OK, I know this is even later that usual but my excuse is that I've been really busy. Not really original that but it is the case. However, after all that there's quite a lot to report.
As mentioned previously I had signed up for a couple of non-RGB races at Anglesey on the weekend of July 8th and 9th. This had rather expanded in that I had also signed up for the test day on the Friday before the races and the Bookatrack trackday on the Thursday. For the trackday I'd also pushed the boat out and signed Tom up, as a 21st birthday present, for a day in one of the Bookatrack Caterhams. He was alternately nervous and excited about that.
Anyway, Tom and I left home about lunch time on the wednesday for the long trek to Anglesey. We got there at about 7-ish and installed ourselves in the middle of a completely empty paddock, pleasingly close to the power outlets. In the rest of the evening, Daren, Ali, Sheldon and Colin all arrived and parked/camped up.
Thursday, Book-a-track track day
Come the Thursday morning and the weather looked pretty good. We all traipsed off to the driver's briefing. Tom was looking pretty nervous and signed on and also booked some tuition for the first session of the day.
As it was he had a fantastic time, and is now really miserable about not being able to do it again. As for me, I didn't try too hard really. I spent a lot of the time taking people, such as Amanda, Colin's daughter, for rides. However, I did learn the circuit pretty well. Simply put, it's fantastic! Unfortunately, they're about to build a larger circuit there and some of the stories about what's planned will screw up School which is the best bend on the circuit.
I took the opportunity to get a bit of tuition too. However, it was essentially a waste of time as the instructor wasn't too much help. It didn't start well when he started tell me how to hold the wheel. You'd have thought that he'd have noticed that I was driving a real race car and therefore there was a decent chance that I would actually know such things. At the very least he could have asked before plunging in. So, with him having a completely different perception of who I was it wasn't really very useful. Shame really as I thought it might give me a real edge for later in the meeting.
One problem was that during the day, the wind got up and blew over, and past smashed up, our nice new awning... As the suppliers, AJM Shopping, still haven't delivered the side panels for it that were promised two months ago I don't hold out too much hope of getting the bits that I'll need to fix it.
This is the awning before the day in question, with Tom about to try and drive the Fury around the paddock. He did do so, but managed to stall it about 23 times in the process.
Friday, Test day
Again, a decent looking day but rather overcast. However, it didn't rain at all and I spent a good deal of time on the track trying things out. I ended up at about 51.3 seconds which I'm sure could have been way quicker. One real problem is making yourself exit School slow enough so that Abbotts isn't too sideways. Problem is, the sideways bit is fun... However, as everyone says, School just has to be one of the best bends in the country. Shame they're planning on taking it away.
The biggest problem was picking a braking point for the hairpin which was just featureless on the entry. I ended up using a particular weed; if they chose to mow the grass I'd be sunk!
One problem was that I seem to be missing more and more gearchanges, usually upchanges which means that I lose forward acceleration which is very limiting.
It is, though, a fantastic place, right by the sea looking over the the mainland and the mountains of Snowdonia. I grew up in the West Midlands and have a special fondness for these mountains as I spent a lot of my youth climbing and scrambling up and down them. In fact, when we left I dragged the family down the A5 and pointed out all sorts of things to them which they dutifully ignored.
Saturday, Race 1 and qualifying
Now, today looked really murky and there seemed to be a good chance that it would rain later. I had my best set of tyres on already so there wasn't a chance of using ones with a deeper set of grooves.
However, when qualifying came around I made a decent fist of it and ended up at 50.69 which is halfway decent. I'm sure that a better driver would be a couple of seconds faster than this, and even I could manage an extra second or so given enough time.
However, when the times came through, I was on the front row of the grid! Pole was Peter Williams who has a Radical and behind me there was Colin and a motley collection of other cars. Oddly, snuk onto the back of the grid, was a Caterham that hadn't appeared in qualifying but was some chap who was a local and well known apparently. Apart from Colin and me, everyone else was on slicks so that made our positions even nicer!
However, come the race and it was raining. Everyone else was putting their wets on. Colin and I were just left gazing worriedly at the sky. Once we got to the assembly area it was more of a hurricane. The winds were extraordinary and the rain even more so. I sat in the cockpit shivering.
