Devon Modell, aged 24 from Maidstone in Kent, reflects on a dramatic and emotionally exhausting weekend at Autodrom Brno in the Czech Republic, where he and his Speedworks Motorsport team sealed the 2015 HANKOOK 24H Series Drivers’ and Teams’ titles (9-10 October).
“It’s not an exaggeration to say that my maiden season in the HANKOOK 24H Series with Speedworks Motorsport has been absolutely amazing and an important learning curve, which will stand me in good stead for all future motor racing campaigns.
It has been a real privilege to accompany the team on a six-stop international tour of some of the world’s greatest circuits and cram in four or five seasons’ worth of racing into one year, and winning the 24H Series Teams’ and Drivers’ crowns vindicates the effort that went in to the programme.
We had a fairly clean run at the 24H Series titles in the five rounds preceding the Epilog Brno; driver errors were few and far between and mechanical maladies were infrequent and relatively minor, but the same can’t be said of the season finale in the Czech Republic.
There had been no dry running prior to qualifying and, while the original plan was for me to take the wheel in the final throes of the session, I was actually first to venture out onto a damp, but drying track with a slick-shod and fully fuelled Aston Martin V8 Vantage GT4.
The chief objective was to give gentleman driver, John Gilbert, an opportunity to analyse my on-boards and learn the ideal racing line, but everybody was surprised when I went four seconds faster than our opponents on my fourth flyer to record a time that was ultimately good enough for third in class.
I was subsequently brimming with optimism as I stood in the Speedworks Motorsport garage watching John familiarise himself with Autodrom Brno in the dry, sure the circuit would continue evolving and we would have the competition pegged with a lighter fuel load and fresh boots.
We went into the main event – the 12H Epilog Brno – aware that we needed to beat the Optimum Motorsport Ginetta if it finished in the top three to win the SP3 Drivers’ Championship, so that was the core focus.
I was elected to start the once-around-the-clock enduro and the opening 90-minute stint was fairly straightforward, except I spent half of it baulked by a slower, erratic rival from a lower class.
I lost almost two seconds per lap, although the leading Lotus Evora was unable to stretch its advantage and was hit by a 30-second penalty for exceeding its stated reference lap time, but we were still running to plan and holding second in class when I handed the reins to my teammate, Ollie Hancock.
It was then that things began to unravel. A broken differential threatened to take us out of contention, but the Speedworks Motorsport crew’s determination and resourcefulness led to a resolution and a super-efficient turnaround saw us back out on track around two hours later.
Thankfully, we were able to resume and I was looking forward to engaging in battle during the second half of the race, knowing we genuinely had the pace to win without other teams falling by the wayside.
The plan was for John to drive for 1h15m, but the strategy was fairly fluid and I returned to the cockpit for a single flying lap during the hours of darkness.
I was some six seconds quicker than my class rivals, but the pace had dropped dramatically; with very little natural light, no artificial lighting or reflective boards, there were very few reference points and you could only see what your headlights picked out. It was very daunting and by far the hardest night run I have ever done!
However, the fates would conspire against us once again, as a fluid leak caused more delays and, with the car stuck in gear, we were ultimately forced us to retire the car.
The Aston Martin returned to the Brno pits in an acrid could of smoke and we thought our hopes of winning the championship had also gone up in smoke. All we could do is sit and hope Optimum Motorsport didn’t finish in the top three and there wasn’t an unbitten nail in the house, when, with two hours remaining, our Ginetta rival ground to a half with a broken differential.
The championship was in the bag! There were tears in the eyes of Speedworks’ mechanics, who pushed so hard to keep us in contention, and I felt the weekend was a demonstration of how small a part us drivers play; we jump in the car and take all the glory, but you wouldn’t get very far without a hard working and skilled team of people behind you.
We all felt a huge sense of achievement, glad we had taken on the HANKOOK 24H Series. The championship is only going to grow in stature now it has FIA status and the grids will increase too.
I have to say a big thank you to John Gilbert for entrusting me with his car for the duration of the season. This wouldn’t have happened without him and it has been fantastic to witness him coming on leaps and bounds since he first drove the car 12 months ago.”