Castle Combe – 6th October 2007

Well it’s the final round of the Castle Combe Special GT Championship. So far we’ve had a good season with some fantastic results off set with the odd average one. That said I am currently running 2nd place in the class, Shane Marshal has 1st tied up already as the points gap is to large to make up in one race. However my rival of 2007, Simon Tilling, is hot on my heels and only 2 points behind me. This means I have to finish behind him to maintain my position in the championship, all good fun.

The day starts gray and a bit miserable looking but the forecast says its going to stay dry, this is good news for me (not so for Simon who is very quick in the wet). I’ve been working on the car over the last couple of weeks sorting out a few of the issues we had from the last meeting. The main one was to make the car a bit more compliant to drive. Easiest thing to do was to reset the dampers back to a known setting. The second was from a recommendation of a fellow Radical owner , Jon-Paul Ivey, which was to fit a slightly larger steering wheel to combat the nervousness of the car. With no testing again this was going to be a bit of a gamble but I can always throw the old wheel back on before the race if it doesn’t work in qualifying.

Again at this meeting the GT’s have been split into 2 races, one for the sports cars and one for the modified/production cars. However for the first time we are also qualifying separately which is great news. Our qualifying gets underway at 9.15am, the first couple of laps was spent bedding in the new front tyres, which I had to purchase after flat spotting the old ones at the last meeting fighting with Simon. After than I set about getting a decent time in, usually with the combined qualifying you get caught out at least once on a quick lap. I was hoping this wouldn’t be the case today but I was wrong. One of the drivers though he was racing me and wouldn’t let me past, this wasted a couple of laps, in the end I held right back until they were out of sight. Even then I caught them back up again within ¾ of a lap. Frustrating, however I still put in a low 1:07 so I was reasonably happy with that, although I wanted to get into the 6’s before the end of the season. The good news was the car was much better over the bumps although the rear was slightly soft which was causing it to spin up out of Quarry. The new steering wheel also worked well, thank J-P. After all that I had put the car on 6th place on the grid with Simon one of ahead of me in 5th.

Back to the pits and a quick adjustment on the rear dampers along with the usual pre-race preparation and we are ready for our 1:20pm start.

Race time soon comes around and we are on the grid waiting for the lights to go off. When they do I get another good start but Louis infront just holds me up slightly and I loose a few feet on the leading cars. Soon we are hammering up to Avon Rise, Simon is just behind me but has the inside line for Quarry. I find myself on the dirty side of the track at Quarry and loose a bit of ground. Simon gets a few cars lengths on me but my attention is drawn to a bright orange Juno SSO which is breathing down my neck. This is a very quick car with a lot of horse power. The next couple of laps has me working doubly hard to keep the Juno behind, another sideways exit out of Quarry and I think the driver of the Juno decides that I obviously want the position more and backs off slightly. With him dealt with I can concentrate on Simon…….I get my head down and very slowly start to make some ground on him. More so when we start to get into the back markers but I wasn’t making the progress I wanted.

For the championship I only had to stay where I was but we wouldn’t be racing if I didn’t want to win so my sights were firmly on Simon. Then my luck changes, one of the Jade drivers single-handily moved the tyre wall at Bobbies onto the track. This meant the safety car was deployed which enabled me to catch up with Simon. Unfortunately the driver in front of Simon, who was about to be lapped for a second time, didn’t realise that he was supposed to catch up with the train of cars. This meant there was a fair gap between myself and Simon and the next car, Louis Davidson. The marshals did a great job and quickly sorted out the tyre wall. The safety car pulled in and we started racing. The lapped driver caused me to loose some ground on Simon on the restart but I was determine to make a race of this. However my car had other ideas, exiting Bobbies the engine suddenly felt completely flat. Although it was still pulling it was like it had lost 50bhp. My heart sank, I needed to finish behind Simon or he would take second spot from me. I nursed the car which was sounding really rough now, gear changes were a very hit and miss affair, the bottom end was flat and it wouldn’t rev beyond 9000rpm…argh!! I only had 3 laps to do now but I wasn’t sure if the car was going to make it, my lap times had dropped by 3 seconds now. Keeping a eye on my mirrors I could see John Ally gaining on me, he was in my class and could also help Simon to 2nd place. On the last lap John was within a few seconds, I did everything I could to nurse the car home while keeping John behind me. There was a big sense of relief when I crossed the line for the final time and took the chequered flag. The car had got me home, and for that I was very grateful. I had also secured 2nd place which I was very happy about, although I was a bit disappointed it wasn’t a better race.

Its be an entertaining season, for that I have to thank Simon who has kept me under pressure all the way, between you and me I was a tad nervous today. The team has achieved a great result from a very limited budget and through the commitment of a few people to constantly improve the car. Thanks to everyone that has been involved this year, this result is for you!

So what’s next? Well first things first find out where that power went? I was planning to refresh the engine this winter anyway. Second is to develop the car over the winter as next year the plan is to win the championship outright. If this year is anything to go by its going to be the biggest challenge we’ve tackled yet but I have the confidence we can do it.

March 2008 – here we come!

Castle Combe – 15th September 2007

After the average result from the August bank holiday meeting it was back to the drawing board to see how we can improve the car. As you know we tried a few things at Donington Park but these proved unsuccessful however a few lessons were learnt. The results this year have been great but what the results mask is the modest power of our car. Not taking anything away from the front runners at Combe because they are all very quick drivers but compared to some of the cars we are giving away upto 50+ bhp. To combat this we have been running a modest aerodynamic package so not to loose out on straight line speed. This has been working great upto the last meeting when the front guys obliterated the timing charts with some very fast times. This has forced us to revisit what we have been doing all year.

This is where the lessons learnt at Donington are put into action. With the dive planes fitted to the car again we were getting a lot of oversteer which suggested that the front had far to much grip. We need to get the car’s balance back and to do this we turn to the rear wing. I had to work out how to get the rear wing working better with out compromising drag to much. This was going to be a task because drag is always a side effect of downforce and drag slows the car down. With the aid of a book on aerodynamics and a program from NASA (no I’m not kidding!) I spent a evening working out the dimensions of the wing and it theoretical optimum performance. To my relief the design of wing we use is a good one and in a completely ideal world can produce a healthy lump of downforce. However we are not in an ideal world so the next part of the plan was going to be guesswork. I did think of hiring out MIRA but don’t think my bank manager would go for that.

So armed with enough theory to sink the titanic (we’d have to float it again first of course) I paid a visit to Neil at Corinium Motorsport to form a battle plan. The calculations suggested that the optimum angle of attack (this is the angle of the wing vs. the direction of the air stream hitting it) would be around 8 – 10 degrees. Considering that we’ve been running the wing at 5 degrees this was going to be a large difference. For the race meeting we set the wing at 9 degrees, the plan being I would do a few laps in qualifying and come in and try a different setting.

It’s the morning of the race day and what a wonderful day it is, the skies are clear and I am feeling confident that we are going to have a good day. For the first time this year there are no class A cars in our race so us “B’s” are going to be the quick class out there. This also means that the possibility of getting a good starting position is more likely.

The Class B championship is very close for 2nd place, 1st place is held by Shane Marshall and he has a healthy lead after his victory last time out. As an example of the commitment of the drivers in this series Simon Tilling traveled back from a business trip in India on the Friday evening just to do the race, and was then flying back out to India the on the Sunday morning! The score currently stood with me on 27 points, Simon on 26 and Louis Davidson on 25. This is the first time I’ve felt pressure to get a good result in a few years. And to be honest it was driving me on and made me determined to get a good result.

