Race Report – 7th October 2006

I can’t believe this is the last round of the Castle Combe Special GT Championship, it doesn’t feel like yesterday when I was paddling around on a wet race day in March. After the last meeting I was looking forward to this one. I was confident with the car and feeling a lot more comfortable driving in traffic. There was very little to do to the car between the last meeting and this one apart from the usual checks.

The days running up to the 7th were typical October weather, very wet and windy. Luckily the morning of the meeting the skies were blue without a cloud in the sky. We get to the track around 7.30am and manage to sneak into scrutineering early, normally we have a allocated time but the scrutineering bay only had a couple of cars in it so we took the opportunity. It also meant we could relax before qualifying. By relaxing I mean having a full english and a big mug of coffee. The grid again was at maximum of 30 cars, a testament to the work of the CCRC (Castle Combe Racing Club) getting new drivers into the championship. Qualifying gets underway about ten to eleven and I venture out on track. The plan was to have a couple of laps to settle into driving and then get a time in. Well with 30 cars on track you can imagine there wasn’t a lot of space. On the third lap I post a 1:11.1 which was the same as my previous best qualifying time but this time it wasn’t a struggle to get. I came out of Bobbies chicane and the track was looking empty in front of me so I decide this is my chance to get a decent time in. I fly down to Camp, dab on the brakes and round….this is going to be a good lap. Avonrise is taken with a slight lift from max rpm in 6th, around Quarry and onto the Esses. Out of the Esses and then the throttle is flat to the floor until I brake for Tower, this corner used to scare me but these days its just another corner. A good exit from Tower and onto Bobbies, I love this chicane and the speed I take through it makes me smile every time. Back down to Camp and again a quick dab on the brakes and through the bend. I cross the line and my lap timer shows 1:10.1, a whole second quicker than my previous qualifying best. Excellent! The next few laps I hit a lot of traffic so I wasn’t able to improve on this time. The car is feeling great, I am very confident with it and putting in a quick lap is becoming second nature now. If you had told me back in March when I was struggling to get into the 1:14’s that by the end of the season I’d be doing 1:09’s I would said you were joking. The 1:10.1 put me 8th on the grid, out of 30 cars I am very happy with this, plus it’s my best starting position this season.

The race, I line up on the grid and sit looking around, I suddenly realise that the car just up on the right is the pole man….wow it suddenly hits me how good a starting position I have. At this point the nerves kick in……but these soon subside when the 30 second board is shown. Within a few moments we are moving and out onto the formation lap. As we come out of Bobbies I make a point of really getting under the boot of the car in front, the car in question is the big V8Star Omega, this time driven by professional driver Phil Bennett. The start lights go out and I stand on the power, knowing that my little car will get swallowed up by the bigger cc cars around me. I do my best to fend off a Radical SR3 that tries to come up the inside at Folly, while I continue to glue myself to the Omega. Into Quarry and there are cars in all directions, the SR3 is still trying to get past but some opportunist driving got me out of Quarry still in front of the SR3 and lying in 8th place. This is fun, I get into a battle with the Omega, Prosport LM8000, Radical SR8 and a SR3….I am working my arse off just keeping the SR3 behind and keeping in touch with the 3 cars in front. Their extra cc’s/hp helped but I was able to maintain my corner speed which kept me in touch. The SR8 and Omega pull a small gap and I am left trying to find away around the Prosport LM5000. I am concentrating on where to attack the LM5000 as I come into Camp and the SR3 takes this opportunity and gets inside me and past. Great move by him. His extra HP enables him to force his way past the LM5000 and starts pulling away. At Tower I get LM5000 by out breaking him. I then set about trying to chase down the SR3, we are already into the lapped traffic and the SR3 gets them in much better place than me, which makes the gap between us a lot bigger. Although I am matching his lap times, mid to late 1:09’s I am just unable to make any ground on him. This situation continues for the next 6 or so laps, but I am still holding a very safe 8th place with the rest of the field behind me no where in sight. At this point I back off my pace to 1:11’s as there is no way I can get on terms with the SR3 now. Coming out of Folly I notice the SR8 with smoke coming from the engine bay, I over take him as he pulls off at Avon Rise and I get prompted to 7th. This is where I stay until the chequered flag comes out. A excellent finishing position for me, add to this another bunch of 1:09 laps means this was a great end to the season. I lost count how many people asked if my car was still a 1100cc.

So that’s it, the end of the season. I’d like to say thank you to all the people and companies that have helped me out this year. The CCRC for organising a brilliant championship, which has provided some fantastic racing this year. To all the marshals and officials that have provided a very safe racing environment and making the team and me feel so welcome. All the spectators and members from the Combe forum that have made the whole experience a very social one. And last but not least all the people that read these little reports. I hope I’ve kept you entertained this year, it certainly been enjoyable to do.

