes In The Night... With 24 Hour Win!

from Ian McMah

The week before teams raced against the clock for 24 hours at the world famous Le Mans 24-hour, 23 of Australia’s best Endurance Kart Racing teams were contesting their own 24-hour event at the Coates Hire ProKart 24-hour at Oakburn Park, home of the Tamworth Kart Club in New South Wales.

Several teams went into the event expected to perform well, including eventual winners Phantom Racing. Among those expected to perform well were the team from Bell Pipes Racing, Starkey Motorsport, multiple Qld round-winners MF-Tech Racing, RPM 24 and the team from KW Racing, who were racing under the Adrenalin Rush Karting (ARK) name for this event only as a tribute to their mentor and team co-manager Alan Denyer, who passed away only weeks before this event.

Running a tribute livery (pictured below), the 2-kart team from ARK  were expected to do well. Last year’s Australian and New South Wales champions, they prepared for this event under the heavy cloud of Alan’s loss. ProKart had also determined that this race would be extended by 10 minutes, 1 minute for every year Alan had participated in the series and resulting in the event being a 24 hour and 10 minute race.

pic - supplied by Starkey Motorsport; taken by Greg Kapp

Practice began on Friday for many teams and it was clear early on that this race would continue in the vein of the last few years with the event no longer being a test of reliability and endurance rather than speed. Teams were posting very quick times in testing, leaving no doubt that the race would be a 24-hour sprint.

Early pace setters across Friday and Saturday’s practice sessions were the team from AC Delco Racing, Bell Pipes and Phantom Racing. A number of other teams set competitive times on the lead in to qualifying and whilst the fight for pole may not have been as competitive as it has been at other rounds this year, the difference in times reinforced yet again just how competitive this series is.

There were a variety of strategies employed in practice, with some teams searching for ultimate speed, some working on a compromise setup to cater for the wildly varying temperatures that were expected throughout the 24 hour event (from -1 to 21 degrees was forecasted) and others were working to ensure their drivers were all familiar with their kart, teams and the circuit. As the event moved to Sunday morning however everyone was focused on finding pace, with only a short practice session available before the qualifying session commenced at 8:50am.

The 10 minute qualifying session produced a standout performance from Alan Gurr in the AC Delco Cordless Tools MS Kart. Alan was over 2 tenths quicker than the next placed kart of Bell Pipes Racing, that team running with sponsorship from this weekend. The gap between 2nd and 17th positions however was astonishing, with 8 tenths covering the difference between those 15 positions. With 17 karts within a second of each other in qualifying it appeared this was going to be a hotly contested event.

pic - supplied by Starkey Motorsport; taken by Greg Kapp

The Coates Hire ProKart 24-hour is a unique event not only as it’s one of only a handful of sanctioned 24 hour motorsport events in the world (and the only karting 24-hour in Australia) but because it starts with a ‘Le Mans’ style start procedure.

The ‘Le Mans’ starting process requires drivers to be seated in their karts with the engines off,  positioned in qualifying positions in single file at a 45 degree angle to the race-track. To start the engines, a person from each team is nominated as the starter and lined up on the other side of the track from where their kart is positioned. On commencement of the race (when the green flag drops) they need to sprint across the track to their kart and start the engines.

This format generally finds some teams gaining positions and many others falling back from where they qualified. It takes a combination of precision throttle work, athleticism and strategy for the teams to coordinate their starting process and it is one of many highlights of this unique event.

The team from Bell Pipes Racing made a strong start and led early, dicing with the #11 kart with positions changing almost every other lap as they extended a gap on the field. This was a battle that would resume on the very last lap of the race, some 24 hours later!

Bell Pipes’ Matt Mosse-Robinson commented, “...really good job to kart 11 who were really quick for the whole race. We appeared to be drawn together like magnets and raced really clean all through the event. The first hour with the two of us swapping the lead was great to watch”.

pic - supplied by Starkey Motorsport; taken by Greg Kapp

AC Delco Racing had elected to follow a different strategy and made an early pit stop and driver change, placing them at the back of the field. With Alan Gurr at the wheel the AC Delco Cordless tools entry started lapping at an exceptional pace and it was clearly only a matter of when; not if, they would find themselves at the front of the field.

