After looking forward to it so much the Birkett was a real disappointment. The whole of Friday was spent trying to solve problems, by Friday evening we thought we might have it fixed but qualifying on Saturday morning proved us wrong and I didn’t get out at all in the actual race
The first session on Friday morning was going OK, albeit with the gearchange stiffening up as the session progressed, until about 20 minutes in when I started getting an oil pressure warning round the corners. The dash is programmed to show me a warning when the engine revs are above 6k and the oil pressure drops below 30psi. So I limped my way back to the paddock. The engine had dumped a load of oil from the breather into the catch tank, overflowing it and dumping oil in the engine bay. It had leaked through into the cockpit floor, down the right hand sidepod and generally made quite a mess.
So I spent a while mopping up the oil, refilling the engine then tried adding a secondary plastic bottle to the breather from the catch tank hoping that would be OK.
I’d had a bit of a light bulb moment on Tuesday night and wondered if my gear selection problems at Mallory were in fact perhaps due to a knackered cable – although I’ve got a high temperature cable and have shielded it the cable runs fairly close to the manifold. So on Wednesday I ordered another one from Cable-Tec which arrived Thursday and I just managed to get that fitted before the second test session.
This ended just the same as the first with low oil pressure warnings and an oil sodden engine bay. So after yet another clean-up operation I decided I needed another plan. I had a chat with Brian and we concluded that for the engine to be pushing out this much oil there must be significant blow-by past the piston rings, pressurising the crankcase. We discussed a few options but I thought it was looking pretty bleak. Austen came over and we discussed the way his catch tank works – R1s do this and you need a catch tank with a return to the engine. Despite lots of considering of options we decided we couldn’t devise a way of doing this with what we had, So we instead decided to try to take a breather from the rocker cover via one of the PAIR valve chambers. This actually turned out to be fairly easy to do so I got the car ready just in time for the final test session at 3:55.
This time I was getting low pressure within a single lap and the engine bay was awash with loads of oil coming into the passenger compartment. The catch tank was empty though so I decided the oil had to be coming from somewhere else. Eventually we tracked it down to the braided hose connecting the oil pressure sender. We couldn’t find a replacement but Paul Nightingale at Spire had one of the original bike oil pressure switches so I fitted that and wired it up to the DigiDash.
We thought we might have it cracked this time so with help from Steve Malyon and Gavin we cleaned the car up, topped up the oil and refitted the bulkhead panels etc. and I went off to scrutineering. This went smoothly and I got back to the motorhome well past 7pm to clear up the tools etc. By then it was 8 o’clock and I was definitely ready for a beer and some food.
Saturday morning was sunny but freezing cold with some ice on car windscreens. I was our ‘B’ car so out at 9:20. I was fairly near the front of the queue and the plan was to do a single lap, come in to check there wasn’t oil everywhere then head out to make sure I got the required 3 laps in. It did look fine so I carried on. With nearly 70 cars out it was pretty busy and I was taking it fairly steady but still overtook quite a lot of cars. After a few laps I became aware of a smell of burning oil which was a bit off-putting. Not quite so off-putting as seeing blue smoke coming from the front right wheel arch when coming into a couple of the corners though! I was confident it wasn’t tyre smoke, also confident it couldn’t have been oil running forward in the sidepod and getting onto hot brakes (as the brakes were working fine) and decided it must have been oil mist from the breather getting onto the exhaust.
I was about to come in but the chequered flag came out. Back in the paddock the catch tank was full but hadn’t overflowed this time and the only oil in the engine bay was the residual stuff that hangs around the hoses, chassis rails etc. and is impossible to completely clean out. So it had managed to breathe out the best part of a litre from the rocker cover. I decided this wasn’t a good thing and that it wasn’t worth risking taking the car out in the race – I’d been taking it easy in quali so it would have dumped more oil out at full chat and it would almost certainly have overflowed the catch tank in a longer session resulting in knackering the engine and dumping oil all over the place. More serious though was the significant risk of a fire which simply wasn’t a risk worth taking, so I got changed out of my race overalls, packed up my stuff and helped the team for the rest of the day.
So, a pretty disappointing end to the season. The plan now is to get the engine out again and get the 2009 engine fitted. Hopefully that won’t be too difficult assuming the engine mounts etc. all fit as expected but it will need the wiring loom modifying and I plan to get a new manifold made. I’ll also have a rethink about the layout of stuff within the engine bay and probably come up with a different oil breather/catch tank system. The new engine/airbox is taller so I’ll need to modify the engine cover also.
It seems like it’s been ages since Donington, probably because it is ages! The car’s needed nothing of note doing to it apart from routine stuff. The motorhome’s another story however, I only got it back on Thursday after having a new engine fitted. More of that in a later post though.
I get regular emails from all the trackday companies and I’d spotted a day at Mallory on the Saturday before our races on Sunday with Javelin Trackdays, open pitlane for £135, the only snag being the noise limit, at 95dBA static. This of course rules out most RGB cars but not the whispering BDN
Due to not having the motorhome till Thursday evening and working till 6pm on Friday I couldn’t really travel up until Saturday morning so it was a 4:40am start for the 190 mile jaunt to Mallory. The Spire boys had of course already been there for weeks, with John Cutmore booked onto the trackday complete with additional silencer, also Arthur was there in Matt Higginson’s old Spire, having sold the one he’d bought off Geoff Mason. The briefing was much as you’d expect with the usual exhortations to be nice and overtake on the straights with consent although Colin from Javelin had spotted that Mallory doesn’t really do straights very well so conceded that if we were careful we could overtake on the little bit between the hairpin and the Devil’s Elbow, also round Gerard’s so long as we didn’t try to overtake actually going into the corner.
The noise testing was undramatic with the car barely troubling their noise meter so after the sighting laps I got the awning and motorhome set up for the weekend. With 60 cars on Mallory’s 1.35 miles it was always going to be busy but in fairness the driving standards were good and it all went well and it was a reminder just how quick our cars are compared to standard road cars. Once I’d gained confidence it became routine to get past a couple of cars down the start straight, a couple more round Gerard’s, a couple more down the next straight and often a couple on the very short bit after the hairpin. I did take one of my paddock neighbours who was sharing an MX5 with some friends out for a few laps. I think he enjoyed it but he didn’t say anything for a little while after coming in
During the afternoon I started to experience some trouble changing down from 5th to 4th gear coming into the Esses and from 4th to 3rd coming into the hairpin. I thought this might be due to the clutch not disengaging properly as the bite point on the pedal was very low so at the end of the day I adjusted that a bit. No timing was allowed of course as it was a trackday but it’s easy enough to look at the data logs afterwards and I found I’d got within a few tenths of my previous fastest lap here which was quite pleasing given the amount of traffic there was.
Jen came up on the train and arrived early evening followed by Austen and the rest of the RGBers later on. We went out for a really excellent meal at The Windmill who coped remarkably well with 20+ RGBers descending on them, the landlord even arranged the minibuses for us.
The weather had stayed fine all day on Saturday and it was looking good if a little cold on Sunday morning. I didn’t bother with the scrum for qualifying so ended up going out around the middle/back of the pack. With 24 cars out it was again going to be crowded and I was keen to see how the confidence I’d gained around the circuit panned out when the chips were down. After getting a bit stuck behind Chris Scopes in his black MNR the rest of the pack were quite a way down the road but I reeled them in fairly quickly and was then sitting behind Austen and Tim Hoverd. I was determined to try to hang on to them although they’re both usually quite a bit quicker than me. Austen was trying to get past Tim and I found myself able to keep up with them fairly comfortably and started wondering whether Tim had a problem. Then after a couple of laps Tim went into Gerard’s slow and deep looking like it was deliberate to let us through so I chased off after Austen.
Within a lap or two I was trying to find a way past Austen and overtook him coming out of the hairpin. He was in my mirrors for a little while but I found I was opening the gap up, even round Gerard’s which was the sort of corner I’d usually lose most ground on. By this time I was starting to suspect I was maybe going a bit quicker than usual and was really enjoying myself. Next I reeled James Walker in and after passing him (not sure how hard he was trying at the time) the next car up the road was Andy Grant’s bright green Fury. I closed the gap on Andy quicker than expected and caught him round Gerard’s realising a bit too late that I was closing in on him just a bit too fast! I tried to let the car run out wider to avoid him but ended up having to dab the brakes which was always going to end in tears. The rear of the car came round and I realised trying too hard to catch it could well see me in the barrier on the inside so I just stomped on the brakes and ended up facing the right way near the inside kerb with a stream of cars going past around the outside. I got going again but we then got the chequered flag.
Despite the spin I was a very happy bunny after the session, especially when the times came out and I’d knocked a whole 2 seconds off my previous fastest lap and qualified 12th out of 24 alongside Colin in his BDN The gearshifting had again become problematic so I tried tweaking the clutch adjustment a bit more.
On the way to the grid for the race in the afternoon the car was making a sort of graunching noise and I thought I could feel it too but I decided to carry on. It was somewhat strange on the grid, feeling out of position with Tim, Austen, Andy Grant, Dave Watson etc. all behind me, alongside Colin and with Al and Paul Rogers within a couple of rows. I got a good start and was making my way up alongside James Walker but got pushed onto the grass so decided not to spoil my day and pulled out and tucked in behind him and Colin.
I had Austen in my mirrors and was starting to slowly ease away from him then after 4 laps or so I was exiting the Devil’s Elbow and realised he wasn’t there Waved yellow flags were in abundance approaching the hairpin next time round and there had clearly been carnage, there were bits of car everywhere, one in the barrier on the right, I couldn’t see Austen’s but Dave Watson’s MNR was parked up looking worse for wear just round the Devil’s Elbow on the left. I was watching carefully for red flags but they never appeared and after a couple of laps the debris was cleared and the yellows went.
I was basically able to hang on to James through most of the race, with Colin pulling a bit of a gap in front of him. Occasionally the gap opened up a bit when either we lapped back markers or the leaders lapped us. From the results I can see that I was within 3/10 of a second of James on laps 13 & 14 then dropped a bit further back as my gearbox got progressively worse. I knew I was going well as I was needing 6th gear along the start/finish straight (which I hadn’t before) but that only meant I had 2 gears to fight my way down while turning into Gerard’s!
By the time we pulled into parc ferme after the race the gearbox was making rather more worrying noises. We got scrutineered again for ride height and weight which thankfully I got through OK although several others were less fortunate including Al Boulton and Paul Rogers.