Once we got out on the track it was very odd being on the front row and having all that space in front. Even odder was when the lights went out and I got the jump on Peter (he is a proverbially bad starter and had even asked to be moved to the back of the grid but told no in no uncertain times by the CoC). That lasted for all of about 50 yards until a Sierra Cosworth hurtled past me leaving two dry lines on the tarmac. As it was, my car was flipping from one bit of aquaplaning to the next and felt very scarey. Up the hill onto the back straight and the aforementioned Caterham went past me at light speed. This really reinforced the difference between proper wets and the A048s. I don't mind the low level of grip really, it's the aquaplaning that's scarey. In fact, I think I'm going to start agitating in RGB to be allowed to use a proper wet. I've suffered in the past from aquaplaning into the barriers on some standing water and it'd be very nice to not be in that position. As it is a set of wets would probably last years as they wouldn't get that much use. Problem is, of course, that we'd be left having to choose which set of tyres to use which could be just too much like hard work for those of us that are without a decent pit crew.
Anyway, back in the race I struggled on for a couple of laps and then the engine started missing. I think this was due to water in the electrics and just after that it cut out completely and spun me off at Abbotts. After that, things got worse and worse and finally, when I was down to about one cylinder, I pulled off. If only there had been someone in the paddock with a can of WD40 I'd have been on my way. Mind you, I'd have been last, behind Colin, as we were both struggling with trying to drive on A048s in the wet.
Sunday, Race 2
After a torrential evening it finally looked to have thought about stopping raining. We had been planning a barbeque for the Saturday evening and as it was we ended up all clustered in our motorhome shivering. However, now it wasn't actually raining, just thinking about it. Our race was at about 11 and we did get down there and it was still dry. Not exactly sunny but it was possible that the A048s would work in this. I was again in position 2 for this race and again we lined up.
The lights went out and I was away into the lead again. This time it lasted for about half a lap until the Caterham shot past. It's an R400 I think and clearly driven by sommeone who knows the circuit well. So, he probably doesn't have to use random bits of vegetation to mark where to brake.
A lap or so later and Peter also shot past and that left me in 3rd and Colin in 4th. I think we two were the only real race on the circuit and we had a fun time of it. Unfortunately, I ran wide at Abbotts on lap 3 and let Colin past. (There's a pattern here, when I'm in a real race I almost invariably lose concentration and make a silly mistake.)
After that I ran back up to Colin and spent a few laps running close behind him. Then he missed a gear on the main straight and I was through back into 3rd. However, as mentioned it was only a matter of time before I missed one again and a few laps later I missed the 1st/2nd change out of the hairpin and ended up a bit slow on the main straight as a consequence. Colin just drove past me easily.
That's how it finished. Annoying to miss out on 3rd place but fun all the same. What's more, my name made it into the back of Autosport which can't be bad! I think this is the first time I've been here, apart from some sort of derisory mention after the smash at Donington last year.
So, as mentioned, after all that, we packed up the car and everything and headed off for Cambridge, taking the scenic route through North Wales. Six hours later we were home and I put the car on the trailer into the garage. I would have to be off in 3 days for the other end of Wales so I suspected that the car would just sit on the trailer until then.
Late again, but hey, it's summer time!
The weekend after the Anglesey extravaganza I headed off for Pembrey, at the other end of Wales from the last trip. After the previous weekend we'd all got home pretty knackered and I'd just put the car in the garage on the trailer and left it like that. When the time came to go to Pembrey I just hooked the car up to the trailer and drove off.
It's a long drive to Pembrey, especially when you're on your own but I made it by about 7pm and, as expected, the paddock was mostly empty. I pitched up in the RGB bit and made some tea and did a bit of car prepping for the test day tomorrow. At least this time the weather looked good.
Late in the day I went for a track walk with Neil C-B who was also testing tomorrow. the circuit's billiard table flat (flatter than Snetterton) and seems to have kerbing designed by some bloke who does cattle grids the rest of the time. It'd be a very bad idea to go on some of those...
I signed on and finally found out the structure of the day. This was in three sessions which were oddly of varying amounts of time. There was a special session for the Saxmax lot. For those who don't know this is a new 750MC formula for 14-17 year olds, all driving essentially identical Citroen Saxos with massive roll cages. The special session was probably because it's turning out that they have an alarming propensity for upending themselves and bringing things to an immediate halt. I signed on just next to a small child who claimed, bizarrely enough, to be a racing driver...
Out on the track and I stumbled around trying to learn the thing. I don't think I really got to grips with the place for a couple of sessions as it's really quite tricky. It's sort of kidney-shaped and the outer side of the kidney is pretty much flat, apart from Honda Curve which I must admit I found rather scarey at first. There's also a *huge* bump on the exit which caused me a lot of trouble before I realised that if I went beyond the circuit, over the white line, beyond the cross-hatched bit and onto the concrete beyond it that you could miss the bump. Dunno what the CoC will think of that though.