Qualifying started at 11:15am and the track was perfect, the car felt pretty good on the first lap and I put my head down for the second to get a feel for the new downforce. Coming into Tower I braked as normal but when I turned the steering it went slack, same feeling you have when driving on ice. I somehow managed to get the car back under-control, it really was a “new overalls needed” moment. Seeing a car on the exit of Tower with coolant leaking from it confirmed I was the victim of his spillage and not something wrong with my car. The next couple of laps I concentrated on getting a clear lap which was near impossible. However the car was working really well and it felt like it had a lot of potential. I had changed the gearing on the car to compensate for the extra drag of the aero kit but I don’t think I had to as the higher corner speeds were making up for the loss of acceleration. All good, the only slight concern was the car was on the stiff side. Not overly so and after 10 laps I was quite comfortable with it. Even with the traffic I managed a time of 1:07.3 which put me on third place on the grid which was great.

The race, the day had been littered with red flags in the other races. The poor MG boys were having a torrid time with cars in barriers, upside down and generally getting bashed about. This meant our race was about 30 minutes late. To make sure the circuit doesn’t go over its curfew our race was reduced from 15 to 12 laps. When we did get on the grid the days sun had heated up the track a lot and judging by the other races times it was slower than it was in the morning.

Shane was on pole and Simon was along side him. I was positioned right between the two on the second row. Well it was a simple plan, foot down and go between Simon and Shane. Of course they are not as stupid as they look and they made sure the gap wasn’t as big as it could have been. The lights go out and I get a great start passing Simon on the line and tucking up behind Shane. The extra power of his Mallock was keeping me at bay. On the run out of Quarry Simon gets the legs on me and despite me trying to delay is progress he overtakes me into the Esses. I keep my foot in and get into chasing him and Shane. As we come out of Bobbies the red flags go out and we stop racing. There has been a big shunt on the start line and the race is stopped while they clear things up.

Second restart and again I get a flyer and am tucked right up the exhaust of Shane. Again the extra power of his car pulls away from mine but I keep him in sight this time. Simon is unable to repeat the move from the first start going into the Esses and I hang on to my second place. Second lap and Simon is breathing down my neck, all systems normal there then!, I get a rubbish drive out of Quarry and again Simon tries to get down the inside of me. This time I move over as much as I dare to defend the line into the Esses. We both out break ourselves, I go across the grass and Simon has a half spin. Who mentioned anything about championship pressure?

Because of the restart the race was reduced to 10 laps. My concerns from qualifying that the car was to stiff had come back and car just wasn’t handling as well as it did in the morning. It was hard work to keep the laps constant but I was doing my best. Occasionally I would get a glimpse of Simon’s car in my mirrors but the gap was around 5 seconds. As is normal with GT racing at Combe I was soon fighting my way around the back markers. On lap 6 I came across a gaggle of them going into Bobbies. I had to wait until the exit of Bobbies until the Ferrari in front noticed I was up his exhaust. I over took him and the next car but infront of him was another 2 cars overtaking each other. I made decision to get these two cars aswell before Camp corner (remember that pesky Simon was still behind me). I got the first of the two and squeezed past the second at the apex of Camp corner, I don’t think I’ve been that close to rubbing another car, credit to the driver of the MR2 for noticing me at the last moment and giving me room. The rest of the race I concentrated on keep the laps consistent, the handling was definitely not right and Simon was starting to gain quite quickly. Lucky for me the chequered flags came out before he got with in targeting range. So I crossed the line 2nd overall and 2nd in class. So a good result which also increased my lead over Simon in the championship by another point. Unfortunately for Louis his car failed to finish due to a electrical problem so his challenge on 2nd has been reduced considerably. Shane has now done enough to take 1st in Class B, Congratulations Shane.

So lessons learnt, the car is better but we need to revise the suspension to get it working over the bumps (sorry undulations) of Combe. More power would be nice and something I will look at over the winter. Of course this all costs money so we are currently working on a sponsor information pack to invite local companies to get involved with the team and car. If you know of anyone that might be interested please ask them to drop me a line via the site

Just to finish off with the usual thanks to the team (Barry, Justin) for their efforts. Neil for being a great sounding board and doing the car setup. My family for their support and even my Nan who made the trip to the circuit to watch, not bad for lady 90 years young.

Donington Park – 2nd September 2007

At the start of the year we did a meeting with MSVR (Motorsport Vision Racing) at Brands Hatch. At the time they mentioned that they would be holding a meeting at Donington Park so I penciled the date in.

After the last meeting at Combe we had a lot of work to do to try and improve the handling of the car. The decision was taken to use the Donington race as a bit of a test to see if we can work out what is up with the car. The first thing to do was to get on the phone to Avon and order up a set of tyres. The biggest problems at Combe were understeer and turn in. Myself and Neil, Corinium Motorsport, sat down and looked at what we could do to improve the situation. One solution was to reinstall the dive planes on to the front of the car. This was a simple fix and also simple to remove should it turn out to be the wrong decision. The next step was to play with toe settings of the car to try and improve turn in at the expense of some straight line stability. After all the changes were complete the car was loaded up on the trailer ready for the trip to Donington.

4.30am the alarm goes off and I drag my carcass out bed, the trailer is hitched up and I start the journey to Donington, pickup up Barry on route. We arrive at the circuit at 7am, Simon (Tilling Motorsport) was already there as he was competing in the Powertec Challenge which had a race on the Saturday. As usual Simon has allowed us to share his awning.

We get everything setup, I get signed on and the car scruinteered ready for the 9.25 qualifying session. Along with the new tyres we had also fitted new brake pads all round so the first 4 or so laps were used to bed both items in. On top of all that I had to learn the track, I did a few laps here a couple of years ago but that was in a much slower car. The cars handling was very sharp on turn in, we had improved it a bit to much and now it was upsetting the rear. All this was compounded by the sheer lack of grip the Donington track gives. I just started to pick up a bit of speed and the session was red flagged. Even with the little time I had I managed to put the car on 6th position. To try and reduce the aggressiveness of the cars turn in Neil resets the front toe to the normal setting we use.

The first race was at 1pm and there was a full grid of 30 cars, mostly sports cars like the Radicals, Nemesis’s etc and a splattering of Caterhams and a Lotus. The grid at Donington is slightly downhill which meant the car kept rolling when I was trying to build the revs the start. The lights went out very quickly and I got a average start but still got myself upto 4th by the Redgate corner. It was obvious that the car wasn’t handling well and I dropped a few places while I battled with the car. The oversteer was still there and was causing me to back off through the fast corners. Craners was a real challenge to keep the car on the black stuff. After a few laps I was getting to grips with the track and how the car was behaving. Simon had a stonking start from his 16th position and was soon on my tail. I had no answer for him when he made a lunge at the Esses. This left me in 7th position, I started to make some ground on Simon and his battle with the 4th place guy but I made a mistake coming out of the old hairpin that put me on the rumbles and allowed them to get away from me. The car was now oversteering everywhere and I was finding it really hard to get the power down. Unfortunately for Simon he suffered a misfire later in the race and I was able to get the position back. I held position to the end of the race and crossed the line in 6th place. I was reasonably happy with the result considering everything and took some comfort that my lap times were only a second off the front runners, if I had a car that was working we could have been up there.

For the second race I decided to remove the dive planes in an attempt to get the cars balance back. Learning from the experience from the last race I felt the car was to soft, as I’ve been running a Combe the suspension is on the soft side to cope with the bumps of the Wiltshire circuit. A few tweaks on the shocks, dive planes removes I was more confident for the next race. About an hour before our start time there was moisture detected in the air, this is all we need. As we are in the holding area the rain is getting heavier and we are all on slicks still. The green flag is an interesting affair with one driver falling off the track at the Old Hairpin. As we come around to the grid the officials are waving arms looking generally frantic. The delayed start board is shown and we are directed back to the pits to allow us to change to wet tyres. Barry and Neil and the Lotus Trophy boys all get involved in changing the wheels. We just make the restart and it is properly raining. I am a little unsure what to expect after all the track had very little grip in the dry. Even so I got a decent start and found myself in 4th place. The track was very greasy and my car was drifting all over the place. After the last wet race at Combe I went back to Avon and explained my lack of grip and they supplied me with a new set. These tyres were doing the business, even with the car on full dry settings, and remember I had stiffened up the car, it was very predictable to drive on. Unfortunately I soon found the limit of the grip of the tyres but I was able to maintain a consistent lap time. Simon got past me going into the Esses, I made him work for it this time but I just couldn’t match his pace. I had a good little battle with one of the new Radical PR06’ him for a few laps before he started to sneak away from me. I am the first to admit I don’t like the rain but I was enjoying myself, it was like being on a 2 mile skid pan. I cross the line in 9th position and more importantly in one piece.

So not a bad days sport all things considered. I think we have developed the car so well for Castle Combe that it was really compromised at Donington. The lack of circuit grip wasn’t helping but that was a pit wide complaint so it was the same for everyone. It was fun to drive another circuit and good experience to drive against some different drivers. There is another MSVR meeting at the end of October at Brands Hatch so I might make the journey up there.
Thanks to Simon for the awning, Barry and Neil for their help during the day and Mum, Karen and Declan for coming up and providing the moral support.

Castle Combe – 27th August 2007

There are now only 3 rounds of the Special GT’s left, we are lying 2nd in the class championship. With the string of good results over the past year confidence was high for a good day. To add to this confidence it looked like summer was finally here.

It is the 25th anniversary of the Special GT’s at Combe and to mark this occasion the organisers have arranged for our race to be focus of the grid walkabout. The downside of this was we were the first race and thus the first out to qualify in the morning. We haven’t done anything to the car since the last race as it was going so well at the last event. This meant all we had to do was a quick spanner check and the car was ready for its 8.40am start!

As usual Combe organisers were on the ball and we were soon out on track. The GT races had been split again like earlier in the year, this meant that there was one race for classes A and B and another race for classes C and D. The downside to this was that all classes qualified at the same time so with 36 cars of various speeds it was a very crowded session. The track seems very slick and the car was under/over steering everywhere. I did however manage to punch in a 1:07.2 lap, which was only a few tenths off my best time. Back in the paddock and the consensus there was a lack of grip on track. I put this down to the track being a bit damp from the early morning dew. Still we were 6th on the grid so it was a good starting point.

The grid walk about allowed the general public to come onto the grid to look around the cars before the start of the race. The start was delayed because one of the drivers was missing from his car, these delays had me watching my engine temperatures start to very close a worrying level. After what seemed an age we finally got the green flag lap underway. I concentrated on getting the brakes up to temp and the tyres somewhere handy. Soon we are back on the grid waiting for the lights. The 5 second board goes up and the lights come on and they shortly after go out. I get a cracking start upto 5th place going into Quarry. The car is under-steering really badly but I get on the power upto the Esses. Again there is a lack of grip and I am struggling to keep Shane Marshal behind me. Sure enough Shane slips through at Tower and powers away. Simon Tilling is on my tale and I try to string some decent laps together.

The understeer isn’t improving with tyre heat and I have to get the back moving to get around the corners. I was also having to brake earlier which was allowing Simon to get up under my rear wing. I manage to hold off Simon for 4 laps then going into Quarry I miss my braking point and have to hit the anchors hard. The net result is a badly flat spotted tyre, which makes the car feel like it was going to shake its-self apart. Just what I needed! Going into Camp I am suddenly aware of a white Radical (Simon) on my inside. He has 3 of his 4 wheels on the grass and is coming past one way or another! I give him a bit of room, well enough for him to get back on track and he passes me on the exit of Camp. I trying to cling onto the back of him but the vibration is really making things hard work.

I can see John Alley in his Radical SR3 bearing down on my so I settle down again to maintain the gap on John. The car is still under-steering and just refusing to turn in correctly, couple that to the constant vibration from the flat spotted tyre this wasn’t doing the confidence a lot of good. That all said I am still punching consistent 1:07’s in. The threat from John subsides after he makes a mistake going into the Esses.

Lap 11 I come across Guy Woodward in his 3.5l Jade coming back on the track after a off at Bobbies. Simon has already passed him so I try to do the same. The Jade has a lot of horsepower and he just pulls away on the straights but I can reel him back in on the brakes and corners. On lap 12 I out brake Guy going into Quarry and them make my Radical as wide as possible to stop him coming buy. The next 3 laps I have one eye on the track and the other on the mirrors trying to keep the powerful Jade behind me. On the final lap Guy takes dive at me going into the Esses. I close the door as much as possible but he still manages to thread his car between the tyre wall and me. He comes past me completely sideways on the brakes and I expect him to over cook it, to my amazement he manages to gather is all up. I do everything I can to get past again but the extra power of the Jade keeps me at bay.

I cross the line just behind him for 7th place over all and 5th in class. Not the best result in the world. The guys in front have raised the bar again and they’ve found another second on me so I’m 2 seconds off them now. So I need to go back to the drawing board now to get the chassis working properly again. I suspect the front tyres have probably given their best so they will be replaced. I’ll then sit down with Neil from Corinium Motorsport and see if we can get some more grip from the car. The last upgrade is me, I need to improve if I am to get back up the sharp end again. We are at Donington Park this Sunday so I’ll use these races to test the car out ready for the last two rounds at Combe.

As usual thanks for my family for their support and my sister for the BBQ. Barry and Justin for the pit support and Simon for use of his awning again.

Castle Combe – 4th August 2007

Motorsport, it has it highs and it has its lows. After the high of the last meeting I just new a problem would be around the corner. During the routine service of the engine I noticed some metal in the oil, although some small amounts of swarf can be expected this was more than I was happy with. I decided to drop the sump and have a proper poke around, on dropping the sump it was obvious that there was something amiss in the engine. I gather up the bits and pop down to Neil at Corinium Motorsport in an attempt to match it up with the various spare engine parts he has in stock. We decide it must be one of the shims from the gearbox, we have a think about what to do and considering the investment I’ve put into the engine the decision is taken to strip the engine down. This isn’t a big problem on its own however we are only a week away from the next race. On the Sunday Justin and Barry came around and we ripped the engine out of the chassis ready to take it over to Neil’s. Neil, being the gent that he is, said I could use his engine build area in his workshop to strip the engine down. To help keep the costs down I am going to do most of the work and Neil will keep a watchful eye over me to make sure I don’t do anything wrong. Rebuilding a bike gearbox is a completely new thing to me so I’m looking forward to the experience. Monday I get the engine over to Neil’s and I set about stripping the engine down, after a couple of hours I am ready to split the crank cases so we finally find out what has gone wrong. With some gentle use of a rubber mallet the cases were soon apart and I was looking into the heart of the engine. I set about checking the play in the cogs and the problem is soon found, first gear has the best part of ¼” of an inch of play in it. The gear cluster is removed however the damage is worse than first thought, it looks like the bearing has suffered from oil starvation and welded it’s self to the drive shaft. This in turn has meant the edges have burred up meaning I can’t get the gears off. Out with the angle grinder and after about 5 mins we finally get the gear off followed by the others. As we know 1st gear is broken, as is 5th and the drive shaft. On the other shaft that has also suffered some damage and 3rd, 4th,5th gears are all damaged. To be honest its good I decided to take the engine apart as if I had left it for another race the damage could have bee a whole lot worse probably ending up with a written off engine. Neil has most parts for the gearbox in stock but he was missing a couple of items. Peter Hammonds Motorcycles to the rescue and the extra parts (plus replacements for all the ones I “borrowed” from Neil) were ordered. Wednesday all the parts are back and the job of putting the engine back together starts. By 5pm that day the engine is completely back together and ready for transplanting back into the chassis. That evening I rope Justin into giving me a hand to graft the engine back into chassis and the work starts to plumb it all back in. Thursday morning I have to take a trip out to Melksham to collect some tyres from Avon Motorsport and on the way back I call in at Spec-R to collect a new oil catch tank. By Friday morning the engine was wired in and ready to go. The afternoon the car is back at Neil’s having the suspension setup, I have replaced one of the rear wishbones to a later design. This was done because the old design with the very sticky Avons was causing the lower upright pin to bend. So almost a week after all the drama started the car was ready to run once again……me on the other hand, I just wanted to catch up on all the sleep I’ve lost this week!

