Once a year I go bonkers… I swap my latest exotic, comfortable wheels (currently my wonderful Bentley Continental GT) for 24 hours in a Citroen 2CV in yet another pathetic attempt at promoting my latest book-du-jour. For those of you who have spent the last 12 months on Mars, it is my third Roy Grace novel Not Dead Enough, a gripping tale of kinky sex slayings and possible (or not) identity theft… And the brilliant news is that after just three days of being on sale it has gone into the Sunday Times Top Ten at No 7. Yeah – proving the power of a 2CV!!!
The 24 hour race, a kind of poor-man’s Le Mans (Big Thrills, Cheap Bills) takes place annually at Snetterton race track in Norfolk. It was playwright Noel Coward, who once famously said, when asked what his weekend in Norfolk had been like, “Very flat, Norfolk.” He also made a wonderful comment after returning from India, when he was asked what he thought of the country: “Fucking awful – and vice versa.”
A local I talked to recently told me that Norfolk people say there are two kinds of weather in their county: Either it is raining – or it is about to rain…
Despite the inhospitable climate, we are improving in our racing results. Two years ago we finished 24th. Last year 23rd. And this year we were up in the top 10 when I blew up an engine at 5am and had to come back in, losing us a precious 20 minutes, resulting in us finishing 14th. We had a much better car this year, buying Rocket Dog, which came 2nd in last year’s championship.
My team-mates in our two-car team included my mate, Peter Rigg, the co-owner of my car, Birmingham barrister, Mark Heywood, property developer Nick Jacobs, who is a serious racing driver yet enjoys this event hugely, and Sir Aubrey Brocklebank, whose uncle back in the 1920s actually manufactured a luxurious 4-seater saloon to rival any car on the road, called The Brocklebank.
I’m constantly asked why I take part in this mad and dangerous sport. Good question. Immediate answer is that I’m a tart as far as publicity for my books go! And hey, little can rival the adrenalin rush of getting out of a bunk in a motorhome at 3am, downing a bowl of porridge and then getting strapped into the seat of a race car at 4am and driving into dawn – secure in the knowledge as the advertising stickers fly by the onlookers on each lap that, as I often say, death is a great career move for an author…
And as for danger – well – touch wood in the past three 24 hour races there have been no serious injuries. But a few years back the driver of a 2CV in a race was tragically killed when he rolled the car. His arm came out of the window and was sheared off. Now we have our window partially sealed up to try to guard against this happening in the (hopefully unlikely) event of a roll.
In 1948 when the 2CV Citroen first appeared, as France’s answer to the Volkswagen Beetle, with a top speed of 48 mph and air suspension to cope with that county’s appalling roads, the French government offered a prize of 10k in today’s money to anyone who could roll one over on a flat surface. Well, a few weeks ago at Brands Hatch, Andre Severs, racing our sister car in our team, was entering the fastest curve on the circuit, Paddocks, when his bonnet flew up. He went into the gravel, rolled end-over-end three times and then did two barrel rolls for a finale… The car raced at Snetterton with a shiny new roof. And poor Andre, who so kindly does the posters of my books affixed to the cars each year has a very sore back – and no cheque from Monsieur le Grenouille!