May 14th

Hmm, this update has taken me even longer than usual to write up, so apologies for that. (In particular, Tom. He's working in Switzerland this year and he's relying on this page to keep himself up to date...)

Thinking back, the point at which we left it was just when I was in the process of preparing to go and race at Castle Combe. Just about the only thing I did know about Combe back then was that they have terrible problems with noise there. They also get huge crowds. So, precisely 11 people living in the nearby town, all of whom moved next to the circuit relatively recently, are making life a pain for crowds of up to 20,000 who turn up for races there.

There's some sense in that. I can't quite figure out what it is at the moment.

However, it did mean that I was going to have to be careful about noise. The first problem with this was that the coming together at Donington had seriously dented the silencer and I was going to have to fix that. First thing was to take out the old wadding which is what's in the photo here. Even though this silencer is not that old it's clear that the wadding was already on the way out as it was all going hard.

Once that was out, and disposed of because the glass strands are really annoying, I had to get the dent out of the silencer. This was done by welding a nut to the outside of the dent and attaching a slide hammer to this nut. I could then bang the slide on the hammer back and forth until the dent was mostly removed.

In fact, that bit was a decent success and I repacked the silencer with some nice new wadding and a few bits of steel wool, as seen in the photo. Doubtless by now it doesn't look so nice and fluffy.

It remained to be seen, though, whether it would really affect the noise. In case the worst came to the worst I put a pile of steel wool into my spares box. In extreme circumstances I could ram some of that up the exhaust to shut the thing up a bit.

So, come the Bank Holiday weekend we got everything sorted and packed up the motorhome for the trek to Combe. And, trek it was, as it's about a 3 hour drive even in decent traffic, which didn't apply on the holiday weekend.

However, we got down to the circuit at about 4pm on the Sunday. This meeting was unlike a normal 750 meeting as we were essentially guests in a meeting organised by the Castle Combe Racing Club. It seemed that they'd taken this to heart and rammed the 750 chaps, which meant we RGBers and a thousand or so Stock Hatch chaps, into an area of the paddock more suited to about 10 cars. However, we made the best of is and parked close to each other in the paddock. We also overflowed about 200 metres into the "this bit's a car park, honest" area at the side of the paddock.

Later in the evening, a few of us walked the track. I was feeling a bit apprehensive as I'd never seen the place before, let alone driven round it. Combe's got a fairly fearsome reputation due to the speeds and the closeness of the barriers (the circuit guide has a number of bits where it says "no run off") and so it turned out to be. I'd spent a good deal of time in the previous watching videos on YouTube of the circuit so I could almost remember where the track went.

The only problem was going to be the weather. The forecast was for the morning to be wet and for things to clear up in the afternoon. So, after retiring for the night it was clear from the noise that it drizzled all night. Come about 5am then it started to absolutely throw it down and when we got up it was indeed very, very wet.

However, we're made of sterner stuff than that and three of us set out for another walk around the circuit, this time with out brollies. We needn't have bothered really as after a couple of miles in the pouring rain we were soaked anyway. The circuit looked rather more fearsome in the morning, mainly as a result of the puddles and I was telling myself that all I needed to do was just 3 laps... Most amazingly, at about 0730 in the morning, there were already spectators in position. They'd got there earlier and were obviously nabbing what they considered to be the best places; parking their cars up on the banks so that they had a good view. Most of them were parked on the exits of Quarry and Tower, just before the chicanes, so that was a bit of a clue as to where things were going to be interesting.

Later on we signed on, got scrutineered and went to the first time driver's briefing. We were assured in this that the meeting would be run more slickly than any other meeting we'd been to. It's certainly true that it wasn't bad, although not as slick as a normal 750 meeting.

When the time came around for qualifying it was absolutely chucking it down. So, we sat in the queue for a while with a brolly keeping the worst off me and the car. We were all noise tested in this queue and I scored a miserable 92dBA! As the limit's 105 perhaps I needn't have bothered with all that repacking.

After a while they called us forward and we sat in the pitlane, this time without our brollies, for about 15 minutes getting wetter and wetter and colder and colder. So much for the ultra-slick organisation. Then we were off and once again being reunited with that wonderful feeling of driving a light car on A048s in the wet. That is, one wheel after another planed on the water and the car threatened to spin the whole time. We'd been put out to qualify with another series, all of whom had proper rain tyres and they just drove around us.