So a fairly successful race in that I maintained my position and matched my speed from qualy but it was a pity about the gearchanges spoiling it a bit. I decided it wasn’t worth taking the car out for the second race, if the gearbox let go completely it could have either trashed the engine completely or even worse seized solid and caused a crash. So I withdrew from the race and got everything packed up.
Austen had had a coming together with Steve Bell and Dave Watson and watching the video it’s somewhat fortunate that they all avoided injury although Dave and Steve weren’t able to get their cars sorted for the second race. Yet more sterling work by Ken and Austen say car 6 back out though. Here’s the video from Dave’s car:
With less than 2 weeks to go till the Birkett it means the pressure’s on to get my car fixed in time. Still, I’d much rather have a mechanical repair than have a crashed car to take home. It’s a lot of work but getting the engine out, swapping the gearbox over and refitting is fairly straightforward. I still have the original low mileage 2007 engine I got when I first built the car with a pristine gearbox so I’ll use that.
But the main feeling when driving away from the circuit was of being very pleased indeed. A two second improvement in pace at such a short circuit is more than I could have hoped for and it’s really nice to have moved a couple of rows up the grid. I’ve finally gained confidence in the car which is handling really nicely now with no vices. Really looking forward to driving her at the Silverstone Historic GP circuit at the Birkett
Well, it’s been a bit of a hectic time since Anglesey, doesn’t seem like 4 weeks ago. I’m still motorhomeless, it’s a bit of a saga and I won’t stick all the details on here at the moment, I’m still negotiating with Ford customer services about an out-of-warranty goodwill repair.
I completed the bike ride, the cycling was fine although aspects of the organisation left a lot to be desired and one of the bozos on the trip knocked me off my bike on the last morning so I did the last 70 miles with a rather sore ankle. I’ll stick up a separate blog post about the trip but thanks to all those who generously sponsored me, I think my personal total is now over £3,000.
I didn’t need to do a lot to the car – I’d given it a wash soon after getting back from Anglesey as it was filthy after being towed home through pretty torrential rain. I deglazed the brake pads and took it out for a spin to bed them in again then had a look at the transponder which was again reported as not responding on the Sunday. It looked fine with the LED coming on with the ignition.
The tools and kit I usually take with me took a severe pruning in order to fit it into the back of the Audi. The awning fitted in OK and I borrowed a popup tent for the weekend. I set up camp in the paddock with Austen and Dave Watson and on Friday evening we went out for food at the pub we went to last time we were at Donington. We again struggled to finish our generously portioned meals, Austen and I had burger and chips – two 8oz burgers with bacon and cheese and a pound of chips!
When I signed on I went to speak to the timekeepers about my transponder to see if they could test it for me but they remembered me (they’re actually really nice people who we never usually get to meet – one of them had taken the trouble to find me in the paddock at Anglesey to let me know about the transponder) and said they thought it had been fine for the race on the Sunday. I said the results had said transponder not seen at which point one of them fessed up and admitted he’d just forgotten to update the result sheet! Scrutineering was again a very slow process and I had a scrute who decided he thought my steering column angles were a bit severe (although they’ve been OK for the past 19 months), also that the high tensile set screws in the UJs weren’t good enough as they should be bolts with a shank. The forecast had been quite good for the weekend and indeed it was dry for qualy on Saturday morning. It was quite busy out on track and things got worse as various members of the RGB community started exploring the gravel traps resulting in plenty of yellow flags around the place. I eventually got a couple of clear laps in towards the end (albeit still with yellow flags) and managed 1:19.73, a second quicker than my last outing here so I was fairly pleased but felt I could go faster. I certainly wasn’t taking Craner flat but I was staying away from the brake pedal and just lifting slightly and concentrating on getting the line right turning in properly to the left hand kerb and not running wide after the apex.
For Saturday’s race I was alongside James Walker on the grid who had qualified a second faster than me, Colin Spicer was on the row behind him and although I know our lap times were very similar he tends to start very well and is quite aggressive defending which resulted in me being behind him for most of the second race at Anglesey when I felt I could have gone a bit quicker. As it was when the lights went out he had an absolute flyer and went past James up the inside into Redgate. I didn’t have a bad start but it wasn’t terribly great either and I was behind James going into Redgate where there was a bit of bumping somewhere in the pack and a bit of perspex went flying past me. I think I then backed off a fraction which lost me a bit of ground then I maintained the gap round Hollywood and Craner. Steve Bell was limping along round the Old Hairpin which cost me a bit more time (you get the idea – I see a problem and I back off a bit). I lost a bit more ground round Coppice then coming into the Esses Colin had lost it and gone spinning into the gravel. I drove through his gravel shower and was quite a way behind James by then. I gradually dropped further back and had my mirrors full of Nick Donaldson’s blue Phoenix, he eventually got a good run up the finish straight (he was consistently better out of the Esses than me) and overtook me into Redgate. I mostly hung onto him but I was generally too tentative again. Towards the end of the race poor old Paul Rickers had a big oil leak and engine bay fire on the way into Coppice which left oil on the track giving me an interesting entry into the corner but it wasn’t terribly dramatic. Tim Gray lapped me with about 3 laps to go, John Cutmore a lap or so later and Derek just as we crossed the finish line.
I was pretty disappointed with myself for not going any faster than the morning’s qualy session and continuing to build on the confidence gained at Anglesey but to be honest watching the video since has made me feel a bit better, there were at least a few signs of occasionally trying although there were a few mistakes – going too deep into the Esses, a couple of missed gears. I’d also kept meaning to take the Esses in third gear as I was hitting the limiter in second on the exit kerbs and it was unsettling the car but I kept forgetting and banging it down three gears into second.
By late afternoon is was sunny and very warm as we assembled for the second race. This time I was behind Chris Scopes in his MNR, he had Colin Spicer alongside him and Nick Donaldson in the Phoenix was alongside me. I had a good start and was right behind Chris as we went into Redgate, Colin had again started well and was alongside him and took up position behind Chris as we went down Craner. I hung onto them OK for a couple of laps but soon had Nick snapping at my heels. He was gaining on me exiting the Esses each lap and had a look up the inside into Redgate before actually overtaking me there. He compromised his exit though while I’d seen the move coming and had made sure I maximised my exit speed and went back past him on the way to Hollywood. He had another look a lap or two later but then spun exiting Redgate and my mirrors were clear after that. I’d slid back from Colin and Chris, I’ve had a tendency to not go well when I’ve go someone in my mirrors, so I stuck my head down and concentrated on catching them up. This I did fairly quickly – the places I was gaining most were through Craner and on the way into the Old Hairpin then again into and around Coppice. Eventually I had a very good run into Coppice and closed right up on Colin exiting the corner and after a bit of slipstreaming pulled to his right and got alongside but didn’t really have the confidence to brake late enough to get the place. It turned out that was the last lap, I’d missed the board and indeed missed the chequered flag and only realised the race had finished when I nearly ran into the back of Colin going into Redgate.
On the cool down lap I reflected that I’d actually felt I’d been racing (as opposed to just driving round) and was fairly confident I’d gone faster, it had certainly felt faster and I’d been needing 6th gear on the back straight which I hadn’t the day before. A quick scroll through the dash showed me I had, having cropped another second off my time from the day before with a 1:18.65. Tim and John had lapped me but I’d managed to stay out of the clutches of Derek this time. Sadly the video camera wouldn’t play ball for Sunday’s race. So, another weekend done with zero issues with the car which I was able to load up completely intact and requiring nothing more than a clean and a routine check over before the next race at Mallory in six weeks time.
On Monday evening I had a little trip over to Bristol after work to collect the upgrade engine. It was supplied by a breaker called KDM who turned out to be a nice pair of guys in a farm on the outskirts of Bristol. They showed me the frame the engine had just come out of – immaculate apart from a very small ding just below where the tank would be. This had prompted the insurance company to write the bike off; the owner must have been gutted. Anyway, the engine looked lovely and was complete with exhaust headers, airbox, loom with all the associated gubbins, exhaust power valve motor, dash etc. The swap will have to wait till the end of the season as although the engine mounts are supposed to be the same I’ll need to do quite a bit of work on the loom and because the newer model has secondary injectors the airbox is taller so that will need some work, probably including modifying the rear bodywork.
It’ll be interesting to see how much difference it makes, Kawasaki claim 188bhp versus 175 for the model I currently have in there.
The only other work on the car prior to the trip to North Wales was to deglaze the brake pads. I hadn’t touched them since fitting them at Silverstone and the braking had quite noticably deteriorated especially when cold. I then hopped in the car to take it to the filling station and got to the end of the drive having forgotten I’d pushed the brake caliper pistons back. That got my attention but fortunately a couple of pumps and I managed to stop in time. After working them a few times to re-bed them in the brakes were much better.
Anyway, on to the race weekend … this is a long one so bear with me and get your popcorn ready.
So off I trotted on Thursday evening after work electing to take the scenic route via Aberystwyth and Porthmadog up to Anglesey. It was slow going and having averaged a speedy 37mph it was all going swimmingly well till the motorhome broke. A misfire followed by loss of power and loads of black smoke from the exhaust stopped me in my tracks, or rather in a forest track at the side of the road. I was in the middle of nowhere and was delighted to find I had no mobile signal at all. So I got the bike off its rack and cycled a mile and a half back down the road to the last house I’d passed and borrowed their phone to ring the breakdown company. They said their chap would be with me in about three quarters of an hour at 9:35.
The lady in the house thought I might get a signal at the top of the next hill after where I’d stopped so I cycled back to the motorhome then carried on about 2 miles to the top of said hill and did indeed get a signal. I managed to let Jen know what had happened and gave Austen a ring as he was saving me a space in the paddock. By now I’d lost about a pint of blood to the midges and it was uncomfortably dark to be cycling round the place with no lights so I waited for the breakdown truck.
He arrived and had a poke around for nearly an hour concluding that he suspected it was the turbo and he couldn’t fix it. He then drove off to get a signal for his phone to call a recovery truck. An hour later he came back saying I didn’t have recovery included in my insurance and I needed to go with him to get a signal to pay an additional £280 over the phone. When I got through this turned out not to be the case and they agreed I did have cover. But there was no driver available who could do the mileage required – an hour and a half to get to me, 4 hours to Swansea then back again. So they said they’d have someone there at 5am. Meanwhile back at Camp Anglesey the resident Transit experts reckoned it might just be an intercooler hose popped off. My recovery guy was sceptical but we looked when we got back and confirmed that it wasn’t so simple as that. Back to plan A. By now gone 1am.
So after laying awake for ages trying to decide whether to get recovered to home (and then trek back up in the Audi) or to get taken to Anglesey I decided on the latter as (a) it would mean I wouldn’t miss any testing or racing and (b) I reckoned there was a good chance of someone in the paddock having the expertise to fix it. So I arrived at the circuit in the recovery truck at about 7:40 and set up camp with Austen as planned. I’d probably slept less than 2 hours and was feeling pretty frazzled but tried to put the woes behind me and concentrate on the testing.
The first qualy session was pretty uneventful. I was determined to progress a bit this weekend after the constructive day with Tim Gray at Donington and managed to get to within 2/10 of my previous fastest time in the Fury. The second session I got just within my previous fastest despite it being cut pretty short when we were red flagged first because of a spinner I think the second time when poor old Tim Hoverd’s conrods made a bid for freedom. I missed the third morning session as I needed to have a look at the motorhome – investigation revealed a low engine oil level and oil in the intercooler hoses suggesting a leaking turbo seal. The turbo impeller seemed intact and with no play in the bearing. Heather Gaunt had been fantastic during the day chasing all her Ford contacts to identify the model of turbo for my motorhome. She eventually sourced one in, would you believe it, the Ford dealer in Swansea! We were planning to get it couriered up to Anglesey till we got the price … £1160 + VAT I decided that was just a bit too steep.
The BDN’s engine had spat a load of oil into the catch tank which had overflowed so I cleaned that up and tipped the oil back into the engine. I went out for the next session and spotted a plume of smoke behind me so I pulled in to the pitlane to discover I’d left the funnel in the filler hole resulting in oil spraying onto the exhaust secondaries. Doh! So I dashed back to the motorhome, cleaned it up and went out again. I managed to go a bit faster again and was steadily gaining confidence and finding my way around the track.
So far it had been quite a nice day but part way into the second afternoon session the heavens opened. Quite a lot of the cars went in but I decided I needed to carry on. I gradually pushed harder increasing my corner entry speed and found that the car just went into gentle understeer. It wasn’t dramatic and it was easy to catch and correct. I then went a stage further and started applying the loud pedal a bit more firmly and discovered that it was very easy to provoke nice gentle oversteer on the exit. Again it was easily catchable and undramatic. After a couple of laps of this I was driving round the track grinning like an idiot, it was the most fun I’d had in the car since I built it. The final session was also very wet and for the first time in the wet I couldn’t wait to get out. I had a thoroughly enjoyable time hooning around, the circuit was pretty quiet due to the weather and there’s loads of runoff in most of the corners so it was good for confidence. To add to the fun towards the end of the session there was oil around the exit of Rocket and around Peel. It might all look pretty slow and undramatic in the video but for me it’s a major step forward.
The car had been great all day with the only issue being that this engine doesn’t like having so much oil in it as the previous one and spits it all out. A chat with Tony confirmed that it’s always been like that and he recommended just filling the oil to the bottom of the sight glass which seems a bit alarming but of course the billet sump is quite a different design to the standard one and that still leaves more oil in than the standard one. The engine pulls like a train, I’d been aware for a little while that the old one was starting to run out of puff. Poor old Austen had been rear ended by a Locost and missed some of the afternoon sessions as he and Ken reconstructed his rear undertray.
Jen came up on the train on Friday so after picking her up from the very quaint Ty Croes station (where you have to tell the guard if you want the train to stop!) the social part of the weekend was about to begin. Friday night was pretty wet and we spent much of the evening huddled in Austen’s bus where we had a very sociable evening. Jen and Austen’s dad Ken became progressively noisier as the evening went on and mysteriously this seemed to correlate with the size of the stack of empty wine bottles. Very odd.
Saturday morning was pretty showery but it soon cleared up and it was sunny and warm with a pretty dry track with only a few slightly damp patches by the time we went out for qualy. I didn’t rush to the queue and was near the back behind Rob Grant’s purple Fury heading out onto the track. After picking our way past some of the slower cars in the first lap I then spent a couple of laps chasing Rob around and soon became aware that I was a bit faster than him and needed to get past. Unfortunately the faster boys soon caught us and every time one went through I had to catch Rob up again. It’s a tricky circuit to pass on but in the end I was right behind him coming into the Banking hairpin as Al overtook both of us and I overtook him exiting the bend. Sadly I hadn’t seen the waved yellow flags for Paul Rickers who had spun a bit further on. This then got me an invitation to Race Control for a slap on the wrists from the Clerk of the Course. He was very nice about it though and took my previous good behaviour into account My brother Andy arrived at lunchtime having worked like a trojan trying to find a replacement turbo. Sadly he’d failed but it was good to see him anyway.
I ended up qualifying 19th out of 26 for race one and 20th for race two with a fastest lap of 1:16.75, a further improvement on my times. Tim Gray allegedly had a master switch failure on lap one of qualy so was starting from the back of the grid for each race. I reckon he did it deliberately to have a bit of fun
Preparation for Saturday’s race was going swimmingly well until I strapped myself into the car in the assembly area, stuck nomex my balaclava on followed by the helmet. Next comes gloves except I only had one So Jen ran back to the motorhome to get it as the other cars were heading out of the assembly area for the grid. I unbuckled to check I wasn’t sitting on it. I waited a while but the marshal said I’d need to start from pit lane. After another minute or so it was clear I was going to miss the start as there was no sign of Jen so I just shouted out asking if anyone had any gloves I could borrow. The fire marshal ran over and swapped his pair of gloves for my single glove and I stuck them on and headed off down pit lane. They were a heavy duty pair of gloves with nice thick palms, reinforcement over the knuckles and they were about 2 sizes too small for me, so apart from not being able to bend my fingers and not being able to feel the steering wheel they were ideal. I was then held by a red light at the end of pit lane, as the last car passed it went green and I was off. As I left pit lane I came upon a scene of carnage as Austen, Tim Hoverd and Dave Watson had all come together in the first corner. There were cars and bits of fibreglass everywhere and my first thought was that pit lane wasn’t such a bad place to have started from!
So into the Banking I was dead last apart from a couple of cars who’d been caught up in the melee. I got past our new boy, Arthur in Geoff Mason’s old Spire exiting Church, then David Wale came past me into Rocket. I was then chasing the tail enders to get back towards my original grid position, I passed Stephen Dean on the way into Rocket next time round then Ed Scotney a lap later in more or less the same place. Then I was behind Steve Malyon who had given me a comprehensive drubbing at Donington but he was tussling with Rob Grant and I sneaked past Steve on the way up to Rocket next lap and was then behind Rob. The next lap but one I got a better exit from Church and that was my overtaking spree done. The man who’s responsible for my improvement, Mr. Gray, then lapped me with a couple of laps to go, the only other person to lap me was John Cutmore on the last corner before the chequered flag. I’d had a great race, still lots of work to do but a vast improvement, I actually felt I’d been racing rather than trundling round at the back of the field. My fastest lap was 1:16.87 so about the same as my qualy lap. Apologies for the poor quality video, I forgot to clean the camera lens.
Once out of parc ferme I got back to the motorhome to find Jen and Andy hadn’t been able to find the glove. We hunted high and low until in the end after about an hour my niece Helen found it. In the car. With the other glove underneath the helmet in the passenger seat area. The only possible explanation was that I’d picked the helmet up to put it on with the glove tucked inside it and I’d worn the helmet with the glove inside it
It seemed the damage to Austen, Tim and Dave’s cars was mainly bodywork so they spent the rest of the day piecing their cars back together. Austen seemed to have come off the worst having first of all come together with Tim then been hit by Dave which then spun him round back into Tim again. Most of his sections of bodywork were damaged and he and Ken had to patch it up with aluminium strips, some GRP resin and gaffer tape.
Saturday evening was the annual RGB BBQ when we host the marshals and a jolly good evening it was too. Sunday morning turned out fine and sunny again and I was looking forward to starting from the grid this time. All went well and we got round the first couple of corners without incident although there were a couple of spinners just after Church, including I think Austen who was having a torrid weekend. I then had a good couple of laps before becoming firmly ensconced behind Colin Spicer in his Fury. He was a little quicker than me around turn 1, but I felt quicker than him everywhere else, especially so around Peel and the left hander after the corkscrew. It’s a difficult circuit to overtake though and even though I had managed to up my game and my confidence levels I was determined not to screw it up by being over aggressive and getting myself into a pickle. Although frustrating being stuck behind Colin it was still a great race and not only was my fastest lap a 1:15.83 (a whole second improvement) I did that on lap 2 when historically my first few laps have always been my most tentative. It was only when John Cutmore commented on it in parc femre that I realised it was the first time he hadn’t lapped me, in fact the only person to lap me was Tim Gray.
So, I was a very happy bunny. It got even better when I was awarded the coveted Driver of the Day sticker for having finally started to get my act into gear and made some progress.
There was just the one fly in the ointment – a dead motorhome. Austen and I did however have a cunning plan which did pan out after a fashion although it didn’t go entirely smoothly. First we had the patrolman who checked it out and eventually concluded that we were indeed correct in that he couldn’t fix it. He then called a recovery truck which turned up about 2:30, we then left at about 3pm. The driver informed us he was taking us as far as Telford services on the M54 where another truck would take over. After waiting there for about an hour and a half the truck duly turned up but the driver couldn’t do a lot as he was low on diesel and couldn’t get the filler cap off his truck! Within half an hour another breakdown van had turned up and sorted that out and we were on our way again. At 11:30 we arrived at Cardiff West services to be handed onto yet another truck. He turned up at about midnight with a truck that was nowhere near big enough to fit our van on and rang in for a bigger truck. He said it would be with us in 45 minutes which turned out to be a bit of a porky as it ended up being over 3 hours. We finally pulled into our village with the sky starting to lighten at 4:50 almost 15 hours after leaving Anglesey. I then had to unload everything and get it the 150 yards up our drive as the truck couldn’t get up there cos of the trees. Jen and I slumped into bed at 5:15 with the alarm set for 7:30 to go to work …
So the weekend hadn’t been without its woes – Austen had sustained yet more damage and failed to finish either race, I’d spent about 28 hours travelling there and back and had a broken motorhome. Despite all that I’m left feeling very upbeat, my driving’s still got a long way to go but I feel that I’ve turned a corner and am now in a position to continue to improve and go faster in the car. The next race is at Donington and I’m looking forward to seeing what I can do with my lap times there.
Once my blood pressure had settled down a bit after the Cadwell weekend I had a think about a couple of jobs I’ve been meaning to do for a while. With a four week gap till the next weekend at Donington it would appear that I had plenty of time, the trouble is that it was getting on a fortnight before I could bring myself to get on with it and the annual trip to Le Mans was the weekend before Donington.
