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.)
First 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!")
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
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.
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
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.