Since returning to work at Bombardier Bombardier in Derby, I had been non-stop busy and so the Croft race weekend came up all of a sudden.
I finished working at noon on the Thursday before the race-weekend and went to the local caravan site where I am staying, instead of using a bed and breakfast. There I got ready, hitched up the caravan and left. The journey was easy, so I was surprised, on arrival, to discover that virtually everybody else had big delays. Let’s hope that the weekend would be that easy.
In the evening I walked the circuit with Mark Noaro and Matthew Willoughby. We noted that the grass or soil behind the kerbing was very soft and quite low, a danger should one of us drift too far off.
There were to be three twenty-minute sessions in the morning and another three in the afternoon. For the morning it was wet, with the afternoon dry and the weather forecast predicting a dry race weekend. So the morning sessions were mainly about getting reacquainted with the circuit.
The first session seemed to go quite well as I was quicker than any of the Classics that I came across, including Robin Webb. Currently second in the championship, Robin is often a slow starter when testing and so I thought little of our speed difference. Indeed, Robin later confirmed that his progress was satisfactory.
For the second session I did some comparison work with Marc Noaro, as he wanted to see how his newly-rebuilt engine performed. Exiting the aptly named Chicane onto the long straight that followed, several times we managed to get alongside each other and accelerate towards Tower Bend. The last time we did this I left my braking too late and locked up. The brakes refused to unlock despite pumping the pedal, but somehow I got a little steering and was able to get around the bend far enough to have a harmless slide onto the corn-field, collecting enough provisions to make a loaf of bread. Bearing in mind that the conditions were still very wet, maybe we should have waited until the afternoon; certainly I should have stopped the test earlier along the straight!
The third session went well until I moved off-line at the second of the Jim Clark Esses in order to allow quicker cars by. I misjudged my path onto the kerb and so got onto the grass by just a little bit before the kerb. There was a step up to the kerb, which drove a violent kick through the steering column.
For the first of the afternoon sessions, on entering the Assembly Area, I noticed that my steering was clanking. I had to return to GRS and was retired for the rest of the day. The steering column was initially su
spected, but further investigation revealed that the steering column was damaged. This was repaired by the end of a late night, so thank you to Peter Godfrey and his super team.
I decided to take advantage of the fifteen minute test session for just £30. This would be my first experience of dry-weather running. Once on-circuit, my car was making horrible noises at the back and I kept slowing and accelerating. It felt like the rear suspension and so I pitted and had it checked by Richard Brown, one of the GRS stars. Zoltan Csabai was also on hand and together they concluded that there was nothing wrong with the suspension.
Out I went, for the problem to get worse, but this time I realised that it was engine-related; either electrical or fuel. Returning to the paddock, Peter found that all four spark plugs were lean. The fuel pump was an easy diagnosis as it could not be heard and so that was changed and out I went for qualifying.
A little more fuel had been added as the passenger seat had been removed. Off I went to qualify and the problem was still present. I was passing some of the slower Classics, which was good, but the engine kept missing at high speed through most corners, which was very disconcerting.
After the session, we were all called into the weigh-bridge where I was relieved to find myself 9kg overweight.
I was very surprised to find myself having qualified fourth, only 1.5 sec off pole.
My earlier harmless slide onto the corn-field was now considered to be more serious, as it was suspected that the fuel-feed inside the petrol tank was cracked. As there was no spare petrol tank available, a safe work-around was to brim the petrol tank so that, when I turned into right-hand corners, I would no longer get the fuel-surge pushing air into the fuel-feed. It was worth a try and, whilst it did not work at all, it did make for an entertaining race.
My starting reactions have been mainly awful this year, but this was my best. Frustratingly, Graeme Smith’s was good enough from pole, but at least I got past both Matthew Willoughby and Robin Webb. Things were going well, until I turned into the first corner and the engine spluttered. I held on to second place all the way to exiting the Chicane, my head bobbing backwards and forwards throughout, before Robin and Matthew blasted past. Then my engine came on-song, and off I went. Rounding Tower, the problem returned only to clear on exit, coming back momentarily as I took the second apex of the Jim Clark Esses (the first is a left-hand sweeper). Through Barcroft I was robbed of at least 10mph, with power returning briefly before Sunny In and Out, where I had nothing. The next left-hand corner was fine, while the right-hander following wasn’t. Finally, the Hairpin leading onto the start-finish straight was taken, without a hiccough all the way to the first corner where my woes returned.