The blowing manifold at Cadwell was a pain, largely because the manifold is very inaccessible. The heat shield I made to sit just behind the bulkhead had to slide in from the side meaning the sidepod and rear radiator duct had to come off to get at it. Also it simply didn’t seem to really do a very good job and my back always gets pretty uncomfortably hot after 15-20 minutes on track.
So I whipped off the sidepod and duct, pulled out the seat and removed the bulkhead. I could then make sure the mikalor clamps were all in the correct positions and tightened them up. I had an idea involving making a pair of triangular aluminium panels that would sit between the chassis members with the sheet flush with the back of the tubing. This way I could completely close off the engine bay with a 25mm layer of air between these panels and the bulkhead.
It wasn’t terribly difficult cutting the panels and bending a 25mm flange along each edge and fitting some rivnuts to the chassis rails to fix them to. I suspect quite a bit of heat will get transmitted directly to the bulkhead via the chassis rail but I’m hoping this should improve things. Here’s the upper of the two panels.
And here’s the second one completed.
I’ve always intended to duct in the oil cooler as well and have put it off until now as I thought it was going to be a bit of a pain to do. On warmer days my oil temp is getting up to 120° which isn’t really much of a problem but it would be nice if I could get it running a bit cooler. The oil cooler sits at the rear of the near side sidepod but has substantial gaps around it so only a fraction of the air entering the sidepod duct would be going through the cooler. The cooler sits on the sidepod floor so the lower surface isn’t a problem, the gap down the inside edge is only narrow and is out of the airflow anyway so I wanted to try to block off the outside and upper edges. Once I’d worked out how I was going to do it it only took an hour or so and the job was done.
The weather forecast for the Donington weekend was really awful, strong winds and lots of rain. True to form I drove up on the Thursday evening through monsoon conditions and arrived in the paddock to find the seats and harnesses waterlogged and the car looking pretty bedraggled from all the spray behind the motorhome.
Tim Gray and the Spire boys were all there of course, I think to beat them to the paddock you need to get there around the Tuesday of a race week! It was good to have a quick catch up with them, they’re all a good bunch and are completely obsessed by cars and racing. I parked up behind them and managed to stick my awning up without too much trouble on my own. The wind picked up and although I’d strapped the awning down to the trailer and all my spare wheels I was still a bit worried about it when I went to bed. After a pretty wild night with the wind rocking the motorhome around I woke up to a strong wind and grey skies. Austen and his Dad arrived and we decided to arrange his bus and my motorhome into a corral and stick the awnings up between them to try to get a bit of shelter. We’d signed on for the trackday but didn’t get the camp sorted till about 10, none of us RGB boys were particularly keen to venture out on track in the wind and rain.
When I did eventually venture out I had on my spare wheels with the Toyo Proxes on which at least didn’t aquaplane anywhere but there wasn’t much grip to be had. I did a few sessions pussy footing around being overtaken by every man and his dog then just before lunch we started to get a bit of a dry line. I switched back to my normal wheels but over the lunch brake it rained again, following which I took Ken out for a few tentative passenger laps. It then stopped raining and the track dried out properly. It was still very windy but much more fun and I started to enjoy myself a bit more. The car was feeling much better around Craner than last year when the rear was very unsettled.
My rear tyres were looking pretty tired, especially the left one and since it seemed we were inevitably going to have a wet session this weekend I decided to give George Polley a ring to bring a pair of tyres for me to fit over the weekend.
For my last session at 4:40 Al Boulton very kindly offered to come out with me to see what advice he could offer. Apart from the odd cringe-worthy mistake I didn’t drive too badly and we had a debrief when we got back. His main comment was that I was struggling to get the power down coming out of the corners with the car trying to oversteer. He thought the front end was very well planted and the brakes were very good. My lines were OK but I was tending to turn in a bit too early particularly at Redgate and I wasn’t using enough of the apex kerbs. We had a chat about how to increase the rear end grip which Al thought was more about mechanical grip than the aero balance. One thought was to fit softer rear springs but since I don’t have any that wasn’t an option for this weekend so I decided to try stiffening up the front dampers a bit along with the front ARB.
Saturday morning the weather was still windy and very overcast but the rain looked like it would hold off. In scrutineering the scrute spent a long time looking at my helmet then asked if I’d had it painted. I explained that it came out of the Sparco factory like that. He then said my red BS sticker was in the wrong place! I advised him that that too had come out of the Sparco factory like that and had attracted no comment in the last 4 years I’ve had it! Scrutineering was pretty delayed apparently because a couple of scrutes hadn’t turned up so my cunning plan of getting my tyres fitted after scrutineering started looking a bit dodgy. I came up with the cunning plan of getting the new tyres fitted onto the spare set of wheels, it’s clear the Toyo Proxes weren’t such a good idea as they seemed but at £140 for a set of 4 they didn’t exactly break the bank! Polley also had a pair of tyres to fit my fronts so I nipped all 4 of my green set of wheels round and got them on the car with a bit of time to spare before qualifying.
The weather fortunately stayed dry for qualy although the first couple of laps were very congested, I was also being even more tentative than normal on my brand new tyres, then after 4 laps Mark Conroy in Gordon Griffin’s old Mission went into the gravel on the outside of Coppice so we had yellow flags there for the rest of the session, in fairness the car was in a dangerous place for the marshals to recover it. The situation was compounded when someone else binned it at the chicane which then resulted in yellow flags from Coppice, all the way down the next straight and the chicane meaning if you came up on someone slower you couldn’t overtake for ages. My fastest previous lap round Donington was 1:21.41 and despite me being pretty slow round Coppice and feeling I could generally go faster round most of the track I managed 1:21.17 so a modest improvement.
The weather amazingly stayed dry for the race at 5:30 and although I didn’t get a bad start my lack of confidence on cold tyres meant I lost places into Redgate to Steve Moran and Steve Malyon. Steve Moran’s a couple of seconds a lap slower than both of us but Steve M didn’t get past him until approaching Goddards, I got past him on the finish straight but bottled out going into Redgate offline. I didn’t get past him until the approach up the hill to Coppice and by then everyone else was up the road.
James Walker had spun at the chicane at the end of the first lap and eventually caught me up and he went through at the chicane when I went too deep. Then Colin Spicer caught me up having gone off the track earlier in the race, he too got past fairly easily. Then I ended up in the gravel at Coppice. It took me a while to work out what had happened as I went from on line and accelerating away from the first apex to flying into the gravel with the engine at full chat in an instant. Seems I’d got onto the throttle but managed to get my size 12 over the brake pedal as well so as I accelerated I hit the brake which was never a good thing to do
Once the race finished the marshals towed me out and I completed the drive of shame back to the paddock and got on with clearing the gravel out of the car. Fortunately I’d just gone in forwards so there was no stone chip damage and actually not that much gravel in the undertrays. Then it was beer o’clock and time for a barbecue with Austen and some of the guys from our Birkett team.
It stayed windy and wet overnight but in the morning the forecast was for the weather to clear and give us some sunny periods. I managed to get out on the bike for an hour then set about tidying everything up, taking the awning down etc. so I could get away once the race finished.
For race 2 I tried my best to put thoughts of gravel traps out of my head. All I had to do was press one pedal at a time, how hard could it be? At least this time we had a green flag lap so a chance to get a bit of heat into the tyres, and after a reasonable start I just about kept in touch with the cars in front – Tim Hoverd, Chris Scopes in his MCR LMP and Steve Robinson just ahead of them. At the chicane at the end of the first lap Colin and Austen came together so I passed Colin parked facing the wrong way and passed Austen as he limped round the Old Hairpin with damaged front suspension and bodywork. Steve Malyon was paying close attention behind and is clearly regaining his confidence big time after his shunt at Silverstone last year. As we completed the second lap I was less than a second behind Colin Spicer who then got ahead of Chris Scopes who as slow going into Redgate. Then on lap 4 Colin ran wide exiting McLeans and went onto the grass and rejoined behind me. My main problem was simply slowing down too much for the corners and I soon allowed Steve M around the outside into Redgate and then I had a recovering Colin Chapman in my mirrors. He got past me easily into McLeans then the other Colin went past at the chicane and that was the end of the action for the race.
Pretty dismal performances. The car was a bit better on Sunday, not quite so oversteery and I’m certainly not blaming the car. It’s all about confidence, and I haven’t got any right now. I’m simply not pushing myself, staying in a comfort zone, braking too early and not really trying to race the guys who I know I can keep up with. The best example is Schwantz curves, the left hander between Starkeys Bridge and McLeans, I established quite early on in the weekend that I could keep on the power in 5th gear around the apex and yet lap after lap I found myself backing out of the power around the start of the kerb. I’ve now got 6 weeks to regroup before Anglesey.
At least the shenanigans over the regs seems to be getting sorted out the committee seemingly having realised that major changes rendering most of the grid illegal were probably not a good idea.
I’d really have liked to get a trackday or test day in between Brands and Cadwell but my work schedule simply didn’t allow it. After Brands the car got a good clean and I stripped the front ARB down and cleaned that up and lubricated it as it was quite stiff when I was adjusting it at Brands.
I also checked out the wiring to the master switch. As most readers will be aware I’m using an electronic solenoid for the master switch with a pair of latching pushbuttons wired in series to control it. There’s a bullet connector in the wire running back to the engine bay and indeed this was initially implicated when I had problems with the thing cutting out at Oulton Park last year but a careful inspection showed this to be fine. I also checked the run from the buttons to earth and that looks fine. So I concluded it must be the button playing up – replacing the button cured the problem last time but at nearly £20 a pop it’s a bit irritating. Odd also that Brian’s never had an issue with the buttons on their car.
The weather forecast for the Cadwell weekend was very good, quite a contrast from Brands where it was like a monsoon! I travelled up on Thursday night with a full day’s testing booked for Friday. Instead of the usual 4 x 30 minute sessions this time (as apparently is the norm at Cadwell we had 6 x 20 minute sessions which I prefer as 30 minutes is too long for me.
It’s an absolutely beautiful circuit, particularly on a warm sunny day in May. My fastest lap here last year in the BDN was 1:43 although I had previously managed a 1:41 in the Fury. I got down to 1:42 in the first session and felt there was more to come but I never really improved throughout the day. I felt like I’d improved but the times didn’t reflect it. In fairness most of the sessions were disrupted by incidents and as soon as there’s any kind of incident at Cadwell you get a red flagged session as it’s very narrow and there’s almost no run off.
