I woke up to clear blue skies and no wind Quite a few of our guys are joining in with Bike Sports today and although I’m tempted it makes the day busier. Also their scrutineering is at 8am, qualifying at 9, and I need to get to the ‘first time racing at this circuit’ briefing at 8.15. It would also be asking a lot of both the car and myself – two 15 minute qualifying sessions, a 20 minute race and a 30 minute race.
I went to the briefing at 8.15 which was less formal than usual and took all of three minutes. After a bit of breakfast I got going with my check-list which includes checking all the things that come loose on these bike engined cars – suspension rose joint locknuts, prop bolts, diff bolts and drive shaft bolts. The bolts holding the left hand drive shaft had loosened just enough that the paint marks no longer lined up correctly, so I tightened those with a plan to remove them one by one and refit them using some fresh stud lock.
Scrutineering was the usual slow affair but with no comments from the scrutineer. It’s all a bit tense because if they do find something you’ve generally got less than half an hour to sort it out and re-present the car, so most of us go ready suited up. With that out of the way I had just under an hour for the final checks on the car. Cadwell’s only a small place and the assembly area is right by the clubhouse at the bottom of the paddock so David came along and hung around with me as we waited park up in a queue around the perimeter of the area. We were noise tested again as we went in, 100DB this time, so it looks like my noise troubles are history. The whistle was blown and the cars started peeling off one by one, as my turn came the engine just cut. I didn’t stall it, it just cut. It turned over fine but wasn’t firing. The marshals offered to give me a push but I declined as I knew it wouldn’t work. I turned the ignition off, turned the FIA master switch off then turned both back on again, hit the starter and she just started first turn. although relieved she’d started it meant we clearly hadn’t got to the bottom of the problem.
I put that out of my mind and concentrated on driving. Cadwell’s almost 2.2 miles, narrow and with very little run-off in places. It’s a very technical circuit and there’s lots to learn. Since I’d gone out last I at least had a clear track for a while but it wasn’t long before the faster guys were catching and passing me. The main areas I was focussing on were:
- Keeping my foot off the middle pedal coming into coppice at the end of the main straight and trying to make myself lift off the throttle later to carry more speed up the steep hill that follows
- Making myself brake later and later coming into Park
- working out what to do with the gears around Chris Curves – I was ending up on the limiter in 3rd halfway round so started short shifting into 4th just before turning in
Towards the end I caught up with Judi who has a CBR1000 motor this year and was much quicker on the straights than before so I didn’t get past her before the session end. I had no idea of lap times as despite them saying their infra-red beacon was on my DigiDash reckoned it wasn’t. I drove back to the paddock and as I was manoevring into my spot the engine cut again.
My fastest lap was 1.45.26 putting me 23rd out of 25 on the grid for the first race, my next fastest was 1.45.80 which put me 2 places higher at 21st for Sunday’s race. I wasn’t unhappy with that at all. Although I hadn’t actually gone faster than Friday I felt I’d learned a lot and had clear ideas about where improvement could come from. I had about four hours before the race at 3pm to investigate and hopefully fix the intermittent cut-out which had to be electrical. There were also the usual checks and maintenance issues as well as re-doing the drive shaft bolts.
The only thing I could find in the wiring was one of the wires from the ECU that’s connected to earth via a 150 ohm resistor. I’d twisted the wires together to solder them but had forgotten the soldering. They were pretty well twisted together though so I doubted that was it. I also crimped all the connections to the FIA and ignition switches to make sure they were all OK. I was getting lots of advice from helpful people in the paddock, all of whom are more knowledgeable and experienced than me and a couple of themes emerged – it seems ignition switches and FIA switches have been culprits for this sort of thing previously. I didn’t have spares so I’ll get those changed before the next race at Anglesey. I also hadn’t been able to get the camera working for qualifying and investigations on that drew a bit of a blank which was a pity. The throttle had been sticking a bit – nothing major, it just took a time to drop completely down to idle, so I oiled the cable.