Despite all this I was pushing hard, actually pulling away from those behind. I was probably down in sixth by now and I was determined to find a way to reduce the problems. I decided that, As I was coming out of the right-hand corners so slowly, I had nothing to lose by launching my car into them, trying to get a little sideways so that, when coming out of the slide, I effectively had a left-hander to slosh the fuel back. Of course, with a full tank to act as a pendulum and no power to correct the slide, it was only a matter of time before I had a half-spin at Tower, which was converted into a full-blooded tyre-burning spin. That was fun, especially as I actually had some power!
Watching my timer run down and watching Pete Cannard get ever closer, I realised I was going to have one lap too many, finally losing my place exiting Tower. I kept up with Pete and tried to out-brake him into Sunny, but abandoned the attempted with screeching, locked brakes; that was enough to distract Nigel Lyddel, behind, into missing his own braking point and having a minor off.
Graeme won the race with Robin second and Matthew third. I crossed the line just behind Pete, in tenth place. I was helped with Iain Kinghorn having engine issues and Paul Gardner having a freak incident where a piece of Marc Noaro’s rear wing knocked off his safety cut-off switch!
Race One Highlights
|0 mins 0 secs
Good start, getting up to second.0 mins 40 secs
I am a sitting duck along the back straight.0 mins 50 secs
Onto the grass in the Jim Clark Esses.
1 mins 24 secs
1 mins 46 secs
2 mins 08 secs
It was time for the annual elections to the CGRC board and I was standing. There were seven nominees for six positions, of which only three were existing board members. Bearing in mind that my work on producing the newsletter would act on my behalf, I was unusually confident. The main issues that I was standing for the desire for knowledge of the board’s work, duties and decisions to be disseminated; basically, more openness. I also voiced my thoughts that the contraction in class sizes could be countered be encouraging class representatives who could gather peer opinions, feeding them back to the board. What I didn’t say is that I get the feeling that the board is disorganised, with too few of the members doing too much work while being both unwilling and unable to share it.
I didn’t get elected. Whether the lack of votes was down to board members worried that I would be a disruptive influence, or due to ordinary members who had no confidence in me, I don’t really care. They are all members, after all, and rejected me in favour of nominees whose current contribution to the club I am unaware of. Having said that, I like the winning nominees and hope they are able to contribute more than I suspect some of the existing board would approve.
From this result, I felt upset, embarrassed and humiliated, as it was obviously a reflection on the voting membership’s opinion of my capabilities. I have had many good responses to my newsletter, but it is now obvious that too many did not consider it to be of an acceptable standard and, with that standard being my representation, deemed me unacceptable.
I was going stop producing the newsletter anyway, at least officially, because there was too much stress involved in getting official articles such as the Secretary’s Report. I have to admit that I understand why these were either late or missing, as all members have their own work priorities which differed from mine. I was also disappointed that the official’s articles, invariably, did not report any of the workings of the board. The newsletter choices that I was going to present would have been that the board find a different editor, the newsletter ceases, or I could go independent; I am sad that, due to the vote of no confidence, I do not see a future for it.
I’m still upset and still don’t understand the result, but at least I no longer have the pressures of the newsletter. Nor do I need to represent others. They obviously don’t want my opinion, so I’ll just have to selfishly represent myself, and myself only.
I spent the rest of the evening avoiding people as I was too depressed to face them. I also was not in a good mood. Peter Godfrey was kind enough to pay me a visit in my caravan and spent some time with me, as did Matthew Carpenter later on.