After this fast bit, there's a monster hairpin which required me to go down 4 gears (5th to 1st) and has the benefit of being completely featureless in the braking area. Luckily there's a good deal of run-off. I ended up using a couple of black tyre marks and counting from them to my braking point. What I also needed was a sharp spike above my right knee to stop the thing involuntarily lifting.
The inside of the kidney is really tricky with a sequence of several corners which need some sort of "balanced throttle/not the full width of the track" approach. There seemed to be about 10,000 possible lines here and it wasn't clear whether the improved exit speed of some of them was worth the pussy-footing around in the middle. As it was I don't think I ever really resolved that conundrum.
In fact, as I think about it now, I suspect it's about time I started exploring more extreme camber angles.
During the last session of the day I went out for a lap and then came into the pits as I decided that my ear plugs needed shoving around a bit. (I've realised that the reason I can't see why people need shift lights is that I've got pretty good pitch sensitivity and can hear perfectly well, thank you very much, when the engine's doing 11,300 rpm.) However, for this to work properly the conditions need to be consistent and that means the earplugs need to fit properly. After refitting things I set off again only to be black-flagged a couple of laps later.
The (very nice really) marshall on the start-finish line told me I'd gone out when the lights were on red. Of course, I said sorry but really I think she was talking sloblocks. What's more, Phil, who was in the pits having completely ruined the rear end of his car earlier, reckoned I was right. Still, it was an experience! (Not that they were putting numbers out which made it a bit hard. What's more, all the flags looked black as they were being waved against a brilliant cloudless sky. At one point I'm sure I saw a yellow/black diagonal flag; only later did I realise that because they were holding the outside tip of the flag it was being blown by the wind into a configuration where you could see one triangular half (the yellow bit) and the rest was obscured, making it look black.
In the last session I managed a measly 1:06.50 which I just know could be a lot better. In fact, even I could tell that the later sessions had got quite a lot slower; probably due to both the track and the steaming hot conditions.
The most amusing/annoying thing of the day is that we were sharing our session with a bunch of MR2s which were also racing at the weekend. I've been on track with these things before and I know that they're alarmingly slow. However, at Pembrey they had a new feature in that they were spinning absolutely everywhere. In fact, when you came up to one the only real question was which way was it going to fall off the circuit. As they also seemed to be incapable of looking in their mirrors this made the day rather alarming. I was amazed that none of us managed to collect one of the things. At one point one spun in the Esses (that's Wales' entry in the Most Misnamed Corner Competition as it's a 90 degree right hander) and I missed it by about 1m on the left while John Cutmore, who was just behind me, missed it by a similar amount at the front. In fact, that particular car caused a red flag shortly after that by stuffing itself unceremoniously into the tyre barrier. I don't normally react favourably to someone bending their pride and joy but in this case it was clearly just a matter of time. Oddly that particular car didn't have a cross on the back which most of them seemed to have.
One problem I had the whole day was missing upchanges. TBH, this had been happening all year but it seems to be getting worse. It ruined my race at Anglesey and this one looks the same.
It was clearly going to be even hotter today so we all got scrutineered and generally moved slowly about the paddock wearing our portable sauna outfits. Once in the assembly area we were greeted with the odd sight of a black Radical joining us. None of us recognised this car but it had the proper sponsorship logos so obviously it was meant to be with us. Then someone noticed that it was running 40mm ride height and that it was running on Dunlops so it was excluded.
Later on it turned out that the driver was desperate to get rid of his cross so had phoned the 750MC and been told that he'd be eligable for the RGB races at the weekend as long as he promised to keep out of everyone's way. So, he'd driven straight from Brands that morning and lined up for the quali session only to surprise us all. As it turned out he marshalled for the day so got at least one signature but he must have been gutted. In this case the 750MC get null points for commmunication as I'm sure we could have come up with something if they'd just spoken to the drivers first. (There's a bit of a pattern here...)
Anyway, qualifying was the usual melee and I ended up with a 1:05.91 which was at least better than yesterday although only a pathetic 12th in class.
Come time for the race and now it was even hotter. I took a psi out of the tyres to try and control things a bit. When we got to the start it was all a bit nervous. We'd been given a severe talking to by Viv (the CoC) about funny business on the run down to the hairpin at the start. However, I got a good start and passed a couple of people down the outside and did fairly well in the scrum at the hairpin itself. (In retrospect, an outside line worked much better at this hairpin for some reason.) I started 18th and was up to 15th by the end of the first lap and looking fair to progress.
