When I got up at 7 in was pretty murky outside – very low cloud and everything was very wet. This was pretty much as expected so I got into the pit garage and swapped my wheels over to the wet set (which are still Yokohama AO48R’s but with some extra grooves cut). They may reduce aquaplaning a bit but don’t seem to actually increase wet grip. I also disconnected the front ARB and softened off all 4 dampers.
Since I was car A in our team I went to qualify first. Frankly qualy was horrendous The track was horribly wet, I was constantly surrounded by cars, visibility was terrible due to spray and I had no confidence in the amount of grip I had. There were waved yellow flags at multiple areas on the circuit which was hardly surprising given the conditions and the fact that there were 56 cars out in the session. And to cap it all I missed the chequered flag, by the time I’d gone round a couple of corners without cars on either side of me I realised something was wrong. My fastest lap was a pathetic 2:22 although I’m not sure there was ever a clear lap without yellow flags. But … the car didn’t break and I didn’t spin
All I needed to do was refuel and clean up my visor and spent the rest of the time in the garage chatting with the rest of the team. I was starting the race for our team so made my way round to the assembly area at 10.45, it had started to drizzle again. We went out and formed up on the grid and after what seemed like ages (they actually seemed to time the 3 minute, 2 minute, 30 second boards for the first time ever) the started us off with the green flag. After splashing around the circuit we got back round to the grid and again it took ages for everyone to get into place – I was on row 11 of 28 rows so my mirrors were full of headlights. The red lights came on then went out and off we went. Masses of wheelspin off the line and the cars in front got away from me, then cars were flooding past from behind. A Golf went flying past but I found out later he had 4 wheel drive which seems a bit of a cheat really! We all got round Copse safely, more cars came past on the run to Becketts and all I could see coming in there was firstly spray then the green car that had overtaken me then pulled across in front of me as he hit the brakes. We all got round there OK, then the run down to Abbey was interesting. Of course I’d spun here the previous morning so was feeling particularly cautious, as I decelerated through the spray the cars in front were going into the hairpin 3 abreast and indeed I had cars overtaking on both sides of me as I went round it. But still no crashes! Along the farm straight and a yellow single seater went past me up the inside as we went into the right hander after the bridge, then as we exited the corner he lost his rear and pirouetted off onto the inside. Round the first apex at Priory, gingerly turning into the second left hander and two cars came together exiting the corner. I went right to avoid them and someone else just avoided me but I was still intact coming round Luffield. A Morgan was very close coming around the outside of me and as I gingerly got onto the power the back end stepped out. I caught it OK, got back on to it then as we got round Woodcote there were waved yellows and onto the straight I could see what looked like a yellow Radical facing the wrong way on the pit wall. I saw the ‘SC’ board then meaning the safety car was out, so we all eased off and drove round for a while as they recovered cars from the 3 separate incidents around the circuit.
I was watching my lap times (around 3:20 behind the safety car) and trying to do the maths in my head – we’d agreed to do 20 minute sessions on grounds of us all being novices, but that in the event of a safety car we’d stay out until the safety car came in to avoid pit lane queues. As the laps went by my visibility got worse and worse and even though I had a clear idea where our pit board was I couldn’t make out anything on it as I went by due to all the spray and the crap on my visor. So once the safety car went in I reckoned my 20 minutes was up and after a lap at ‘race speed’ (i.e. marginally faster than under the safety car) I pulled in to pit lane. Apparently they weren’t expecting me for another lap but Austen, our B car, was ready and off he went.
I got my car refuelled and sorted my visor out. I didn’t get changed even though my race overalls were pretty soaked – I didn’t have very long and I really didn’t fancy putting them back on wet. It was pretty busy in the garage, we had a cluster of 3 garages together with 4 RGB teams in totalling 22 cars along with associated drivers, supporters and lots of other spectators who wandered around. It was all quite good fun. None of our team had any major dramas and at 1pm Paul Rickers, our F car went out so I pushed my car to the front of the garage and got belted up and helmet on etc. Once he came in I slotted out behind him down pit lane and as I got to the end the marshal got the safety car board out again! It was still horrendously wet and slippery and as we made out way out of Luffield towards Woodcote I could see the cause – poor old Colin Chapman’s car was being recovered from the barrier on the left They were still recovering it next time round then the next lap we were under race conditions again and it all went a bit faster. I was lapping in the mid 1:20′s and it was frankly all I could do. The visibility was terrible and every time I tried to go a bit faster the car was breaking away – it wasn’t the least bit progressive, it was just suddenly sliding.
