This weekend Jen had decided to come with me – she’d been planning to come to Snett but had the dreaded Swine Flu and couldn’t. We arrived at Mallory just after 5pm and they were still racing bikes so we couldn’t get in to the paddock as you need to go on the track to get in there. Once they let us in we grabbed a pitch in the RGB section and settled in for the evening. Very pleasant it was too, quite different from the warm, light summer evenings, this time we joined Paul Rogers in his motorhome along with a few others.
The weather forecast was good but I was awoken in the early hours by the patter of rain although it was dry when I got up. Another early start, signing on at 7.30, scrutineering at 8 and Allcomers qualy at 9.30 By the time I signed on I’d been promoted to 3rd reserve (I was 4th when I booked on Monday). This meant that I would go out and do the qualy session but then would only race if a space became available. The car was ready to go, the only fly in the ointment being that I couldn’t get the video to work.
The Allcomers qualy was predictably hectic with over 30 cars on a 1.35 mile circuit. There was also a rather eclectic range of cars – Tim Gray was in a Radical, next fastest was the RGB lot then there were various others – the MR2s, a Locost, a few MG Midgets and a couple I couldn’t even name. It was dry and I was always either being overtaken, overtaking someone myself or setting up an overtake. Good practice for the Birkett then! The car seemed fine apart from pretty awful clutch slip which was really stopping me getting the power down on the straights. In the end it was so bad I came in just before the end of the session.
Back in the paddock I scratched my head wondering what to do. I put it down to either the change of oil to Castrol fully synthetic or the switch back to the standard Suzuki clutch springs. So I found Andy Bates, got some more oil off him and changed the oil. I was just about finished when they called us to assembly for the RGB qualy session by which time it was starting to rain. My rear tyres are shot and I was going to replace them at Snett but just never had time so I decided to stick my wets set on. By the time we got out it was well and truly raining and the track was very wet. It was horrendous, poor visibility, no grip and a clutch that was still slipping like a bugger. On one lap there were waved yellows round Gerard’s as Matt Rowe in his yellow Fury was in the gravel trap in his yellow Fury. Next time round (or maybe a lap later) as I was turning into Gerard’s what do I see but said yellow Fury in my mirror coming up the inside of me. So I backed off and let him through! There were a few spinners in front of me at the Esses including I think Adrian and Andy Cunningham both of whom spun just after the second apex. In the end the clutch slip got too bad so I came back in although it turned out it was the end fo the session anyway.
Plan B was now to swap the clutch springs – Andy Bates had a set of Barnett springs he was confident were for a Hayabusa. Trouble is getting the clutch cover off is tricky as the dry sump tank is in the way. I managed to unbolt it and lift it far enough without draining the oil. One discovery was that the clutch slave seemed to be exerting a bit of pressure on the pressure plate – I had to push the pressure plate on to get the bolts done up. The new springs were undoubtedly beefier than the stock ones and the same length. As I was getting it back together my brother Neil nipped over to race admin and discovered that I’d just squeeked the last place in the Allcomers race although they told him I’d start from the back of the grid. I got it all back together just in time to get to the assembly area. It was raining again. They told us in assembly that there was oil at the hairpin. Great.
We all went out and did an out lap to get to the grid. I knew we’d have a green flag lap so off we went when the green flag was waved but as we came round to the grid and I slowed down to reform they’d all gone! It seemed they’d done a rolling start so I got my foot in and caught up with a car that looked a bit like a Lotus 11, went round the inside of it round Gerard’s and caught them all up at the Esses. There’s always a bit of bunching the first few corners but this seemed different. Sure enough as we came round to the grid we all reformed again. I was puzzled but just sat and waited for the red lights. As they went out I got a reasonable start but had wall to wall MR2s in front of me. The one that had been alongside me was aggressively trying to get past someone who I was passing and was squeezing me towards the grass. I was mindful that Paul Rogers had pulled out of the race through not wanting to mix it with the tin tops in the wet so I back off and let him go. It was really slippery again and I had no confidence to push. I was behind Mark, Rob and Andy Grant’s mechanic, and was confident I could have got past him on the brakes but decided not to risk it. He’s a class C Fury but my clutch was slipping so badly that he was pulling away from me on the straights Towards the end of the race he spun at the Esses and I managed to comfortably avoid him by going past the front of him. Visibility was awful – I’d got muddy water between my tear off and the visor and in retrospect I’d have been better tearing it off! I was pleased when I saw the chequered flag. Back in the paddock those who had been watching were equally perplexed about what had happened to the starting procedure!
Plan C was now to look at the clutch and Andy Bates wondered whether the pushrod was too long and allowing the spring behind the slave cylinder piston to put too much preload on it. So we took it out and he machined it down on his lathe. I was ready for the RGB race with 20 minutes to spare. Luxury! I’d had no time to look at the timiing sheet so discovered in assembly that I’d qualified between Jim Fowley in a Hayabusa engined Fury (his second race) and with Mark just behind me. Adrian was just ahead of Jim.
This time the start was as normal. I got a blinder and shot past Adrian who’d had a shocker! I think I passed about 3 cars on the way to Gerard’s up the inside. I’ve learned the hard way that it’s important not to get too focused on the car in front of you but to keep an eye on what’s going on ahead, but everyone got round Gerard’s safely. My clutch still seemed to be slipping but I pressed on. As I came onto the straight towards the Esses I could see smoke and it turned out to be poor old Derek. He only needed to finish ahead of Steve to win the Class A championship but it wasn’t to be as it looked like his engine had blown. I got off the throttle straight away and Adrian shot past down the inside of me. I could see a gaggle of cars a distance behind me including Adrian, Paul Rickers, Jim and Mark but they weren’t really gaining initially.
My pace was limited by clutch slip but I felt I was going well apart from that. I was definitely carrying more speed round Gerard’s and getting used to letting the car run wide a bit before heading back in for the exit hard on the power again. As the clutch got progressively worse Paul Rickers caught me but I thought I’d nurse it along and try to finish. Accelerating up the hill towards the hairpin the clutch was worse than ever and it became obvious I had no drive at all! So I stuck a hand up and coasted into the chicane they use for bikes just after the hairpin. Before I switched off I double checked and I could now put the car through the gearbox with the engine running without using the clutch
So I kept the marshals company till the end of the race when they gave me a push to get me going down the hill and I freewheeled back into the paddock.
So, yet another weekend spent frantically working on the car trying to get out onto the track. At least I did the 2 qualy sessions and completed the Allcomers race and managed 8 laps of the RGB race. Trying to be positive it seems the only thing it could now be is the clutch friction plates which aren’t desperately expensive or difficult to replace. Also the car was going back on the trailer without any external damage, unlike last time at Mallory when it had to be prised out of the tyre wall. So I should be OK for the Birkett in 2 weeks time.
Before this meeting I’d had a little graphic made up for the car, before packing the tools away etc. it seemed appropriate to update it: