After nearly 3 months of hot sunny weather, the 29th July was torrential rain. The only saving grace was, that the rain was set in and we didn’t have to make a decision about which tyres to use in the race or qualifying. With the race on a Sunday and a bike meeting on the Saturday there was no opportunity to test beforehand. Fortunately, I was invited to drive the Feathers Motorsport 1973 2.7RS at the circuit a few weeks earlier, so although I’d not raced at Donington since 2015, I had the chance to refamilurise myself with the track.
So qualifying started wet and didn’t get any drier, we ventured out on wet weather tyres and qualified 4th once you exclude the invitation cars.
On the last lap the car got stuck in 2nd gear exiting redgate corner. Unable to get it out of gear I headed for the grass to find somewhere suitable to park up. Once on the grass the car bounced around and it worked its way free, so I headed back to the pits to end my session.
We went over the outside of the gearbox and nothing looked out of place, so with the gearbox working again we decided to try to race and hope the problem wouldn’t reoccur.
On the warm up lap the same issue happened again so, again, I steered onto the grass to look for somehwere to park. This bounced it free again, so I tried all the gears and decided to take the start. By this time the entire field had gone by and I would have to start last, this was ok as I was worried about the gearbox and didn’t want to cause an accident. So with the gearbox working I made progress on the first lap, overtaking several cars before the old hairpin and another just after. By the end of the 2nd lap I was back up to where I started. I had planned to just stay in position and try to nurse the gearbox to the end, as I was in front of all my championship rivals. But after the pitstops I found myself in a close battle with James Guess in the Porsche 968 and Tim Bates in his rapid Porsche 911. By this stage on a drying circuit we all seemed to have overheated wet tyres and we were all moving around far more than we’d wanted. So the racing was very close but fair, with only a small amount of paint traded.
In the end we came out on top, and finished the race 2nd, behind a very rapid Porsche 964 RSR of Mark Williams, who won by nearly a minute.
First race of the new season, grid numbers lower than we’re used to, but we go into the first race with stiff competition. Friday testing went well, achieving lap times slightly faster than our last time at Oulton in 2015. At at the end of the day we put in some new brake pads and tyres and did a couple laps just to make sure the car felt good, which it did. So onto Saturday morning feeling confident we have a good car.
Saturday morning we had had rain overnight and since we were out at 9:25 the track wasn’t completely dry, with particular concern at the first corner. Struggling to get the tyres where we needed them for a quick lap we languished 5th or 6th throughout the 30 minute session, but our fastest lap coming right at the end of the session put us up to P3.
P2 on the grid Jeremy Cooke and Mike Dowd had clutch issues and withdrew before the race, but for some reason they didn’t fill the empty slot on the grid, so we started P3 behind Ed Leigh on pole in his BMW M3. Ed had a clear run into turn 1 from the rolling start and lead the first lap. A late lunge on the brakes into turn 1 lap 2 gave us the lead we needed. Ed had qualified 1.2 seconds faster than us, so our only hope was to get in front and keep him behind.
We defended hard for about 7 laps, proving how hard it was to overtake around Oulton Park, the circuit is narrow with bumpy braking zones, which makes overtaking tricky. By the end of the 8th lap Ed hadn’t really had a proper attempt at getting past, likely waiting his time for some clear laps during the pitstop phase. Unfortunately for Ed his engine expired and he retired from the race. This left us with a couple seconds advantage over Gav Dunn and Tim Bates.
Our pitstop dropped us back behind Gav Dunn in his BMW M3 by around 3 seconds, with about 23 minutes of the race left. So knowing an error in the pits could let a race win slip away, we got to work on chasing down the M3. Several quick laps later we were under his rear wing, and just needed to find a way through. Several attempts made, but the door firmly closed multiple times, and it looked tough to make the pass cleanly. Sitting in P2 for such a long time at this close proximity was starting to crank the pressure up on Gav, as he starter to make more errors, some brake lock ups and running wide at a couple of turns, it was also clear his tyres were getting close to the end of their life. With 3 minutes left on the clock, Gav run slightly deep into Brittens chicane, leaving me with a chance up and over hilltop to get along side and past. Then it was a case of doing the same as the first half of the race with Ed Leigh, KEEP GAV BEHIND, I was desperately hoping the chequered flag would appear the end of the lap I had gotten past, but frustratingly I had another couple laps to do.
In the end taking victory by just over a second, in what was probably our hardest thought victory out of the 6 we now have. Next up is Brands Hatch, the weekend after Le Mans 24hr, where the BMWs will probably have a slight advantage due to our 964 gearing being too long for the short technical circuit.
Ruth and Annabelle were on holiday in Wales in Pennal for 2 weeks, I couldn’t take the time off work, so I was only able to join them for the middle weekend. So pushed for time, I wanted to make the weekend that extra bit special for me. I collected the V8 Pagoda from TCIF’s barn very early Friday morning and left my regular wheels behind.