Qualifying on Saturday morning was pretty uneventful, I was reasonably near the front of the queue to get into the assembly area and had plenty of space around me on track. I felt I was going reasonably well and was making myself push the car into the corners faster – my main focus was trying to get around Coppice at the end of the start/finish straight quicker, keep on the power into Charlies 1, also going a bit quicker round Park and stopping my foot reaching for the brake pedal for the right hand kink after Park going into Chris Curves.
When the results came out I’d got somehow managed to go 1.4 seconds quicker than the day before, still only good enough for 23rd on the grid but an improvement and indeed at 1:40.8 my fastest lap round Cadwell, quicker than I’d gone in the Fury.
The grid at Cadwell is the narrowest on the calendar and I had no plans to attempt any heroics, there really isn’t room to go between cars at the start. I was behind my RGB Pups team-mate Dave Watson in his MNR with another team-mate Steve also in an MNR behind. When the lights went out I got away OK and followed Dave onto the grass to avoid a stalled Scott Mittel. I went past Scott and was about to get back onto tarmac when I spotted another stalled car so I continued to follow Dave up the grass on the left side of the track. We rejoined the track but Dave was slow getting away, then I fluffed my gear change and by this time all the cars from behind had streamed through. I got stuck behind the rather unfinished looking car of Andy Hiley round Coppice then he backed off and waved me through and I got hard on the gas up the hill. By this time I could just see Dave and Steve heading over the crest at Charlies well in front and I realised I was well out of touch. Not much I could do about it so I just stuck my head down and did my best to try to catch them up which I did by the end of the race spending the last lap close up behind Steve but with no overtaking opportunities.
Here’s the first few laps of the race, my camera battery died before I got up to speed:
So, a bit of a disappointing race as for the first time in my RGB career I finished dead last but the good news was that I’d managed a 1:39.52, taking another 1.3 seconds off my lap time from the morning and indeed faster than 3 of the drivers ahead of me and only 3/100 slower than Dan Bromilow. The engine was making a bit of a racket when I came in but the consensus was that it sounded like manifold blowing rather than anything mechanical and indeed one of the manifold nuts was missing completely, a couple of the others needed tightening and 3 of the mikalor clamps holding the primaries into the secondaries were a bit loose.
We had a drivers’ meeting after the race to discuss a number of issues. This was a fairly unpleasant affair. One issue was allowing use of engines later than 2008 so long as they were identical spec which didn’t seem to cause much controversy. Another issue was that of ECUs with some insinuation that some were suspected of running illegal ECUs – you can buy off the shelf ECUs from Honda Racing Corporation and Kawasaki Racing and apparently it’s not difficult to reflash the ECU of the Suzuki. The benefits are being able to tweak the ignition map and raise the rev limit. There was talk of ECU swaps and trying to use control ECUs which given the loom modifications we have to make to bypass immobilisers etc. just seems to be a non-starter to me and in any case a bit OTT in view of the fact that so far as I’m aware there is no evidence to suggest that anyone’s cheating.
The other discussion was on the subject of the underbody aerodynamics. This has already been aired in the forum but again there were insinuations that some cars were in breach of the current regulations whether being simply in breach of the spirit of the regs or possibly also the actual current wording. There was a show of hands on the subject of modifying the regs to restrict the underbody to a flat floor although this wasn’t explicitly defined, with the Spire camp abstaining as they seemed to be the ones most under siege!
Sunday was yet another sunny warm day so after a very pleasant 23 mile ride round some of the Lincolnshire lanes on the bike I checked the car over, tidied up and dismantled the awning. After a green flag lap I got a pretty good start and was behind Dan but with Colin Spicer alongside me on the right all the way round Coppice, Charlies 1 & 2 and along the Park straight. Colin outbraked me into Park and I then tried to hang onto him and Dan but frankly I just wasn’t driving very well and the initially substantial gap between myself and Steve behind me started to dwindle. I was just making minor mistakes, not quite hooking it all together and eventually I outbraked myself into Park on lap 5 and Steve went through and that was pretty much that. No video as someone forgot to put the SD card in the camera …
I was pretty annoyed with myself having hoped to improve on my previous lap time but then actually going quite a bit slower. We came off the circuit and into scrutineering yet again. It emerged this time that they were checking ECUs. This was now the 4th time in 6 races that we’ve all been held back for post-race scrutineering. It was a warm day and I was sweating cobs and really wanted to grab a drink. We waited while a single scrutineer went round inspecting the ECUs of the 25 finishers. We’re supposed to have them in a prominent position and since mine was visible on the bulkhead and difficult to move anyway because of the way the loom’s bound up I’d left it there. What markings exist on a ZX10 ECU were visible but the scrutineer was unable to satisfy himself that I was running a standard ECU so I was directed to wait with a small band of others awaiting some further action. No-one seemed to know what was happening and we were held in parc ferme for about 45 minutes until it seemed to be agreed that in the absence of any evidence that my ECU was illegal and it seemed to be accepted that there wasn’t really much more I could do to prove that it was standard I was then allowed to leave. I was in what you might call serious ill humour by now, apart from my frustration with myself I could really have done without what seemed to me an unnecessary delay when I had to haul the BDN 250 miles back home behind the motorhome then swap cars and drive the 230 miles up to Manchester for an 8am meeting on Monday morning.
Another first for me was leaving the circuit without staying for the traditional RGB presentations – even after I’d got back from parc ferme and loaded the car onto its trailer it was still apparently going to be some time as Tim Gray (who’d romped away to victory in both races) was still down there while the scrutineers sampled his fuel. I simply had to get away so I left and have to say the combination of my own bad driving, the bad feeling generated amongst the usually convivial paddock and what seemed to me to be an unnecessarily long delay saw me driving off feeling about as depressed as the occasions when I’ve driven home with a wrecked car on the trailer.
I’m all for a level playing field but if the measures introduced by the committee impact so negatively on the overall experience then perhaps I’ll be better off taking advantage of the car’s road registration and spend some time blatting round some of my fantastic local roads and do some trackdays instead of spending a lot of time and a whole load of money trekking across the country for 45 minutes of racing and 2 hours plus in scrutineering.
It’s a long trek to Brands but a fairly easy drive down the M4 and M25 and I was there by about 9. I pitched camp next to Colin and got the car unloaded. Tim arrived and there were quite a few RGBers around so it was the usual evening spent wandering round catching up with people.
Saturday morning I managed to get out on the bike and did 4 laps of the GP circuit which really brought home just how hilly it is! Of course I’m not the first to ride a bike round here and my iPhone app Strava made me 11th fastest up there. After a rather cool shower it was time to get some breakfast and get signed on etc.
The weather forecast was pretty poor for the day but the first session was dry and I set about reminding myself of the way round. The gear change did actually take a bit of getting used to and I was still fluffing a couple of gear changes. Once or twice I reached for the paddles most alarmingly the first time was on the way into Paddock Hill resulting in a brief blood pressure peak! My fastest lap at 54.2 seconds wasn’t fast but was 0.2 seconds quicker than my fastest race lap here in the BDN last year.
The second session was horrid, extremely wet and slippery. Early on Dan Bromilow came charging past me exiting Graham Hill Bend only to do a graceful pirouette in front of me at the right handed kink at McLaren. He did start rolling backwards towards the gap I was heading for but got onto his brakes again and I slipped through unscathed. I really had no idea how much grip I had and was really tippy toeing round but had an identical spin to Dan’s just befroe the end of the session. I got my clutch in quickly and stopped about mid-track actually facing the right way leaving plenty of room for a couple of the quicker boys behind me. I got going again and did one more lap then came in.
The afternoon sessions were dry and pretty uneventful. I stayed out for the full 30 minutes in the final session and felt I was going OK but couldn’t improve my lap times and was pretty despondent and annoyed with myself. I’m simply not carrying enough corner speed, this is sometimes down to braking too early but sometimes just staying on the brakes just a bit too long. I got the rear to move around a bit exiting corners a couple of times but at no stage did I lock a wheel on the brakes or feel the front end move meaning I’m not working the front end hard enough.
After the last session Tim pointed out that my airbox was looking a little second hand. When I made the Fury airbox I went a bit OTT with the GRP and it was very strong but very heavy. I think I over-compensated with this one and it’s light but a bit too flimsy and I think it’s actually the induction impulses that have been gradually killing it off. It was cracked in a couple of places and a complete chunk had fallen off where I’ve secured the spring for the secondary throttle spring via a 6mm bolt and repair washers. I got the airbox off but decided to fix it in the morning – scrutineering wasn’t till 9:40 with qualy at 11:20.
Austen arrived just before 9 and we had a couple of beers and a chat as the paddock continued to fill up, RGB seems to be a formula that other drivers aspire to – Gary Goodyear was Kitcar champion prior to joining us and last year’s Locost champion Scott Mittel has joined us this year.
I started work on the airbox at 7am Saturday morning and it turned out to be more tricky than I’d expected and by the time I’d got it patched up and refitted to the car it was 9:40 and time to take it for scrutineering. This was a bit of a shambles, I was near the back of the queue of 30 RGB cars and the scrutineers didn’t actually start our lot till about 10:10. I realised time was going to be tight so I ran back with my overalls and got changed into them so I was ready as soon as I’d been scrutineered. I was right and we’d already been called to the assembly area so I toddle doff round there with my umbrella as it was really pretty wet by then. My goal for the session was to get enough laps in to qualify and bring the car home in one piece which I did achieve albeit somewhat slowly – in fact slower than my fastest lap in Friday’s the morning session even though it wasn’t quite as wet as it was then.
As I came down pit lane at the end of qualy I got waved to one side by the marshal and instructed to go to race control. I had no idea why but it turned out that my one overtaking manouevre of the session was allegedly under a yellow flag – apparently when I overtook Rew there was a stationary yellow at the station on the right before Druids and waved yellows at the top. I accepted my ticking off but went back to the motorhome and had a look at my video which showed a yellow flag being lowered out of sight at the first station and no flags whatsoever at the top of the hill.
I was 25th on the grid for Saturday’s race, just in front of Rabid RGB team mate Steve Malyon and 26th for Sunday’s race just behind Steve.
