The Snetterton round ended with the long drive home, during which time the water pump on my Chrysler Voyager failed, stranding me at the services by the A1(M)/M62. Green Flag came to the rescue, separately recovering the car and caravan. Having already done the sums and working out that it was not cost effective to keep the Voyager, this break-down was timely. Repairs, service, mot, tax and insurance, all required by month’s end, ensured a quick visit to the local Chrysler breakers.
The Outlander is now my only tow-car, which is a worry after the previous journey to Silverstone had resulted in systems ‘issues’. For Rockingham I had no such problems. I had to stick to an indicated 63mph – a real 60mph – or the caravan would get very lively.
My claimed power issues were, I believed, minor and I came up with a potential solution. After Peter Godfrey had stripped and rebuilt the carburettors, I offered a theory: when an engine is run, there is a constant build-up and burn off of carbon, so there is no problem. If the car is left a month or two, then any residual build up will easily be removed the next time it is run. But leaving the engine a couple of years, as in the case of my car, and any minor residue will have hardened and so will not burn off, so creating heat spots that will take away power. So I asked for Redex to be added to the combustion chamber to soften and remove any residue. When doing this with a race car, care needs to be taken to ensure that all traces are removed prior to the start of official racing activities.
Six half-hour sessions! Result! First time out was a simple ‘getting to know you’ session.
We were to compete on the International Sports Car configuration, which used two parts of the oval banking. The banking is entered via a complex chicane; get it wrong and the driver will be punished all the way along this super-fast section. At the other end of the banking is a hairpin that requires hard braking. Getting both these sections right, I felt, was the most important task.
Straight from the off, I was comfortable at this hairpin, and also at the other hairpin which is a part of the infield. The rest of the corners needed work, especially that complicated chicane. After ten minutes a red flag was shown after Keith Pennington was punted off. Luckily Keith’s car was repaired and he was able to re-join activities later in the morning.
When the session was re-started, I joined just ahead of Marc Noaro and let him by. I then followed him to learn his lines and was able to pick up pace. I was poor when compared to Marc when going through the chicane, with him pulling away from me on exit. But I was able to close up on him along the banking, a problem I was complaining of at Snetterton. There, I felt I was down on power, but here I had no complaints. It looks like Peter’s rebuild and the Redex worked!
At the end of the session, Marc was a little quicker than me, but only by a couple of tenths, so I was pleased. There was certainly a lot to come.
The second session was quiet, with me alone (apart form the millions of quicker classes that were constantly lapping me). I managed to record a time of 1:41.94, but still was not happy with the chicane. The other corners were ‘getting there’, but there was still work to be done.
Towards the end entering Pif-Paf, my left rear half-shaft sheared. Mark Gibson has some interesting footage of passing me on my right, then avoiding my left rear wheel which was now to his right! It could have been worse; if the failure had happened exiting the chicane there would have been a very big, nasty crash.
GRS fitted a replacement half-shaft, but I still missed out on any further running. Paul Brennan had a very long drive to pick up the required spares and they simply ran out of time. I suppose this was his birthday treat!
For qualifying I queued up early to ensure I was first out. I felt that this was the best tactic to leave me with clear space while, at the same time, having plenty of quicker cars pass me and provide a tow. This appeared to be working as, on the out lap, I was passed by cars from quicker classes, leaving bigger gaps come the first flying lap.
Things went even better as Steve McMaster appeared in my mirrors, so I left him space with the intention of latching onto him. Going into Gracelands, another quicker class of car went to the inside, leaving me to easily blend in behind him. This is when my rear-left wheel parted company with my car. I went into a slide and the wheel entered the passenger compartment and struck me on the helmet. The car came to a quick halt and the wheel, still with the half-shaft attached, came to a rest in the passenger seat.
I had a bit of a headache and so remained in the car for at least half a minute. I decided I was unharmed, climbed out and waited for the ambulance that took me to the medical centre. There I was examined and had to pass a cognitive test before I was cleared for racing.
