April 6th

Sorry, I'm a bit late writing this as Brands was last weekend.

Most important news is that the cars's still in one piece. In fact, I could just get away with towing it to Snetterton next weekend. I won't though, I've actually got a to-do list that's currently got 16 items on it. Not sure how many I'll actually be able to do this weekend as it'd be kind of nice not to spend every spare second in the garage. Problem is, the alternative is gardening.

Hmmm, tough call.

Friday

Anyway, back to Brands. I went down there on Friday morning so as to test there in the afternoon. I was hoping that I'd be able to improve on my previous fastest time around there of 55.4 and get into good shape for the race on Sunday. However, for the grand sum of 135 earth pounds I only got 2x30 minute sessions (MotorSport Vision are really taking the piss with this, I'm not amused) and in that time didn't really get that far. I did manage to get some decent temperatures into the tyres and spent a while fiddling with tyre pressures at least in the first session.

However, FL was 55.8 which isn't very clever for all that work. Mind you, the 55.4 had been set on a steaming hot day with really sticky tyres. Biggest problem though, was corner exit understeer, much like I'd had at Snetterton. Here I was hanging on at the exits of Druids and Clearways just waiting for the car to be happy to point down the straight. I was even provoking some lift-off oversteer in Clearways which doesn't seem right.

The second session started drizzling slightly. A small amount of damper and pressure twiddling seemed to have done nothing to improve the handling. However, I went a little quicker ending up at 55.7, although there was obviously more to come. The data logger's "theoretical FL", which is made up of sticking together the fastest sector time, is 54.6 which would be great...

Still loads of understeer though on corner exits. It was turning in really nicely though. It was just when I got the power on it didn't seem to want to carry on like that.

I'd also had problems all day with the front brakes locking, this wasn't helped by me labelling the brake bias control wrongly but it still seemed very keen to lock up. I'd fitted some new pads before testing (Ferodo DS2500s) but I wonder whether I really like them or not. They're a bit of an experiment as I've never really been happy with the brakes. The pads that I've sort of settled on before now are Mintex 1155s which are now only available on special order.

Oh well, perhaps qualifying would be better.

Saturday

Saturday was spent fettling, fitting some new tyres which I'd pre-ordered from George Polley. I reasoned that scrubbing them in during qualifying made sense as otherwise if it rained I'd have to put them on for the race as the other tyres are not over-endowed in the tread department.

After that I went all round the car checking the setup. As part of that I found that I seemed to have a good deal of toe-out at the front which wasn't what I'd planned. A lot of people do run some toe-out at it's said to get the front end into the corner more quickly. However, I've never tried it. Given the problems I'd had on Friday I carefully set it up so that it was back where I wanted, which was just the faintest touch of toe-in.

I've always run a very small amounnt of toe in at the rear (about 10' each side). I keep thinking that taking away the rubber bushes should mean I can point them more accurately straight ahead. I think I'll try this before the next race.

Sunday

Sunday dawned bright and sunny but the forecast was for it to get worse later. Our qualifying was at about 1130 and I headed down to the assembly area to discover that I was first which wasn't in the plan. Oh well... I took the first lap or so very easily. I'd wound the brake bias a bit backwards but it still seemed to have an alarming propensity for locking up and heading for the nearest patch of kitty litter. However, I'd just had to drive round it as I didn't want to start twiddling the bias now. What's more, I'd been told by the scrutineer that I needed to make the bias adjuster untouchable during the race. I've heard this from others but as other people run adjusters I've ignored it. However, as it was a scrutineer I've since looked it up and the actual rule says that I can only have an in-car adjuster if I can't get the braking effort at either end below 25% of the maximum. As that's the rule for brake systems anyway I'm not sure if I should be covering it up or not.

There was also rather a lot of traffic in qualifying, as there always is at Brands, but I pressed on. The times were better than the other day, but best of all fiddling with the toe had transformed the handling. Or it could be, of course, that this was down to the new tyres just sticking better. All the same, it was much better and I was not on 100% throttle for a good deal of Clearways and the thing was shooting round there and hurtling down the straight. If only I could put a lap together I might be half decent.

