From the (Porsche GT2) Driver’s Seat: the SKOPE Classic
SKOPE Managing Director, Guy Stewart introduces us to his Porsche 911 and Porsche GT2, and gives us a driver perspective on this weekend’s SKOPE Classic in Christchurch.
Classic Car Racing – It’s in The Blood
I grew up around classic cars. My grandfather was an enthusiast and my father, Robert Stewart, still races. Two of my uncles and cousin will be racing this weekend but unfortunately, this year will be the first year my father Robert will not be competing.
Clearly then, racing is a family passion, which made the decision to become major sponsor of the Classic 12 years ago all the easier. It helps that the event is also a crowd pleaser that contributes significantly to our local economy.
Plenty of Racing
I enjoy the SKOPE Classic because there’s plenty of racing of classic cars of all types. Spectators can get right alongside both cars and owners too – from the historic right up to 700-plus horsepower (HP) muscle cars.
The Lead up to Ruapuna
As a driver, the lead up to the weekend is fairly consistent. We set up base at Christchurch’s Ruapuna Raceway two days out, erecting tents to secure some pit space. Our camp is normally the base for six cars, with more cars than ever this year it’s important to get in early to secure a spot close to the pits.
For the cars, preparation is really about making sure that they’re ready and safe, a job overseen by the mechanics at Autothority. I drive the cars relatively regularly so don’t make too many changes to my usual routine.
This year I’m racing both of my cars; a 300HP, 1974 Porsche 911 IROC and a 750HP, 1990s Porsche GT2; both replicas. The cars have very different characters so the fact I drive them often means I’m not too worried about changing vehicles between races.
A Porsche Grande Dame and a Heavyweight
I’ve raced my 1974 IROC for over a decade so I know how she will behave. She is right hand drive and has all of the characteristics of an old Porsche – massive oversteer included!
Backing off the track is an ever present danger if you aren’t concentrating although, given my experience driving her, concentration levels don’t need to be too high. Unless, of course, it rains over the SKOPE Classic Weekend, which the forecast is suggesting it might!
My GT2 is completely different. The car is more claustrophobic due to the black interior and greater crash protection. It’s more violent to drive but, weirdly, much quieter as the twin turbos muffle the noise. The GT2 is 20 years old and very fast. It commands respect because getting it wrong is guaranteed to get ugly very quickly.
The first two laps in this car are crucial. I’ve got to be confident that there is enough heat in the huge tyres to give me the grip I need to push hard into the corners. Not enough heat means leaving the track very unceremoniously!
People ask me how fast I am going in the GT2 at the end of the front straight at Ruapuna. The reality is, at that point, braking, turning and traffic are much higher on the priority list than looking at the speedometer.
I pass the start/finish line (about halfway on the straight) at around 210kph so when I enter the braking zone it’s all happening pretty quickly. You won’t find the scalpel-like precision of a modern Porsche GT3 Cup car here! I drive an old car, with old brakes and old steering mechanicals so every corner is a negotiation. All the more fun, I say.
One Day Out
The day before race day is the “hurry up and wait” of motorsport. We’ll arrive at the track early to remove cars from trailers and set up camp some more.
Next, I’ll get dressed (in my case this means donning flameproof underwear, balaclava, racing suit, gloves and boots, a helmet and a HANS (Head And Neck Safety) device) to do some practise laps.
During the laps I’ll check whatever needs checking, and then sit around waiting for the next practise. Later in the day there will be a bit of paperwork before it’s time for qualifying.
Race Day: The Storm Before the Calm
I always start race day early, making sure I’m at the track before 08:00 to check the wheel nut torques, the fuel, to warm the engines and to organise gear. After that, I relax and wonder why I got to the track so early!
Race starts are all fairly similar. They involve heading out to the form-up grid then having an overwhelming and, ultimately, very disappointing need to pee as nerves take hold. Once I’m given my grid position and can head out onto the track, I finally feel calm.
I watch the starting officials for the ‘30 second’ board and then watch the starting lights turn on as they count up. When they turn off, the start of the race is an explosion of noise and activity.
If it is a reverse grid handicap race I wait for my flag drop because the slower cars will leave before me. In the GT2 this could be a wait of 60 seconds or more, meaning I’ll be slowing from 250+kph at the first corner with cold tyres and brakes.
Making it One For The Team
A good race for me is one where I finish with my car intact and a smile on my face. I have crashed before; it isn’t fun. I’ve also been fortunate to have competed in endurance races in Dubai and the Nürburgring ‘alongside’ some of the best on the planet.
I’ve learned that the greatest thing that I have to offer my team is to finish my stint intact with a car ready for the next driver. Winning a race certainly feels great. For me though, having a good race is simply better. Obviously, having a good race and winning it is the best combination!
One of my favourite aspects of the SKOPE Classic Weekend is the Saturday night drivers’ event where I get to catch up with other drivers. While the pits are full of people you know, it’s not always easy to talk.
As host, I get to thank the other drivers for joining us. And I do so genuinely. Many come from Europe, North America or Asia while still more come from outside of Canterbury. Without their effort – and without spectators to watch them, this event would fail.
And on to Bathurst
And then it’s over and the pack up begins. By the time I get home after packing up tents, tools and loading cars onto trailers, my body is aching.
This year, I won’t have much time to recover because next weekend I am racing in the 12-hour Liqui-Moly event at Bathurst (Australia) – an event that will make my SKOPE Classic Weekend sound like a sensible and relaxing retreat!