I had significant problems getting myself motivated for Silverstone, I was lacking what the Welsh call ‘hwyl’. You can look that up for yourself The Donington weekend had been pretty depressing and the DNF aside my driving performance wasn’t really up to much.
I booked the Friday testing at Silverstone – the racing was to be on the new International Circuit, a configuration we haven’t driven before, incorporating the F1 start/finish straight, the complex after it followed by a little twiddly bit back onto the Hangar Straight then round Stowe, Vale and Club back onto the finish straight. I was watching Swansea play a Europa Cup game at the Liberty Stadium on Thursday night so had an early start leaving the house at 4:50 on Friday morning. The test day was pretty booked up when I rang so they stuck me in the open wheel group along with a couple of other RGBers and it happened that that was the first session so it was all a bit hectic when I arrived at the circuit at 8:15.
Austen, Dave and the gang were already ensconced in a pit garage in the new F1 Wing and very impressive it was too, with Webber and Vettel’s position markers still on the floor by the entry onto pit lane. I got signed on, got changed and checked my tyre pressures and headed off down pit lane at 9am. It was a nice sunny morning and the track was dry. I’ve driven most of the circuit before during the Birkett but the twiddly bit onto the Hangar Straight was tricky with a big hump then an off camber turn in. It was odd being on circuit with single seater open wheeled cars, we don’t usually get to mingle with them and although some were Formula Vee (slower than us down straights, about the same round the corners) there were a couple of quick cars out there. The Formula Renaults or Formula Fours (not sure which they were) were quick everywhere and were very late on the brakes so came up the inside from a long way back. A couple of the Radicals and I think the Reynard Inverter were likewise carrying a lot of corner speed.
I had a couple of uneventful morning session with no issues with the car which was good. In the afternoon Austen’s son, William, asked if I wanted him to time me. I said no but he did it anyway! I did a load of laps in the mid 1:19s which was depressingly slow, Austen was in the 15′s and Steve and Dave weren’t much slower. So I gave myself a bit of a talking to and set off out in the last session determined to stray at least a little way outside the comfort zone – braking a bit later for Stowe and Abbey, trying to keep my foot in on the left hander at Farm etc. I came in having managed a low 1:18 so about a second and a half improvement which gave me a bit of encouragement. The car had been great all day and needed no more than fuel and chain lube.
Friday evening the Rabid corner of the paddock had a BBQ and I’d made pulled pork that had been broiling in the slow cooker in the motorhome all day. The weather forecast had been predicting rain moving in about 5pm and overnight but it didn’t materialise. I had an early night as I was knackered.
Saturday morning was overcast but dry with rain forecast for much of the day. Signing on and scrutineering were uneventful although the scrutineer did initially ask if it would be possible for me to cover the wiring behind my dash. Once I pointed out that it was covered once I put the bodywork went down his concern seemed to lessen somewhat
It was still dry come our qualy session late morning and I went out again determined to see if I could improve a bit more. Steve Malyon got past me on the first lap and I initially had trouble keeping up as my tyres took a bit longer than his to come up to temp due to my 15″ wheels. After that there wasn’t much difference between us. I felt like I was going a bit better than before but wasn’t watching lap times and it was only when Colin Spicer’s wife came round with a timing sheet that I discovered I had indeed gone better with a 1:17.42 putting me 14th on the grid of 27, vastly better than my 26th on the grid at Donington. Even more encouraging was that my 2nd fastest time was 1:17.7 and put me 11th for Sunday’s race.
My mate Richard came along in the afternoon with his wife and daughter so they were keen to have a look around and get some photos in the F1 pitlane. Despite the forecast it was still dry for our race late afternoon although the sky was very dark and threatening. I didn’t get a good start with too much wheelspin so quite a few cars came past me, I then lost even more places round the first couple of corners through being tentative. So at the end of the first lap I was 5th from last. On the second lap as I was about to turn in to the off camber right hander onto the Hangar Straight Charlie Thomas in Adrian’s old Genesis made a fairly optimistic move up the inside, lost it and spun. I turned hard left to avoid him but he didn’t get his foot on the brake and carried on rolling backwards and clipped my right rear corner. Even more cars went past me as I ran wide and recovered. The bodywork and spoiler looked OK in the rear view mirror so I stuck it out of my mind and concentrated on driving. Sadly my video camera didn’t work so I’ve no real record of the race but I was chasing people down for most of it and did get past three cars ending up just behind Sam Cook in his now yellow Fury. I felt I was a bit quicker and was hoping to get past but then got caught by the leaders who were lapping me and lost ground on Sam as a result. I finished 16th, still my best result of the season, and again improved on my lap time going down to 1:17.24.