Then they red-flagged it as Adrian Chapman's car has expired with a broken diff just after Graham Hill bend. Worst, he'd dumped a load of diff oil on the circuit. We waited in the pit lane for a few minutes and as we left there was a board saying that we had 3 minutes left. So, I went round the first lap fairly slowly and really only nailed it as I went through Maclaren, trying to get the exit speed from Clearways as high as I could. Past the starter and, eurchhh, over Paddock braking as late as I dared although still worried about the brakes. The car was great through Paddock, running out to the outside and really compressing me at the bottom of the hill. They seem to have resurfaced a bit of the track there and have got rid of the bump that used to be there.

Round to the end of the lap, even managing to get round Graham Hill properly. (I seem to have *finally* worked out how to do that corner.) The lap timer showed 54.7 as I crossed the line which was great! There should be time to do another one too.

However, heading down to Surtees there was the normal sight of Mike doing his whirling dervish bit just by the apex of Maclaren. Mike's quick but his car always looks as though it's in a desperate search for somewhere to have an accident. I had no way of knowing which way Mike was going to end up going so went straight on on to the grass and then back into the pitlane.

Still, it was a decent time, for me at least. I was 16th on the grid which was 9th in class. Not wonderful but not awful either. Mind you, looking at the times later, that lap was by far and away my best. As it's probably the only time that I've really selected a single lap and gone for it that probably says something.

Back in the paddock I discovered I'd got the fuel calculation just right so the car really was as light as possible, which the exception of the chap in the driver's seat. I checked it all over and settled in to wait for the race. I guess it's an effect of the first race of the season, but an alarming number of people were dropping out due to their cars breaking. Not sure what that says about standards of preparation.

Then it clouded over and started drizzling. Then it stopped. Then it drizzled some more and then cleared up. We were all wondering whether we should start softening things but I for one, and think most people were the same, just left it all well alone.

Down in the assembly area it was quite sunny so we'd obviously made the right choice. Then there was long hold while they cleared up the carnage that the Stock Hatches had made at Surtees. There seemed to be a mix of water and oil all over the circuit there. However, they cleared it themselves fairly successfully.

Eventually, we got the signal and headed out. I, of course, have my new diff and tried a practise start on the way to the grid. Hmmm, not very clever, the car wanted to go left rather seriously and I clearly had far too much wheel spin. I'd have to drop the revs a lot. It was clear that the wheel at the rear right was now spinning which it never did before. The problem with starts is that it's pretty hard to practice them without a track to yourself which is just never going to happen.

On the grid we sat for a moment and then it started to really rain.

Oh good.

When the lights went out I still got way too much wheel spin but got away OK-ish. However, I guess we were all wondering what the grip was like. The answer was simple: there wasn't any. I guess the previous races had put all sorts of junk on the surface and we were now skating on the water that was sitting on top of it. Paddock was alarming, braking for Druids was positively scarey, and so on.

Needless to say, there was much swapping of positions and much spinning but I managed to keep the car pointed down the track, that is, I didn't point more than 90 degrees away from it despite a few lairy moments.

Eventually though, I was stuck. Doug was in front of me and in front of him was Phil who should not be in front of me! I spent ages dodging around trying to get round Doug. The problem is, he's a class A Genesis chap and although I was much better on the twisty bits I just couldn't get up to him on the straight(er) bits. There were a few places where I could have gone for a death defying move but I really don't want to bend the nice new car. After the race he commented that he knew full well I was there and all I had to do was get the car in the right place and he wasn't going to drive into me. I guess that's good really and I suppose I should just have pushed harder in the race, but I really didn't want to bend the car...

It just got wetter and wetter (at this point in the race the video is all but impossible to see) and slidier and slidier. However, eventually I started to get on terms with Doug and almost got him round the outside at Paddock. Eeek! Just at the last moment I backed out of it to be honest as I thought he might have no alternative than to slide into me. However, that got me into contention and I went around the outside of him at Druids which put me in a decent place to properly get away at Graham Hill.

I got past Phil easily (he's a mere class C so he couldn't get away on the straights) but now there was big gap in front of me. The nearest car was Paul who's a newbie with an injected R1 Fury and he was about 9 secs in front of me. Over the next few laps I got a bit closer but I never had a chance of catching up. As it was, I was spending most of the time looking at Olly in my mirror. I'd swapped positions with him many times in the first few laps and now he was gaining on me again. However, I just about kept away from him and that's how we finished.

