Following on from Rockingham I knew I had to try something a bit different. Colin Chapman has been working on rear bodywork mods on his car in conjunction with 13″ wheels (in place of the original 15″). He’s also added an ARB and changed spring rates as well. He’s undoubtedly gone better but it’s difficult to see exactly which change has led to improvement. His bodywork tinkering continues so there’s nothing really for me to firmly base any modifications on. Clearly smoothing out the airflow over the rear bodywork is something to try as he’s undoubtedly gained rear downforce (although at the expense of some drag as evidenced by a slight loss of top speed) and the advice to switch to 13″ wheel is loud and clear from everyone I’ve spoken to.
I did consider retiring but couldn’t bring myself to give up without actually doing a bit better. So I ordered a set of wheels from Teat Dynamics but they have a lead time of 5-6 weeks. I also decided it was time to do some fibreglassing.
I made up some hardboard templates to fill in the ‘valleys’ in the rear deck and continue rearwards in a smooth upsweep. Next I used them as templates to lay up some GRP which I then glassed in place. It didn’t take me long to type that but it took ages to actually get the job done. Trying to tidy it up with some filler took much longer than I’d have liked and resulted in a last minute rush to get it primered before travelling up to Anglesey. In the end it was just about ready although still looking much more prototype-like than I wanted. It also meant a few other jobs I’d wanted to get done went by the wayside – including changing the oil and filter and the clutch plates (the clutch slip was still present at Rockingham even after adjusting) and fitting a set of progressive bump stops to the dampers. I did however replace the remote hose for the oil pressure sender, I was getting a continuous low grade seepage of oil into the engine bay making it look just a bit messy after every session and decided that was the likely culprit.
I’d been more organised this time and had actually booked testing well in time so after finishing work on Thursday I finished off loading up and headed off for the long drive up to North Wales. It’s only 170 miles but it’s nearly all twisty up and down roads and took four and a half hours meaning it was midnight when I arrived.
Friday was gloriously sunny and very hot. I’d given myself yet another good talking to, but a bit sterner this time, I really needed to push the car harder and get myself out of my comfort zone. That sounds cliched but it’s what I tend to do and it’s a habit that needs breaking. I like Anglesey circuit, I’m not sure why, it’s set in lovely scenery and I just feel fairly comfortable on the circuit. The first session made it apparent that the car did feel different, more stable round the quicker corners. I started working on going quicker round the banked hairpin, the right hand kink coming into Rocket (trying to stay on the throttle till I’d passed the kerb on the right) and going faster round the right hander at Rocket. The car was going well and I felt like I was going quicker. The lap times didn’t reflect this although the heat probably had something to do with that as did the fact that I was on a truly knackered set of tyres! By the end of the morning I’d got close to my previous fastest lap here and was getting more comfortable with getting the car a bit out of shape round the slower corners. In the final morning session the tyres were clearly deteriorating big time and the car was increasingly lairy.
At lunchtime I decided to try to fit the progressive bump stops which was a bit of a disaster! I took off the offside rear damper and with Colin’s help fitted the new bumpstop then headed round to Tony Gaunt to get advice on what length to cut it down to. I called in on Colin too. then realised I’d left the machined aluminium bushes on the damper and one had dropped off. After 15 minutes of frantic searching Heather Gaunt found it where it had rolled under a trailer. I then discovered that I couldn’t get the nearside shock off without unbolting the reverse motor and its mounting plate. I therefore missed the first afternoon track session 🙁
I went out for the second afternoon session and went well, I felt much faster but times were slower! The tyres were really going off and it got to the stage I was having quite a bit of fun sliding the car round and got within 0.4 seconds of my fastest lap form 2 years ago. Adrian later commented that he’d come up behind me and thought the car looked a complete handful but was somewhat impressed that I’d kept it on track. I swapped to my race tyre set for the final session and the car was transformed although the rear was still fairly lively – everyone commented they’d found it quite slippery. My lap times were no better though.
I’d had a good day and confidence had grown. I’d only really had one memorable incident – simply failing to turn in adequately before Rocket and exiting the track stage left at about 120mph discovering there was almost zero grip on the dried out grass! I managed to avoid the barriers and got the clutch in though.
Scrutineering was open from 4pm so once the car had cooled down after the final session I took it round and got that out of the way. What a massive difference that made, removing all the stress of having last minute jobs on the car in the morning before qualy. The clutch had been slipping again hitting the higher gears but we didn’t have time to do the clutch.
My brother Andy arrived early evening and gave me a hand prepping the car. When we lifted the front cover I discovered my little excursion across the grass had taken both ends off my splitter! Austen came to the rescue with a piece of ply that was almost deep enough and we managed to make this do. I also added the 12mm spacer piece I removed a couple of seasons ago on the basis that I felt the car could cope with a bit more front end grip now. We also got the new bump stops on the front shocks. Then it was time for some well deserved cold beer and jambolaya with team MNR.