Next year? Well…. we’ll be doing the Castle Combe Special GT’s next year, the car is undergoing a major upgrade in the engine department where we say goodbye to the Kawasaki 1100cc engine and hello to a Suzuki Hayabusa engine. With this engine we hope to be at the sharp end of the grid next year and challenging for the championship. Keep an eye on the website for updates over the winter

Castle Combe – 16th September 2006

Well here we are at Castle Combe again, with the oil pressure problems I am not feeling to confidant about today’s race. However we set about getting the car prep’d for the days racing and hope that the engine will last the day. Qualifying was late today at 11am so we had plenty of time to double check everything on the car. The plan for the qualifying was to do 4 gentle laps to get the car up to temp and then return to the pits for a check. Last thing I want to do is have a oil leak and cover the track in Sikolene! Qualifying starts and I take it very easy for 4 laps keeping one eye on the oil pressure and the other on the track. The pressure is still hitting 100+psi when I go above 4000rpm, this is making me very nervous. This wasn’t helped by the fact I wasn’t getting any decent oil temp. On the 4th lap I head for the pits where Justin, Dave and Barry are waiting for me. They whip the back off and do a check for leaks etc. Barry in the mean time taped up half of the oil radiator in an attempt to get some heat in the oil. Thanks to Neil for this tip. The guys put the cover back on and I am heading out on track. I do about half a lap and the pressure is still high, but the oil temp is now starting to come up. I decide to take the risk and floor the car, the oil pressure goes up to 100psi again then starts falling as the revs pass 8000rpm. Within a couple of corners the oil pressure was back to normal at 75-80psi, I was so relived to see this. Now that was cured I needed to get a lap time in, I put my head down and put a time of 1:11.6 straight away which filled me with confidence. I just start my second flying lap and red flags came out and the session was stopped. A bit annoying but then I had got a respectable time, this time put me 15th on the grid of 30 cars so not all bad.

The race was at 4.30pm and after the trials and tribulations of the morning I was starting to look forward to it. There was still a question mark over the engine but I wasn’t going to let this dampen my spirit. For the first time we had a full grid of cars so this was going to be an interesting start. The rolling start was good this time and I got a flyer, I stuck to the inside of the track and made up 3 places into Avon Rise. Because of my positioning I was a bit slower into Quarry and I lost the 3 places I just made up. I almost lost my noise to the V8Star car, which from the drivers seat in the Radical looks like an arctic truck! I am sure he could run over me and not notice! Anyway back to the race, I am still very much in touch with the cars in front. I am feeling very comfortable with the car and I am chasing down Mark Funnel in his Lotus Exige, a Prosport LM5000 and the V8Star. The lap times are soon in the 1:12/1:11’s, the LM and V8Star pull away a little from me and Mark and this triggers the best battle I’ve had on track so far. For 7 laps we were nose to tail around the Wiltshire track, the power of the supercharged Honda engine would pull away on the straights but I’d make it back on the brakes and cornering. We got very close on a couple of occasions but Mark always gave me racing room. On lap 8 there is a small shunt in the Esses and the safety car comes out and bunches every one up. Lap 10 the safety car goes over the rise next at Westway and out of sight. As I come out Westway a short time later I notice that the safety car had pulled in. To see a empty track with just Mark and me on it was a little annoying to say the least. Next time I hope the safety car will give us a bit more warning. Back to the race and all systems normal with me chasing the back of Mark’s Lotus Exige. After a number of attempts I finally get the better of Mark going into Tower on lap 13. I get my head down in an attempt to get away from the awesome Exige. The next lap the track was empty so I just kept my foot down, soon Mark was a good few second behind and I was gaining on a lapped car. Little did I know that this lap(14) was going to be my quickest ever lap around Castle Combe in a car. I broke the timing beam in a amazing 1:09.7 which is some 1.3 seconds quicker than I’ve done in the past. It also moved me in to the Elite sub 1:10s lap group and considering the Clubsport is the smallest capacity car out there I was very very happy with it. The final lap I got past the lapped can and crossed the line to finish 11th overall and 4th in class. Considering how badly the day had started it finished on a massive high, I was still smiling the day after the meeting. Thanks to everyone that helped to get the car to the start line, particularly Joe for his hard work on the engine and Justin helping me remove/refit the engine. Also to Barry and Dave for there help on the day. Finally thanks to my sister and her crew for the moral support and to everyone that popped by the pit to say hi!

Here’s looking forward to the last meeting of the year on the 7th October.

Castle Combe – 28th August 2006

We’ve had to very little to the car over the past few weeks which made a nice change. The only major change was fitting the larger front splitter which I had repaired after breaking it at the test day back in early August. For the first time this year I splashed out on a new set of tyres, Avon again provided these and involved a quick trip to Trowbridge to take advantage of their great fitting service.
Race day, as the norm this year I woke to a wet day however the forecasts all said that the day was going to be dry. With this thought in mind we set off to Combe ready for a days racing. By the time we had arrived at Combe the rain has stopped and the sun was starting to break through. Our qualifying session was a bit earlier today at 10am, this meant that the team was running around a bit to make sure everything was in place and double checked. It was soon 9.40am and we are making our way to the holding area and soon out on to the track. I have the nice new Avons on so take it easy on the opening lap to scrub them in a bit. By the second lap the tyres were already providing lots of feedback and were feeling fantastic. I put a couple of laps together and already the times are into the mid-1:12s and I don’t feel like I am anywhere near the limit of the car. I had to avoid a bit of a coming together with one of the class A cars and a MR2 at the Esses which got the old heart going but I got though unscathed.. The car is running really well and feeling great. I get some space and decide to get my head down to get a good qualifying time. Soon the times are in the low 1:11’s and I am really enjoying driving the car, it feels fast but at the same time very controllable. I was getting some great 4 wheel drifts out of Quarry which had me grinning like a Cheshire cat. I got the time down to 1:11.08 then I start hitting traffic again. I decide to back off for the last couple of laps as I had my “banker” time for the race plus the traffic was getting a bit to heavy. I was very happy with my qualifying performance as it was over 1.5 seconds quicker than any of my other qualifying times this year. This time put me 13th, out of 27, on the grid which considering the number of very quick cars in today’s meeting I was very pleased with. Back in the pits everything was good, we go over the car and again double check everything. Then we sit back and relax while we all wait for the race which was scheduled for 2.50pm. This time gave me a chance to catch up with some of the other competitors, like most club events everyone is very friendly and willing to have a chat and a bit of banter.