So, not wonderful but I survived my first ever wet race unscathed. I didn't spin at all which perhaps means I wasn't trying hard enough. However, I did keep going which a lot of people didn't. What's more, I finished in the points (8th in class) which is nice change and I didn't get called to see the beak after the race which many other people did. In fact there were apparently a couple of licence endorsements which I reckon is generally a good thing.

Mind you, they weighed the cars after the race and mine is still waaay overweight. (Well, me and the car are overweight.) I still had about 5 kilos of fuel still in there but that's only a fraction of the amount I need to lose.

I'll need to start saving up for some trick bits... Or perhaps chop a leg off...

April 10th

Expensive Time to do a few things in advance of the Snetterton meeting. So, I checked around the whole car, adjusting a few things. I've returned the damper settings to what I think is a more sensible place. After the Snet test I ended up with them in a rather odd place in an effort to get rid of some of the understeer. After changing the toe settings (or perhaps changing the tyres) at Brands it seemed sensible to go that way. I'd really like to be able to test at Snet later this week but the piggy bank is alarmingly empty and I really don't have the time. So, I'll be guessing on tyre pressures and so on.

You can easily see how professional race teams spend so much money on testing. It would also be really nice to have pit monkey to do all the twiddling. It's really hard doing that and driving the car. If nothing else because you have to put your belts on and off all the time.

Apart from the settings twiddling I did a couple of constructive things. A while ago I bought some proper FIA spec roll bar foam and I put it around the roll cage. Unfortunately I don't have enough to do everything. I thought I'd get away with a single length and as it's so expensive just bought that. I obviously need some more. Although it's the proper stuff it's incredibly hard. A 1m length of it feels more like a club than a piece of safety equipment. Fits quite neatly though.

Since putting in the floor I've been wondering if the car will overheat. Hence I spent a short while putting in a bit of ducting around the radiator. This was just made with some sheets of Correx which is the sort of stuff that demo placards get made out of. It's a sort of lightweight corrugated plastic. The traditional source is to nick left over estate agent boards but I'm afraid to admit that I actually bought some off eBay. Problem is, it's been so cold recently that it's debateable whether the thermostat's going to open on the engine anyway.

Ready to go!!!With all that done, I did something fairly alarming and put the car on the trailer to take to Snetterton on Thursday. There's a couple of minor bits to do yet in that I want to change the fasteners on the tonneau but I can do that, if I get the new ones, with the car on the trailer anyway.

I'm also not sure which set of tyres I'm going to want to use. So, I've put two of one set and two of the other onto the car which means I'll just have to change two of them.

I also might update the firmware in the datalogger. Problem is, last time I tried to do that I discovered a bug that meant the logger didn't work. Luckily the nice people at Race Technology helped me out. They've sent me a new version of the firmware this morning and if I pluck up the courage to try it I might well do so. The new firmware means that I could do sector based timing in the car, using the same sectors as are used in the PC-based analysis software. Mind you, I don't think I'll implement that anyway as I don't think I have the mental processing power to assimilate it and drive the car.

April 23rd

Trailing Paul and David through RussellYeah, I know, I know. It's over a week since the Snetterton races and nary a peep from me. My excuse is that I've been working and I wanted to wait a little while so as to make sure I didn't post anything too angry. (More on this later...:)

Anyway, the race weekend seems a long time ago now, this is what happened.

We left home late on Thursday, for one thing Snetterton's pretty close to us. Anthea had decided, after much vacillation, to come with me. She's been ill and I thought she was going to stay at home. However, a weekend of being blown about the place in the flatlands was clearly too much an attraction. As it turned out, she probably made the right choice.

We got to Snetterton at about 1030. Parked up, uppacked the car off the trailer, faffed around a bit and went to bed, after making a list of things to do in the morning. Most important was to decide which tyres to use. I've got a heavily scrubbed set and a just about new set, you see.

Friday

I got up early, at about 6am having given up the struggle to sleep and went for a walk around. It was clear but very cold and I decided that it was probably going to be the scrubbed set. I'm no longer sure this was a good idea though as they're last year's tyres and perhaps I should just go with this year's?