Saturday 4th and for the first time this year we have a totally dry race meeting. Our qualifying is at 11am so there is no panic to get to the circuit. The car was already at the track and as usual we are lodging with Simon and Tilling Motorsport. It is the classic race meeting and the paddock if full of mouth watering machinery. The downside of all these classics is they can make the track pretty slick with the amount of oil they drop. We are soon in the holding area waiting for our qualifying to start. As soon as I got onto track the car felt amazing. The engine was strong and felt so smooth. The traffic was really busy and I struggled to put a full lap together. As expected the track was also down on grip and I was suffering from under/oversteer on most bends, talking to people in the paddock I wasn’t alone. On lap 6 of qualifying the oil warning light came on coming out of Quarry. A quick glance down to the gauges did confirm that the oil pressure had dropped off. I came off the throttle and trundled back to the pits, luckily the problem was just a lack of oil problem. The engine runs a lot more oil than the standard engine and with no dipstick it is hard to judge how much oil is in the engine. I topped the old girl up and fired her up oil pressure was spot on so we’re ready for the start. Simon had his own excitement in qualifying having a very strange off at Quarry causing a small amount of damage, nothing a couple bits of rod and some weld won’t sort out. Even with all the drama of qualifying I ended up on 6th spot and Simon was alongside me in 7th.

The race – we are lined up on the grid waiting to go, the sun was hot and I knew this was going to be a tough race. The lights go out and I get on the gas, Guy Woodward was infront of me and came across the front of my car pushing me onto the grass. This lost me 2 or 3 places on the run up to Quarry. Quarry was busy, I caught a glimpse of Norman Lackford doing his best to get around me on the apex of Quarry. I found myself in 6th again with Mark Funnel in his Exige infront of me. I got a good run out of Bobbies on Mark and got along side of him on the run to Camp. A loud pop from Mark’s car told me he had hit the limiter in his car and I knew I had him and I out braked him into Camp. I then set about catching up with Simon, Tony Freeman, Louis Davidson and Guy Woodward who were all together. The leader, Howard Spooner, in his very powerful Jade had already disappeared into the distance so the race was for 2nd. The track is still very slippery particularly Tower and Bobbies so these corners demanded a bit more respect than normal. The next few laps were just pure fun as I caught up with the group, we all had a small moment when a problem with Guy’s car caused us all to telescope together as his car came to a halt! Simon and I were battling hard, one thing about Simon and I am sure he’ll be the first to admit he makes the odd mistake but when you are trying to overtake the bugger he is inch perfect and just doesn’t get ruffled! I tried all ways to get around him and each time he got the better of me. In what seemed no time we were already lapping cars. One poor chap in his MR2 got mugged on both sides by us Radicals on the run from Tower to Bobbies. On lap 7 I was still trying to find around the relentless Simon when we arrive behind a gaggle of cars into Esses. Simon takes the right side of the back marker and I go the long way around the outside. Lucky for me it works and I get around them both. I am now sitting in 4th and I start digging into the time between me and Tony Freeman. I manage to get up with Tony after a couple of laps and watch him for a lap to see where he is strong. On lap 10 I make my move into Tower corner and get past, I make a small mistake going into Bobbies and expected him to get me back but I was just able to stay infront. Now in 3rd I can see Louis in the distance and I start to reel him in. By lap 12 the tyres were starting to cry enough and moving around a lot more. I was still gaining on Louis but not quickly enough. I cross the line in 3rd, 2nd in class, 3.5seconds behind Louis. Simon follows me in for 4th.

What a great race, it was hard work in the heat but I much prefer that to the rain. Have to say a big thanks to Neil at Corinium Motorsport for helping me get the engine/car ready in such a short time. Thanks also to Simon for the use of the awning.  Finally thanks Justin, Barry and my family for their support!

Next meeting is the 27th August, can’t wait.

Castle Combe – 15th July 2007

Before I start on the race report I better bring you up to date on what’s been happening since the last meeting. Regular readers will know that the last meeting didn’t quite go to plan with the car suffering from oversteer after I had made some changes to the suspension. So Neil (Corinium Motorsport) and I sat down over a coffee and discussed what was the best plan of action. After a number of coffees I had hatched a plan, not one Neil was completely buying into but we both agreed that if it didn’t work at least we would have starting point for further investigation. In the last race I had softened up the rear end of the car to gain some grip, as we know this backfired completely and I ended up with less grip and a toasted tyre. The plan is to gain more grip out of the slower bends where mechanical grip is more important that aerodynamic grip. And to make a car that can lap consistently for the entire race with out any sufficient loss of handling performance. Easy eh! Well this is where my bonkers idea comes into play, I looked at the way the car was handling with the softer setup, how the tyres were wearing and how the car performed from mid race distance. The softer setup allowed the car to roll more on the suspension which inturn increases the camber of the wheel that is under load. The cross-ply Avons don’t like lots of camber and this was causing the inner edge of the tyre to over heat and loose performance. Additional rear roll bar would be a work around but the cost of such things from Radical isn’t cheap, where as springs are. Yes you’ve guessed it, I make my way to Merlin Motorsport with my spring shopping list. John, one of the guys at Merlin, looks at me very strangely when I ask for my spring rates and mumbles something about I know what I’m doing under his breath…..little does he know! J As I mentioned earlier this was very much an experiment to see what works and what doesn’t. The new springs are between 15-20% heavier than the current ones so I should see something different in the handling. We have a test day booked to try out the different ideas but the day before this I take the car over to Neil’s and get the geometry set up again with the new springs in situ. While setting up the corner weighting we set the car up so as the fuel load decreases the corner weighting will change to a more even balance which will hopefully help the quest for a consistent car over race distance.

Test day, we are booked in for the afternoon for the pre-race day testing. This means that there are a lot of Bricars out on track i.e. full spec 911 GT3 RSR’s etc. I take my first trip out onto the track with the setup. The first lap I spent finding my feet and then I gradually built up speed and did about 6 laps in total. I pulled into the paddock to a waiting Neil and he takes all the tyre pressures. Everything was even so this is looking good already. Neil asks how the car feels, “brilliant I reply” I could see my reply took him back a bit as he was expecting me to say “it’s a back of over sprung poo” But for some reason the stronger springs were doing the job. More amazingly was the Nitron dampers that were coping brilliantly with the extra work load. Considering I originally spec’d these dampers with springs almost half what I am using now I can only be impressed with them. We do a quick spanner check and make sure everything is as it should be and line up in the pits again. We are told by the officials that we are now in group 4, apparently they were trying to group similar speed cars together and I was in the quicker of the 4 groups. There was a bit v8 Opel infront of me and handful of 911’s behind. This should be entertaining I thought to myself. Out of the pits I zip past the Opel and get on with the session. The idea was to do 12 laps flat out to see how the car lasts. Within a couple of laps I had caught up with the 911’s, what a great feeling being tucked up under the spoiler of these very expensive cars going up Avon Rise and thinking “get out the way” make you realise how nippy these little Radicals really are. As soon as I was past the 911’s I put a big distance into the very quickly. The next ten laps I just concentrated on putting in consistent laps. On returning to the pits everything was perfect, the car was working better than it ever had, it was quick and in the 10 laps it was consistent proved by the laps only being 2-300th’s apart. I think we are ready for the race!