It took a little over an hour before the #87 AC Delco Cordless Tools entry assumed the lead, which they rapidly extended to give themselves a half a lap advantage over the rest of the field; essentially the time it takes to do a pitstop at the Tamworth circuit. At this point of the event the MS Kart of AC Delco was running up to half a second a lap faster than most competitors, leaving many teams in awe and openly questioning whether that pace was sustainable for the duration of the event.

As various team strategies played out there were a number of teams that appeared to be in contention early. Aside from AC Delco, the teams from sponsored Bell Pipes; Phantom Racing, Those Basstards, Starkey Motorsport and Adrenalin Rush Karting were all well placed. 

Just outside of the top 5, a number of other teams were quietly pushing strategies that were geared more towards effective running throughout the night period of the race, including MF-Tech Racing, Barra Motorsport, Nexus Force KnK and Kartatak.

An early casualty in the event was the team from RPM24, who had come into the event on the back of a win on debut in their new KnK Dominator chassis. Showing encouraging form in practice, they qualified well and were running strongly until suffering an engine failure. Despite replacing the engine and resuming the race, they were now many laps adrift of the leaders and down on power with their spare motor not demonstrating an equivalent pace to their regular powerplant.

It wasn’t long after that the MF-Tech Racing entry was brought to pitlane to correct an overfuelling issue, event organisers noting the kart was leaking small quantities of fuel at certain times and requesting that the team, who had been running a strong 6th at the time, bring the kart in to correct the issue. The team lost several laps and positions as they worked frantically to enable a fix.

After 300 laps the team from AC Delco Cordless Power Tools continued to lead comfortably from the #23 entry of Pipes Racing, with Phantom Racing in 3rd. The remainder of the top 10 were (in order), PDR Racing, ARK #98, ARK #86, the #5 KnK of MF-Tech Racing, Kartatak, Those Basstards and the #46 entry of Starkey Motorsports.

The #23 entry of Bell Pipes lost an engine around 4 hours into the event and it is a reflection of just how professional, committed and prepared they are that they managed a complete engine change in under 5 minutes.  This failure demoted them outside of the top 10 and they drove flawlessly over the next 7 hours to be back in 2nd position around the 11 hour mark. It wouldn’t however be the last of their disappointments in the event.

After running strongly and well within the Top 10 for the first quarter of the event, the team from Starkey Motorsports experienced a significant technical issue with their lead #46 entry, demoting them well down the field and looking as though it would ultimately end their race. A lot of determination and effort however would ultimately see the entry finish, albeit over 300 laps down in 18th place.

Not long thereafter the MF-Tech entry brought out the first yellow flag of the event, snapping an axle on the entry to the chicane heading back towards pitlane. Team driver Ian McMah had already radioed the team to advise they had a rear end problem, his diagnosis of a loose wheel unfortunately much less significant than the real problem. Ultimately the damage proved too significant to repair and the team retired; the first (and only) DNF of the event.

pic - supplied by Starkey Motorsport; taken by Greg Kapp

When the team advised their drivers that the entry would have to be retired, a number of them were requested to drive for other teams who were looking to bolster their driving roster as the event started to claw into the night, a time widely regarded as the most arduous period of the entire race.

The retirement of the #5 MF-Tech entry would be of significance to one driver in particular with former National Champion Nicky Laskazeski ultimately becoming the first driver in ProKart history to finish both first and last in a 24-hour race.

Whilst MF-Tech Racing were in the pits assessing their chances of repairing their kart, last year’s Queensland Champions Phantom Racing were entering the pits running on what appeared to be 3 wheels, the RHF wheel actually sitting in the lap of the driver after a king-pin failure. Until that point Phantom Racing had performed flawlessly and were running strongly in the Top 3 for most of the event.  Some quick thinking and action by team stalwarts Simon Ham and Steve Thompson ensured rapid repairs and despite the considerable amount of work required the team only dropped around 10 laps, resuming in 10th position.