During the night Colin Chapman had arrived and parked up next to us. He emerged in a while and we chatted away as we prepared the cars. Having done no testing I had to make an informed guess at the tyre pressures which, as it turned out, wasn't far off.

Eventually, we all headed off for scrutineering and things became a bit hectic as they called our qualifying session while most of us were still in the queue. It wasn't helped by the discovery of some (unlawful) aluminium wheelnuts on Colin Duce's car which seemed to necessitate 4 scrutineers to carefully inspect them and generally slow things up.

So, it was a real rush to get down to the assembly area and out onto the circuit. The in-car video shows me rushing to put my helmet and gloves on while driving through the paddock and getting noise tested.

Then there started a nightmare qualifying. I had huge trouble finding anything like a half decent lap. The confusion of performances of the cars meant that dropping back from a group wasn't a good way to find a space as you always got a lot closer to a class A chap that way who was going a lot quicker. Snetterton, of course, being a power hungry circuit favours the more powerful cars.

I was also getting seriously slowed by problems with the front brakes locking up all the time. I wound the balance just about all the way back and it was still happening. I was starting to get a bit frustrated with the new Ferodo pads I'd put in before Brands. I had a couple of huge moments locking up at the end of the Revett straight which wasn't fun.

Oh well, I started out on what I thought was going to be the penultimate lap and there was a bit of a gap and tried to have as good a go as I could. Unfortunately, Tim Gray (last year's champion) came up really quickly on me through the Esses and I let him have the tight line at the Bombhole. To repay me he put the car so much sideways that I had to take to the grass to avoid him. Not happy about that to be honest, although he got his come-uppance later as it happened. So, last lap and I managed to put a poor, but not absolutely dismal lap together. Still locking up everywhere though.

Pulling into the pits I saw Colin C parked in the pitlane. Apparently his silencer had fallen off in the second lap and he'd had to pull in as it was rattling about inside the sidepod. Colin won the wooden spoon award at Brands for stopping at exactly the same point on the track as his Dad with the same failure (a broken diff). It looked as though his luck wasn't getting any better.

Eventually, I was 18th (9th in class) out of 33 for race 1 with a horrible 1:22.5 (I did a 1:20.9 in testing here a month ago on a horribly cold day, albeit without the sodding Ferodos.) I was 21st (12th in class) out of 33 for race 2 with a pathetic 1:23.8.

Sigh....

I spent most of the time between races helping Colin sort his exhaust. It had completely separated from the inlet pipe due to normal stainless crack propagation. He got it brazed together by Andy B (can you successfully braze stainless? I did wonder at the time.) and we put the car back together successfully.

Before the race I did wonder about junking the Ferodos and putting the old 1155s back in, but decided that it would probably confuse me further. When we finally got out onto the grid the weather was still fine so we weren't in for a repeat of Brands. Having had real trouble getting properly off the line at Brands I had decided to try dropping the clutch at about 8500 rpm to see if that would reduce the wheel spin a bit.

It wasn't bad. I got a half decent start, although not the slingshot sort of thing I managed a couple of times last year. I have to say the early couple of laps of this race is a bit of a blur as I was in the middle of a fairly large melee of the usual suspects. Things cleared up after a while and I was at the back of train of four cars of John Cutmore, Matt Rowe, David Wale and me. There was a lot of slipstreaming and dodging about going on, and much brake locking and slithering from me. Eventually we separated into two groups with me and David battling away behind, slowing each other up. That's essentially the way it finished as I was just unable to get past David and make it stick. I did get past him a couple of times but I always lost out under braking as I just couldn't commit myself to the pedal properly as I couldn't feel, at all, what was going on down there. I've never been too happy with the brakes on my car but with these Ferodo pads they're awful. I suspect they're intended for much heavier cars, even though they say "light race cars" on the applicability list.

Annoyingly, I was deciding that the only way I was going to get past David was to just sit tight, not show my hand too much and go for a slipstream pass down the straight on the last lap. Unfortunately, it wasn't to be as there was some sort of coming together between Jonathan (radical) and Phil at the Bombhole that left Phil parked across the track with a dead car. It turned out there was just a dead fuse (not sure how that happened) but they red-flagged it anyway even though we'd only just done 14 mins of a 20 min race. Of course, that meant my last lap lunge was a non-starter.