It carried on raining off and on all day and I was feeling pretty despondent and really didn’t feel like going out for the race. I softened the dampers off even more and on Colin’s advice removed one of the front ARB link rods thus disconnecting it entirely. We’d already been warned there had been a fuel spillage around the start/finish line making it particularly slippery, due to all the stoppages they’d also shortened our race to 10 minutes. Oh joy. I sat in the car in the assembly area under my umbrella and started to wonder what I was doing there. We got out onto the grid and as the lights went out I got away and could just see a mass of cars in front of me all going sideways as the guys tried to find some traction. I was on the inside line but I headed for the outside as we went towards Paddock Hill and indeed as I crested the brow I could see Gary Goodyear spinning and heading backwards onto the grass on the inside. I was behind Steve for the first lap but felt I could go quicker so when I got the chance I overtook him up the inside going into Druids.
There were loads of spinners and I had a succession of faster guys getting back past me as they tried to recover their positions. Visibility was appalling so you couldn’t see who it was behind you and despite my pre-race despondency something happened inside my head and I wanted to try to race so I decided not to move over for anyone, the faster guys could find their own was past. Steve didn’t trouble me once I was past him and the next car in front was Colin Spicer but he was trying to get Dave Masters. The recovering quick guys (and there were more!) delayed progress but I soon got past Dave exiting Clearways and started to chase down Colin. On the last lap I managed to close right up behind him round Clearways and managed to get onto the power earlier and was about to go past him when I saw a waved yellow flag on the right. I backed off and there was poor old Tim Hoverd neatly parallel parked facing the wrong way alongside the pit wall.
I’d thoroughly enjoyed the race and was a much happier bunny parking the car up under the awning. I’d started 25th and finished 19th, most of the places gained were from non-finishers but I did manage 2 overtakes and was confident I’d have got past Colin Spicer with another lap. The evening was spent in the Spire awning for Steve Robinson’s birthday barbecue.
The rain was bouncing off the motorhome roof all night and with the wind buffeting it around I was awake early. After a bit of blog updating and some breakfast I went for a stroll round but it’s a bit boring in the paddock when everyone’s tucked up in their motorhomes hiding from the rain. During the lighter spells of rain I refuelled the car and got it ready for the race. The forecast was predicting the rain clearing up before our race but I left it with the wet settings until early afternoon – it finally stopped raining not long after 1pm then we had sunny spells and it was quite warm.
The track was completely dry by the time our race was due apart from a small river running across the track just after Clearways. I got a good start and got ahead of Steve and was just behind David Masters around Paddock Hill and going into Druids. Steve got past me on the exit of Graham Hill and I was a bit boxed in behind David but got around the outside of him round Clearways. I closed on Steve down the straight and went past him on the inside into Paddock Hill. At that stage I was fairly pleased with myself. Then as I got onto the power out of Graham Hill Bend the car’s master switch had a brief glitch resulting in me losing the engine for a half a second or so which was enough to let Steve past again. I recovered but the loss of concentration caused a few fluffed gear changes and just as I caught Steve again the car cut out at exactly the same place exiting Graham Hill. I caught Steve yet again round Paddock Hill and up into Druids but then completely messed up my gears on the drop down to Graham Hill and lost touch.
I think my brain was a bit frazzled by then and although I gained a bit on Steve again I simply wasn’t driving well, messing up gear changes, messing up lines etc. and pretty soon the leaders were lapping us and I lost ground. Although I finished the race I was pretty frustrated.
Here’s race 2, no data this time as the log file got split each time the electrics cut out.
We then got called into scrutineering again and I could see they were sticking us on the scales. Even though I knew it should be fine I was still a bit twitchy after being underweight at Silverstone. It turned out they were weighing us, checking ride height and checking our reverses worked. I was 567kg this time so I now know I can run a lighter fuel load, I had about 5 litres left at the end of the race. Sadly James Walker and Lee Baverstock both had non-functioning reverses and got disqualified.
So I need to look at the master switch wiring, the fact that it cut in the same place twice means it’s likely I’ve got a dodgy connection, it’s not a big job to check them all out.
The main problem though is the wiring inside my head, I’m simply not going fast enough round the corners. Although I’m getting the rear of the car moving around a little exiting some of the corners I’m not working the front end hard enough – I didn’t lock a wheel once on the brakes all weekend and at no stage ever felt a trace of understeer. Al Boulton helpfully commented after watching the last test session on Friday that it didn’t look like I was doing anything wrong – my lines were OK and I looked smooth. I just need to gain the confidence to attack the corners a bit harder and let the car slide a bit. John Goodwin had followed me round for a few laps on Friday and said the rear of the car looked unstable round Clearways and was hopping across, his opinion was that I couldn’t have got it round there much faster. I did soften the rear dampers off a bit after that but it was then very wet so I couldn’t really tell if it improved the situation. Anyway, I won’t be giving up. I don’t think more instruction will give me confidence and I can’t buy it so I’ll just have to get some more seat time and persevere.
The last time I raced the National Circuit at Silverstone was 3 years ago when I got caught out by the increased power of the replacement engine and new airbox in the Fury and having powered past Colin and Al ran out of talent at Brooklands and ended up spinning and collecting Austen. My fastest lap then was 1:06.99 so that was my target for the weekend.
On Thursday evening I had to work till 6.30 so it was almost 11pm by the time I pitched up at Silverstone. I’d booked a garage to share with Austen but by the time I arrived the gypsies had beaten me to it in the form of Tim and Colin. They’d saved me a nice space though so the BDN got unloaded and into the garage and we had a chinwag until it was time for a rather late bedtime. My first problem of the weekend was that the BDN’s rear number plate had fallen off on the way there!
The forecast for Friday was for sunshine but instead we had a murky grey sky, the good news was no rain was forecast for the weekend although it was going to be much cooler than the lovely week leading up to it. I got the car ready and signed on. Our first session was at about 10 and frankly I was feeling pretty apprehensive. Last season was for me frankly quite awful, I never really got to grips with the car and my confidence gradually ebbed completely away as the season progressed with the spin at Llandow necessitating an engine change before the season opener at Mallory, the big crash at Snetterton necessitating a complete rebuild, the warped cylinder head woes that marred the weekends at Oulton and Pembrey then the spin into the gravel at Maggotts in the Birkett testing when the rear undertray parted company.
The session with Tim Harmer a couple of weeks ago at Anglesey was really useful, but good as Tim is you don’t regain confidence in a single day’s coaching. So prior to going out at Silverstone I gave myself a good talking to and told myself that the first session as about getting reacclimatised with the car and the circuit but that I then really had to start pushing myself a bit out of my comfort zone and get a bit nearer to the car’s limits.
The first place I really started working on it was round Luffield – it’s slow and there’s loads of run off so I started pushing the car a bit harder round there until I could feel it starting to slide a bit. I also tried going into Copse faster. My fastest lap was 1:05.59 so an improvement of over a second on my previous fastest. The second session was pretty uneventful and I made a bit more progress down to 1:05.38. In the afternoon sessions I didn’t match those times, it was a combination of just getting caught in traffic and particularly in the final session getting tired – the gearchange is still very hard work and hands and wrists start to get very tired and sore towards the end of a day resulting in a few missed gears. Overall thoygh a very good day with the car behaving impeccably.
Jen and David arrived Friday evening and we joined up with Austen and Ken Greenway and Afghan Dan for a chilli. We ended up with more of the RGB gang in the pit garage for a very sociable evening.
Friday was forecast to be cool and overcast but dry and so it turned out. I stuck some new front brake pads in in the morning – at the IVA there was an imbalance between the front left and right brakes which remained in the retest despite me having cleaned them up and re-bled them. I was feeling more nervous than usual in the assembly area and as I was strapping in my battery warning light on my dash started flickering. I switched the display and gave the throttle a blip to see the voltage hovering around 11.8-12 volts with no sign of a rise. It then went out so I decided to try to forget about it and get on with qualifying. On the first flying lap Steve Robinson went off into the gravel at Copse so we had yellow flags there until they got him recovered. By the time they cleared there weren’t many laps left, I felt like I was going OK but then the battery light came on again so I decided to come in.
Back in the garage I borrowed a battery charger and got it on charge and with assistance from Brian and Colin’s friend Roger we eventually decided it was a failed regulator/rectifier. The only other Kawasaki runners are Tony Gaunt and Gary Goodyear but neither of them had a spare. Plan B was to try one from another make and try to make up some sort of adapter harness, otherwise run the car on a total loss basis hoping it would survive for 15 minutes. Dan Bromilow became my favourite lawyer as he provided a spare regulator from his R1 spares and much to my surprise and joy the connectors were the same and my loom just plugged straight into it.
My fastest lap was a rather disappointing 1:05.81 putting me 20th on the grid for Saturday’s race with my 2nd fastest a measly 1:06.19 putting me 21st.
In the assembly area Colin was making a point about it being his first race start in his new BDN and pleading with people not to run into him if he stalled it. I certainly assured him I wouldn’t be trying to pass him alongside the pit wall! My game plan was to get away cleanly but with no heroics, with a big grid the first couple of corners could always see someone fall victim to a bit of over-exuberance.
I got my clean start and settled into the first few corners losing a bit of ground on the cars in front with my lack of confidence on cold tyres. After a couple of laps things settled down and I had Dan Bromilow quite a way ahead of me in his stealth black Fury. Dan had qualified about a second quicker than me and had been quite a bit quicker throughout the test sessions on Friday so I resigned myself to the fact that he’d gone and concentrated on staying ahead of Steve Malyon in his red MNR who was filling my mirrors. I gradually eased out a gap on Steve then realised I was reeling in Dan.
As I gained in confidence I was able to get onto the brakes later and ended up right behind him. I did ease alongside a couple of times but had no real intention of trying to force a pass. Particularly not when I recall the favourite lawyer of mine nearly taking me out at Snetterton in the past! Each time leading cars lapped us I lost a bit of ground then made it up again. And there I finished, behind Dan. I certainly felt like I’d been going quicker but for some reason didn’t have lap times.
We got called into scrutineering where we all went on the weighbridge. I was confident my car was OK as I’d allowed for about 4 litres of fuel more than I needed to be on the limit. But I was wrong and the scales showed 359.5kg! I was let through with a warning.
When the results sheet came out I was delighted to see my fastest lap of 1:04.69 which was in fact quicker than either James Walker’s or Dan Bromilow’s in the 2 places ahead of me and importantly almost a second quicker than my previous best from the day before.
I was pretty pleased with the race, I’d really enjoyed it, had really felt like I was both getting more of a handle on the car as well as actually going a bit faster and as a bonus the car needed nothing doing to it. I checked the fuel to find I had 10 litres left which was enough to make it 363kg according to my corner weight scales. Indeed everyone else who’d previously weighed their cars thought the Silverstone scales were under-reading.