So not a brilliant race in terms of the result but the car was fine, I’d made another small improvement in my pace and I had actually been racing and overtaken a couple of people rather than just driving round. The car had a bit of damage on the right rear corner – scuffed paint and the GRP needs some work where it’s cracked/chipped. Disappointingly Charlie never did come over to see what damage he’d done or apologise.
The 750 Motor Club had it’s summer party in a big marquee with a hogroast and a band on Saturday evening. The food was OK but the band was some jazz/dixie outfit and really not my cup of tea. Nor anyone else I spoke to in the paddock. So the Rabid’s did what we do best, sitting round having a laugh and consuming fairly large quantities of beer and wine. With Sunday’s race not until 3:15pm there were no real worries about hangovers.
The main dampener was that Dave Watson had blown his engine during the race. We worked out it had been running lean and had melted the tip off a spark plug and holed a piston. He’s had a pretty horrible season with I think only one race finish
Sunday morning was wet but with an improving forecast and I had a pretty lazy time with the car needing nothing significant. Matt Higginson had entered his Kawasaki ZZR1400 engined Rage buggy in the All Comers race so we went up onto the balcony overlooking Vale, Club and the pit straight to watch. It looked like it shouldn’t really work at all – very short wheelbase and very unaerodynamic but it apparently weighs about the same as an RGB car and has plenty of power and torque. And of course Matt at the wheel. He seemed to be going well in qualy and sure enough he put it second on the grid, only beaten by a Radical on full wets! Whoever’s mapped the engine has obviously given it plenty of fuel on the overrun as there were huge flames on the entry into Vale every lap.
The All Comers was the first race so we went off to see how Matt got on in the slightly drier conditions, there was no standing water but the track was still pretty damp. Here’s the view of the grid from the balcony overlooking pit lane. He started second and despite getting ahead into the first corner his buggy was no match for the Radical and he went on to finish an impressive second after lots of overtaking lapped cars.
Sunday afternoon was warm and sunny and by 3pm was actually quite hot. The self-lecture for this race included “try to get a decent start” and “try a bit harder in the first few corners”. In the end I did get a much better start and although I lost a couple of places early on they were mostly people who were generally quicker than me but had qualified poorly, mostly I suspect due to not testing on Friday. I settled down behind Steve Malyon in his MNR and James Walker in his Phoenix, initially dropping back a way before getting a bit more on the pace and reeling them in. James got past Steve and eventually I closed right up on Steve and got a better exit from Club onto the start/finish straight and got past him before turning in at Abbey. James was a little way ahead but I reeled him in too and was right on his tail again with another good exit from Club but we took the chequered flag as we exited onto the straight.
I did the cool down lap feeling extremely pleased with myself, Steve pulled alongside to exchange a thumbs up. As I slowed into pit lane I switched the dash to show my lap time – 1:16.06 so again an improvement of over a second from my last session and the first time I haven’t been lapped in a while. Well chuffed. One problem was that my back was hurting, it was feeling burnt from the exhaust headers and carried on hurting even though I’d slackened my belts and was leaning forward away from the bulkhead a bit. I gained another problem as I waited in pit lane for parc ferme, the pit lane marshal instructed me to report to the Clerk of the Course We’d had a few yellow flags but I was pretty confident I hadn’t overtaken under yellow flags and decided the likeliest was running all four wheels off the track which is very easy coming onto both straights. I formed an orderly queue with Al Boulton (who’d had contact with Colin Spicer), Sam Cook (who also suspected his crime was running 4 wheels off) and one of the Compact Cup BMW drivers. The BMW driver got dealt with first then Viv called Sam and myself in together and gave us a ticking off for running off the track. I can’t really say it dampened my enthusiasm much.
So that was my weekend. The highs and lows of motorsport … this time I was leaving a circuit with a fully intact and functioning car and feeling really pleased with myself. Can’t wait for Donington in 4 weeks!