After a 22 hour session in the garage, an hour and a half’s sleep and a 4 hour drive we arrived at Oulton at 10am. Brian and Colin set about getting the car off the trailer while I went over to register and sign on. The RGB guys were already in scrutineering but qualy wasn’t till 11.25 so I wasn’t too pressed for time. Once signed on we tightened up a couple of bolts I’d remembered and tightened all the suspension pullrod nuts – the car ride height and corner weights hadn’t been done but there wasn’t enough time for that.
I took the car round to a deserted scrutineering bay and was there all of 3 minutes while the scrute did a very quick check over the car. He went off for the ticket and came back asking my name as I wasn’t on the list. I just said I was a late entry, I thought if I told him we only finished rebuilding it a few hours ago he might have wanted another look!
I now had to try to get my head together to actually drive the car. Despite the fact that my last few moments driving her had been pretty horrific I didn’t really have any “getting back on the horse” feelings but it’s always an odd feeling going out on a race track in a car you’ve just put together yourself! I got noise checked and drove into the assembly area to receive a quite amazing welcome from the RGB crowd, applause as I drove in and lots of handshakes etc. What an amazing feeling.
It was a pretty depleted crew, my entry took the numbers up to just 13. I was glad to be at the back, this was never going to be anything more than a shakedown session. We were on the Fosters Circuit, a configuration I hadn’t driven before, so as we swooped down Cascades instead of turning left and going along the lake to the Island hairpin we had a little kink left then a sharp right. The car felt fine, brakes were fine and the lower gearing was quite noticeable. I took it very steady round the lap then as I came around Cascades again the engine cut out. A glance at the dash told me the electrics had gone off completely. I pulled off onto a service road and behind the barriers and got out. It had to be something in the master switch circuit, so I lifted the bonnet and bypassed the external button and the dash lit up again. So I got back in, belted up and headed off out again. I managed another lap before it did it again almost in the same place so I pulled off onto the grass in the infield. I tried switching off and on a couple of times and it came back to life again, so I went back out.
It cut out again a couple more times but each time a few presses of the button and it came back on again. I wanted to make sure I strung together enough laps to get me on the grid.
Another problem was that my speedo wasn’t working – the wire from the sensor had looked a bit suspect but I’d hoped it was OK. Clearly it wasn’t! This meant that as well as no speed indication I had no gear indicator.
We now had well over 4 hours before the race so there was plenty of time. I was keen to blame the master switch toggle button but Brian wasn’t – he reckoned they were pretty good quality and unlikely to fail. So we had a look at all the connectors and eventually Brian discovered a dodgy one in the engine bay, when he wiggled it he circuit broke. It was a bullet connector that looked like it just hadn’t been pushed together tightly enough. So we thought that was that problem solved.
We took the car round to the scrutineering bay with the corner weight scales and checked that over. The ride heights were a bit out but once we’d sorted those the corner weights were very close so we didn’t bother with too much fiddling.
I managed to catch 40 minutes snooze in the afternoon. I swapped the harnesses – the original ones were 3” belts and didn’t work particularly well with the HANS, so I’d got a set of Schroth harnesses designed for the job, 3” harnesses but with 2” shoulder straps.
My lap times were unsurprisingly abysmal and I was 13th on the grid although the actual grid box is labelled 12a! I knew that with my lower gearing the chances were that I’d get an even better start than usual but my game plan was to make sure I was 13th going into the first corner! And indeed the second corner. Lee Baverstock proved the fly in the ointment as he had an appalling start and he was behind me going into Old Hall so I backed off till he’d gone through. I sat behind Robert Gardiner in his Fulcrum for a lap or so until I’d gained a bit of confidence then got past him on the brakes down the hill from Cascades. Next in front was David Lawrence in his Riot and I got past him without too much difficulty. David Masters in his red Fury was the next car but he was quite a way in front. I did start to make inroads into the gap but my coolant temperature alarm came on. This was offputting enough to slow me down a bit but then the electrics cut again. Robert came past me by the time I hit the button a couple of times and got it going again. Not long after that my oil temperature alarm went off as well so I limped round till the chequered flag.
Sadly no video as I simply didn’t have time to refit it and forgot to take it with me to Oulton.
So, a couple of things to sort out. The cooling seemed to me to be pretty certain to be an airlock in the system – I simply hadn’t had time to run the engine up to temperature before heading up to Oulton Park. The speedo is a quick fix with a new sensor. The electrical problem is a bit of a bugger though. Brian suggested I have a look at my logs to see if I’m getting a volt drop which might then trip out the electronic battery isolator. Top culprits are either the isolator itself or the battery. There’s also a problem with the reverse so I think that puts the battery in pole position.
To say I was a bit knackered after driving the 215 miles back from Oulton would be a bit of an understatement! I stuck the car into the garage still on the trailer and left everything in the motorhome and hit the sack. No time to sort any of it out next morning as Jen and I had to leave the house at 10am to fly for a week in Majorca – I hadn’t even started packing!
After a week chilling out in Majorca I came back and unpacked everything. The garage was in a real mess! Once I’d tidied up and got the car off the trailer I made a start on looking at the cooling system. I refilled the system and ran it up to temperature at which point I spotted water coming from under the car. I though it was coming from the nearside sidepod and feared that the radiator was damaged. After stripping the sidepod and ducts off all seemed OK there and I eventually tracked the leak down to the water pump housing. This puzzled me until I stripped it to bits and discovered that the chain had paid it a brief visit when it got derailed in the crash at Snetterton. It had caused a small split in the hose and a dent in the inlet spigot to the pump. The fix was quite easy, just replacing the whole water pump with the one from the stricken engine sitting in the garage. I then refilled the system and ran it up till the fan came on and confirmed there were no leaks.
Next puzzle was the electrical problem. Firstly it’s cutting out occasionally but second the reverse has never worked properly – instead of pulling smoothly it chatters and drops the volts enough to reboot the DigiDash. The likely culprits were either the battery or the electronic isolator master relay. My first experiment was to check the logs which confirmed that right up to the split second the electrics cut it was running around 14 volts. Next I removed the relay from the equation by disconnecting the battery cables form it and bolting them together thus bypassing it completely. And hey presto the reverse worked fine with no chatter. The trouble is this doesn’t actually definitely pin it on the relay, Brian’s concern was that I’m using a smaller battery than theirs, a problem compounded by it having very small terminals and he was worried that there’s a risk the reverse is dropping the voltage enough to unlatch the master relay. This still doesn’t explain the cutoff during the race though. When taking the battery out I did discover that the positive terminal screw wasn’t tight which could be an explanation.
So, I’ve ordered a new battery (a Red Top 20 instead of the existing Red top 8) which has much beefier terminals in addition to a higher capacity. I’ve also ordered a plain old cutoff switch and a cable so that if the new battery doesn’t solve the problem I can convert to using a plain mechanical cutoff switch and a pull cable. I’ll book testing on the Friday at Pembrey next weekend so should have plenty of time to sort it if there are still problems.
So, a bit of work to do during the week but nothing like the same pressure as the week leading up to Oulton!