September 5th

After another race it's time for another race report. I didn't do much to the car before this race other than change the oil and make up a plate to block off a bit of the hole around the steering column in the bulkhead. (A scrutineer had requested this at Silverstone.)

Oulton ParkFirst of all, though, huge thanks to Mav who turned up both days (testing and racing) to fettle cars and help out, I could get quite used to having my own personal pit crew. He even turned up with a bucket and sponge on Saturday. ("No car I'm responsible for is getting scrutineered in that state!")

Friday: testing

I got up early on Friday morning (before 5am) to drive up to Oulton Park. At that time of the morning the journey was easy and I got there at about 8:30. There were two sessions throughout the day: Minis and the rest. The Minis relate to a single make series that's running at the moment and they seem to have huge amounts of money. Later on the race day there were lots of Bentley Continentals, Ferraris and Maseratis behind the garages. The racing, however, was like watching paint dry...

All the same, we have about an hour to prep the car and we sorted it and I got out promptly, after a noise test conducted at a mere 5000 rpm!

Learning the circuit took a while. In particular, I found Lodge really difficult as you have to go deceptively slow to get the exit, which sort of dips and twists away from you, right. Druids is also loads quicker than it really appears to be. All together, it's a great place and really flows once you're getting there. It's seriously quick in places and the barriers are a bit close in places too. My peril sensitive right foot came into play again and I spent most of the two days, if truth be told, struggling to keep it pressed all the way down.

Anyway, I got to times in the area of 2:02/2:03, although without much idea whether that was any good. Unfortunately, the RGB people had used a shorter circuit last year so the times were not much of a reference.

However, after the second session the car started making a horrible rattling noise. At first we thought it was the exhaust so I wasted my time taking off the sidepod. However, it was apparent that the noise was coming from deep in the engine. So, we took off the cam cover and turned it over on the starter. Everything looked fine so we actually tried starting it again. The noise did sound sort of "cammy" clattering but seemed to be lower down in the engine. I asked Ian from the Kit Car Workshop to have a listen and he suggested the cam chain tensioner. That would be a possibility as I had some trouble with it when I first had the engine. I had always intended to buy a new tensioner but never got around to it.

Anyway, we took the tensioner off and there was obviously something awry. As you take the tensioner out the plunger inside is supposed to pop out, on account of the chain not being there any more. On mine it just stayed resolutely in position. You could wind it in and out but the spring device inside was not doing the job. Mav then put up a heroic effort to locate a new tensioner in the Cheshire area. However, he had the same sort of luck as I normally do in getting parts in that all the Honda dealers could get one by Monday but it was not available right now. So, I set about putting some tension back into it by hand, as I had done before. After a while I managed to do so, without all the bits ending up all over the paddock. So, we put it back together and started the engine. Miraculously there was no horrible noise!

So, with everything back together, we had some lunch and prepared for the afternoon's testing. To be honest I didn't really get that far. The afternoon was a lot busier, the mini/the-rest split being more ridiculous than it had been in the morning, and I got precious few unaffected laps in. However, the car did go well, to the extent that we used up 40 litres of fuel by the end of the day.

My times stayed at around 2:02 to 2:03. I got pretty consistent but I was a lot slower than other RGBers. Gordon M was there and he was doing 1:55s. Obviously there's a driver skill issue here (in particular I need to start braking later and harder, I think). However, there is also a power issue. Paddock information is that the quicker drivers are getting up to 128 bhp at the wheels from a class C car. My RR figures from a while ago had me at 109, a considerable deficit. I definitely need to spend some money, and time, looking at the exhaust and the induction, both of which are potentially wrong at the moment. There is a considerable agreement on this, both from people like the KCW and TTS.

Anyway, completely knackered, we packed everything up and retired to the local pubs and hotels for the evening.

Saturday: practice

We had the first sessions with scrutineering at 8 and practice at 9, on account of having to fit 2 races in. Scrutineering was amazingly easy as my pit manager sorted the car for me while I went to the first drivers' briefing. Then it was out on the track. This time I was going to try and be a bit more scientific and look for a gap to try and set a half decent time.

So, after a couple of werm up laps I backed off a bit to get a gap and went for it. It was going great until I exited Cascades in a rather tippy-toe manner (I think the bit from Cascades to Island is possibly the fastest bit of the circuit) only to find Judi right slap bang wallop on that bit of the circuit that I needed to be on for a half decent entry to Island itself. Oh well, I backed off a bit, went past her, and then went around the rest of the lap slowly (but still faster than Judi) so as to have another go. This time it was better and I got a half decent lap in on what I thought was probably going to be the last lap of the session, as indeed it proved to be.