As night fell the AC Delco crew of Alan Gurr, Colin Palmer, Matt Dicinoski and 24-hour recruits Ryan McLeod and John Faulkner were some 6 laps up on the field with a pit-stop in hand. They were dominating the event and seemed likely to win comfortably barring any mechanical issues or accident damage.

Unfortunately for the team though they encountered mechanical issues which ultimately led them to retire after 1560 laps, sufficient though to still be classified in 22nd position. The team took many positives from the meeting however and having shown exceptional speed, savvy strategy and strong reliability for well over half the race must now be considered favourites to win in any event they contest.

Another front-running team to experience issues through the night were the team from Bell Pipes Racing in their #23 entry. Matt Mosse-Robinson takes up the story, “I think everyone has a tale of woe from this event (even the winners). Ours is we firstly had to replace a motor around the 4 hour mark but managed to make our way back up to 2nd by the 11 hour mark. We then broke something I hadn't even considered was breakable, the steering column upright that goes behind the fuel tank. This was a painful thing to replace as you had to remove the seat and undo the steering column. Dion, Nathan, Mikey and Alex did a great job fixing it but I think we lost 30 mins and came out of the pits some 45-50 laps down on the leaders. Later in the race we broke a side pod bar. We continued to the end and had some fun in the process”. Their event ended as it had begun and despite experiencing a multitude of issues throughout over half the race, the team ended up dicing with the same team they’d contested the lead with for the entire first hour on the last lap, with surprising results.

A number of strategies unfolded between 9pm and 3am, with some teams electing to change tyres and others looking to push the limits of endurance, seeking to race the entire 24 hours on a single set of slicks.

One of the teams to closely monitor tyre performance were the winning team of Phantom Racing, as team co-owner Simon Ham explains, “During the night time a lot of teams changed to new tyres, we kept a watchful eye on this as we were still running close to the times of the teams on new tyres on our old tyres due to our focus on setting up the chassis for night time.  This enabled us to go a couple of hours further in to the race before our lap times finally started to slow compared to those on new tyres at which point we bolted on new rubber and made the most of 2hr fresher rubber.”

One team who sought to push through without a tyre change were the team from Frog Racing. Their strategy looked to be paying off and they were running consistently inside the Top 10 all through the night. Their decision to run on one set of tyres almost became their undoing however; the team literally wore a tyre down through the canvas. At this point the tyre suffered a rapid deflation, necessitating a stop for a replacement tyre and a scare for James Munro who was driving the kart at the time.  Team Manager Alan Bilsborough remarked, “...tyres do not last 24 hours on the Tamworth track.....and canvas doesn't hold the air in either”.

pic - supplied by Starkey Motorsport; taken by Greg Kapp

This was the 3rd 24-hour for the team from Frog Racing and definitely their best result, coming home 9th overall and 3rd of the Queensland teams entered. The team also worked tirelessly before the event securing event sponsorship, developing a relationship and working to arrange sponsorship for the Westpac Rescue Helicopter service, arranging temporary accommodation for many teams and assisting ProKart with many elements of event setup.

To add to their workload, the team also decided to enter a second kart for the first time! It has seemingly become something of a tradition for Frog Racing to make racing debut’s at ProKart’s annual 24 hour event. The team made their ProKart debut at the 2010 ProKart 24 hour and this year debuted a 2nd kart for new sponsors Tamworth Small Engines and The Generator Warehouse. To run alongside their regular 101 entry sponsored by Liberty Fuels, Bilsborough’s Bus Service and Wombat Tracks Professional Audio Services.
They didn’t win, but the team had its best ever result. Regular team driver Noah Bilsborough did his team and family proud by stepping into the ‘lead’ role in the team’s second entry (kart 102) and despite the team being challenged throughout the event with a number of technical difficulties they never gave up. Ultimately their efforts were rewarded with 20th place outright.

pic - supplied by Starkey Motorsport; taken by Greg Kapp

Frog Racing’s Martin Hansford summed up their pre-event preparations as follows; “We had a ball and Boss Frog (Alan) and I have run ourselves into the ground doing things like delivering the caravans to the track and sorting things with Coates as well as doing a fundraiser for the Westpac Rescue Helicopter. Boss has bruised his ribs rather badly (bouncing off a ripple strip I think) and I have done my neck in (probably something to do with rolling my car a week before the event......) so we think it was our hardest 24 hour yet”.
As dawn broke Phantom Racing had secured a comfortable margin over 2nd despite their king-pin failure earlier in the event and the chances of victory seemed much greater than they had only 12 hours prior.