Race day, what is up with the weather! thunder storms, rain of biblical proportions and today was no different. The day was packed with racing and qualifying and we were out at 9.45am so it was a early start for us (Barry, Justin and Dave). Simon Tilling has invited us to use his awning again which a great relief as I don’t think my Argos gazebo would have stood up to the weather. Thanks Simon. I was concerned about the qualifying because I still haven’t got the car working properly in the wet. In the last meeting I was suffering from massive understeer and just couldn’t get the car to turn. Today I we had reduced understeer but this was replaced with oversteer and a general feeling of vagueness and lack of feedback. All this amounted to zero confidence in the car and this was reflected in my grip position which was an embarrassing 14th! I haven’t been that low in almost a season. The poor old officials had a real torrid time during the meeting with lots of offs in the weather and a big crash in the saloon cars that delay our race by almost an hour. Because of this the race had been reduced to 10 laps from the usual 15. The weather was “dry” but there was water in the air but I decided to go onto full dry settings and risk it, after all it couldn’t be any worse than qualifying! In the holding area the rain was starting to get heavier and I was starting to wonder if my choice of slicks was a good one. I get on the grid and it soon become apparent that the grid marshals haven’t got the revised grid layout. Instead of shuffling everyone around they send us out on a lap and reorganise us on our return. I did some tyre/brake heating on this lap and it was a good job to as this turned out to be our green flag lap. I also had a new rear tyre so was glad to have scrubbed that in a little on this lap. The track is very damp, not soaking yet. Sitting on the grid I think to myself I need to get a good start here, I’ve only got 10 laps to get to the top 5 which was the target. The grid is tight and the only way to go is right and around Norman Lackford who is infront of me. The lights go out and I drop the clutch heading towards the right of Norman. Of course he has the same idea and I tuck in behind him. Just then its apparent that the car infront of Norman has made a mistake and is hardly moving, I jump on the anchors to avoid hitting Norman. No sooner had I jumped on the brakes I was back on the loud pedal and powering around the outside of Folly and upto Avon Rise. I fly over the top and I realise that there is sod all grip going into Quarry but on the plus side I am upto 5th place already! The exit of Quarry is very greasy and a oil spill from the pervious race makes things very tricky and covers my visor in oil/water and wood shavings, which were used to soak up the oil. The car is sliding everywhere but I just keep the loud pedal planted upto the Esses. I am now upto 4th and bearing down on Shane Marshal in his Mallock. I out brake him into Tower, well I say out brake it was more out slide him. I am now upto 3rd and take up my usual position behind Simon. Mark Funnel is holding 1st place in his Lotus Exige and for the next 3 laps we all hold station, neither of us able to make a move on the person in front, the conditions are very slippery causing oversteer on most corners. Shane starts to gain on my so I put my foot down a bit more and break away from him again. On lap 4 a safety car was dispatched so they could move a couple of broken down cars to safer places. Mark, Simon and myself are up each others exhaust pipes coming around Camp for the restart. At this point I didn’t know who was behind me and I didn’t care. I know that I can win this race and that is what I am thinking as I plant the throttle as the green flag is waved. I tuck up behind Simon up to Avon Rise and into Quarry. Simon goes slightly wide and I let my brakes go and dart up the inside of him. He gives me just enough room but no more. I plant the throttle in 3rd gear, the two safety car laps had given the track a small opportunity to dry, the Avon’s grip the tarmac and I power out of Quarry with Mark lined up in my sights. I know Simon will have a go back at me as soon as he can so I make the decision to get past Mark to put him between me and Simon. I get a brilliant run on Mark up to the Esses and dive up the inside of him hard on the brakes. Again Mark gives me just enough racing room and I get past. Having battled with both Simon and Mark in the past I have a real respect for their driving and this gave me the confidence to pull off both these moves knowing neither of them would do something silly. Coming out of the Esses I just keep the loud pedal planted….I was in the lead and I couldn’t help but grin but I knew the hard work was about to start. The track wasn’t dry but it was better than the earlier laps. The car was moving around and I used every last rpm the engine could give me to make a break from Mark and Simon. It worked, by the time I crossed the line I had a 4 second lead, as Hannibal from the A-Team would say “I love it when a plan comes together”. The lap counter on the pit lane wasn’t working so I had no idea what lap I was on. I came past the finish line a second time, no chequered flags yet, next lap and still no chequered flags. I’ve never wanted a race to end so much in my life. I was maintaining the gap on Simon, who had now got past Mark, but I could still see him in the mirrors. I cross the line again and still there is no chequered flag…ok this has to be the last lap I say to myself. Coming into Folly I am greeted by about 6 back markers in their own battle. I get past 3 on the right out after the exit of Folly and then switch to the left side of the track to get the other three. Just as I coming up to overtake the car infront starts to move over. I start thinking “this is going to sting” as at this point I hadn’t backed off the throttle. Just at that moment I saw the marshal at Avon Rise looking straight at me with a look of horror on his face, I guess he just didn’t see me cutting through the traffic until the last second. He grabbed the blue flag just in time for the back marker to see and move over to give me the extra foot I needed to get by. I doubt you’d get a fag paper between both cars. Stopping the car into Quarry was interesting but I made it around and looking in my mirrors I could see I’d done enough to stop Simon’s challenge. Finally I come around Camp and see the chequered flag, no words will ever explain the feeling crossing that line and realising that you’ve won. The cool down lap was something special, thanks to all the spectators for your cheers, horns and applause. The post race interview was a little brief and I think I need to improve my interview technique. I walked away thinking, dam I should have said this and that…so instead I’ll do it here –

Special thanks goes to Justin Timbrell, Barry Thomas and Dave Edwards for their help and support, I couldn’t do this with out you guys.

My family, Mum, Karen and Anna for their support and understanding when racing come before anything else. My nephew, Declan, who I had to have words with after I found out he was supporting Simon at the start of the race. I am sure my second nephew will be a avid supporter when he’s old enough

All my sponsors, you’ve all played a great part in getting me to this day and for that I thank you all.

Neil from Corinium Motorsport for the encouragement, perfect car setup and putting up with my sometimes wacky ideas.

The guys at Peter Hammond Motorcycles particularly Ray for his help sourcing/supplying spares and Joe, my engine builder. We did it chaps!

Simon Tilling for sharing his awning with us and making me go quicker every time we are on track together.

All the Castle Combe spectators/forum members, thanks for all your support you’re all what motorsport is about.

There is probably a load of people I’ve missed, but anyone that has even the slightest involvement – thank you!

Lastly and most importantly I want to dedicate this victory to the memory of Dad, he will always be my inspiration and without him I wouldn’t be where I am now. This one is for you mate!

Castle Combe – 23rd June 2007

Its seems like only yesterday we were standing in the same paddock getting ready to venture out on track. One thing today’s meeting and the last one share in common is the fantastic British weather, global warming my arse! That said by some freak of nature the day started dry-ish and depending on which forecast you saw there was a chance it might stay that way. The paddock seems to be completely over run with Minis and Caterhams and the FF aren’t that rare either. Thus everything was a bit cramped to say the least, I think Combe are becoming a victim of their own success and really need to look at improving the paddock. Simon Tilling from Tilling Motorsport allowed us to share his awning again this meeting which is great. We did make the comment the between we did look half-professional with both cars sat ready to go. So thanks again to Simon for letting us share the awning

So what have we changed from the last meeting….well until the 11th hour nothing had changed. The car was running fine at the last meeting so the standard spanner check was all that was needed. The only thing the car suffered from was some oversteer exiting the slower corners, Quarry and Tower. I made the decision to soften up the rear slightly to try and give the tyres more chance to bite into the tarmac.

As usual the start of the meeting meant my normal trip to Merlin to “stock up” for the day ahead. In this case I was only after some brake fluid and tear-offs. Steve was a little perplexed to why the Arai tear-offs were so cheap so I was quick to pay for them and do a runner before he worked out how to charge me more! J

Qualifying was at 11am today and the track was still dry, there was rain in the air but it wasn’t anything to worry about. As been the norm this year we had a full GT grid which made qualifying very busy. A couple of times I had to abort fast laps because of slower cars. It’s the same for everyone, you just need to string another lap together until you get a clear one. Everything seemed ok and I put the car 7th on the grid with a 1.07.4. Not to bad a time and better than my previous attempts this year.