Sunday morning I went to the GRS awning to face the people, only to overhear Zoltan reading out my Facebook report of my first race. He was unsure about some aspects, but I just assumed he was ridiculing me and so voiced my annoyance. Zolly had already looked into finding spares that I needed to get back onto the grid, so it was doubly rude of me towards him. So I will apologise here where the feelings are sincere, which is better than apologising at the time when they would not have been. Sorry Zolly.
Peter finally traced the power problems to an intermittent electrical connection where cornering g-forges caused the loss of current. Or at least we hoped he had; the only way to know for sure would be to get out and race.
It wasn’t the best way to start a race. Peter Godfrey had soothed away at my depression, but I was still in a melancholic mood. On top of that I was wondering just how much performance I would have and, if the answer was lots, how would I cope with this being the first chance to drive flat-out at a dry Croft.
Lining up on the grid, all those worries dissipated as I focused on the red lights. Out they went and my start was another good one, just not quite good enough to have the legs on Robin or Graeme on the front row. Round the first corner I went and… power! Yes!
I stayed in third through the chicane and felt I had taken it well, but Matthew was even stronger and so I held a middle line on approach to Tower Bend. With me tucked right behind Robin, I had so far done nothing wrong; Matthew was simply better as he pulled ahead of me on exit. We entered the Jim Clark Esses side-by-side, with Matthew deferring to my better line.
I managed to get into a little trouble by simultaneously attacking Robin and defending from Matthew and so quickly dropped back to fifth. From there, I gathered myself together and settled down, beginning to enjoy myself. Graeme Smith dropped back from the lead to third place, whilst I recovered to fourth. His patience was quickly rewarded as I slid wide on entry to ‘S’ Bend, giving him the inside line into Hairpin, where he finally won the place.
At Tower again, I decided to try Matthew’s round-the-outside pass and very nearly succeeded, but was a little too eager applying the throttle on exit and so had a big slide. I was over-driving at this point and needed to calm down. Only much later in the race did I realise and suddenly became much calmer, smoother and faster.
In the meantime, Matthew out-braked Graeme at Tower and headed off for Robin. I was now able to slip-stream Graeme along the start/finish straight and make an easy pass into the first corner, Clervaux.
Matthew and Robin were fighting quite hard, with Robin taking slower defensive lines that allowed me to stay in touch and even challenge for places. Coming out of Hairpin, Matthew was able to pull to the pit-side and draw alongside Robin, who then managed to pull back ahead under power. Matthew simply dropped back behind Robin, switched to the inside as they approach Clervaux, and claimed the corner.
Still over-driving, I made a mistake exiting Tower which allowed Graeme to challenge into the first of Jim Clark Esses, but I was able to hold on and Graeme dropped back. I was surprised that he had not re-passed me on multiple occasions as I was making too many mistakes, but I now was to see him no longer as he was about to retire with a blown engine.
Matthew was slowly pulling a gap as Robin defended from me. I made my move on the penultimate lap, having made a good exit from Hairpin. Robin defended the inside line into Clervaux and I braked later, driving around the outside. Later that lap he out-braked me into Tower, seemingly coming from way-back. Having not done any dry-weather testing, I guessed that there was more grip on that part of the circuit.
One lap later, after challenging Robin throughout, I had the opportunity to repeat Robin’s move, having first checked my mirrors and worked out that my championship rival, Mark Carter, was not behind. I claimed the inside line and braked extra-hard, only to lock up and drift wide, losing my third place to Marc Noaro and fourth to Trevor Harber.
Looking back at all the lock-ups I suffered during the dry races, I wondered if the new unscrubbed race tyres, a legacy of having to fit a new set after the Donington Park retirement, was a contributing factor. I should really have considered this right from the start and adjusted my driving accordingly.
Matthew won, with Robin second and Marc third. After all his problems this season, it was good to see Marc win a pot, he very much deserved it. Trevor also deserved his fourth place whilst I got away with a fourth. Only disasters will stop Graeme and Robin finishing in the top two championship positions, whereas one silly mistake will take away my aimed-for third-place. I’m currently fifth in the overall standings and fourth on dropped-scores. With Matthew not planning to attend Zandvoort, that will likely (hopefully) promote me to third, with Mark Carter only six points adrift.