On my way down to the assembly area for the race the throttle was worse, so we popped the bonnet up and had a look. I made a minor routing adjustment but it all looked OK apart from not having enough free play. Again it wasn’t a major drama, it wasn’t sticking wide open, just not returning completely to an idle. We were delayed a bit as yet again the Formula Vee race before ours was carnage! We eventually peeled out onto the circuit and drove round to the starting grid and all got into position. It’s always a bit tense but once I get there I always feel fine. We had the usual 3 minute, 1 minute, 30 seconds, 5 seconds boards all within about 30 seconds, the lights came on and you’re sitting surrounded by bike engines at 7-8,000 rpm waiting for them to go out. I had my usual great start but had to get straight off the gas as the folks in front of me hadn’t, and the road’s simply too narrow for me to even consider any heroics especially with Coppice coming up at the end of the straight. Judi came up alongside on my right and I had no intention whatsoever of defending my place and let her slot in front of me going up the hill into Charlie’s. I’d been hoping to have a dice with Neil Constable-Berry who had been doing similar lap times to me at Brands and again here but it wasn’t to be as he’d started alongside me and was ahead of Judi. Although fast along the straights Judi was quite variable into the corners, generally, but not always, braking earlier and harder than me. Someone more experienced and aggressive would doubtless have just got up the inside of her into a corner but I need a bit more sett time before I start doing that. As we came down the main straight I tried to out-power her but that didn’t work and I was stuck for another whole lap. Next time round I used the slipstream and waited till halfway down the straight and gritted my teeth keeping my right foot on the throttle – I only needed to lift a bit later than her and the corner was mine. This worked great and although she pulled alongside me on my right going up the hill she lifted earlier again for Charlie’s and I was in front. By now there was no-one in sight in front at all and that was the way it stayed. I concentrated on the same things as in qualifying an it started to flow a bit better. I was now just lifting very late for Coppice and getting straight back onto the power which then meant I was coming into Charlie’s much quicker, giving me another section to work on.
I then started to encounter a problem in that I became aware my brake pedal was getting longer – in the hard braking areas for Park and the Hairpin the pedal was going down closer and closer to the bulkhead. I had no idea how many laps were left but knew it wasn’t many so decided to carry on, but I was having to hit the brakes earlier and earlier – Park’s a 90 degree right and I was approaching it in 5th gear more or less on the limiter, so I guess about 120mph. there were no marker boards out but I was normally hitting the brakes about 100m out which seems horribly close at that speed when you aren’t sure what’s going to happen when you stand on the brake pedal! Anyway, I made it round and took the chequered flag and enjoyed the cool down lap thanking the marshals who were all out of their posts and have a tradition of giving us a clap as we go round. It had been a bit of a lonely race but I’d finished.
On the way back to the paddock it was obvious I had a serious brake problem! It didn’t improve as they cooled down and as I pulled up next to the motorhome I realised I’d left the handbrake on! It’s completely ineffective, but had clearly been dragging all the way through the race – David said there was smoke coming from my nearside rear wheel towards the end and Dave Hackett said the disk had been glowing red. the wheel was covered in brake dust and what looked like fragments of what had been molten metal. Once I got the wheel off it was obvious the pads were down to metal, the disk was wrecked and there was brake fluid actually dripping from the caliper. The outside piston was stuck to the pad backing plate and once I got the caliper off I could see that the alloy piston had actually melted! This pic shows the piston, pad and what’s left of the caliper seal. I concluded that I was a lucky boy to have finished the race but that I’d need to be luckier still to get out for the race tomorrow.
However the RGB paddock machine whirred into action. Adrian Moore had had an almost identical problem at Brands testing a couple of weeks ago and reckoned he probably had he right Hi-Spec brake caliper parts at home to fix the caliper, he also had 2 spare brake pads with him. Poor old Dave Hackett who’d come up for the day in the Megabird was press ganged into going to Adrian’s that evening to collect the parts then coming back again early Sunday morning with them. I felt pretty bad about it but I didn’t think Dave really minded. I popped round to Andy Bates to see if the disk was skimmable but he reckoned it was best to throw it away and after a quick rummage at the back of his truck appeared with a box containing a pair of disks! I took the caliper apart ready for the next morning and got most of the pre-race checks done so they were out of the way then grabbed a couple of beers and hung around gossiping with the guys until we were all too cold to stay out any longer.
What was most heartening was that when I saw the results my fastest lap was 1.43.79 so I’d gained almost two seconds on the morning’s qualifying time. Even more startling was the fact that that was on my last lap, with no brakes!