There was quite a long delay before we were out on track so I took the opportunity to watch the Castle Combe Saloons doing their stuff. It was a entertaining race until the heavens started to open and a number of cars took to the grass on the exit of Camp, sure there was a number of overalls that needed cleaning after those moments. The race was cut short and as the cars the coming to the podium the heaven opened properly so probably a good call by the organisers. The poor guys in the Caterhams had the worse conditions and they also had a 30 minute race to look forward to. Fair play to the guys though, most kept it on the black stuff and showed some real commitment going through Folly. I didn’t see the end as I had to get back to the paddock to do the final checks on the car ready for our race.

By the time our race was due to start the rain had stopped and the track was dry again…there was even blue sky above the circuit. We got the warm up lap underway and made our way back to the grid ready for the start. I was a bit blocked in this time with a Jade to my right and a 650bhp Lola on my left, Simon was also directly infront of me. The red lights went out and I get a reasonable start and sit myself on the outside of Simon. He has a bit of a lock up going into Quarry so I give him some room which put me onto the marbles on the outside of the Quarry which made things a tad interesting. I regain “control” and fire off after Simon. The next couple of laps I keep within a second of Simon and Shane Marshal and start to settle into the race. By about lap 5 the car is starting to move around a bit more than usual on the rear. Add to that the Lola coming past and slowing me up through the Esses I start to loose contact with the Simon/Shane battle. Then disaster for Simon, Shane/Simon are lapping one of the back markers cuts across Simon causing him to spin at the Esses loosing him a whole heap of time. Lap 8 and things are getting loose, the car is sideways out of all the slower corners, Quarry, Bobbies and Tower. I try to drive around the problem but nothing is working….well going slower worked but that really isn’t an option. By lap 12 I am really starting to struggle with the car, although if I am being honest I was quite enjoying my drift car. Looking in the mirrors I seem Simon bearing down on my….fair play to him (and the red mist) but he must have driven like a man possessed to catch up. The lapped traffic is getting heavier and Simon is soon tucked under my exhaust pipe. I get the entry to tower wrong and everything goes sideways again and Simon cruses past. I do what I can to hang to his coat tails but he is driving far to well! I finally cross the line 5th overall and 4th in class. I was a little disappointed with the result, but it just shows how things have improved this year as if you’d have offered me a 5th last year I would have grabbed it with both hands.

So what’s the plan to get the car back to how it used to be. Well I have a number of ideas to try, some of which are quite radical, no pun intended. I can hear the guys at Merlin rubbing their hands already.

The next meeting is Combe premier one and we are racing on the main day this year which is great. I will be hoping to do better than I did at this meeting and hopefully pick up another pot.

As usual thanks to my mate Justin and Barry for their help in the paddock. And to my family for the support on the day

Castle Combe – 28th May

If you are a regular reader you’ll know that the last meeting didn’t quite go to plan, well I say didn’t quite go to plan it was a complete disaster as I only managed 2 laps. On the plus side I did get the start of my life and was running in 2nd place…all be it for about 2 minutes. I knew what the problem was the new front diffuser that was fitted before the meeting. In hindsight I should have booked a test day before hand to make sure everything was ok. Alas I didn’t and we all know what happened next.

A few days spent in the garage working on modifying the front diffuser and we are ready for a test day. Yes I did book one this time. As usual I asked Neil Cox from Corinium Motorsport to come along and help me set the car up. For a change the weather gods looked favorably on us. Also with only a few cars booked in plenty of track-time was assured. First thing to do was to get the car through the noise test, it was as silenced day so it meant that the car had to be under 105dB. The week before the car registered 103dB so I was confident that I wouldn’t have any problems. The first noise test and the car registered 108dB…ok back to the pit and repack the exhaust. Try again and its improved….107.4dB! off we go back to the pit and repack it again….this time 109dB. Well this is fun I thought, one last try (Merlin Motorsport were doing well out of this if nothing else!). Yeah! we finally scrap in with a 104.8dB. Annoying thing is that the car is so quiet on drive-by it makes the static tests redundant. But according to Combe’s rules which are laid down by the council the car has to pass the static test before going on track….anyway I could moan about this for days so I’ll button it for now.

Back to the testing, the first step was to go out with the modified diffuser to see if that had improved things. Within a lap or two the vibration was back but only at v-max going upto Avon Rise. This is promising as it shows we are on the right road this time. Next step was to increase the spring rate on the front slightly, Neil set about taking the shocks off while I trundled over to Merlin and added springs to my running bill (exhausting packing being the most common item on there). Having Merlin on site is a godsend when testing, and the chaps there are always happy to laugh at me…er….I mean help out where they can! So with the new springs fitted and a slight adjustment to the ride height I go out on track again, this time the vibrations are gone and the car is starting to feel like her old self again. However I was getting a lot of oversteer on the exit of Quarry, to be honest I was quite enjoying coming out of the corner with a large amount of opposite lock on. However Neil kept reminding me it wasn’t quick (he didn’t seem to share my “but its fun” view of it). On returning to the pits I mention to Neil the lack of rear grip, at this moment he points to my rear tyres and says “that’ll be because its got no rubber left” and sure enough all the wear makers had gone..oops. Luckily this was my old set so I banged on my current tyres and went out again. That’s better, no more sliding just nice fast exits. The rest of the day was spent going through all the lines at Combe and seeing where I could improve. As I almost had the track to myself I was able to do what I wanted (bar going around the other way) which helped me learn a few new lines, some of which worked and others that just plain scared me. The last session of the day we put the timer on to get a base line. Times were about the same as the last meeting so that was also positive.