Jonathan got his licence endorsed for that, which makes the 3rd such endorsement in the series this year which isn't fun really.

What was interesting was that the car was going like a train, apart from when I tried to stop. I was able to easily outdrag David down the straight but just didn't have the bravery (he's really tough to get past) or the brakes to rely on. When I looked at the logs later I was getting up to just a shade under 130mph at the end of Revett. As I was having to brake at the 200m board I could easily have gone faster. Not bad for a measly 135bhp and a bloody good job I haven't got a speedo in the car, it'd be much too scarey.

After the race I took the Ferodos out and replaced them with the old set of 1155s. They've not got much meat on them though and I'll have to do something else for the Cadwell race.

The Chapman luck continued and he had had a coming together with Henry at Russell. Henry parked his car sideways across the track and Colin T-boned him at the end of the first lap. He pulled in with his bonnet crunched and a missing headlight. Closer investigation later revealed a bent ball joint but little other damage and we spent a good part of the early evening replacing the ball joint, patching up the bonnet and re-aligning the suspension.

He got the wooden spoon again for that. I managed 18th place, which was 9th in class. I was just .8 second behind David at the end of the last timed lap...

Saturday

It dawned very misty and Colin C and I went for an early morning track walk. Back in the paddock I prepped the car (well, mostly prepped it turned out) and waited for the race. At least we'd get a green flag lap today and I could try and see how the new old brakes were before the start.

Colin decided to drive the car round the paddock just to see if the wheels really were pointing in the right direction. He got 10 metres and his oil cooler sprung a huge leak which put a few litres of brand new bike oil all over the paddock. So, my calm moments before the race were taken up helping Colin bypass the cooler. Talk about bad luck...

Come the race and off we went as usual. Only problem for me was that when I was in the assembly area I realised I'd forgotten to put the memory card in the data logger. What's more, the camera didn't work again meaning that I've got no record at all of this race which is annoying.

Once on the grid they eventually started waving green flags at us and as expected a couple of bozos set off at high speed but then realised what they were doing. Back round to the real start and I again got a half decent start and was in a group of the same sort of people, albeit a bit further back this time due to the lousy qualifying position. That made it quite fun really as I spent the first few laps passing people.

Then I got in a small group with Colin Duce and Phil Alcock. We got round to Sear and Colin made a bit of a prat of himself by just hurling the car at the apex, just assuming that people would get out of the way. He had no chance at all of making the corner and sure enough he didn't and I easily got past him while he was sliding out really wide. Luckily everyone saw him coming and got out of the way. Even if it had worked it was hardly a move worthy of a real race as it just relied on other people getting out of the way, rather than winning the corner fair and square.

Then I was in a bit of a gap and I could see Neil's Blackbird engined Fury in front of me. I was catching him slowly but not quickly enough. I think I was probably overdoing it as I could see Colin Duce catching me slowly. This is something I have a real problem with at the moment. When I'm behind someone I can usually keep up and make the odd attempt at a pass. However, as soon as I get in front, or whenever I'm on my own, my times seem to just fall away. This period of the race was when I put in my slowest times and as a consequence Colin managed to get past me at the Esses (the brakes were much better with the 1155s but I was still being too tentative with them). Mind you, it's just about impossible to stop a similarly powered car from getting past on the Revett straight as the effect of a tow is just insurmountable. Assuming, of course, that you don't drive like and idiot.

With that I was stuck behind Colin D. Again, he's really hard to get past but I decided that I'd have to concentrate on a last lap attempt again. Come the last lap and I stuck close behind him and was right up the back of his car down Revett. I got a super tow and about half way down the straight pulled to the left to get past. There was about a metre of overlap when his car suddenly moved left at high speed. I have no real idea why he did this other than just to block me which is certainly the style that he has. It certainly wasn't a defensive line into the coming corner (which is essentially the only way that you're supposed to move in front of people) as we were too far away from the corner.

As it was I took avoiding action so as to miss the inevitable high speed impact and ended up on the grass at the side of the straight. This was a horrible moment as I had no control at all and I must have been doing at least 110mph: I was flat in 6th at about 10,000 when I got pushed aside.