However, I was able to remember where the corners went and I didn't bend the car so that was at least some sort of success. However, I was woefully uncompetitive putting a time that only put me on the 8th row of the grid; a miserable 10th in class.

At about lunchtime the weather cleared and all of a sudden the sun came out which was rather astounding. Later on when it was time for our race it still looked fine; there were lots of clouds but it didn't seriously look like raining. What's more there were big blue bits.

Out on the circuit and we sat on the grid for ages until they sent us off for the green flag lap. We don't normally get one of those so that was nice. Back onto the grid and we were off. A nice touch at Combe is that they've got GP style lights: 1 red, 2 reds...5 reds and then out for the start. Also, as the race was 10 laps rather than our usual 13 minutes plus a lap there was a big lap counter running which was nice.

However, the race itself was a bit of a waste of time, mainly because I was still learning the circuit. At the start I got passed by a couple of people as I purposely didn't get involved at the melée at Avon Rise. Out of Quarry and I got past Henry on the run to the first chicane. On the exit of the chicane I nearly got past Doug. In fact, I don't think he saw me as he chopped me ferociously at Old Paddock.

Thereafter I sort of lost touch Doug in front a bit. However, about half way through the race I started working out what to do and started hauling him on. On the last couple of laps I was right up with him which was good. His car's a class A job and has about 50 bhp more than mine so he should just have disappeared. Finally, on the last lap I was all over him at Quarry and got up the inside into the chicane. I then stayed ahead until the line.

To show how little I knew the circuit the last sector of the lap of the last lap, through Camp, was the quickest that I drove that sector in the race. As I did that while still driving defensively to stop Doug diving up the inside into the last corner is testament to the fact that I could have gone a lot quicker. Having looked at the logs I reckon there was about 2 seconds to come without serious problems.

All of that reminded me that I really, really, ought to test at a new circuit, and ideally at all circuits, before the race weekend as I just take so long to learn a new circuit. A number of people had done a trackday at Combe on the Friday before the race and it showed.

One of the nice things about Combe is that they didn't make us sign offensive waiver forms before using videos. Hence I reckon I can show you all the video of the race, which you'll get by clicking on the picture on the right. This was taken with a new camera that I bought for this race.

What you'll get here is a squashed down and edited video. (What's more, it's wmv format which may not work for all of you.) However, it's still about 50 Mbytes so be prepared to wait a while!

The final result was a rather miserable 14th place which was 8th in class. I could have done a lot better than that.

Back in the garage and I've been putting a lot of thought into things. One of the issues is that from careful observation of the video and looking at the logs I'm not happy with the handling of my car. I asked around the paddock for what spring rates various Fury drivers were using and it was clear that I'm rather higher than most other people at the front of the car. As I perennially suffer from understeer this is interesting.

So, it was clearly time to look serious at things. I therefore spent a long time carefully measuring the car so as too work out where the front and rear roll centres are. I spent a while with a friend who has a copy of Susprog to have a look at the chassis kinematics. In summary, the rear of the car looks fine. However, the front roll centre looks to migrate rather a lot from side to side as the car rolls. That could easily be what's contributing to the imbalance that is visible.

As there's a meeting coming up at Brands when there's a test day before hand I decided to try some radical modifications. First of all, I ran the calculations to work out what would be a more sensible spring rate. The first thing this shows is that the front spring rates, at 275 lb/in are way too high. So, I've bought a few spare springs, here they are, and for now I've fitted some 170 lb/in ones.

However, as well as looking at the spring rates I also looked at the roll moment distribution. This essentially tells yous how much the car rolls at the front compared to the rear and the various authorities say that it's a fundamental measure of the car's dynamics.

It was clear looking at this that the only way to get this number (which at least one authority refers to as the "Magic Number" because they reckon it's so important) into the right range is to fit a front anti-roll bar. I don't have time to do this the way I would like to before Brands so, in the short term, I've made one that just goes around the front of the car, you can see it above the steering rack in this photo. All the calculations indicate that the adjustment in this bar should allow the RMD to be adjusted into the right area. However, we'll see. I wouldn't be at all surprised that, after a period testing, I just disconnect the thing.

In fact, one of the big advantages of fitting the ARB is that it opens up the route to a sensible wet setting, by allowing the bar to be disconnected.

The thing I haven't mentioned, it's just occurred to me, is the temperatures. It certainly ran cooler at Combe. However, that could easily be a result of the day being a bit cooler. I'm going to chop a few more holes in the bodywork before the next meeting to see if I can make a bit more air zoom about the place. However, I reckon I'm getting somewhere slowly on this.