Its soon 2.50pm and I am sat on the grid waiting for the off, the pace car moves away from the grid and we start the formation lap. As we exit Camp corner everyone is starting to increase speed in anticipation of the start. As we all got closer to the lights they still hadn’t changed from red at this point the front runners started to back off and brake because they think it was an aborted start. I had the same feeling however looking in my mirrors I could tell the cars behind hadn’t noticed the front of the grid slowing. Just as the front cars were about to cross the line the lights went out and we all hit the gas! There were cars going in all directions, if you imagine the rear half of the grid were already upto speed while the front pack weren’t. How we didn’t have a big pile up I don’t know. I lost a few places because of this dodgy start but latched onto the back of a group consisting of Simon Tilling in his Clubsport, Mark Funnel in his Exige, Tony Michael in his very quick Westfield and lastly Nigel Mustill in his monster Omega V8 Star car. The lap times were already in the 1.12’s after the opening lap and I was having a ball. Lots of close racing I was feeling confident in the car and started eyeing up Tony’s Westfield. We are just coming to the end of lap 3 and there was a car pulling into the pits which sent all the cars in our little group in all directions. I knock it down a gear to get a good run out of Camp and I am suddenly aware that all is not right with the car. There is a massive vibration coming from the engine accompanied by a very nasty rattle/banging noise. I try to change gear but I get nothing so I dip the clutch which stops the vibrations and noise and I coast to a halt just after the pit lane. The engine is still running so its obvious that the transmission is the problem. I kill the engine and hop out and watch the rest of the GT race from the spectators section. I was annoyed but also quite philosophical about it as it was the first failure of the car and upto that point it was going really well so I know once this problem is fixed we can run with the quick boys. We get the car back in the pits and try and work out what is wrong, I was hoping that is might be the chain/sprockets but as soon as the cover was off it was apparent that wasn’t the cause. Next we checked the diff and all CV joints but again they were all fine….this is pointing to a internal problem. The engine started fine but when it was put in gear we were greeted with a loud clunking noise. I killed the engine and pondered what the problem could be. The noise seemed to be coming from the clutch side and there have been cases of clutch basket nuts coming undone. There was nothing we could do at the track so we put it back on the trailer and set off home. On Tuesday I removed the clutch completely and again found no real problems there. I did find a small problem with the primary drive but it wasn’t the main problem. Next step was to remove the engine from the car which we did in under 1.5 hours. It will now go off to Joe at Peter Hammond Motorcycles to be stripped down to see what the problem is. Good fun this motorsport lark, I am hoping to have the car back out for the 16th September meeting but at the moment we’ll have to wait and see.

Just finish by saying thanks to Justin and Barry for their help with the car, and to my family for the moral support.

Castle Combe – 5th August 2006

The build up to this meeting started on Thursday 3rd August at the test day. If you’ve read the diary you’ll know that we have been making a lot of changes to the car over the past month or so and this was the day to see if we’ve got it right. I met Neil Cox of Corinium Motorsport at the track and we set about going over the setup of the car. One thing the car suffers from is a soft brake pedal, it works fine but just doesn’t give me much confidence so we took the rash decision to change the master cylinder for the front brakes to the next size up. I have a hunch the previous owner upgraded the calipers to 4 pots but didn’t do the master cylinder. No sooner had the idea been thought the old one was off and the new one on. We set up the car as per the standard Radical setting but also lowered the car by 5mm all round. Once everything was done it was time to get onto the track. The first session I settled into driving the car as I haven’t driven it in over 5 weeks. This meant that lap times were less than impressive, I came into the pits and we checked over the car. I decided to leave the setting as is until I’ve done another session. One thing I did notice was how well the car rides the bumps now I’ve removed the Nik-Link bar so that was a positive. Second session I started to settle into driving the car again, the brakes were working well and the car was feeling great to drive. It was in this session I started to notice the difference the wings were making, I was carrying more corner speed which meant I was hooking more gears than before. This meant I was having to relearn the track again, all my normal brake points had changed and in some cases my lines were different. I was getting a bit of understeer at Quarry but apart from that I was happy, although my times were still no better than what I’ve done in the past which was a little disappointing. Back in the pits we make some more small changes and fix a couple of things. Neil also softened up the front suspension to help with the understeer. The last session I was supposed to go out and do 5 laps and come in. Well I did my five laps but the car was going so well that I decided to stick at it. That proved a good decision as the lap times started dropping like a stone. Soon I was running consistently in the low 1.11’s and just dipping into the 1.10’s which was the result I was looking for. That was the last session of the day but it was a good one and I was very happy with the way things went. I was really looking forward to the race on Saturday.