Right then, the race day. What is it with the weather at the moment, I can guarantee that if its been dry and sunny on the weeks up to the race meeting the weather on the day will be complete poo! The GT’s are third out for qualifying which means we are on track at 9.30am, didn’t even have time for a bacon buttie. The track was dry in places but generally damp and slippery everywhere. I decided to stick on wet tyres as the last time I used slicks at Combe in the damp I didn’t manage a lap before firing it into the barley (something my nephew constantly reminds me of even now). For some reason I can’t get the car to work properly on the wets or in damp/wet conditions. This is something we are going to have to work on, so I took it reasonably steady in qualifying, but the sight of one of the 360’s bearing down on me got me to put my foot down a bit harder and I knocked a couple seconds off my time. Although not the greatest time in the world it put my 11th on the grid (out of 27 cars). My mate Simon (Tilling Motorsport) managed to plonk his Prosport on the pole spot, which was a bit of a surprise (only kidding). We were sharing Simons awning at this meeting which was great. The banter kept us amused while the rain fell of which there was a lot (banter and rain). By noon the rain had eased right off and everything was starting to dry out. We set the car back to full dry setting and put the slicks on. There was still rain in the air when we formed on the grid but it was mainly dry and hopefully it will remain this way for the whole race. I spend the green flag lap getting heat into the tyres/brakes and readying myself for the start. On the grid I am waiting for the lights to come on….then off again. When they do I get another blinding start gaining a number of places. Firing into Quarry on the opening lap is a exhilarating experience. I get past Shane Marshall in his Mallock P21 on the run down to the Esses and slot in behind Nick Williamson in his scary quick Escort Cosworth. I nip past Nick on the brakes into Tower and sit up behind Simon and into 4th position. The next few laps are brilliant, both Simon and I swap places a couple of times. I manage to outbrake Simon going into Quarry and then Simon got his own back with a very “positive” move going into the Esses. Brilliant fun. Soon the both of us are up with the second place man, Guy Woodward, I am breathing down Simon’s neck and Shane is breathing down mine. On lap 5 the little Toyota Starlet has a big blowup going through Folly and covers the track with oil. Luckily for both Simon and I we see the blow up so know about the oil on the next lap. Unfortunately some others drivers aren’t so luck and end up in the infield. We are now ploughing though the slower cars and everything seems to be going ok. When the 4 of us come up fast behind one of the Ferrari 360’s he doesn’t see Simon on his left and pushes him off the track. Simon’s car takes some considerable damage and almost collects me as he returns to the track. Soon after this the safety car comes out so the marshals can clean up some of the oil left by the Toyota. Racing resumes with 4 laps to go. I get the whole shot on Shane over the start line and lead him upto Avon Rise. I get slightly caught up with a gaggle of back markers and Shaun gets the advantage back. As we all pile into Quarry I make the brave decision to go around the outside. It pays off and I overtake all bar one car….I did chuckle to myself. The power of Guy’s Jade pulls away from me again into the Esses. I am currently sat in 3rd place with Guy in front and Shane behind. On the run down to Camp I am suddenly aware of a red car on my left hand side…Shane! This put me off my rhythm slightly and Shane powers past…excellent move! So I am back to 4th with 3 laps to go. The power of Shanes Mallock gets past the Jade on the way up to Avon Rise. I am soon on the rear of the Jade as well looking for a way past. On the exit of the Esses the Jade misfires causing the car to slow right down….just what I need when I am stood on the loud pedal….just managed not to ram him. The Jade is starting to sound a bit rough and Guy is being defensive. However on the exit of Bobbies I power past him and continue my pursuit of Shane. I’ve got 2 laps to make up 4 seconds…good game…good game! The penultimate lap the rains falls again and things started to get loose…however this is the lap where I smash my PB lap time by 0.5seconds, I blame the Redbull. I am gaining on Shane but not as quickly as I’d like. By the last lap the gap is down to 2 seconds and I am trying my best, I misjudge the speed of one of the back markers going into the Esses which costs me time. I stick with it but Shane has done enough by now. I cross the line 3rd with a big cheesy grin….what a race! I am completely knackered but really happy. The car is going/handling really well but we need to improve the wet setup. Or just pray for sun before each meeting. All the time and effort that everyone has put in on the car has finally been worth it. Big thanks has to go out to everyone involved, wouldn’t be where I am now with out their help and support.

The next meeting is the 23rd June and I’m really looking forward to that one.

Castle Combe – 7th May 2007

After the last meeting I have been working on improving the aerodynamics of the Radical in an attempt to keep up with the faster cars through the corners. The first step was to change the rear wing end plates to a larger design. This idea of the larger plates is to stop the air “falling off” the wing and ensure its channeled over the wing thus produces more downforce. This was a reasonably easy fix and MVS Racing provided the bits for me to do this. The next step was to remove the current front splitter and dive planes and replace it with a diffuser. The main difference between the two is the splitter/dive planes produce most of their downforce by forcing the air over their areas to push the car down. This has one big side effect, drag. The diffuser is designed to speed up the air underneath the car which generates a low-pressure area which in turn sucks the car onto the track. All good theory but after spending the best part of 2 days fitting it I wasn’t convinced. In true motorsport fashion money was a little tight this month so the plan was to test the diffuser in qualifying and fix any problems before the race. After all we have had perfect weather for the past 4 weeks so the Bank Holiday is bound to be dry, you can already see the plan has a slight flaw….British weather!

So yes as you have guessed it the morning of the race day the heavens opened and the track was a complete wash out. Add to that strong winds and all plans of testing the aero go out the window. Qualifying was an interesting affair, lots of standing water on track and very little grip. However the car was feeling pretty good through the fast kink at Folly but I wasn’t prepared to push it hard, I had nothing to gain and everything to loose, after all I can’t race a bent car! For this meeting CCRC have split the GT’s up into two different races. Classes A and B which are mainly sports cars including Radicals, Jades, Juno etc and then another race for classes C and D which are road derived cars i.e. Ferraris, Lotuses, Westfields etc. Even with this split we still had 20 cars on the grid. My conservative drive around in qualifying had put me into 10th on the grid.

Around lunchtime the sun started to come out and with in the hour the skies were blue and the track was looking perfect. My optimism for the day had improved and I started looking forward to the race….better still my overalls had finally started to dry! I took my position on the grid….well tried to but went to the wrong spot….not a mistake I’ll do again…blimey I got a right ear bashing! So finally in the right position and we start the green flag lap. I concentrate on getting some heat into the tyres and brakes and preparing myself for the start. Soon I am back on the grid waiting for the 5 second board. The whistle blows and the board is shown, I raise the revs and wait for the light to start their sequence. I hold the rpm around 7-8k and as the lights go out I drop the clutch. For a second I seemed to be the only car moving and moving quickly, the rest of the grid wake up but I was already up to 6th, something just clicked in me and I just planted the gas firing up the gearbox as I go. By the entry to Avon Rise I was up to 3rd place and trying to get past a SR3. I get a good run out of Quarry and I power past the SR3 before the Esses. Cutting the esses tight costs me a mirror but I am on my way. The only car infront now is Louis Davidson’s Radical. I was feeling good and the car was feeling fantastic….or was it. There was a large vibration into Tower. I was concerned but pushed on, on the entry to Camp the vibration came back but worse! I couldn’t believe it….but I also didn’t want to destroy the car/engine if it was a problem. I keep on pace and up to Avon Rise the vibration is worse than ever and shaking the car apart. I try and keep pace by when I get to tower I throw the towel and slow the car down. I make my way back to the pits where Barry and Justin are waiting for me. They have a look around the car but there isn’t anything obvious. I leave the pits and try again but straight away the vibration is there. Back to the paddock I go and park up, nightmare! We have a good look around the car and there is nothing obvious. I suspect it could be transmission but after a extensive check that is ruled out. So attention turns to the new aero, first suspicion was the front body was flappy but that was ruled out after some more investigation. Louis came over after the race to ask what had gone wrong and we explained. He mentioned a symptom where to much downforce causes the car to be sucked to the road then because the air can’t go under the car it pops back up again. This comment reminded me of a program I had seen on the Discovery channel when they were following a Le Mans team and they had a similar problem. It looked like we have sussed the problem. We pack up and head home. Once everything was packed away Justin and I sat down with a beer and watched the video footage from the race. Straight away you can see the body work is rattling all over the place but it is coupled by a large scraping noise which is the front diffuser hitting the road. Made worse by the bumpy nature of Combe causing the car to spring up and down. So we know now the problem so work has started to correct it. In hindsight I should have booked a test day before the meeting and we would have found the problem, guess we need to chalk this one up to experience. I now have a test day booked and we’ll get the diffuser working properly. Even after all the drama of the day I still walked away with a smile, the car was running so well, I got a fantastic start remembering that was my 3rd ever standing start and the car ran at the front of a very competitive field. It all bodes well for the rest of the season and fill me with hope that’ll we’ll be on the podium before the season is out.

Castle Combe – 9th April 2007

After the successful outing at Brands Hatch I am looking forward to getting back to Castle Combe and see how the car feels compared to last year. The Thursday before the race I have booked a test day at Combe so I can remember which way the tracks goes and just as importantly get the car setup ready for Monday’s meeting. Justin has taken the day off work to come along to help and offer general abuse when I am driving like an old woman. Neil Cox from Corinium Motorsport is also on hand to help with car setup and advice. The morning is spent going over the car once more making sure everything is ok before we venture out on track. The test day is very busy so track time is going to be at a premium today so we setup camp in the pit lane which enables us to do any work required and jump into the queue again. First session was spent settling back into driving at Combe and seeing how quick the car is….and blimey it is a bit nippy to say the least.

