June 23rd

Oops!I've not updated this page for a couple of days, due to time pressure really. However, I really have to do something quickly after todays alarums and excursons.

The car was all sorted and I took it up to Mallory today for a test. It was absolutely chucking it down on the way and I seriously considered just going home and losing my fee. I now wish I had.

To cut a long story short I ended up stuffing the car into the tyre barrier at the hairpin. I completely locked the brakes up on the way in; it was wet and the track was very slimy. However, my lack of experience (and brains) was really the issue as I should not have been pushing it that much, least of all into that corner.

I suppose the good news is that I am completely unaffected by it. Apart, that is, from a feeling of deep stupidity. It was almost comfortable going into the barriers. Sound a strange word but the seat and the belts seemed to hold me so firmly yet comfortably that I was fine. The one odd thing is that the gear lever is now bent sideways slightly. I can only assume that I must have grabbed it in some way on the way into the barriers. Odd though.

The other good thing was that the dynojets appear to have done their work. The engine was now much happier revving to > 10k rpm, unlike a couple of weeks ago.

Gelcoat and GRP part companyThe car went in pretty straight and struck the left front first. I got dragged off, quite rightly, to the medical centre and only later got to look at the car in the paddock. At first glance the bonnet was completely junk. You hear stories of what people can do with gaffa tape and glass matting but this looked way beyond that. I have what looks like all the bits but the real problem is that the bonnet has delaminated quite spectacularly. All over the panel the gelcoat has just come completely away from the actual GRP. What's worse is that the gelcoat is much the most structurally rigid bit. It almost looks as the gel was providing the real structure. The photo here shows my fingers shoved into the gap between the gel and the GRP. In places this separation goes over significant areas; 300-400 mm wide.

I'm deeply unimpressed with this, to be mild about it.

The same effect has affected the rest of the car. The impact pushed the bonnet rearwards which pushed the rear bodywork back too. It's caused some similar damage to the rear bodywork but that can probably be patched up. I can't imagine that it's going to be long before I replace it though, the slightly ding in a race is going to see the floor covered in red gelcoat.

Other damage includes:

  • the radiator, which is completely lunched
  • the mounts for the radiator which are bent at a series of comedy angles
  • the bonnet hinge frame which doesn't anymore. (Hinge, that is.)

Perhaps most seriously, the rack seems to have been pushed across a few millimetres. The only sign of chassis damage that we (I took the car along to KCW on the way back) could see to the chassis was the rack mounts which have warped very slightly to accomodate the rack movement.

Ho hum.

The goodish news is that I can get all the bits I need to to fix the car by the weekend (although if the Brands race is wet, I may just decide to sit it out). Mark (Fisher) has a spare race bonnet in stock, except that it's not the woven rovings variety and is yellow. The former is probably good, as it might not be subject to the delamination discussed. The latter is, errrm, odd; I might have to put lots of red tank tape onto it.

Still, I'm going to pick all that stuff up and try and get the car going to go to Brands.

Askew?Once I had calmed down, in the evening I started on all this. I've had loads of offers of help from the cam7 crew and I might drag a few people together to at least ley me cry on their shoulders.

For now I took off the bonnet and radiator. The radiator looks like this, which I don't think is quite right.

Slight misalignmenty on close inspectionOnce that was off, these are the mounts. Again, I'm fairly sure, on close inspection, that these are a bit misaligned. (The ones on the other side are much the same.

The ally bits, by the way, are the bits I made to move the mounts so as to be able to get the radiator to clear the bonnet.

Anyway, I got out my largest adjusting device and whacked the mounts around until they are about in the right place again.

I did the same to the rack mounts, although the adjuster had to be used with a smidgeon more alacrity. As suggested by I then welded some additional gussets into the chassis so as to support the rack mounts slightly. Luckily, the rack itself seems to be fine, although I shall have a closer inspection tomorrow.

June 24th

A tale of two bonnetsI went over, again, to the Kit Car Workshop to pick up the new bits. Luckily, having now got a trailer it isn't as difficult going to get things the size of the bonnet.

I could then get on and start fixing things again.

I sprayed the modifications that I'd done to the rack mounts (I didn't know you could get red hammerite!). After it had gone dry(ish) I bolted the rack back in. I haven't touched the track rods so it'll be interesting to see how the toe measures in a while.