Saturday race day, still on a high from the test I was confident that I could put in a good showing. The weather was overcast but very humid, so humid that it started to spit with rain as we were waiting to go out on qualifying. It stopped as soon as it started but from pulling out of the pits my visor was covered in raindrops, I took it easy on the first lap and the rain soon stopped. I was in a gaggle of cars, which wasn’t ideal, but I thought I’d run with it for a few laps. On the third lap I decided I need to get away from the cars in front and concentrate on a fast lap. I passed the start line and got on the gas through Folly only to be greeted by lots of straw on the track which was from a spinning car that had returned to the track bring half the field with them. No problem I thought and I just carried on, over Avon Rise and I discover that most of the track was covered in straw, some of the piles were 10inches tall! not what you expect to see on a race track, I managed to avoid this but that lap had gone away. The next 4 or 5 laps were just trying to fight through the traffic and avoiding the straw at Quarry. I got stuck behind a Mallock which was quick on the straights but less so in the twiddly bits. The car’s gearbox also wasn’t playing ball and I was getting a lot of false neutrals which is just what you want when braking for Quarry. Most of my laps were a shocking 1:18’s because of the traffic, straw and gearbox issues, I just managed to post one quick, and I use that term loosely, lap of 1:13.8. The last 2 laps the heavens opened again and I had to back off until the flag came out. My time was good enough for 11th on the grid but it was so far off my pace I couldn’t help be disappointed. We spent some time replacing the rod ends on the gear selection linkage and hopefully this will fix the problem I was having.

Race time, I was all pumped up for this one as I needed to prove that fitting all these fancy wings was really worth the effort, so far today I hadn’t done anything impressive with them. The rolling start was pretty good but the lack of power from my little 1100cc engine showed itself as the grid pulled away, I even got overtaked by a Escort Cosworth. Ok that car has a rumored 500bhp but it is still an Escort! J The first lap was entertaining as we all piled into the Esses one of the Radicals up front span and we all had to take evasive action to miss it. The next couple of laps I was following the same Mallock from Qualifying and the Escort, their times were in the 1.16s but I didn’t have the power to get by them and I had to watch the rest of the grid disappear in the distance. The Escort was doing some impressive power-sliding around Tower. As he came into Camp it all got a bit out of control and he went off and hit the barrier pretty hard. Both me and Mallock behind just kept our foot down and just hoped we’d be past the flying escort before it found its way onto track….luckily we both did bit it was pretty close. The safety car was sent out and I managed to get back up with the front groups but still behind the Mallock. The safety car was out for 4 laps before the Escort was cleared up. Once the green flag came out I glued myself to the back of the Mallock, I just didn’t have the power to get by him on the straights and he would pull a gap just big enough meaning I couldn’t get him on the brakes. I was considerably quicker on the corners but I just couldn’t turn this to my advantage. He was also taking very defensive lines to all corners so any attack I made I had to do around the which was near impossible. I admit my lack of race knowledge didn’t help but I guess this is the only way I will learn. I made a small mistake going into the Esses as I had a Fisher Fury along side me, I tried to give him room and in the process missed my braking point. This allowed both the Fury and the Mallock to pull about 4 seconds on me. Luckily, for me, the Fury span at Bobbies on the same lap which allowed me to hunt down the Mallock again, it didn’t take me long to catch him but again there was now way through without making a “do or die” manoeuvre and it wasn’t worth that risk. As the race progressed the tyres were starting to move around a lot, I think they are finally up for replacing. I can’t complain as they have been the same set since last November! The engine woes continue with the engine not wanting to rev to the limiter in the higher gears, so back to the workshop with that one. On the plus side the gear selection was a lot better. The race ended with me in 10th place behind the Mallock. It was a good race all be it very frustrating but I learnt a lot even though the finishing position wasn’t great. I know if I had got past the Mallock I could have hung on to the guys in front as the car is so much quicker with the wings fitted. I need to do better in qualifying in future and be more aggressive on the opening lap to protect my position on track. The learning curve just seems to get steeper and steeper. One positive thing to come out of today I’ve now got enough signatures to upgrade my licence from National B to National A which is great. Next race is Bank Holiday Monday so I’ll be aiming to better this weekends result then.

Castle Combe – 24th June 2006

This is the only weekend car meeting of the year at Combe after the demise of the GT/F3 meeting it has been replaced with the Dunlop Great and British meeting. How a BMW Mini can be considered great or British is beyond me but I guess the tyres are made in Birmingham so they must count. Because of the amount of races over the weekend the GT’s, Castle Combe Saloons and Dunlop Track and Race saloon races were held on the Saturday. As usual we got there early and had everything setup but 8.30am. Unusually the scruiteer came around to our pits, bit like sprints, which meant the crew didn’t have to push the car to and from the scruiteers which went down well. As is usual with motorsport you are either running around like a blue arsed fly or sat taking in the atmosphere. This time we were sat around taking in the atmosphere as the car was ready to go but we had a 3 hour wait until our qualifying session. 11.30 soon arrived and we were getting the car to the collection area, at last we had a nice day so there was no issues trying to decide what tyres to run. I take the first couple of laps to get settled into the car again. I then tagged on the back of a SR3 for a few laps until I was finally able to past it going over Avon Rise. As usual the MR2 was out on track and not going particularly quickly, as I came up to lap him he didn’t see me and pushed me onto the grass going through Westway. Net result a visor covered in mud, a car full of grass and part of the front splitter missing…I was not happy! I composed myself and got my head down for the next couple of laps, my mood soon changed when my lap timer showed a 1:12.06 lap which was my quickest so far. I was sure that I could beat this so really pulled out the stops for the last lap of qualifying, everything was going well until I caught up with the MR2 again, despite the frantic waving of blue flags by the marshals he managed to block me going throw Tower Corner and my lap went away….gutted. However I did qualify 15th out of 28 cars so I was quite happy about that….plus I had beaten Simon for the first time by a shocking 6/100th’s of a second! During the session I had noticed that the car was feeling a bit nervous through Folly and over Avon Rise but it felt ok for the rest of the lap so I decided to leave it as is.