However, that lap was still only 2:03.55, about 1.5 seconds slower than the day before. I guess I just need to be quicker about getting up to speed. One issue, though, was that on one lap I came up to Foulston's and noticed Phil spining gracefully on the exit of the right hander bit (it's a left-right-left chicane). I backed off a bit and then hit a huge patch of some fluid on the apex of the right hander. There was big sideways moment but I caught it and went on my way. The fluid stayed there for the rest of the session and must have knocked a good amount of time off the lap as the following stretch, up the hill and down to Knickerbrook, was considerably slowed. Apparently, the fluid was water out of one of the tyres just by the apex. Richard C had hit the tyres and dislodged the water all over the track.

On the way back to the paddock I remembered that I needed two decent times on account of there being two races. Idiot! However, talking around the paddock it seemed as though a lot of people had forgotten that too, including Tim Harmer who was to be on pole.

I needn't have worried though. When the results came out I was in 15th position in the first race (out of 24) and 14th in the second with a 2:03.89. I don't yet know on which lap I set the latter time.

So, I wasn't at the back, which was good. However, there was a big gap in the middle of the grid. The time of the bloke in front of me was 1:59.75. That is, there as nearly a 4 second gap in the middle of the grid. I suppose even the fatest of the times I did in testing (2:02.1, I think) would not have changed my grid position at all.

Saturday: race 1

So, we formed up for the first race of the day and trundled round to the start. At Oulton this involved doing a complete lap of the circuit behind a course car. The grid formed up and there was the usual unbelievably tense time as they went through the boards and the lights came on and went off again. This time, I got a slightly better start, although not as good as the one I managed at Silverstone once I'd actually put the car in gear. We all charged down in a huge huddle to the first corner. James blasted past me on the way (a class A car with a quick driver in a bad position as he didn't know the circuit) and I impressed myself by just driving around the outside of Doug (the blue genesis evo) and a couple of other people at Old Hall bend. However, once we had gone down the hill (which I see from the map is actually called The Avenue) and around Cascades Doug blasted past again (180 bhp has to be some use I suppose) and then things settled down a bit. I was behind Ian Fletcher who has a home designed car built around a Suzuki vee-twin engine which makes a very characteristic noise. As I discovered over the next couple of laps it has a huge amount of grunt out of corners but is limited at the top end.

On the first run down the start/finish straight I saw Tim Harmer's car parked up at the entry to Old Hall. Hmm, he's going to be hacked off about that.

So, I spent the next couple laps trying to work out how to get past. Ian defended resolutely, although entirely fairly, and I got nowhere. I definitely need to get better at the actual business of passing other cars. The other problem is that in the process of doing this I rather neglected to look in my mirrors. As a consequence first Colin and then Charlie dived up the inside of me, one at the hairpin and one into Old Hall. Rats!

So, there were now four of us in a train and we went around glued together for a while, as Colin couldn't get past Ian either. I was definitely faster than the other guys, in particular out of Cascades, I guess as a result of testing there. The circuit fools you a bit by putting an exit curb in the wrong place. The real exit is definitely further down the straight where there is another of curb, just not as well marked.

So, on about the last but two lap I had a big go up the inside down Dentons and in towards Cascades. It all went horribly wrong as I locked up as Charlie turned in (in retrospect rather early) and I spun off into the huge gravel trap at Cascades. Oh well, I suppose it had to happen eventually! The marshalls pushed me out and I went on my way, to the accompaniment of a huge clattering as 1/2 tonne of gravel leapt into and out of all possible orifices on the car.

I think on that same lap I got lapped by Andy, who was now obviously leading, followed by Mike and Tim Gray (do you realise there are 4 Tims in this series?) who were battling away for the lead of class C and apparently put on a great show. I did my novice best and let them get past me easily under a blue flag at the hairpin. In fact, on the slowing down lap I got a big thumbs up from the flag marshall there, so he must have appreciated it.

In fact, one of the features of Oulton Park was the marshalls. After the races it's conventional to wave thanks to the marshalls but at Silverstone they had mostly just turned their backs and were ignoring us lot. Here at Oulton Park they were hugely enthusiastic: clapping and shouting at us. What's more, there seemed to be millions of them. Whatever, it made the whole weekend very civilized. If any of them somehow happens to read this then thanks from me.

Anyway, I felt really stupid at the end. I finished 19th out of 20. (Even though I must have spent over a minute in the gravel trap I was still quicker than Judi.) But I suppose there is an element of at least having tried about it. Some overkind spectators (thanks, Alex! :-) suggested that Charlie really had turned on on me but I'm happier thinking it was all my fault really.

We then spent a good time looking at the car to make sure there was no gravel jammed in an unfortunate place, refueled it and sat around waiting for the next race.

Saturday: race 2

After a couple of hours, it was time to be off again. They messed us around a bit by changing the order of the races a bit. Apparently there were a million protests after the Mini qualifying/scrutineering sessions and the CoCs needed longer to sort it. I reckon they need to get a life, anyone would think they were in F1 or something.