As it was I spent a short while watching the barrier at the side of the bridge getting ever closer and trying to find some sort of control. I hit a couple of huge bumps and holes which launched the car into the air in an alarming manner. At least one of the crashes back to earth knocked the wind out of me. However, I eventually got back onto the track and didn't manage to collect anyone else. I thought at first that all I was going to be able to do was to go up the escape road on the other side but I seemed to have some control and managed to carry on.

Amazingly, I didn't actually lose a place although I crossed the line 8 secs behind Colin D. I was just a couple of seconds in front of Jonathan (not radical) who must have thought he was in luck when he saw me on the grass.

On the slowing down lap one of the marshals at the post half way down the straight wiped his brow at me, indicating that it had probably been as hairy from his POV as it was from mine. In fact, he came to find me in the paddock afterwards (we were the last race before lunch) to check up on me. Super nice of him, I thought. Great blokes these marshals. He did comment that I'd make some good air... I only wish there'd been a Driving Standards Observer on post with that marshal...

I remonstrated with Colin in parc ferme later but he didn't seem too bothered about it all. Rather alarming that as I thought I was going to die. He didn't even have the good grace to say "sorry", although Paul, the chap who looks after his car, was talking about fitting some larger mirrors...

Post race scrutineering was checking our reverse systems. This is relevant as when the provisional results came out I was 8th in class, 16th overall. Later on they excluded 4 people for having non-functional reverse systems, including the 1st and 2nd in class C which pushed me up to 6th. There was a bit of a fracas about that and Tim Gray's Dad was pretty miffed about it. I can't see it myself as it's not exactly a new rule and people have been excluded before for failing this particular test. What's more, the vast majority of the racers thought the same.

After all that, it was obvious that the car would have to be carefully checked for any broken or bent bits. My new suspension bits must have taken a terrible hammering in the attempts at getting airborne and I need to look really hard. For all I know the chassis's bent, although it did still seem to drive fine after the incident. I suppose the one silver lining is that I'm still in one piece, it really could have been very nasty.

Colin C did actually finish this race, in 17th position. That's one race out of 3 that he's managed this season. Admittedly his exhaust had fallen off again on the last lap but I think he just ignored it.

OoopsSo, a couple of days later and the car's back in the garage and I've calmed down a bit. I took off the bodywork completely so as to check the car over. At first sight the front suspension's ok, but when I just took one look at the rear suspension the first bit I looked at was as shown in the photo.

This corner is probably the one that took the biggest thump, as it's where I'm sitting. In fact, if you look really hard you can see where the wishbone actually bashed into the bodywork, both in the (rather naff) paintwork on the wishbone and the aluminium panel on the chassis.

Of course, it isn't supposed to get that far and in order to do so the wishbone itself must have flexed quite a lot as normally it stops a centimetre or so away from the chassis.

In total there were four bent rosejoints in the rear suspension.

Broekn uprightEven more alarming is this, which is the bottom corner of the right rear upright. As you can see, the impact has just clean snapped the upright. As this is made of 5mm thick steel it makes you realise how big the thump was.

Oh well, at least the chassis appears to still be straight. It wouldn't have surprised me if it wasn't but I've tried to check things over pretty carefully and such more serious problems don't seem to exist.

So, I set to and fixed it all. I did weld up the broken upright but I've kept it for a spare and bought a new one from Fishers.

With that and some new rosejoints I've rebuilt the rear suspension and I spent some time this weekend realigning it all.

Repositioned fire extinguisherIn addition to just fixing the car before the Cadwell race, which is next weekend. I did one more thing off the to-do list. This was to move the fire extinguisher down to the floor on the passenger side of the car. I originally had this on the top of the sidepod, as I reasoned that that way I could carry a passenger when needed. However, this seems to happen very rarely and on the odd occasion when I do have such a person it won't be during a race or a test and I can just take out the extinguisher easily.

The only problem with this is that I'm not sure I can reach the pin with my belts on. I shall just have to make sure that I pull it in enough time.

With that done I've probably done all that's necessary before Cadwell this coming weekend. We're planning on going to the circuit on Friday evening, testing there on Saturday and racing Sunday and Monday. Let's just hope that the car stays together.

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