An admirer!I put the new radiator back in, bending the mounts as required. At some point I think I'll revisit this and just cut the forward part of the mounts off and weld in something that fits properly. For now, though, it's fine.I refitted the fan, although this time on the front of the radiator. (Before it was kind of cramped in between the radiator and the rack. Again, when it comes to the oil cooler I might rethink this anyway.

I bolted the new hinge frame into place, again after bending the mounting brackets so as to fit.

Bodged repair to bonnet pin mountWith that I moved onto bodywork issues and I spent a good time going round the car fixing the various broken mounting points. For example, this is the mounting for the right hand bonnet pin which was seriously bent. As in many other places, I've put a lump of 2mm aluminium in to spread the load a bit.

Rivetted in support plateThe worst bit of damage to the rear tub is on the rear deck, around the mounting for the pin that was holding it down. Again, I used some ally, but this time a large plate essentially, to stiffen it all up. In this case, I'll probably come back to it and use some resin to bond it all together. For now, though it will do.

After all that was done I could refit the rear tub. It actually went back pretty snugly which is a good sign. I need to fit some bonnet pins again but apart from that this bit is done.

Tomorrow, I'll start on the yellow bonnet. I've remembered that there's lots of sticch drilling to do to cut out the large holes. I'm waiting on other stuff to arrive though, including things like some new lamps. If they don't come I could be in trouble.

June 28th

Fan back on rear again!Thankfully they did arrive and I managed to get the new bonnet fitted successfully, although not without getting really stressed out at the time it was taking. I did have lots of offers of help but I suspect that I was probably better doing it on my own anyway.

It was really a case of putting it all back the way it used to be, albeit in a different colour. I did have to move the fan round the back of the radiator again as it got in the way of the bonnet, but that was no big deal. If and when I fit the oil cooler though, I will have to put that in front of the radiator so I'll have to mount it up fairly high so as to avoid the bonnet.

I spent Saturday morning checking things like the ride height of the car. I've got some problems with this in that I can't get the front suspension to move up enough to get proper clearance under the sump. As such I had to jack the rear of the car up far too high to get the proper clearance. There's a couple of issues here. First of all, as far as I can see the reason I can't just wind the front suspension up (although that's not a clever idea) is that one or other of the balljoints binds up. In doing so it knackers the rubber boot on the balljoint.

I keep wondering if I could fix this by moving the rocker arms to the outer of the two set of holes and adjusting everything else to suit. I could just end up in the same position though. It's probably a worthwhile attempt though.

Secondly, it might be best to just raise the engine a smidgeon. I suspect if I just put some 5mm spacers under the mounts it would get the sump high enough to be able to actually lower the rest of the car.

The real problem with all this is that it's impossible to do it single-handed, as I need me to be in the car to find out what the ride height is. Perhaps I'll just get a few sacks of sand.

Back together, going to BrandsAll the same, we finally packed up the car, tools and various creature comforts and set off for Brands Hatch. We got there on the Saturday evening and set up "camp" in the paddock. There was an RGB get-together so we got a chance to meet a few more people which was good.

We also went for a walk around the circuit. That was quite revealing, especially about how steep it is down Paddock Hill Bend and up into Druids. You don't get a real sense spectating just what the gradient is like.

Sunday morning was clear and bright and we got to the circuit at about 9:30. After a short fettle I signed on and got less than the full quantity of stickers: some feeble excuse about running out. After a while I got scrutineered which was so trivial I think I could have turned up in a donkey and cart. They might have wanted me to put gaffa tape on the donkey's eyes but that would have been it. However, the scrutineers were in general very friendly and everything seemed fine.

I was sitting about after that and Dan mentioned that I ought to go to the first drivers' briefing. Eeek, I had forgotten all about that. So, we wandered over to race control and found a clerk of the course chap who talked us through where to go, and so on. I thought they might be a bit arsey about not being there at the appointed time but, again, they couldn't have been nicer about it.

In a while I got the car out and drove over to the assembly area to go out for qualifying. After Mallory I promised myself I was only going to go really slowly. What's more, I was going to take the first three laps really, really slowly so as to be sure about getting a time, any time, posted. Eventually they let us out and I pootled out and after an age got round to the start/finish "straight", at last going at some speed, to be faced by a huge cloud of white smoke. I went through the smoke to find Gordon Milner in the gravel trap by Paddock Hill Bend. Apparently, his oil filter had made a bid for freedom and the real problem was when his oil got onto his own tyres. I made my way through the smoke and noticed that the nice marshall people were waving their pretty red flags at me. I waved back and went and parked in the pits.