The collar that the half-shaft is attached to was the cause, probably due to unseen damage from the previous day’s half-shaft failure. A new collar was located and the car repaired. My crash-helmet passed scrutineering, but I was not happy with the idea of using it and so Patrick prepared my spare for use with the Simpson head-restraint. The car and helmet were re-scrutineered and I was allowed to race, being placed at the back of the grid for both races.
I have to admit to being a little wary on lining up on the grid. I had promised the Clerk of the Course that I would take my time for the first couple of laps and so did not lay any rubber on the grid. I did ask if I could be vigorous on the out-lap, to test the repair. Being at the back of the grid, with nobody behind me to scare, this was deemed as sensible.
I did not react well to the waving of the national flag, which itself was performed rather shambolically, but my actual launch was excellent. I had to duck and dive a little, but I managed to make up four places by the first braking point and pass Robin Webb through that hairpin. Nigel Liddell was my next target and I lined him up for a pass into Gracelands. I did not expect to succeed, but Nigel was very kind and did not close the door.
I was now at the back of the lead pack, with Marc Noaro at the front. For a couple of laps I was able to stay in contact, watching Marc lead all the way. Robin, having passed Nigel, caught me and prepared to attack. But that attack did not come; whilst he stayed with me, he was not able to do anything. Each lap, exiting the final chicane, Brook, onto the banking, I watched Robin slowly drop back; he was obviously down on power, a feeling I know well.
To shake Robin off I had to ensure that I made no mistakes, whilst attacking the corners that I was comfortable with. This included the hairpin at the end of the banking, where I was more and more confident. I was able to pull away with about eight minutes remaining, especially when the Supers appeared to lap us. After that, in was fairly quiet to the end of the race. My only concern was the background worry of losing a wheel, which was silly and probably affected my performance. Nevertheless, I successfully completed the race, finishing seventh out of thirteen starters.
Marc dropped to third by the finish, with Steve McMaster finishing first, ahead of Greame Smith. Steve was demoted to third after being penalised by five seconds for a schoolboy error of exceeding track limits. It was a harsh punishment, but reasonable.
First thing in the morning I visited the Clerk of the Course and requested that the starter be asked to drop the flag more clearly.
Again, after missing out on qualifying I started from the back in 13th place. For the parade lap I laid down some rubber, but the car pulled violently to the left; that wasn’t good! GRS had earlier warned me that my diff would need replacing as soon as possible, so now I had a minor concern.
I had a good start, but then had to swerve to avoid a stalled Darren Grainger. Luckily I did not have to lift off and so was able to go to the high part of the banking through Turn One, ignore Michael Segal’s cheeky squeeze and brake cautiously for the hairpin, leaving space for Colin Jardine who stayed ahead of me. I was seventh, with Marc Noaro at the head of the train.
I survived a challenge from Robin Webb and stayed with the pack. Colin got past Matthew Willoughby in a good move entering the chicane and I lined up Matthew on the exit. I went low on Turn One to pass Matthew, then closed back up to Colin under braking for the hairpin.
A couple of minor errors caused me to drop back a little, but I was able to catch up at the chicane, which I was still struggling with. Thanks to the guys in front I managed to learn my lines over the next couple of laps. This time I made a good exit at the chicane and drafted Colin, who went well below the white lines at Turn One. I intended to complete the pass at the hairpin, being cautious on the brakes to avoid a silly mistake involving Trevor Harber who was right behind the top four. Colin locked up and I could not give him room, so we collided, front wheel to front wheel.
Recovering, my diff was making a nasty noise and so my memory decided that Colin hit my rear wheel. The video shows that I was wrong; it was a coincident and I cannot now see how I would have finished regardless.
Now I was slower and Colin was slowly catching me. I managed another lap when, having exited Tarzan with Colin right behind me, the diff failed. My arm shot up to warn Colin, who later reported that it was very tight squeeze in getting past me.
I was able to coast to the pits where I had to retire.
I don’t have an issue with the crash. If Colin had not have locked up, all would have been well, but it was an easy thing to do as I know from past experience. My only worry is that my detractors will use the incident against me, both now and in the future. That is why I found myself having to explain myself in the paddock. I think I was right to go for the pass and I was cautious under brakes at a corner where I was extremely confident. I also trusted Colin and will continue to do so in future.