The race was at 15:40 so we had another long wait before we were out on track again. Sitting in the pits watching a long line of damaged Ginettas going back to their pits meant that our time was getting closer. The weather was still very hot, we took a bit of a gamble on the tyre pressures. Problem is that we’ve never run with these hot temperatures before so we had no benchmarks to rely on. I off the grid and starting the out-lap, the rolling start is one of the best ones so far and I get on the gas early coming out of Camp make up one place before Folly and get along side Normal Lackford in his Radical Prosport, being on the outside of Avon Rise isn’t the best position and as Norman moves over to take his line I am faced with being on the grass again! This time I don’t loose to much time but Simon is right up behind me coming out of Quarry. He gets along side me going into the Esses and I yield to him this time…didn’t want a repeat of the last meeting as I’ve only just repaired the car! Simon disappears off into the distance and I find myself chasing Jeremy Irwin in his Rawlson GT. We run very close for about 6 to 7 laps and I am concentrating on him and a Radical SR3 which is breathing down my neck. My car just isn’t working properly and I’m having to work very hard to keep the pace which was mid 1.12’s. Having to work this hard was starting to have a toll on me and I was starting to struggle to keep pace with Jeremy, we got slightly separated by a lapping car and then I started to loose contact with him. The SR3 was still breathing down my neck and I was doing everything I could to keep ahead of him. There was some confusion with the blue flags and I accidentally let the SR3 and a ADR through, in all fairness though if they hadn’t got me then I think they would have passed me before the race was finished. By lap 13 I was struggling to stay in the 1.14s and my confidence in the car was starting to wavier. Just to add to these problems the engine was starting to misbehave which was causing it to die when I changed up a gear. I tried to keep a steady rhythm and hold position as there was only a couple of laps left. This I did, I finally crossed the line 16th, my worse finish to date, although there were a lot more quick cars entered this time. That said I wasn’t overly happy with my performance and I need to do better next time. I also need to find out why the car was so behaving so badly in the chassis and engine department.
We have a 5 week break now before the next meeting, the “list” is back and I have a number of things to be done before the next meeting. Keep an eye on the race diary later in July for the low down on what has changed.

Thanks to Barry and Dave that helped out this weekend and hello to everyone that stopped by the pit.

Castle Combe Race Report  – Spring Race Day 29th May

It’s been the best part of a month since the last outing and I am eager to get in the car and see if the improvements I’ve been working on over the past 4 weeks has made any difference. As usual for a bank holiday the weather is looking suspect, good old British summers! When we arrive at the track the skies are blue but I have a suspicion that this isn’t going to last. Sure enough as soon as I line up in the holding area the rain starts to fall. At this point I am still running slicks on the car, the rain isn’t that heavy so I we decide to stick with the slicks for now. Have to admit I am a bit apprehensive about using slicks in the wet but apparently they are supposed to work! There is a incident at the start of the qualifying and we are held in the pits until the scene is cleared up. Before we are allowed on the track we are warned there is a pool of coolant on the exit of Camp, something to make sure I avoid. Finally, some 10 minutes late, we are allowed onto track, it is still wet and I am taking it very easy on the out lap. I am quite surprised by the amount of grip I am getting from the slicks in the wet but I wasn’t prepared to push it to hard just yet. First time into Camp and I remember the warning about the coolant. I negotiate the corner and get on the straight, gently applying the throttle and the car suddenly exits stage right, seems the coolant wasn’t on the corner but on the straight! One second I am on the track with the next micro-second I am visting the barley in the infield and stuck. I hop out of the car and watch the rest of the qualifying from my new spectator position doing a dam fine impression of a scarecrow! Not the best way to qualify I have to admit. Normally you have to complete 3 laps to qualify for the race however because I am a regular at Combe the clerk of the course allowed me to run from the back of the grid. So I am to start from dead last in 27th position.

After the end of qualifying the sun comes out again, typical! We all set about cleaning the grass, barley and mud out of the car ready for the race, luckily the car hasn’t suffered any damage. Thanks to everyone, including my 3 year old nephew, for getting involved in cleaning the car.

Our race is a bit earlier today, 2.35pm, so we are soon getting the call to the assembly area, just as the call goes out, what happens? yes you guessed it the heavens open. It was that horrible stop/start rain so trying to decide what tyres to fit was a nightmare. We make the decision to stick on slicks….well that decision lasted about 30 seconds as the stop/start shower turned to a proper downfall. Justin/Barry and Dave chipped in getting the car ready for the wet race. We made the assembly area with about 5 minutes to spare, soon we were being directed to the grid, wow from 27th place it’s a long way to the front. As usual it’s a rolling start and we all set off at a good pace. Just coming down to Camp the grid got really well closed up which was looking good to make up a few places, however this plan went to pot when the MR2 in 24th place span coming out of Camp. This slowed us down and let the main group get away. The visibility was rubbish for the first part of the race, I managed to tack onto a group of three cars (a Ginetta, F355 and Mallock), I followed these guys for about 6 laps until I gained enough confidence in the conditions to get past. For the next 4 laps or so I started to pick off a few cars and then my target appeared in front of me…Simon Tilling’s Clubsport. For the next couple of laps I put my head down and caught up with Simon, the track had dry patches now and the wet tyres were starting to get a bit squirmy. The next 3 laps we the most exciting racing I’ve done so far. Simon officially has the widest Radical in the world, no matter where I went on track I couldn’t get past. I even tried going around the outside of Camp which seemed a great idea to start with, by the apex I was regretting this decision. But that didn’t stop me trying the same going into the Esses, again this didn’t work. The last lap and I am less than a few feet from Simon, just trying my best to goad him into a mistake. Every time I tried a manoeuvre he had it covered. We came into Tower the last time, the previous laps Simon has eased off mid corner to slow me down. I was ready for this this time, I had the engine in a gear lower ready to sling slot out of the corner. This goes to plan and I get along side him going up to Bobbies, however Simon has already pre-emptied this and starts moving over to the right leaving me no room. He brakes hard for Bobbies and so do I……however my brakes aren’t enough and I collide with the rear of Simons car, more of a love bite than a proper whack though! I try to get on the gas hard coming out of Bobbies but the now hot wet tyres let go and around I go! Bugger! Simon disappears into the sunset as I fight to find 1st gear drop the clutch and leave in a cloud of smoke and applause from the marshals. I didn’t loose any other places and I crossed the line in 14th behind Simon. So a very mixed day, it didn’t start well but ended with a great scrap. Keeping my fingers crossed the sun comes out to play properly on the 23rd June.