Keeping a low profile throughout the event despite their strong on-track performance, the 2-kart of Adrenalin Rush Karting were doing their recently lost-mentor Alan Denyer proud.  Racing in his honour, the team had circulated strongly throughout the event and were in 2nd place and positioned strongly to take advantage should any issues confront the leaders. With the second kart well inside the Top 10, they reminded everyone why they’re the current National and New South Wales champions.

As the race drew to a close, race control determined that the race order from the 24 hour mark would be maintained throughout the final 10 minutes, effectively leaving that period as a parade in honour of Alan Denyer.

One team wouldn’t quite make that point however, with the 2nd placed Queensland team of Nexus Force KnK, running 6th overall, snapping an axle just before the pit entry and leaving them unable to take the chequered flag.

Another on-track battle went right down to the last lap with the teams from Bell Pipes Racing (#23) and Those Basstards (#11) resuming their on-track dice that had enthralled the crowd throughout the first hour. As Bell Pipe’s Matt Mosse-Robinson notes, “The last lap was really exciting we were in 8th some 5-6 seconds off 7th (kart 11), when a kart that had been passed by kart 11 earlier in the lap did one of the most bone head moves (sic) I have ever seen and dive bombed kart 11 into the hair pin in front of the pits. The contact was inevitable and we were there to collect 7th by a couples of seconds. I felt sorry for 11 but we will take all the points we can get”. Their 7th place finish leaves them in a very competitive 3rd place as the National Series reaches its half-way point.

As the chequered flag fell at the 24 hour mark, Simon Ham brought the #152 Phantom Racing MS Kart across the line to claim outright victory in the ProKart 24 hour, some 9 laps ahead of the 2nd placed #98 entry of Adrenalin Rush Karting.

The chequered flag also commenced the on-track tribute to Alan Denyer, with all karts slowing and moving into a 2-wide, row by row formation behind the race winner and Al’s #86 kart of Adrenalin Rush Karting (pictured below).

pic - supplied by Starkey Motorsport; taken by Greg Kapp

In 3rd place were the team from PDR Racing, 4th were Barra Racing and in 5th the second entry from Adrenalin Rush Karting.

The remainder of the top 10 were; Nexus Force KnK (despite only having 3 wheels and being stranded on the in-field!); the #23 kart of Bell Pipes’, racing in colours for this event; the #11 of Those Basstards in 8th, Frog Racing 101 in 9th and Kaizen Racing in a well deserved 10th outright.

Phantom Racing’s Simon Ham was understandably  proud of his team, having fought back from a significant king-pin failure in the earlier stages of the event, he recalled that ProKart’s chief steward taunted him in the closing stages of the event, “Garry Taylor worried me about 2hrs from the end of the race by telling all team managers that Phantom were going to win as he described what would happen at the end of the race.... I thought that was it, we would be cursed with a thousand mechanicals!”

“Fortunately we were not and we finished the race with what is undisputedly the biggest sense of achievement possible in what is the hardest kart race in Australia... a win in the 24hr!”

“This was all made possible thanks to a good and consistent team consisting of Steve Thompson, Jesse Puopolo, James Stevenson, Phil Wallis, Carl Brown and last but not least Nicky Laskazeski who stepped in and helped us out part way through the race after we had some dramas.”

pic - supplied by Starkey Motorsport; taken by Greg Kapp

This race has significant championship implications for many teams as it combined Round 2 of the Australian Championship and Round 4 of the Queensland series; marking the half-way point of both.

Phantom Racing’s win now finds them leading the National Championship and also closing in on the Queensland Series lead as the season moves into the last 4 rounds.