David Wale passed me coming into Abbey but as I came down the finish straight there he was on the grass on the left, I wondered if he’d hit the wall but as I approached him he started moving again and was clearly about to rejoin. I splashed my way round for the rest of my session without any major incidents and was grateful to be getting out of the car back in the pit garage. I was becoming increasingly aware of a vibration when I was coming off the throttle into the faster corners – I’d been aware of it the day before and it’s really difficult to know if something is actually getting worse or if you’re just getting more paranoid! So I took the rear tub off and checked all the prop bolts, drive shaft bolts, wheel bearings, the prop centre bearing. I even got Andy Bates to have a look but everything seemed in order. We decided I was probably just getting paranoid.
While I was waiting for my next session the clouds cleared and the sun came out. While Paul was out before me there was another safety car session and as soon as it came in Paul did his last lap and I was off again. I think the cars were all bunched up as a result because I left pit lane onto a deserted circuit, which suited me just fine. There was no dry line but at least I didn’t have spray to contend with although the sun was very bright and quite low producing a lot of glare off the wet track. As I tippy toed my way out of Bridge in 5th gear the car stepped out again to confirm my impression that there was no more grip than previously, and did the same again exiting Luffield! As I turned into Copse I lost the front – they say a change is as good as a rest but I’m not convinced. I collected that up and carried on, then the faster cars caught me again down the straight towards Abbey. I completed my first timed lap in 1:23. On the next lap as I came under the bridge there were waved yellows again and around the corner a car had gone into the barriers on the right just before Priory. Once I cleared him it seemed OK but as I came round Woodcote the waved yellows were out again along with the SC board …
It took me almost a full lap to catch up with the safety car train, and by the time a couple of cars in front of me had pitted I was about 5th in the line. After they’d cleared the car at Priory I expected him to go in but he kept his lights on as we came round Priory I saw the medical car shoot out from the assembly area ahead of him. I wondered why till the safety car drove particularly slowly down the main straight and I saw the medical car parked up where 2 cars had come together into the barrier on the left just before Copse. So we circulated round behind the safety car for another 4 or 5 laps. I was aware I’d been out for well over 20 minutes but could see the pit wall crew easily every time I came round and was confident that if they wanted me to come in they’d let me know. Eventually the wrecked cars were cleared and next time round the safety car came in so after a quicker lap I pulled into pit lane for the last time.
I did keep the car and myself ready to go out again if we had problems but there was no need. Paul Rickers did say he’d had a couple of spins but had just got going again. When we’d started planning this event several months ago we were all too aware that we all had a pretty poor record, at one Brands weekend none of us had finished! Also 3 of the team only got rid of their novice crosses during the season. So although we’d been pretty slow (and running 20 minute sessions hadn’t helped our lap count) we were all pretty pleased that we’d finished all 6 cars without any damage or mechanical issues. I did spend some time checking over mine before the last session but I don’t think any of us did anything to our cars apart sticking fuel in and checking tyre pressures.
I personally had mixed feelings. It was great to finish and to have a weekend away and bring the car home working and intact but I was disappointed with my driving performance. Had it been dry it would have been different, I’m sure, but I think I have some work to do on the car’s wet weather setup. I suspect I need to slap some softer springs on there to make it a bit more progressive, I’ll revisit Tim’s spreadsheet and see what should be optimal theoretically. I’ll also get some testing done. Having spent some time reviewing my video of the weekend I still don’t think I could have gone much quicker even with more brave pills – here’s a clip showing the first lap of the race (after 3 separate crashes the safety car was deployed) and a few little slides.
I’m also still unhappy about the vibration – having had prop failures twice already I don’t want to take any risks, so I plan to take the prop and driveshafts off and get the prop centre bearing and my outboard tripode joints checked – they’re the only bits of the drivetrain that haven’t been replaced since the diff failure at Oulton that seemed to terminally injure both the prop and the right hand CV joint.