Thanks to all the people that came and said hello and of course thanks to the team for their help!

Castle Combe Race Report – 1st May 2006

Two weeks have passed since the last race meeting on Easter Monday. The car has been running brilliantly but I’ve had one issue that I’ve been trying to resolve. And that is wind blast, going through Folly is really hard work for me because the combined g-force and 130mph+ wind blast was taking its toll on my endurance. For the April meeting we fitted a new carbon screen hoping this would make a difference, although it did make it a little better it was far from perfect. I had got a tip from one of the American Radical owners regarding adding a fly screen to the top of the carbon screen, the guy who did it said it made a big difference. So Sunday afternoon Justin and I set about designing a new fly screen for the car, after a hour or two of trial and error the car was sporting a fly screen. The extra screen stood about two inches higher than the carbon one so I was confident that it would at least help the wind blast problem.

On the morning of the race meeting we arrive to a damp Castle Combe, it has been raining all night but the sky was starting to show the odd spot of blue. Fingers crossed that we were going to be in for a dry meeting. I don’t mind driving in the wet but I much prefer the dry, as do the spectators. The paddock is completely rammed with Porsche’s and Mini’s so we have to find a little corner to setup camp, unloading the car, gazebo etc I start to miss the sprinting days when I’d turn up in the car, kick the tyres and be ready. Anyway the team – Justin, Barry and myself – are getting pretty good at setting up and pretty soon Barry is sat on his chair, bacon buttie in hand admiring our handy work.

As usual the car flies through scrutineering and we get prepped for qualifying, all fluids double checked, wheels nuts tightened etc. 10.50am and we are ushered onto the track for our qualifying session. The car is feeling pretty good but the lap times aren’t moving from mid 1.13’s for some reason, just as I feel like I am starting to get into a groove the red flags come out and our session gets stopped. With only 6 qualifying laps completed I end up 13th on the grid, Simon Tilling in the other Clubsport out qualified me again by half a second to take 12th. The good news is that the fly screen is working really well, I am getting no buffeting now and I’m feeling quite relaxed driving the car.

Race time, as usual we have the rolling start. I try and keep everyone close but it’s a lot harder than it looks. As we come out of Bobbies I loose a bit of ground on the guys in front, and to compound this the leaders stood on their loud pedals as soon as the safety car pulled off. This mean I went into Camp with a 100yard gap between me and Simon. Up over Avon rise and into Quarry, I take it a bit steady as the tyres are still cold but I am keeping Simon in sight. The next 4 laps or so I concentrate on catching Simon, enjoying throwing the car around a bit and trying some slight different lines in the process. The fly screen is doing its job perfectly and I feel great in the car. I also get to experience proper high speed slipstreaming, chasing Simon through Folly and upto Avon Rise was great fun. Lap 5 and I am starting to get a lot closer to Simon up over Avon Rise and also into the Esses. On the exit I notice the MR2 in the distance which we are about to lap so I start to get a bit closer to Simon to try and take advantage of the MR2 being in the way. As we come into Tower I come along side Simon just to show him a wheel, the MR2 is just in front of us now. We both pass the it on the run into Bobbies, Simon gets a bit sideways mid corner and his is all I needed. I got a fantastic run out of Bobbies and pop out of his bubble just before braking into Camp, I get along side of Simon and with a bit of frantic braking and steering I get past. He sits on my tail up through to Avon Rise again. I was feeling pretty confident at this stage but I knew that Simon was going to get his own back at any moment. Into Bobbies and Simon is right up behind me, I exit Bobbies and glance in the mirror to see Simon “exiting stage left” into the infield. Part of me was happy because I was clear, but the other half was a disappointed because it was shaping up to be a great tussle between us. For the rest of the race my concentration was on a Radical SR4 that was gaining on me, the S4 is a far quicker car than mine so I was having to keep pushing to make sure it stayed behind. I managed to stave off his attack for the next 6 laps. It all got a bit interesting when the leaders passed me on lap 13 as the SR4 was able to get right up behind me. I just kept pushing past the back markers and keeping one eye on the mirror and crossed the finish line with him still behind me.  I finished 10th overall but had a best class finish yet of 4th and I also put in constant 1.12’s laps with my best being 1.12.2 which is another 0.5second quicker than last time out.

I had a great race, shame Simon span out but I am sure our battle isn’t over and I’m really looking forward to the rest of the season battling with him. The fly screen worked perfectly and as a result I was driving a lot better. I need to get my starts sorted out so I am up at the sharp end from the start. Going over the car at the end of the meeting I’ve got my wheel bearing problem back again so I’ll be replacing them over the next couple of weeks before the next meeting on the 29th May. Thanks to everyone that came to support me on the day, and to Justin and Barry for their help.