Sunday morning dawned with clear blue skies and no wind. I woke really early and went for a walk round the circuit which brought home just how steep the climb after Coppice, the Gooseneck and the Mountain are. The pics above show the approach to Coppice and the view from the apex up the hill. I suspect as I get braver even I’m going into this at approaching 100mph.
Here’s the entry into the Gooseneck and the view from the apex down towards Mansfield. Having discussed this with Derek I was leaving the car in 4th gear for this as the downshift into 3rd is very unsettling as you go through the hard right trailbrake followed by the left flick down the hill and back onto the power.
And here’s the Mountain – I’m approaching this around maximum revs in 4th gear, so about 100mph before leaning very heavily on the brakes, getting the car round the first left hander than sliding it round the very sharp right turn before getting hard on the power and managing the car squirreling round as you get a bit of air over the crest. Lots of black lines on the tarmac telling you it doesn’t always go well! In fact all the way round the circuit there are lots of black lines clearly at the wrong angle which then continue onto the grass before ending abruptly at the tyre wall. Quite sobering.
Dave Hackett turned up at 9am, bless his cotton socks It quickly became clear that the caliper halves are handed and Adrians’s were the wrong hand to mine. Plan B was just to replace the caliper seal and piston and hope the seal in the other side of the caliper wasn’t toasted. Getting the new seal in was a doddle but getting a piston out of one of Adrian’s caliper halves proved more tricky and Andy Bates and I ended up getting it out by blowing it out with a foot pump! The caliper was soon back together and I could bleed the system again. Dave Hackett leaned as hard as he could on the pedal with no sign of a leak from the other seal so we were back in business. To say I was pleased would be an understatement! I bled the clutch in case the low reservoir fluid level had impacted on that but no air came through. I then had plenty of time to tidy the tools and stick the bodywork back on then hang around with the others chatting before we were called to the assembly area.
On the way down there it felt great to be in the car with no issues to worry about, everything was working great including the throttle which was now behaving with a decent amount of free play in the cable. I felt fairly relaxed in the assembly area waiting to go out and was looking forward to the race. I was a couple of places further up the field today and really wanted to try to hang on to a few of the guys for a bit longer to actually have someone to race with. Neil C-B was behind me for this race. We had a green flag lap which was surprisingly stressful, lots of hard acceleration then all bunching up and braking with the cars very close together. Pete Rope who had qualified 19th had gone home so I actually had a space in front of me on the grid. I got a great start again and held my position on the inside around Coppice. Rob Grant hustled his way up the inside of me into Charlie’s followed by Neil Palmer in the Fulcrum around the second part of Charlie’s. for the next couple of laps I fought hard to keep up with them but every time I made a slight error – missing a braking point, coming off the gas too early etc. – the gap was just opening up slightly. I ended up on my own again but gained in confidence and was enjoying going faster. About three quarters distance (it was a 28 minutes + one lap race) I caught Judi to lap her. I was planning the same move into Coppice but Steve caught me into the hairpin, I waved him through on my left and stayed right into Barn where Steve went past Judi up the inside. I just followed Steve through and got on the power early and that was that, job done! I was watching my mirrors for more cars, in yesterday’s race I’d been lapped by the first five cars but no-one appeared. I caught Tony Carpenter and decided to be a bit more assertive. I got on the power early coming through the first part of Charlie’s and pulled alongside him in the middle section. He backed off a bit as we approached the second apex and I was through. The last couple of laps my tyres were starting to go off and the car was sliding round a lot more which was fun but felt slower. I then saw another car I was catching and was surprised to see it was Adrian’s Subaru-blue Genesis. He clearly had a problem for me to be catching him but he was a target nonetheless! I was getting right up behind him along the main straight but the chequered flag then ended play.
This had been by far my best race ever, completing what had been my most successful weekend in RGB so far. It felt great to drive the car back into the paddock and onto the trailer without any damage or mechanical issues knowing she’s pretty much ready to race with no major work required. I’d finished 17th out of 25 starters and 20 finishers and my fastest lap was 1.41.03 on lap 16 of 18 (i.e. before the tyres went off) so another couple of seconds improved from yesterday’s race. Another couple of seconds a lap will put me in the back of the pack which is something to look forward to. The next race is Anglesey in four weeks time, I made my debut there last year so I already know the circuit, I’ve raced there before, no first-time-racing-here briefing and no major repairs to carry out in the intervening weeks. Happy days