The journey to Snetterton on Friday evening was pretty painful, a 285 mile journey in a motorhome towing a trailer always will be but the last 40 miles or so were very slow. The weather was good and the forecast for Saturday was also good with Sunday’s being less certain. The paddock was pretty full as we had a grid of 30 or so cars for the weekend, the biggest for a long while. Once I’d set up the motorhome I went off on the bike to do a lap of the circuit – Snetterton’s changed a lot since last autumn and the 200 circuit included Montreal, a hairpin right followed by a left at what used to be Sear onto the back straight and Coram is now a long fast bend which terminates in a tight 90 degree left meaning that you’re still on the curve in the braking zone. Snetterton’s never been my favourite circuit – distance from home aside I’ve not had a good time here with a big crash 2 years ago, a prop failure at another meeting and a suspension failure at yet another.
Saturday morning was clear and by the time our qualy came round at 10.50 it was really quite warm. The outlap was interesting, first of all while tentatively (i.e. very slowly!) braking into the aforementioned Montreal the car went sideways. I caught it without any problem but it was an early indicator of very low grip there. Along the next straight my coolant temperature alarm came on so I made my way round watching the instruments. The oil temp gradually rose and when it got to 120 I backed right off and went in. It seems from speaking to those behind me that the car had dumped its coolant on the way up pit lane before the outlap and when I got back to the paddock I found it had spat out the turned bung in the little hose that normally goes from the water pump to the bike oil cooler. I replaced it and swung a bit harder on the jubilee clips and ran the engine up to temp. On track the temp rarely gets above 80 and sitting still at a fast tickover it gets to 88 or so then the fan kicks in and holds it there so I figured if it survived that it should be OK. There was of course a risk of some local overheating but I couldn’t really do much about that. Although they were pitifully slow I did at least have lap times and so qualified at the back of the grid.
The first race was at 4 o’clock and it was very warm. I duly took up my grid slot (don’t think I’ve ever been 29th before!) and waited for the lights. When they went out I got the car away cleanly and it seemed everyone around me was standing pretty still so I made a few places up but there was clouds of cement dust once we got round the first corner so I hung back to make sure I avoided what I thought was the inevitable incident at the right hander. It all went smoothly though and we all streamed down the newly named Bentley Straight intact. I was behind Neil Palmer in his Striker and Stephen Malyon, one of our new drivers in his MNR Vortx. Stephen had quite good straight line speed but I got past Neil quite easily under power only to lose the place promptly when I hit the brakes about 100 yards before everyone else. Not having had a single quick lap in qualifying hadn’t done me much good at all! I was behind them both going into the bomb hole and closed up behind Stephen round Coram and onto the start finish straight. I’d clearly gone round the apex too slow as he promptly drove away from me down the straight. I closed up and got a better exit and Montreal and got past him, then chased down Neil eventually catching him as we approached Riches. As I was turning into the right hander at Montreal Neil’s rear end started to slide around and he spun, so I drove round the outside of him only to find Tony Gaunt’s silver Wolfe facing me where he’d spun just before the apex of the left hander. I drove round him then as I got onto the straight Neil Constable-Berry in his BDN now sporting new bright orange bodywork had spun and was on the grass just on the left after the exit. I got on the power down the straight and realised the nearest car ahead was at the far end of the straight, so very little chance of catching anyone. As I got to Coram I could see Neil C-B in my mirrors, as I got onto Coram the car slid and I could see the oil on the track so I backed right out. I expected Neil to come past me soon after but my mirrors were empty and I guessed he’d come to grief on the oil. Next lap round and he was parked facing the wrong way on the grass on the right of the track halfway round Coram. I had a lonely race after that till the leaders lapped me – I really miss the great panoramic mirror I had on the Fury and although I spotted Paul and kept out of his way I ended up baulking John Cutmore who was behind him, for which I apologised later. Better mirrors are on the to do list, I’ve zero chance of getting through IVA with the Racetech ones and really want better rear vision for racing too.
It turned out an oil hose on Tim Pell’s new creation had split and he’d circulated for 2 or 3 laps depositing oil on the track accounting for the 3 spinners at Montreal and the oil round Coram. Neil had spun at Coram and couldn’t restart the car which sounded familiar to me and indeed he’s stripped his starter motor although he hadn’t damaged anything else fortunately.
The car performed perfectly, oil temperature got up to 105 and water temp up to 90 by the end of the race with oil pressure holding a steady 60psi with no drop at all round Coram. I put fuel in and checked her over but she needed nothing, the chain didn’t even need tensioning.
Saturday evening we had our RGB barbecue, Austen did us proud with a load of meat and Ken Cutmore (John’s Dad brought a barrel of his highly dangerous home made cider). After some rain early on Sunday morning it then brightened up although it was very windy. After our green flag lap I positioned myself on grid spot 29 again and waited for the lights. I got another good start but some waved yellows made me back out a bit until I passed the car who’d stalled (Rob Grant I think). I was behind Neil Palmer and Neil Constable-Berry as we got round Riches and on the run to Montreal, then as we got onto the straight I was able to power past Neil Palmer but Neil C-B powered away into the distance. Neil had got past Stephen in the MNR down the Bentley straight and as we got onto Coram I slowly gained on them both. Rob grant flew past me round Riches and I closed down on the MNR and BDN again as we got into Coram again. I got past Stephen on the run up the start/finish straight from Murray’s and chased after Neil. Neil’s car seems much faster than me down the straights but mine was better on the brakes and as we came into Montreal he ran a bit deep and I was able to close up and get a much better exit but he powered away from me down the straight. I closed up at the end of the straight and was very close into Coram where I possibly could have got inside him but that kind of move could wait till I was a bit more confident in the car. I tried getting the best exit I could at Walker’s but he drove away again down the straight opening quite a gap. I was later on the brakes and carried more speed round Riches which got me right back behind him and I was by now confident in the car’s braking so I went for the inside line into Montreal hoping Neil had seen me. He stayed wide and I got ahead of him and got onto the Bentley Straight so see it empty with no other cars in sight so I was on my own again. I could see Neil in my mirrors battling with Stephen in the MNR and at one stage I think I’d lost concentration and they got a bit closer again.
Not long after that Paul Rogers came through followed by John Cutmore again so I made sure I let John know he was there and that I was staying right to keep out of his way. Shortly after that Sam Cook who’d spun at Montreal earlier in Tim Hoverd’s old Fury came past me on the way into Riches so I decided to push a bit harder to try to stay with him. I managed to close the gap a bit down the Bentley Straight but he gradually got away round Coram and up the Senna Straight. Then the rest of the leading pack came through and after one more lap the race was over.
My lap times were a little better than in the morning but to be honest I felt like I was going faster and I was certainly gaining confidence in the car. I seem to be down on power compared to others, hopefully getting a decent airbox and having the car mapped should help with that. It’s also pretty snatchy on a part throttle which caught me out on a couple of corners and again the remap will sort that out.
The gear shift is much better but still quite hard work and I have a few thoughts about how to solve that but it can wait for now while I think about getting the car IVA’d. The car’s handling is great with good turn in, very good stability mid-corner and good traction out of the corners. It’s also very good on the brakes – if anywhere was going to find it out the hard braking into Murray’s where you’re still turning coming off Coram would. I now need more time in the car to gain confidence to push it a bit harder. I’m feeling confident I can do this, towards the end of last season I was knocking chunks off my lap times – at Oulton in October I knocked over 4 seconds off my qualifying pace in the race itself. At the moment my biggest issue is braking too hard for corners and getting to the apex knowing I could have carried more speed.
The great thing was that I was able to take the car back home completely intact needing nothing other than routine maintenance.