Castle Combe – 17th April

We arrive at Combe to be greeted by blue skies, the weather forecasts all said that today will be dry and after the previous meeting I really wanted a dry one. We get to the circuit around 7.30am and find ourselves a pitch and get setup, this takes us about an hour to get everything ready for the day. The car has been setup already but on finial inspection on Sunday night I noticed some play in the rear wheel bearings. I made a emergency dash to my uncles Sunday night and borrowed his massive socket set and a 6’ iron bar, I couldn’t do the bearings on Sunday night so we had to wait for the morning of the race meeting. The wheel bearings have to be tightened to a 200ft/lbs of torque which is a big number, however with me hanging off the iron bar we get them tight and the play removed. Just as well because the first thing the scruitneer did was check for play on the rear! The car sailed through scruiteerning again and we were clear to go. Today meeting included 3x45minute classic car racing so the paddock was full of some fantastic classic machinery. The weather kept threatening to rain but apart from getting a bit cooler it was staying dry. The call for our practice/qualifying comes over the tanoy and we make our way to the assembly area. We have to setup the newly fitted gear indicator ready for getting out on track. You need to “teach” it what rpm + speed relates to which gear. We get ushered onto the track and I wait for the indicator to show me to change gear which of course it doesn’t….don’t you just love electronics! I give it one more go but it still isn’t having any of it so I abandon it and get on with qualifying. There are 23 cars in our race this time so the track is quite busy, it seemed everytime I got a half decent lap stringed together something go in the way. I had taken a gamble on the suspension settings and set the car up a lot softer than I’ve run before. The good news is that the car is riding the bumps really well now, but the rear was a bit loose on the exits of corners. Ok it was quite fun sliding the car around but it wasn’t helping the lap times. After about 6 laps I finally get some clear track as I cross the line, up over Avon Rise to be greeted with a red light and waved red flags..bugger! Mark Funnel in his very quick Lotus Exige has suffered some form of suspension failure and was parked on the exit of the Esses. We get held on the grid until the Exige is removed and we can resume qualifying. Knowing that I have to get a time in I carve my way through the “slower” cars and finally get a clear bit of track, I put in a 1:13.8 which is 2/10th’s quicker than my personal best. The new suspension setup is helping a lot but I think I can improve it still. I get one more lap in I catch up another car coming into Camp so I don’t improve on that time. The qualifying times are released and I am positioned 12th which isn’t to bad. Fellow competitor Simon Tilling in his Clubsport is 4/10th’s of a second ahead of me in 11th. Both Justin and Barry go through the car after qualifying and make sure all the fluids are right, wheel nuts are tight, tyre pressures are correct etc. I make the rear suspension slightly stiffer by going up one click, not a massive change but I don’t want to mess up the car to much.

Race time, we get called to the assembly area and wait to be directed to the grid. The green light on the pits lights up and we move onto the grid. After managing to stall it last time on the grid I am telling myself not to stall….probably not the best move as I got so nervous of stalling it I am sure I lost the feeling in my left leg! Anyway happily I didn’t stall this time and took off in a cloud of blue smoke on the green flag lap. I had missed this the first time and found it quite difficult to stay in formation as we progressed around the track. The safety car pulled off into the pits and the two lead cars kept pace to the line. The red lights go out and everyone floors it. I notice Simon on my right doesn’t get the best start, I on the other hand am away and tucked up behind the Westfield of Thomas Richardson. We go flying into Quarry for the first time and the feeling of having all those cars around you battling for position is amazing. I get on the gas early and tuck up behind Thomas again. Wow that Westie does go! I keep up the chase for about 4 laps and Thomas is just getting away from me. I am able to gain a bit around Tower and through Folly but he has the measure of me on the rest of the track. We come up behind the MR2 again and this is the end of my chase, lack of experience on my part dealing with traffic and partly to Thomas driving better than me. I loose some ground on Thomas and find myself a bit alone on track. However this gives me a chance to concentrate on my driving, I am missing the apex at Quarry every time for some reason so that is something I need to work on, the rest of the track I am pretty comfortable on. After about 6 laps I start to gain on one of the other competitors, the sight of them just made be go a bit quicker and within a lap I am up behind him. I muscle my way past on the entry to Tower corner and quickly pull away from him. I was keeping a eye on my mirrors expecting the leaders to come past but I didn’t see them until lap 11, then Tony Sinclair came past in his Jade and then some time later another Jade driven by Guy Woodward but that was it. After about 12 laps I was starting to feel worn out, the effort to drive these cars flat out is amazing. I catch up and pass another competitor on the run into Camp corner and then to my surprise I am catching Guy in his Jade, he must have some sort of problem but I am not going to miss the opportunity to overtake a Jade in my little Radical. So I nip past him, going into Tower on the last lap, he did have a problem…no brakes. I cross the line to finish 9th and also set a personal best time of 1:12.8 so very happy with that. The top 7 cars we all in 1:09s and below so they are out of reach of my Radical but I would like to of kept up with Thomas and his Westie. Next race is on 1st May so looking forward to that! Big thanks to everyone that came out to watch the race and give their support!