I then started missing gears again and ended up in a huge battle with a Henry and Andrew. The latter is an RGB-returnee who's a local and knows the circuit well. It was noticeable that my car had the legs on Andrew's Westfield on the fast outer bit but on the slower inner bit he kept catching me out.
It is, however, hard to remember what happened as I was passing, and being passed, by at least 2 people a lap. Spectators later said that it was the best race they'd even seen and apparently the commentator was having apoplexy as the same sort of freneticism carried on throughtout the field. I think some of this is due to the nature of the circuit which seems allows various different sorts of overtaking and has a section where the exact line doesn't seem to matter that much.
I finally lost Henry when he went to outbrake me at the hairpin and his yellow car came steaming down the inside. I kept out of the way and the last I saw of him he was heading for Swansea. I think this was a lap or two after I gently nudged him in the back under braking for the hairpin. I broke my headlight then but there seemed to be no other damage. In the last lap of the race I saw a yellow car coming up behind and I was making sure that I was blocking it on the entry to Honda when I realised it was Jonathan's Radical being pursued by Gordon's Mission. Actually, GG's car had been repaired with my resin after Gordon had gone ploughing in a Mooresque manner in testing.
At the end of the race I was 15th overall and 9th in class. What's more I was completely knackered, as was everyone, as this had been a 30 minute race. Heaven knows how the GP drivers do a complete race. Later in the year, I've got to do an hour in the Birkett but I can at least do that in two sessions. Annoyingly I'd been passed by Colin in one of the mixed up periods and had not managed to get past him. FL was 1:05.64; I could only get a second out of that and do it more consistently I'd be a lot further up the field.
Then I got disqualified. :-((
Luckily, so did Colin and 13 others as we had all failed the ride height check. This is mysterious and it was clear that the scrutineering bay floor is nothing like flat. However, after trying it later it was clear that the car was at best marginal so I decided not to throw my toys out of the pram. Odd thing is that I, along with most other people had checked the ride height quite recently and it's clear that the car has sagged somewhat. I wonder if this could be due to the heat on that day? GG's car failed too but as it cooled down it measurably rose up.]
So, time for another race and after getting up very early to change the suspension settings we were off for an early second race. Early in the morning we'd despatched Judi (who as well as driving with us does a lot of the admin and control at Goodwood) to have a girl to girl chat with Viv and get us 2 green flag laps to see how the cars worked. Didn't really feel that much different to be honest.
Come the start I was on the right hand side of the grid this time. I got pretty boxed in at the start and I noticed Neil C-B's Blackbird Fury shooting around the outside of us all. Later on it turned out that Neil had had the best race of his time in RGB which is actually quite pleasing.
I never saw him again as I got locked in another battle with Simon, the two Colins and Andrew again. (Henry would normally be playing but he stopped when his electrical system ground to a halt, on account of the battery falling out.)
On just about the last lap, Simon spun on the entry to Honda and then we got lapped by the two leaders again. That caused a real melee where I managed to get past Colin but passed by Andrew. That was how it finished, although I have to admit to having brainfade at Honda on the last lap where I sort of forgot to turn in. I may have crossed the line on the grass; if not I'd only just regained the black stuff.
Luckily, this time they only inspected the timing wheels in the engine so I passed. (Dunno about you, but if I wanted to advance the ignition I'd use a different timing wheel that had the part number for the proper wheel stamped on it...)
I finished 16th, 9th in class, with an FL of 1:06.21. Most people's FLs were about a second slower today as it was even hotter.
So, now I've got 6 weeks off before Silverstone. However, there's lots of things to do in that time...
Since getting back from Pembrey I've not done that much, other than make a list of what to do! I did think about actually booking some testing at Silverstone but when I found out the price I decided that they could stuff it. For relearning 4 corners it just isn't worth it.
However, the big issues that I've got are cooling and the missing gearchanges. I spent a while yesterday looking carefully at the gearchange and although I could move it about a bit it really doesn't seem at all bad. So, I've reluctantly decided that I have to have a look at the gearbox. As I don't have time myself this means that I need to take it out and take the whole lot to Andy Bates to let him have a look at it. So, earlier today I took the engine up to Andy.
In the meantime I'm going to check over the cooling system carefully and also repack the exhaust which I'm pretty sure is getting louder and louder. One problem with the cooling system is that the radiator is looking pretty bashed up, as in the photo. This can't be helping the cooling although I suspect it's not the end of the world. However, if there's time before Silverstone I might buy another radiator and keep this one as a spare; I'm always worrying that a spare radiator could so easily be needed at some race or other.