Despite a slight headache I was up early on Saturday and decided to get the clutch changed – if I didn’t do it then I’d have to do a race start on a brand new clutch with no bedding in. This went very smoothly and only took 40 minutes or so. I ignored paddock advice last season and bought a set of EBC plates instead of the recommended OEMs – the last genuine Kawasaki set cost me about £120 and I can get the EBCs for about half of that. They’ve lasted a full season so I decided to do the same again.
It was decidedly cooler but still a nice morning as we headed out for qualifying. This went fairly well and I found myself passing quite a few of the guys who’d finished ahead of me at Rockingham. I gained yet more confidence in the car and was very pleased to see 1:15.75 on my dash on the in lap, knocking a tenth off my fastest previous time from 2 years ago. I’d had a little dice with James Walker who was much faster than me at both Rockingham and Silverstone and I didn’t feel there was much in it this time. The clutch was much better, engaging crisply and allowing me to get the power down in 5th and 6th gears much better.
I’d qualified 20th for both races and was within a couple of 10ths of both Steve Malyon and James Walker. The afternoon was still sunny and warmer by now. I had a reasonable start and was tussling with Steve Malyon until he went ahead going into Church and I was behind him for a few laps. I was losing out mainly on the two left handers just before and just after the finish line, also round Church but was keeping up OK everywhere else. It remained like that until I ran wide at Church which opened the gap behind Steve and allowed Rob Gardiner (who’d started out of position at the back) to get past me into Rocket. I was under a lot of pressure from Mark Betts in his Spire but held him off then managed to open the gap up.
Poor old Austen got punted by Duncan Horlor the first time round the Corkscrew and in his recovery drive he caught me as we started the final lap. He went past on my left as we went past the line but I kept the inside line for the right handed Banking and we went round it together then continued alongside each other all the way along the back straight, round Church and up the hill into Rocket where I relinquished the place as he then had the inside line into the tight left hander. Very close driving but no drama and a sign perhaps of my increased confidence, it helps when it’s a close friend whose driving you trust.
On the in lap my dash said I’d done a 1:15.5 so another improvement and another step forward in confidence and understanding the car a bit better. Here’s the video of race 1:
The car really needed nothing much apart from fuel and a check over so we had a pretty cushy afternoon followed by the RGB barbecue in the evening. Andy and I did discuss further modifications to the car in light of discussions and really helpful advice I’d had from Ian Mittel and Al Boutlon. It did actually bucket down with rain in the evening and sure enough the drain in front of my pitch was blocked so I ended up with my car sitting in the middle of a lake again!
I was 20th again on the grid on Sunday but this time with James Walker alongside me instead of Steve who was on the row in front. I got a good start again and was alongside Steve coming out of the Banking but he got ahead of me, I was quicker down the run towards Rocket but he shut the door fairly firmly so I tucked in behind him. He had James then Adrian in front of him and we were in a train of about 7 cars. The car was feeling good and I was reminding myself not to fall into my usual habits so was concentrating on carrying speed into the corners and turning the car in harder. For the first time I found myself keeping up with everyone in front and really started enjoying myself.
On lap 3 James got a bit of oversteer exiting Rocket and had a bit of a tank slapper, ending up on the grass so Steve and I got past him there. On lap 4 I got a really good exit from the Banking and closed up on Steve who promptly ran wide at Church so I made up another place. I got the bit between my teeth and closed up on Dave Watson who was behind Adrian, with Colin Spicer, Austen and Kelvin in front of him. Colin and Adrian got past Austen and I then had a front row seat as Dave tried to get past Austen.
On lap 6 Austen got back ahead of Adrian going into Rocket following which Adrian overcooked it and lost his rear end spinning out. As we came up the hill out of Peel Colin and Kelvin appeared to be having a little cuddle just off the edge of the track, I’m not sure if Colin pushed the rear of Kelvin’s car round or whether Kelvin managed to lose it all on his own but in any case Austen, Dave and I slipped through gaining a couple more places.
Dave got past Austen round the Banking then I was chasing after Austen. I had James in my mirrors most of the way but he never really got close enough to trouble me too much even though I dropped back from Austen and I finished a second or so ahead of him.
According to my dash I’d gone just under 1:15. I had wondered whether Austen had had a problem with his car but he confirmed that it was fine in parc ferme, I’d just upped my game. Pleased would be an understatement. Started 20th, finished 12th – no overtakes, all via people in front dropping off.
We were held in parc ferme for scrutineering and I was held back to check the clearance between my helmet and the roll hoop. This was declared to be a bit too tight for comfort so that’s something I need to sort out before the next meeting. The scrute also spotted that I hadn’t done anything about my illegal fire extinguisher and reminded me about that too. But I still drove the car back to the motorhome happy 🙂 Here’s the video of the race:
So, a successful and thoroughly enjoyable weekend drew to a close. I’m feeling much happier about both the car and myself. I’m sure some of the improvement can be attributed to the changes I’ve made to the rear bodywork but I’m sure most of it was up in my head. The next race weekend at Silverstone is in 4 weeks. It’s another circuit I like and I have a few little cunning plans for the car in the meantime.