Here’s the video of the race – sadly no data overlay as the DigiDash recorded about 20 little files instead of one long one. Before you email me I already know what I’m doing wrong – losing too much ground at the start being over cautious on cold tyres, braking nice and hard and then calling for a taxi to take me to the apex cos it’s another half a mile down the track, simply not carrying enough speed round the apex, not making a sensible attempt to overtake when the opportunity arises and losing far too much ground letting the quicker guys through. But apart from that …
I refuelled the car adding a bit more than for this race to ensure the car wasn’t underweight again and did a bit of tinkering then settled down for an evening in the RGB paddock. It was Colin’s birthday so we all drank his bubbly then Jen, David and I joined the Greenway camp for more drinks and some spicy pulled pork.
Sunday started very cold but lovely and sunny with no clouds. I didn’t have much to do to the car, I cleaned off some of the rubber marks and confirmed that the dodgy DigiDash logger was due to the switch not earthing properly due to a loose nut. I was ready in plenty of time and we were joined by a couple of my medical mates, Richard and Sally – Richard lives nearby and Sally hadn’t been to a race meeting before and had been threatening to come for a while.
I was less nervous for this start and was hoping to build on my performance the day before. I was hoping to have a race with Dan (black Fury) and James Walker (white STM Phoenix), whose times I’d pretty much matched during Saturdays race. As it happened it didn’t happen! I don’t really know why but just didn’t really get it together, I had a good start and was cautious again on cold tyres but then made a couple of mistakes in the first few laps and never really got going. It didn’t feel slow but my lap times were down on Saturday’s race, I think some of it was because I was in a sort of no man’s land. I started behind Steve Malyon but fairly soon got past him and saw him and Dave Watson gradually recede in my mirrors but Dan and James were well up the road and well out of reach. Still, there were no dramas and the car behaved herself well and came home in one piece. We got called into scrutineering again – I think they were mainly looking at splitters and spoilers/rear undertrays to make sure we were all sticking to the regs. We then got weighed again and I was horrified to find the car was 558.5kg this time, a kilo lighter than Saturday. I had to wait on one side while the scrutineers finished with everyone else. Meantime I looked around to find a cushion to stick down my trousers I was profusely apologetic and explained that I really thought I’d stuck enough fuel in and in fairness the scrutineer was very reasonable and just threatened me with severe penalties if it happened again. Which it won’t, the lead’s going back in!
It’s probably just as well I’d forgotten to stick the memory card in the camera as I think the video of Sunday’s race could probably bore people to death. I was hoping to be able to post a trace of my heart rate during the race – I wore my Polar monitor and downloaded the log file afterwards to find that it was telling porky pies. My resting rate is currently around the 60 mark but as I was getting my race suit on etc. it was already up to 90 and once we were in the assembly area and I was belting up and started it recording it was up to 100. It rose to 116 per minute as we set off on the green flag lap but at the race start the monitor reckons it went up to 227 and stayed between 205 and 232 for the duration of the race. I’m confident that’s not possible, I’m not sure what my max is at the moment but even when I was very fit a few years ago it was only in the 180s and recently I haven’t pushed very hard on the bike but haven’t seen more than high 150′s. If it was genuinely anywhere near 200 I’d have felt rather unwell and would have known about it! Never mind, I’ll try again at Brands. It would be nice to try to incorporate it into the log file and overlay it on the video!
This year’s is the 62nd running of the Birkett Handicap, a 6 hour team endurance race held at Silverstone. For the last two years I’ve taken part with our team, the RGB Pups, so called as we were the RGB new boys when we first did it. This year we thought we’d outgrown the ‘Pups’ moniker so called ourselves Rabid RGB.
I’d booked testing on Friday so had a session in the morning and 2 sessions in the afternoon. This time we were actually testing on the Historic Grand Prix circuit in identical format to the following day’s race. The weather forecast was good and it was indeed a lovely sunny day on Friday although it had been atrociously wet the day and night before so the track was pretty damp for the first session.
I’d cheated slightly and had fitted a set of Toyo T1R Proxes to my spare set of wheels hoping these would be better in the wet than the Yoko AO48s. I discovered it wasn’t such a cunning plan when I had a spin just exiting pit lane! Hoping it was just the release agent on the tyres I got going again and tried to get them scrubbed in a bit. It was difficult however, I’ve never driven in such low grip conditions. Once I realised after 3 laps or so that it clearly wasn’t going to get any better I decided to just get on with it and try to get used to the car sliding about a bit. I managed to avoid any more spins and did actually quite enjoy drifting the car a bit. Sadly the video camera wouldn’t work so no footage.
Back in the paddock it seems it wasn’t down to the Toyos, everyone said it was very slippery – Tim Hoverd had spun twice on the first lap! So I stuck the proper set of wheels back on in readiness for the second session. This was at 1pm and by then it was warm and sunny and the track was completely dry. Having at least familiarised myself with the circuit in the first session the second session went well and I got more confident on what is a pretty high speed circuit. It’s lovely to drive, it really flows and there’s nowhere really that unsettles the car. My only issue was my gear indicator not working properly showing 5th when I was in 6th, apart from that the car was great and my gearing worked out pretty perfectly with me just needing 6th gear at the end of the Hangar Straight. I managed a 2:27 although I was confident I could comfortably gain a few more seconds with more track time. Austen had managed 2:23 so I was quite a lot closer to him than I’d expected.
Sadly the third session ended in disaster. We were red flagged after 3 laps and after what seemed ages waiting in pit lane we went out again. I tried to work the tyres on the first lap so I could press on again but on the second lap after the restart as I came onto the brakes for Maggotts (a fast 5th gear approach) the car became very unstable. I got off the brakes, let it settle then tried again but it just spat me round in a spin into the gravel. The engine had stalled but started fine although I was going nowhere being fairly deeply buried in the gravel. One of the marshals commented that I looked like I’d been coming into the corner very fast but I was fairly confident I wasn’t going quicker than usual and was a bit puzzled. My front tow loop got a good test as they towed me out but the rear undertray had ripped off its front mountings and was bent backwards out behind the car accompanied by a rather tatty looking rear valance. The offside mirror lens had also smashed. I decided driving it back to the pits would almost certainly do more damage so asked them to recover the car on the truck.
When I got back to the paddock Austen and Ken Greenway told me they’d been watching from the grandstand and said the undertray had detached as I was approaching the braking area. This actually reassured me quite a lot, clearly the sudden shift in the aero balance of the car had destabilised it causing the spin rather than pure ham-fistedness on my part.
Apart from the mangled aluminium undertray and broken rear valance the car was full of gravel everywhere. So while I got the undertray bashed straight Austen scrounged some polyester resin and set about fixing the valance and David got going clearing up the gravel. With the valance gaffer taped together Austen got it patched with the resin and some chopped strand mat ably assisted by Dan Bromilow who has had plenty of practice at this sort of thing! I’d been hoping to get scrutineered on Friday afternoon/evening but it wasn’t to be as the resin took ages to go off and the valance houses my rear lights which are required for our formula. The cause of the problem seemed to be that the row of rivets holding the middle of the undertray to its aluminium bracket had all pulled out. The tray had then sucked down onto the tarmac and then the front of it had ripped off its retaining bolts. I reinforced these mounts with some 3mm aluminium angle and re-riveted the tray to its bracket having enlarged the holes from 3mm to 4mm to take some slightly beefier rivets. With the undertray reattached to the car it was beer o’clock and time for our barbecue.
With scrutineering from 7.30am and my practice slot at 8.50 I was out in the dark just after 6.30 getting the surplus GRP trimmed off the valance and getting it’s mounting bolts etc. sorted. I could then refit it and connect up the lights. It was ready at 7.30 so I drove round to the scrutineering bay and got my ticket without any issues. Fortunately he hadn’t spotted the mirror, probably because the housing was fine, it was just that the lens was missing.
I couldn’t find a replacement lens so had to go out for the practice session without a mirror. There had been some light rain overnight and the track was damp in places but it was dry on the line through all the corners. I’d reprogrammed the gear indicator which was actually worse now showing 4th instead of 6th so obviously I’d adjusted it the wrong way! It was very busy out on track with almost 60 cars out so I had to be pretty careful, leaving a car’s width between me and the apex at every right hander. Apart from the lack of mirror the car was great though and I quite enjoyed myself.
Austen’s Dad arrived about 10.30 with a mirror lens he’d got on the way in so I taped that onto the housing – it was far from perfect as it wasn’t convex but it was a vast improvement on no mirror at all! Austen was starting the race this year and I was doing the second session so once 11:15 came round and the cars were all on the grid I had to be in the car with helmet and harnesses on etc. ready to go out. I heard all the cars head off on their green flag lap then again at the actual start but it seems a car near the front had stalled and there had been a significant multi-car pile up. Someone overheard the marshals saying they needed 5 cars lifting off the track so as it would clearly be some time before they could restart it I got out of the car again.
The restart was at about 11:40 and seemed to go better. We were planning on 30 minute stints and from the car I could see the minutes they were showing Austen on the pit board and got the engine running as they showed him the ‘In’ board. My session was actually pretty uneventful, you’re either passing or being passed by cars almost the whole time so I suspect my times were well down, I haven’t had a look yet. To maintain your lap times you need to be very confident not backing off as you overtake cars into corners or as you let a quicker car through and confidence hasn’t been a surplus commodity for me this season. The car was working well and the gear indicator was now spot on which makes a surprising difference. I was having trouble spotting the pit board and apparently missed the ‘In’ board a couple of times so actually did 35 minutes.
The only issue with the car was that the oil temp display disappeared as I pulled into the pits, the terminal had come off the end of the wire so that was easily fixed. With more fuel in she was ready to go again. The last couple of years the Birkett was wet and we were very uncompetitive, to add to this we were running short sessions (a deliberate choice due to our lack of experience) and you lose time each changeover, so we were used to running near the back. We’d also previously had issues with cars (mine mostly!) breaking down on track and even got penalised for having two cars out at once. This year in the dry we were running half hour stints, were well organised and were doing rather better. Austen started the race in 15th place and was running 18th at the end of his first stint, at that stage RGB East with Derek on track were 6th as Derek was flying. By the end of my session we were 20th and just one lap behind RGB East.
At just over an hour into the race RGB East came a bit unstuck when Doug Carter’s Radical PR6 had a problem and stopped out on track. Team Rabid breezed ahead and climbed up to 17th place after 1.5 hours and 16th after 2 hours. What was more interesting was that we were the leading Class A team – for roadgoing cars up to 1600cc or bike engines up to 1000cc. RGB East were in Class B due to Doug’s Radical. The second placed Class A team, the Six Signatures was behind us but on the same lap.