May 25th

Well, I'm back home now after a fun trip to Brands Hatch. In short, the summary is sunshine, great fun, test it, broke it, fixed it, raced it, broke it again, fixed it again, raced it again. The long version is as follows...

Thursday

I drove the bus down to Brands on Thursday evening. Parked up behind the garage that Adrian and I were sharing and started some last minute fettling.

In the process of which, I noticed that the lower left bottom rosejoint was bent. Seemed, at the time, that it was probably a consequence of getting Chapmanned at Donington but very odd as I was sure that I'd checked the camber since then.

Still, I had some spares so I replaced it and checked over all the alignment. Interesting to note that with my current suspension settings I finally seem to be properly working the full width of the tyres.

Friday

Up at about 7am and back to a bit of fettling before testing. First thing up was to recheck the corner weights which was made a bit tricky as we couldn't find the power supply for one of the scales. Eventually, though, we found it. In exactly the place we should have been looking all along...

After the first test on the scales I made one adjustment and the corner weights came in exactly right with the cross weights being exactly 50%. Was that an omen, I wondered?

I'd spent a while the previous night looking at the logs and decided that it ought to be possible to get below 54 seconds. Before this trip my FL was 54.84 and that was pretty much a flash in the pan. That is, there was only one lap below 55 seconds and that was it.

Anyway, out on the first part of the test and I went out with the ARB disconnected. If you're being studious you will remember that I'd changed the front spring rates to 170 lb/in from the 275 that they were before. The idea was that with the ARB disconnected that I'd get serious oversteer. And, indeed, so it was. Interesting, and again as I suspect would be predictable, I could get the front end into corners with alarming ease but was then left with barrowloads of oversteer. Which, of course, was quite fun but perhaps not the quickest. Mind you, my racing's improved. When I did my first race, here at Brands, the thought of opposite-locking down Paddock Hill Bend would have been alarming. Now it's just fun.

Anyway, FL in that session was 55.50 and back in the garage I reconnected the ARB at the softest end of its travel and went back out. I only managed one proper lap before the end of the session but FL was 55.39. What's more, the car suddenly felt more planted and together.

Next session I did a whole bunch of small sessions twiddling with dampers. I wasn't really trying for a decent lap as I just wanted to see what the car felt like. I ended up with the rear damping higher than I'd started the day and the front lower. However, FL in that session was a mere 55.06. I wasn't trying, honest. Mind you, paddock gossip was that the track was getting slower as the day went on.

At that point there was a problem. I was faffing around with wheels and struck a problem. What's more, it was one I've had before in that the front wheel studs started rotating in the aluminium hubs. This left me with my naff old testing tyres on and no way of changing them. I decided to try and fix it then (a tedious process involving unbolting the disc which is just about possible without taking the wheel off and taking the bearing off so as to get the wheel off. It's then possible to hold the back of the stud, usually by welding something to it, so as to get the wheelnut off. As it was I wasted most of the next session faffing with this and in fact never managed to get my decent rubber on.

However, I did finally manage to get a few laps in and was now trying to push on and got the FL down to 54.87.

In the last session I just tried to go for it a bit and see where I could end up. Problem is, I was starting to suffer from travel sickness which is a common problem with testing for me. (Now, if I only had a pit crew I could just sit in the car and let other people fettle the car for me...) However, I managed a whole bunch of laps before retiring for the day with the FL down to 54.43 which may not have been the 53.something that I'd been after but was at least faster than I'd managed before. What's more, there were lots of laps in that vicinity so I knew I was getting somewhere.

The photo here is exiting Graham Hill bend. If you look hard you can see that the rear right tyre is being pushed sideways very firmly. The front left is mostly waving about in the breeze too...

In the evening I sorted the wheels and hubs properly with the aid of Jonathan's welder (and Jonathan as well come to that) and decided that in the morning I'd try stiffening the ARB. Next time I take the car apart, which should be before the next outing to Mallory, I'll do something permanent about the wheel studs.

Oddly, I discovered that that rosejoint was bent again. I suppose that I could just be trying harder and it's bending them all!

Saturday

Another fabulous day and today I was scrutineering for two races and practising and doing the all-comers race. So, after scrutineering we set off for qualifying. At least I was on top of the circuit by now. Practise was bound to be tricky though as the Allcomers race had a bunch of Radicals, a load of RGBers and the Hot Hatch bods whose race it really was. I had always thought the Hot Hatches were pretty quick but I realised that I'd gone quicker on Friday than their lap record so they were clearly going to be comprehensively outclassed.