This time, though, I wasn't going to spin off, I promised myself. The race was almost a carbon copy as far as I was concerned. I passed Doug after the start and he came past again when we got to a straight bit and, after a while me, Colin and Charlie were all stuck behind Ian again. This time, though, Doug was also stuck and Ian conducted a masterclass in defensive driving in keeping Doug behind him. However, at long last Doug did get past, only to half-spin and lose the place again. I was just at the tail of this group, not wanting to lose the place again. Eventually, though, Doug did get past again and Colin also did with a great move up into the hairpin. The hairpin at Oulton actually has considerably banking on it down by the curbing and it's still pretty quick to just sit down in the banking rather than adopting the normal late apex sort of technique.

And, that's where we finished. James came through all of us near the end (he'd been hit up the rear by Mike Atkinson and some bodywork was rubbing on the rear tyre). So, I finished in 16th position. Nothing like the quickest but with a good selection of cars behind. One of those was Richard who I distinctly remember zooming past me on the entry to Devil's Elbow at Lydden. So, perhaps I am moving forward.

What's more, I didn't get lapped at all. Even more, I finished in the points! Admittedly 8th in class is nothing to get too excited about but I reckon that gives me 5 points for the race instead of the 2 you get for just finishing.

The race was actually won by Tim H. The reason he'd stopped in the first race was that the bolt through the inner mounting for the lower front wishbone had failed and, when he braked, the tyre had jammed under the bodywork. The fact that he'd kept it out of the barriers was largely luck, I think. They'd straightened the wishbone and replaced the bolt. Tim reckoned that the car felt a bit odd but still he managed to win. He did, though, run out of fuel just after the chequered flag. Apparently it had started to stutter at the hairpin on the last lap and Andy had put in the fastest lap of the race in trying to get back to Tim and get past him, but to no avail. A certain amount of weaving by Tim had got enough fuel into the pickup to get him to the finish. He did, though, only make it round the first corner after the flag and coasted down the hill to stop at Cascades, completely empty.

Roll on Snetterton. I've just faxed in my entry to what will probably be my last race of the season as I doubt I'll do Mallory.

September 6th

Soon to be removed novice stickerSomething else I didn't mention! As a result of the Oulton Park races I've now got 7 signatures on my licence. Consequently, I think I'm now allowed to take my novice cross off the back of the car. Whether I actually do so or not remains to be seen. The cross does have the advantage of warning people to take a bit of care with you. But, the ceremony of removing the sticker is almost impossible to avoid. :-)

I've also been starting to think about various ways of making the car go faster. These are documented on the to-do page. I can see that I'm going to be spending some money on all this...

September 8th

No cross!Well, it was indeed impossible. The rear of the car now looks like this photo here. I hope the consequence of this isn't that someone rams me up the rear.

On the subject of the bodywork, I took off the rear tub, with the intention being to have a look at improving the security of the connection between the tub and the scuttle section. I was always aware that this was a bit dicky, especially after the Mallory accident, but apparently one of the scrutineers at Oulton had asked for it to be improved somehow. The current intention is to use a piece of aluminium "L" section across the width of the scuttle to provide something more more secure to locate the rear body to. It might even be possible to not fasten the rear tub, as it will be held down by the bonnet itself. I'd also like to move the bonnet to the rear slightly, although mainly on the left of the car. The yellow bonnet has never fitted as well as the red one did. Problem is that to do that I'll probably have to remove the grille in the nose as otherwise it's almost impossible to get at the bolts that hold the nose on.

Delaminating rear bodyworkBut, with the rear body off I was having a look at the moulding. I have been aware that the rear bodywork was slowly degrading as a long term consequence of the accident. What is obvious is that the rear right hand side is now breaking up. The GRP is now delaminating, from the gelcoat, again. In the photo here you can just see where some of this is happening inside the right rear wheelarch.

The other thing that's happening is that in the area where the right rear support for the bodywork is placed the bodywork is bending upwards. This seems to be happening without any untoward cracking, it's just that the plastic is creeping. Odd that. The support is one of the ones that you can see in the photos here. I had noticed that the rear bonnet clips did not seem as firm as they had done. I guess this creeping is the reason for that.

GRP patchwork for beginnersSo, in attempt to patch this up I strengthened the tub in both these places with yet more glass and resin. I hope that this will at least slow down this process slightly. Adding the support ought to make the gelcoat better supported (in many places the gelcoat is actually supporting the matting, rather that the other way around) and will hopefully stop the tub creeping further out of shape.

However, it does seem all a matter of time. I wonder if I should order some more rear bodywork now? If nothing else, this tub is going to get heavier and heavier as I add more and more patchwork to it.

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