While Austen was out on his second session I was sitting in the car ready to go when the team were telling me it was starting to rain. The forecast had been dry and I couldn’t really see any rain from where I was sitting in the pit garage so I initially wasn’t too worried. They then said Austen’s times were down by about 10 seconds a lap. But as the session went on it clearly got wetter, everyone in pit lane was putting up hoods and the guys told me lap times were down by 25 seconds. And there I was sitting in a car with dry tyre pressures and damper settings There wasn’t enough time to change anything so when Austen came in I just headed out and tippy toed round. The first lap or two were the worst while I was on cold tyres and unsure of grip levels with the faster cars buzzing past me all the time, the track was definitely damp but nowhere near like the first session on Friday. As the session went on it dried out a bit and I started to go a bit quicker but I was still pretty slow. I managed to follow the pit board OK this time and knew I was coming in after 18 minutes to compensate for my longer first stint.
With just an hour to go we were in 21st place with the Six Signatures, a team of Caterhams, just one lap behind us in 22nd. Austen was out of fuel so I was to be the one belted up in the car waiting in the garage during the last session. Dave Watson had had to replace a bent wishbone on his car and Ben Butler had gone out before him. As Dave went out with about 30 minutes to go the pit marshal came looking for Tim, our team manager, to go to see the Clerk of the Course. It turned out Ben had overtaken someone under waved yellow flags and we were handed a stop and go penalty. At this stage the Six Signatures, team 17, were on the same lap as us 1 minute 44 seconds behind. Tim then had to work out how to communicate to Dave that he had to come in for the stop and go and was frantically waving our red ‘In’ board at him. Dave said afterwards that he saw the marshal’s black flag with the number 15 (which was our team’s number) but knew it wasn’t him as he was number 75 … doh! He eventually twigged and came in, when he went out car 17 was 10 seconds ahead of him. With 5 minutes to go I could see our team celebrating on the pit wall as they’d just seen Dave overtake car 17 on the way into Copse. At the finish he was 6 seconds ahead and we’d won Class A.
Once we’d got our cars loaded onto trailers and tools etc. packed we all trooped round to the BRDC clubhouse for the presentation. We were delighted to find that we were each to receive a rather nice trophy presented to us by Chris Norman the 750 Motor Club Race Secretary and Ginny Birkett, daughter of Holly Birkett the club chairman from the 1940′s who had founded the 6 hour relay race. On Sunday I got the car unloaded and gave her a wash, it had been raining all the way home so she was looking a bit sorry for herself covered in road grime and leaves etc. But here she is with the trophy
And here’s a close up shot of the rather nice trophy. We certainly didn’t win the trophy because of my stellar driving, that’s for sure. But at least I completed my sessions without either mechanical incident or any spins, as did the rest of the team. OK, so Ben made it a bit exciting by getting his penalty but it’s really difficult being aware of everything when you’re racing with 59 other cars on the circuit. It’s a nice end to the season, the car needs a bit of cosmetic TLC after Friday’s gravel excursion but that isn’t too major. I can then get her prepped for IVA.
Our last RGB race meeting of the year was Cadwell Park. It’s a long trek but worth it, it’s a fantastic circuit, they don’t call it the mini Nurburgring for nothing.
I’d decided trying to get there for testing on the Friday was a non starter but I entered the Allcomers race for Saturday which would give me an extra 2 track sessions. Friday morning was spent preparing the curry I’d offered to make and loading up. The 290 miles took me just over 6 hours and I got there at 6.30pm. My brother Andy arrived not long after and we pitched camp for the weekend. Austen arrived closer to 9 o’clock busless with a hired trailer behind his wife’s Land Rover Discovery. He’d had encounters with speed cameras and a deer on the way.
The Allcomers race was the first of the weekend so we had scrutineering at 7.30 and were out on track qualifying at 9am. Scrutineering was without issue although the cold breeze was quite a change from the weather we’d been having. My main goal for the first session was to make sure everything was working properly since the engine rebuild. The track was nice and dry and I needed a few laps to find my way around. The car felt great, the water temperature didn’t rise above 67° and I felt like I was going OK although my lap times were very slow at 1:46 – my fastest in the Fury was 1:41. In fairness it was quite busy and in addition to a handful of RGB cars there were lots of the kitcars, stock hatches, and MR2s out so I think I actually only got one clear lap in.
It was nice to be able to come in and relax for a while until the RGB qualy session at 11.40, all the car needed was fuel. The weather was still fine and I was determined to go a bit faster. I’d decided my main focus was going to be trying to get into the corners a bit faster and actually turn the car in a bit harder to use the front end grip a bit more. I found that this worked well, the car felt really planted and being a bit more firm turning in meant I was hitting the apexes much better and consequently getting better exits from the corners too. I knew I was going faster and was pleased to see I’d managed a 1:43.19, an improvement of 3 1/2 seconds from the Allcomers! I knew I could go quite a bit faster, I was on a faster lap when Paul and Derek caught me and I lost time as I let them through. Looking at my logs after the first couple of laps getting the tyres up to temperature I was improving by almost a second each lap.
The car had been faultless again, oil temperature and pressure fine, water temp 67° again. I was starting to get more confident with the handling and was enjoying driving it. We only had a 40 minute gap before the Allcomers race, so I got the car refuelled again. Despite driving Miss Daisy in qualifying I was 11th on the grid of 28 cars so nowhere to hide really! Taking my time and trying to saunter through Coppice at the back of the grid wasn’t going to be an option! The cloud had lowered rather ominously and as we went to the grid there were a few spots of drizzle on my visor.After the green flag lap we formed up on the grid, I had an MR2 alongside me, Colin in his Fury and another MR2 in front with a Renault Megane in front of them. Both Colin and the Megane had done 1:42′s but the MR2 was in the 1:45s so I was now likely to be quicker than him. I had a good start and got past the MR2s and the Megane and tried to hang onto the RGB boys. A Mallock was being very cautious on the slightly damp track on his slicks and by the time I’d got past him there was a good gap in front of me. It turns out I was then in 6th place. I wasn’t feeling very confident in the grip levels either, I’d had a lurid slide around the rather greasy Hall Bends and had the Megane and an MR2 breathing down my neck. I was much quicker down the straights but was being cautious in the corners where they were all over me. They both got past and got away from me a bit but I gradually gained confidence and got down to 1:46s and reeled in and passed the MR2. Once past him I got away from him quite quickly, Nigel Brown in his Vx engined Phoenix had dropped out so I was back up to 6th place. I was really enjoying myself and got down to 1:45 but the weather was deteriorating and there was a lot of rain on my visor, it was particularly worrying barrelling along the Park Straight coming towards the 90 degree right hander flat in 5th wondering if it was OK to brake at the same place as last time round! On lap 9 I was catching a very slow Locost coming into Hall Bends and discovered he was going even slower than I thought and had to jab on my brakes a bit harder than planned. The car stepped sideways, I almost caught it but not quite and I slid off to the left taking out one of the plastic marker bollards on my way. I was only going slowly so it was pretty undramatic but I ended up on the grass facing the armco a few feet away from it. There was no way I could rejoin without reversing back onto the track and I decided that wouldn’t be very sensible so switched off and climbed out.
On the one hand I was disappointed to have lost it and not finished the race but I’d really enjoyed the race until then and had felt I was going fairly well. There was no damage done and once the race finished (there was only one full lap left) I got back in, reversed onto the track and made my way back to the paddock.
By the time of the RGB race late afternoon it was properly wet. Austen and I had been down to look at the track as there had been a drier spell but the cars on track were sliding all over the place round the Mountain section and it started raining again while we were down there. One of our guys decided not to go out at all, I decided I still wanted to go out but had absolutely no plans to try exploring the car’s limits. Cadwell is extremely unforgiving, the track’s very narrow and there are very few places where an off isn’t likely to result in the car meeting something very hard. So I went out, I maintained my start position and brought the car home in one piece. Very uninspiring but mission accomplished. Visibility was awful, we had a green flag lap then on the first lap poor old Tim Pell spun just after where I’d spun at the Hall Bends and was deemed to be in a dangerous place so we were red flagged. During the wait for the restart my visor started to mist up so my visibility just got progressively worse as the race went on. Even if I had video, and I haven’t cos the camera battery went flat, I’d be too ashamed to post it
We then had a very pleasant evening in the paddock, Andy and I joined the Greenway/Q20 clan and Ben Butler and his Dad and had a few beers and the curry I’d made on Friday. It all seemed to go down well and no-one seemed to develop any untoward symptoms overnight although Austen’s Dad reckoned their tent wasn’t a very nice place to be in overnight
I really had little to do to prep the car for Sunday’s race. I added fuel and gave the chain a minor adjustment and some lube and that was it.
Our race on Sunday was at 12.15 and the forecast was vaguely hopeful although it had been very wet overnight and early morning. It did indeed stop raining quite a while before our race but when we went down to watch the MR2s in the race but one before ours it was obviously still very slippery coming into and around the Mountain, so I left the car on wet settings with slightly softer dampers and more air in the tyres. We had a green flag lap and although lots of the track was damp a dry line was appearing in places and there was considerably less spray.
I was hanging onto the back of the pack on the first lap when Dan Bromilow started to run a bit wide around Chris Curve and put 2 wheels on the grass. This rapidly resulted in the other 2 wheels going onto the grass. As I passed I thought he would be able to rejoin later but he was parked up by the barrier next time round and it turned out he’d actually gone into the barrier. I gradually dropped back from Ben Butler – it was very slippery round the second part of the Mountain, round Hall Bends, the Hairpin and Park but there was a drying line elsewhere. I was very unheroic though and just did enough to keep Jim Fowley a safe distance behind.
It’s a pity we had wet RGB races as I really felt I could have improved some more in the dry but it wasn’t to be and I’m confident it was the right decision not to push it in the wet at Cadwell. I was really pleased with the car, it really was faultless all weekend.
Looking back over the season and the problems I’ve had this year they’ve hinged round a few key components:
Damaged engine due to my own ineptitude (spin at Llandow)
Oil cooler failure at Mallory
Crappy fuel pressure regulator early season
Problems with gearchange pretty much resolved by increasing mechanical advantage
Electrical gremlins caused by faulty switch
Damaged engine due to coolant loss
Hopefully I can now get on with learning to drive the car properly! Next outing is the Birkett Relay on 29th October.