So, practise was pretty much a complete lottery as it was essentially impossible to get a clear lap. As it was the fastest I managed was a 54.22. I was on for a faster one on one lap but Al Boulton foiled that by careering back onto the circuit just in front of me. He came and apologised later which was nice. However, I wasn't at all fussed as it was a non-championship race. Anyway, his crime was minor compared to one or two of the Hatches who had clearly decided that it was a race. I was blocked all the way from Paddock to Druids by one (come in #31, your time's expired!).

As it was I was in 10th place on the grid which was essentially ordered into Radicals/Caterham R400s/RGBs/Hatches and the rest. One of the RGBers was Richard Wise who's been a part-time member in the past but has now started for real again in a Striker built by Andy Bates. He managed 21st on the grid, out of 32, with a 57.18 and was pretty chuffed. He was saying, though, that he couldn't believe how quick it all was and just how late the RGB cars were braking. As I know I'm not the latest of the demon late brakers this just means he's got quite a way to go.

The race set off later in the afternoon and we all lined up at the appointed hour. As we set off I got into a small battle with Colin Chapman and Colin Duce (ex RGB class C now class B). It was just like old times and we were merrily swapping places. At one point Colin D made an error in Clearways and I dived up the inside, convinced that I'd got him for good this time. Then, he just put his foot down and steamed past me, the power of his CBR 1000 engine just overwhelming me.

Then I was in a dice with Al and was coming up to Surtees, turned left and the car decided that it didn't like that and went straight on.

"Hmm, that's a bit odd", I thought to myself and I carried on for the rest of that lap and the next with the car feeling very odd. At first I thought that there must have been huge amounts of oil on the track, but there were no stripey flags. Then I thought that I'd just completely blown the tyres but that seemed mega-unlikely. As it was the car just seemed slow in reacting to what I asked it to do.

However, I could stop for a while as they red-flagged the race due to the quantity of Hatches that had inserted themselves into the scenery. I think when it was stopped the score was 4, 2 in the paddock gravel, one into the stuff at Clearways and one on the inside of Maclaren. We ended up in a queue to go back into the pitlane and just sat there for ages. There seemed to be some sort of blockage in parc fermé which was slowing things down. They obviously then decided to re-grid us, even though we'd done 12mins of the 15minute race anyway. So, we trundled down to the grid and it was clear that there really was something wrong with the car. It still worked but when I turned left or right the car thought about it for a couple of seconds before deciding to do what I'd asked. So, I pulled off at the side of the grid and watched the second race from a marshall's post. And, a very jolly time we had...

Luckily, I could drive the car back to the paddock and a bit of firtling showed that I'd suffered a serious chassis failure. The lower right front pickup on the suspension had essentially torn off, or nearly off, the chassis.

So that, I thought, was that.

However, I reckoned without the ministrations of the more junior RGB community in the shapes of Tim Gray and Mike Atkinson. I got firmly told that with the aid of a ratchet strap and 3 tack welds I'd be fine. I resisted them for a while but after a while I gave in and sourced the aforesaid ratchet strap and dragged the suspension back into alignment. I then borrowed Jonathan's welder again and also nabbed a bit of steel off him. I welded the various bits back together and then welded some strengthening gussets around things. Then it got dark...

(Note that there's no pictures of this yet. That's because the car's still sitting on the trailer and I wasn't exactly focussed on taking pictures while I was fixing it in the paddock...)

Sunday

In the morning I put it back together and realigned the suspension and, after a trip round the paddock in a car without bodywork it all seemed to work OK. I put the body back on and prepared for RGB qualifying. I had noticed, though, that that bendable rosejoint had done it's bit again. Hmm...

For the first few laps of qualifying I took it pretty easily but everything seemed to be going OK. As there wasn't a gaggle of quicker and slower cars I did manage to set a decent-ish time at 54.08. (Quicker again, note.) I reckon the next lap would actually have been quicker but I had a monster lock-up into Druids. As it was that lap was still 54.18. So, even though I still hadn't made the elusive 53s I was still consistently about a second quicker than last year.

When the grid came out I was about 15th, 8th in class. Not too bad. Come about 1430 we set off for our 18mins + 1 lap race. I was on row 8, just at the side of Marc Nordon. However, the times were amazingly close and I must admit I'd worried that the first corners were going to be a bit frenetic. So, when the start came it was indeed *very* tight into Paddock and Druids. Looking at my video you can see Gordon losing it, from the front, into the gravel at Paddock. Well, you can see a cloud of dust and I just know that Gordon's in there somewhere.