"12 minutes" they said we would have to wait. According to the lap timer this was an 11 minute lap so I guess that was probably about right.

After that, qualifying was pretty much as expected. I pootled round slowly learning what to do and where while cars passed me on the left, the right, flew over the top and generally made a menace of themselves. The marshalls waved their pretty blue flags at me, but I didn't wave back this time. Someone had told me that qualifying at Brands was frenetic but this was ridiculous. At one point Andy Charsley (current leader, I think) went past me in a gap that plainly wasn't there and at such a speed differential that I thought I might as well get out and walk. Mind you, he's apparently spending lots of money on blueprinted engines and so on which seems a bit non-U to be honest. Apparently, he got black and white flagged for lurid opposite lock slides through the oil left behind by Gordon M later in the session.

Confusingly, a TVR Tuscan came past me a couple of times. I found out later that they'd allowed him into our session. I did wonder what sort of bike-engined car it was.

Unfortunately, I can't find the time sheet (the results will all be published soon on the 750MC website) but my time was about 1:03, as opposed to the 52 seconds, or thereabouts, of the class A front runners. Those 11 or 12 seconds were split evenly between the first chap and the bloke in front of me (Phil Alcock) and the gap between Phil and me. But, I wasn't actually on the last row of the grid. Gordon M was behind me, they'd obviously taken pity on him, along with someone else who didn't make the race anyway.

The race was scheduled for 5:30pm and we all got to the holding area at a sensible time, but had to hang around for ages after they red flagged the race before and then couldn't seem to collect up the car that caused the red flag properly after the restarted race was finished. So, I headed up to the grid never having done any sort of racing start before and wondering what the hell would happen. After the usual faffing about involving extreme time dilation the red lights went on and the next time I looked, I must have blinked, they weren't on any more and we headed off. Gordon M just disappeared past me (he probably knows how to work the clutch, I reckon, and I lumbered off. I actually passed a couple of cars, probably because even I knew how to work the clutch better then them and a huge gaggle of cars descended on paddock hill.

After that, to be honest I treated it more as a testing session than anything else. I was managing to get the car to go faster and faster but the big problem is paddock hill bend. It's essentially blind and if you go into it too slow, and don't remember that the gradient change means you can lean on the loud pedal more effectively, then you get done up the hill to Druids. As I did repeatedly. When you get to Druids you find, it seems all the time, a collection of cars in the gravel trap who are chucking gravel all over the place and just charging back onto the circuit in front of you. Because half the field has dived up the inside on the way up to Druids you are forced to the outside onto the end product of their deliberations: a load of gravel all over the circuit. Consequently, it all goes squiffy and you scrape out of Druids, don't get enough speed back down the hill, don't go fast enough on the Cooper "straight", run out of balls through Surtees/Maclaren/Clearways/Clark Curve (or whichever one's which) and therefore aren't quick enough on the Brabham (start/finish) "straight" and then it's paddock hill again.

Oh well, more balls needed I think. Particularly into that corner, also into Surtees which I'm sure other people were taking flat. I nearly was but at nothing like the same speed.

Still, I did finish. However, I did get lapped; twice, by the leaders. But I did get a signature on my licence so I can't have been too bad a boy. (I was told that if you got lapped twice you wouldn't get a signature, but perhaps they take into account the short lap.)

Best laps times in the race were 59.2 or thereabouts. That is, 4 seconds quicker than qualifying and there's loads more to come. I didn't get anywhere near the limits of the car but I did feel that I was starting to get more of a feel for it.

I finally got the car weighed at the end of the race. 560 kg it said which is 30kg over the limit. As that includes me and a lot of fuel--there was no way I was running out--that's not bad to be starting with. If I was to buy some flash wheels and put half the fuel in and cut a few more holes and get me down to 82% of me (the current target) rather than the 87% of me that I am at the moment, etc., etc., I might even be able to get not a million miles away from the weight limit.

At the end of the whole thing I feel a bit let down in that I didn't push the car as hard as I should have done. Still, it isn't broken. I do, what's more, have a signature on my licence which means I'm one step on the way to losing my novice cross. I suspect to keep getting signatures, though, I need to get in the thick of things a little more.

The semi-official race report is here.

The next RGB race is at Lydden Hill on July 24th and 25th. In fact, it's a double header so double the race experience. I do, of course, now have loads of things to do.

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