After 10 mins of tracktime I come back to the pits to check tyre pressures etc and have a chat with Neil. The times are the same as my quickest times from last year 1:09.7’s. This was a good starting point and I am happy with that. The car is handling well but the track seems a lot bumpier than last year, particularly out of Old Paddock where you are hard on the power and the car is bouncing all over the place. The next session I get my head down but the session is cut short by a red flag however the times have improved to low 1:09’s so we are on the right path. Out on track again and the times are identical, Neil isn’t happy as I seem to be stuck in a rut. He makes some subtle chances to the aerodynamics and sends me out again. The times drop to low 1:08’s, the feeling of lapping Combe that one second faster is hard to explain….well I say hard when it can be covered in one word – scary! I have so much respect to the guys that lap the track in 60’s. So the test has gone to plan and we are ready for the race.

It’s the morning of the race and we are lucky enough to have been invited by Tilling Motorsport to share their awning. So with a nice working environment and plenty of banter with Simon and Steve from Tilling Motorsport the day was going well. The car was all setup from the test day so there wasn’t much to do before qualifying. For the first time in a long time the GT’s are fully subscribed, there are 6 reserves which all get the opportunity to qualify. We get called up to the holding area for qualifying and in no time at all we are being ushered out on track. It took a while to get out of the holding area and onto the track so I lost a couple of laps. The track was very busy and I didn’t manage to get a clear lap. Just to add to the frustration the session was ended a few minutes early due to a stricken car at Camp. So not the best qualifying session I’ve had and my best time was a 1:10.3 which put me a disappointing 10th on the grid. Ok there were another 19 cars behind me but I was expecting to be further up the grid.

This year Castle Combe have scraped the rolling starts and returned to a standing start. This was going to be interesting, as I am still new to these starts. I am sat on the grid looking at the back of Simon’s Radical. Just to add to the fun Combe have lowered the start lights so seeing them is a real nightmare. After the formation lap I had to position the car so I could see over the car to my lefts rear wing. So here we go then…the red lights come on and I increase the rpm. They go out and I drop the clutch and get a great start, Simon in front is making alsorts of shapes as he gets the power down and soon we are rocketing upto Avon Rise. I make 4 places by the time I get to Quarry and things are looking good. I glue myself to the back of Simon’s Radical who in turn is chasing down Marcus Pye’s Jade. By half distance I was with in spitting distance of Simon and Marcus and really enjoying the race. The car was going well and I was feeling really confident. We are cutting through the back markers, most of whom are making racing room for us as we pile through. Coming out of Camp we start bearing down on a gaggle of Ferrari 360’s. I manage to get past the first into the entry to the Esses, one down two to go. I get the second one going through Hammerdown and tried to get the third going into Tower. However he doesn’t see me the lack of blues doesn’t alert him and I almost loose my nose. I’m now stuck behind this 360 trying to find a way though, at the same time Simon and Marcus are disappearing into the distance. I have to force a move on the 360 going into Camp, he still hasn’t seen me and almost turns in on me again! By this time I’ve lost a lot of time on the two infront. I keep my foot in and get caught out again by a back marker going into the Esses, that’s my last chance of trying to keep up with Simon and co. gone. The next laps are very lonely and dare I say it a bit boring, on the penultimate lap the leader has an altercation with a back marker, which puts him out of the race. Then on the last lap the 2nd place man, Louis Davidson, has a mechanical failure so I am prompted to 4th. This is the position I cross the line in with a 3rd in class and my first pot. So in result terms it was a good one, however I was so frustrated with the race and missing out on having a good battle.

The next meeting is on the 7th May and I have a few changes to the car to try and improve the lap times a bit. More on this next time.

Brands Hatch – 24th March

Its 5am in the morning and I am getting ready for the trip up to Brands for the first race of the year, and of course the first race with the new engine. After the hassles with the fueling I am very apprehensive about this meeting but I need to do a shake down to make sure everything is ready for the Combe Championship this year. Justin and Barry have made the journey up as well to help out on the day. We arrive at the circuit at 8am and set about setting up. The brakes are bleed though again, this time with out the dramas of Silverstone. Soon the car is ready to go apart from the tyre pressures and we can relax a little. No sooner as we started to relax the pit announcement asks our group up to the assembly area ready for qualifying. Its just then I remember we haven’t checked the tyre pressures on the car. Barry and Justin do the sprint from the paddock to the assembly area in record time and get the pressures set before I set out on track.

The grid is made up from Radicals, Caterhams, Lotus Elises of various tunes and the odd BMW. The day is overcast and bloody cold but its dry which is the important thing. Out on track it was pretty busy with the different speeds of the cars and the small circuit made getting a clear lap difficult. I haven’t driven at Brands for over 18months now and we have no testing time here so we just took a gamble on the setup of the car. Around most of the lap the car was spot on but I was getting some understeer coming out of Clearways. 15 minutes of qualifying and I am starting to get into a grove, the car is feeling very quick and my confidence is building. The good news is that at 17 laps the car only used 8 litres of fuel so we will have more than enough for the main race which is over 24 laps and we didn’t have any of the surge problems from Silverstone. The race is the last one of the day and is based on a handicap system. However in the briefing the organisers said they couldn’t sort out the handicap system in time. So they were going to use a sealed handicap system which was basically a name in a envelope and they win….sounded a bit odd to me but who am I to argue. Anyway we all made the trip to race control to get the qualifying sheets and I was greeted with something I’ve never seen before…my name at the top of the timing sheet and over a second ahead of 2nd place man, a Radical Prosport. It was both an exciting yet scary moment, the thought of being at the front of the grid was an overwhelming one. Add to this I’ve never done a standing start before I couldn’t have picked a better place to try from! After the shock of finding the starting position we had a few hours to kill before our race, which was the last one of the day. Two races before ours the weather started to become overcast and you could feel rain in the air. This stayed the same until the race before ours when it turned into drizzle. Although the paddock tarmac is now totally wet the track didn’t look to bad.

The racing line was dry-ish but off line was definitely wet. After some discussion with the guys I decide to stick to slicks as it really wasn’t wet enough for the wet tyres. I back off the suspension all round so the car is a lot softer to try and get some heat into the tyres. Sat in the assembly area the drizzle was still coming down, a few of the drivers were fitting wet tyres while we waited at this point I did consider copying them. I didn’t and I was soon being ushered to the grid, the view from pole position is one I’ll never forget… just see track infront of you no cars just tarmac. Then you look in the mirror and oh my god….so many cars behind you. We start the formation lap and I do my best to work out how much grip there is on track. It wasn’t to bad and I was reasonably confident of my choice to stick with slicks. I am soon on the grid waiting for the lights, red…red….off I drop the clutch and the car snaps sideways, I gather is up and snic 2nd gear and the car starts moving forward, 3rd and into Paddock hill. A quick glance in the mirrors and all I can see is headlights behind me….but at least they are behind me! The light is fading fast so the headlights behind just seem to get brighter. I hold onto the lead for 9 laps, it was a very surreal experience having an open track infront of me and so many cars snapping at my heals. I come out of Clearways and go to lap a Caterham that didn’t see me and causes me to back off. This gave the advantage to the Caterham CSR that had been sat on my tail and he gets past.

The drizzle had become heavier and the surface is getting slippery. The mapping job Emerald did on the engine is perfect for these conditions, the power is smooth and progressive and easy to control in the conditions. The CSR, which was one of the cars to swap to wets, slowly starts edging away from me. The wet track is making it hard to put the power down. I maintain 2nd upto lap 19 when I spot another Radical bearing down on me, again on wets, there is nothing I can do to keep him behind me so I leave him “racing room” to get by dropping me to 3rd. I stay in this position until I cross the line. What a fantastic race, very happy with my finishing position. The car was faultless and couldn’t ask more of it. I’m really looking forward to the season now at Castle Combe. Thanks to Barry and Justin for their help during the day. Simon Tilling also popped along to offer moral support and supply the banter. At the time of writing I don’t know what happened with the handicap side of the race, personally I think the weather provided a better handicap than anything the organisers could do.