Round Druids and Colin Duce and John Goodwin got tangled up on the exit of Druids and skittered down the grass on the left of the track. Needless to say, the attribution of fault was a bit variable here. From my video it looks a 50/50 issue, but it's not exactly clear.

The red flag was out at the Graham Hill bend, although I have to admit it I didn't see it, although it's obvious on the video. I saw the one at the end of the Cooper straight though and we all slowed down there, although not without a bit of argy bargy down the back straight with people banging into each other. Some of that, I'm sure, is because of some people seeing the flags and some people not.

I think most people saw the flag at the end of the back straight. Probably some people didn't and some people just bounced about a bit as a first lap sort of thing. At the time I thought we'd probably be in for one of Viv's overdriving talks at the next meeting.

So, they reduced the race to 13mins, carted Colin D and John's cars away and we restarted. This time the first lap was ok and then I think it was Matt that spun at Clearways into the gravel and biffed the barrier. Again the reds went out, although I have to admit I don't really understand why as there was a waved yellow just before Matt's car and when I want past he was moving. There must have been something else somewhere else on the circuit. The first I noticed was Marc Nordon's hand going up and again people slowed up. Again, though, there was a bit of a problem with some people not seeing the flags and not slowing and some people, perhaps, slowing too sharply. Colin C had to run on the grass around Clearways because of the latter. As it was I slowed up just about at the end of the pitwall, which was just about where the second red was.

With that they pulled us all in and took us all off to the briefing room to be shouted at by the CoC who talked about not taking notice of red flags and so on. I have to say that I largely agreed with him at the time. However, after reviewing my videos I think he was over-reacting. I, and most, people stopped on the first start on the back straight after we'd passed the first red flag post. I, and again most people, stopped on the second start in the bit of track between the first and second reds that we saw. There was a discussion recently on the marshall's site about the fact that they'd realised how diffficult it was to see the flags on some occasions. I really think people did react pretty reasonably, although the banging into each other on the back straight on the first start was unacceptable in my view.

And, I said so at the end of the briefing. (We sent the CoC away and had a chat amongst ourselves.)

Come the end of the day (which actually meant we'd got time to drive to the paddock, put in a splash of fuel and come back) we got started again for an end of the day 13 min race. This time we didn't bash into each other and I got a half decent start and then I was behind Marc and just in front of Matt, probably about the worst possible position. I spent the next few laps doing my level best to keep Matt behind me and finally he just disappeared out of my mirror. In fact at the time I thought he was in some sort of blind spot, on the video you can see me looking around, but when talking to him later he said he'd half spun and just dropped back. You can see this on the video but obviously I don't spend the entire race watching the mirror.

With Matt out of the way I could concentrate on Marc in front. Quite quickly I realised I was going to be able to pass him as he ran very wide going out of Paddock and I realised how hard he must be trying. And so it turned out, within a couple of laps I managed to get a decent drive out of Clearways and just pulled underneath him into Paddock. (Notice the lackadaisical way I say that? A couple of seasons ago I wouldn't have been able to think about doing that.) I seemed to have much better speed than him out of Clearways although I don't really understand why. I would think he's down in the weight limit whereas I most certainly am not.

Then, of course, I had Marc all over the back of me. I held him off for a few laps and got more confident that I was going to keep him there. Then we came up to lap Adrian who was still struggling with mounting temperatures. Marc and I went past Adrian on the left and Derek, who I hadn't noticed was there, when past him on the left. I suspect he was a bit stressed by three on-the-limit class C cars whizzing past him at that point. Derek has spun into (or got tipped into, depending on who you believe) the Druids gravel on the first lap and was working his way back up the field. Derek said later that he was aware that Marc and I were knotted up with each other and probably wouldn't see him.

With Derek past though I managed to concentrate on trying to keep up with him and, as a consequence, got away from Marc. In the last few laps Jon also passed Marc and he was catching me, although I always thought I'd get to the end of the race OK and in fact slowed by about a second in the last couple of laps.

At the end I finished 7th on the track (a consequence of Gordon and Rob putting each other out on the penultimate lap) and 5th in class. It had, to be honest, been a fantastic race and the friends we had spectating there said it was great. They commented on just how fast the RGB cars were coming into Paddock. Of course, Brands is one of the best places for spectating...

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