Castle Combe – 25th March 2006

After the best part of 5 months planning, blood, sweat and tears we are finally at Castle Combe for the first race of the season. The car is still setup from the testing we did on Thursday so I am confident in the car, the same can’t be said for the weather forecast. It seemed that every forecast I looked at said something different but the bottom line is that we will get rain some time during the day. The day starts off with signing on and scrutineering and I’m happy to report the car sailed through the latter which was a relief. At this stage the sky is pure blue with not a cloud in sight. Our qualifying session was scheduled for 10:50am and yes you guessed it, 10:30 am and the clouds start forming. For this meeting I am sharing a marquee with fellow competitor Simon Tilling who is also running a Radical Clubsport. There is a trace of rain in the air now and we are getting called up to the assembly area. Simon decides to fit wets on his Clubsport, I on the other hand cross my fingers and hope the rain will pass and stick with the slicks. After a brief wait on in the assembly area we are ushered onto the track for out qualifying session, straight away the car feels odd. It feels to stiff still and isn’t riding the bumps very well. Add to this when I get to the other side of the track the rain is failing, oh joy! I plug on with it, I need to put 3 laps in to qualify for the race so that is my goal. I watch my lap timer and its showing 1.18’s which is miles off the pace. As luck would have it the rain had stopped by the third lap so I set about getting a time in. The car still isn’t right but there isn’t a lot I can do about it now. I finally get the time down to a 1.15.278 which isn’t bad by still well over a second slower than testing. However it is good enough to put me 8th on the grid out of 20 cars.
The start this year has been changed to a rolling start for the GT series, although the basics of a rolling start are straight forward the technicalities aren’t so clear cut. We have a long drivers briefing about what we can and can’t do on a rolling start and how the start will be organised. Basically everyone would start on their grid positions then follow a pace car around the track, the pace car would slow at Tower corner to bunch the grid up then it would finally pull off into the pit lane. The lead cars would then dictate the speed until the red lights go out and everyone floors it. One of the things you can’t do is start racing until you’ve passed the line and any that does will be penalised for it. There are exceptions i.e. the car in front has a problem but these have to circumstances agreed by the stewards at the end of the race….see I said it was complicated. Enough of this and back to the race!

Our race was due to start at 15:40, I sat and watched the production BMW race and they were sliding around a fair bit on the now damp track. I decided that the main aim of today was to finish the race so with that in mind I decided to swap the slicks for wets. No sooner as we arrived back at the car the heavens opened, all that rain we didn’t get over the winter…it was now being delivered. The wet tyres on and the rain wasn’t easing up, we get the call to go to the assembly area where we sit in the rain waiting for the previous race to finish. Justin was being a good brolly girl keeping me dry. Soon we are being directed to the track and into our grid positions. The car is getting a bit hot at this stage so I kill the engine while the rest of the grid is formed and the officials are happy. The 1 minute board goes up so I start the engine, 30 second board and soon after the safety car pulls away and the front rows start moving, the row in front of me starts to move and I put the car into gear….nightmare the engine dies!! So I am now frantically trying to start the engine, after about 10seconds of button pushing the engine fires but I am now in 17th place. Back to the complicated rules I am not sure if I am allowed to over take the cars on the formation lap to get to my grid position. Airing on the side of caution I decide to stick at the back, the stall has also delayed 3 cars behind me as they weren’t sure if they could over take me when I was stationary. Because of the conditions we have 2 formation laps but the amount of spray coming off the cars in front meant that the train of cars got quite strung out. Finally we are coming around Camp ready for the start, I am behind a MR2 Turbo and I have Simon in his Radical behind me. We cross the line and I nail the throttle, the rear wheels spin and I’m not going anywhere, ease off the throttle and back on again and the little MR2 disappears into a cloud of Radical spray. I am aware that Simon is very close to me over Avon rise which I take quite cautiously this allows Simon to come up my inside, I give him room and slot in behind him. Wow…I am really racing! The spay is incredible and vision is almost non-existent following Simon. I’m up behind him going into Bobbies and he looses control of his car and spins into the undergrowth. I keep my toe in and power off down towards Camp. Combe has a reputation of being a tad slippery in the wet and I’ve experienced it first hand many time in the Elise and on a bike. However Avon wets were a revelation, they provided loads of grip and feedback which in turn increased my confidence in the car. I tried to get into a rhythm and keep all controls as smooth as possible, a couple of times I had to tell myself to calm down a bit. After about 8 laps I was up to 9th place and was gaining on 8th place man, Keith Sprules, in his 355 who’s well known for his wet weather driving. A LM5000 Prosport parked on the tyre wall at the Esses meant the safety car was called out. This was really the end of my attack on the 355 as I was caught behind the safety car and he was just in front of it. It took a couple of laps to clear the Prosport but during that time they had reduced the race to 10 laps because of conditions and fading light. The safety car pulls in and I come around Camp with a Jade on my tail ready to lap me. The spray from his car covered me and how I got around Folly corner I’ll never know, I now understand the term “blind faith”. This was also the last lap, I spotted a black Radical bearing down on me but with confusion of the safety car I wasn’t sure if it was going to lap me or if he was a place behind me. There were no blue flags being shown to me so I assumed that he was behind me….I worked to keep him there and I crossed the line 0.5second ahead. I finished 9th out of 18 so I was reasonably happy with that considering I had started 17th. But I do wonder what would have happened if I hadn’t stalled…but isn’t motorsport full of “what if” questions. Spookily my first ever sprint back in 2004 was wet and I finished 9th overall….maybe this is a good omen?

So in all a “baptism of fire” introduction to circuit racing, I think I had it all in that race so the next one should be a walk in the park! Let just hope the next one isn’t so wet and we can have some proper racing.