The trip up the M1, M6, M54 was torrential rain, but the Merc’s heater kept me warm and visibility was actually very good.
Infact most of the journey to Wales was fairly uneventful with terrible weather and heavy traffic, but after 200 I arrived feeling fairly relaxed, the Mercs lovely big padded leather seats helping.
Now where this car came alive was The Sunday drive back to civilisation, the roads through the Welsh mountain roads were empty the sun was out and the V8 has a certain bark that only a Mercedes can have. With the V8 out front this Mercedes needs to be driven like an American muscle car, which is no bad thing, plan corners well ahead, brake early and get on the throttle at just the right time to propel yourself up the road towards the next bend. Once I was done with the Welsh back roads, I arrived on the A5, with dual carriageways and roundabouts, I loved seeing the modern cars line up an overtake coming into a roundabout only to be blown away on the acceleration. Even the final stint on the motorway back to TCIF was a joy, cruising at a comfortable 70, I noticed how many people pay this beautiful car attention, I’ve never had so many thumbs up driving any car. A real pleasure, thanks to the guys at TCIF.
Final race of the season at Silverstone, on the national circuit. I haven’t had time to write reports for the last 2 races since the birth of my first daughter Annabelle seems to have taken up most of my time. Anyway, since we won at Rockingham, we then went to Snetterton and won there too, and we were in with a good chance of a win at Brands Hatch when we retired the car as we had a misfire and wanted to save the engine. Turns out it was a faulty kill switch killing the power. So, with that replaced we went to Silverstone for the finale.
We tested Friday afternoon, and the car seemed to be working well, so we scrubbed in the race day tyres and went home feeling confident about race day.
Race day was cold, but fortunately dry. With 40 cars out in qualifying we set out to warm the tyres quickly and find some free air on the track. Within the first 4 laps I’d gone half a second quicker than Friday and what we thought was good for pole position. 10 minutes sat in the pits watching the times behind us fall, then we thought we’d lose pole so we went again for the last few minutes of the session. We improved the lap time, but a Professional driver in a similar Porsche managed to beat us to pol position. After 4 races this season, we’ve qualified 2nd for every one of them, one day we’ll get a pole!
The race had a rolling start, and with 2 races forming the total grid it got a bit stretched out at the start, it was probably fortunate for us as it gave a clear view of the first corner pile up ahead and we were able to avoid it by using all the tarmac run off Silverstone provides. The race was red flagged and the grid was reset without the 6 cars involved in the incident.
The second rolling start was somewhat more cautious from those ahead, and we all made it through the first lap unscathed. Ahead was James Neal in the pole sitting 964 and James Hilliard who made up places off the rolling start. Both James’ overtaken in the first couple of laps, and we managed to get one or two of the slower GT cars between us which helped fend off a determined James Hilliard. After several laps we had pulled a manageable lead of around 3 seconds when we came in for an early pitstop. After the pits we didn’t have any challenge from behind, we suspected James Neal would hand over to the very fast Ryan Hooker, so we pushed as hard as possible waiting for the pressure to come, but unfortunately, they had a gearbox issue and had to retire the car.
We continued to push hard, the messages from the pit board were mixed, showing variation between P2 and P1, so we just continued to push as hard as possible all the way to the end. At the end of the race we’d lapped the entire field of cars, but the Clerk of the Course had given us a 30 second penalty for pitting outside our pitstop window. As we’d pushed so hard all the way to the finish the penalty didn’t affect the result, and we won our 3rd race of the season. We entered 4 out of the 6 races, had one DNF and won the other three which gave us 8th in the championship and winner of Class E. Overall a good season, the car has been put away undamaged and we can start to think about next year now.
With various engine issues at the start of the year causing a loss of power we chose to miss the first 2 races of the season in order not to damage the car further, and also a chance to develop the car a little bit to make it more competitive.
Having not raced at Rockingham since 2008 we were unsure of what to expect, we knew the car was good enough to win, but was the driver?
Friday testing went very well, we familiarised ourselves with the circuit very quickly by following closely our nearest rivals, who we knew had recently tested at Rockingham before. During the day, we were running faster than the majority of the Intermarque grid and felt confident going into race day.
Into qualifying we knew the battle was on between us and the 29 Feathers Motorsport car of James Guess and James Hilliard. In the end though we were beaten to pole by 0.4 of a second.
Going into the race we were confident, we knew we had the power to frustrate the competition, but they probably had the corner speed to make up lap time. Starting 2nd I manged to make it into the lead on the 3rd corner and hold onto it for a few laps. Hilliard came back past and pulled a gap of around 2 seconds. The gap looked difficult to reduce, but over the course of the next few laps before the pitstop it was reduced as tyres started to go off and mistakes were being made under pressure. We retook the lead and pitted on the same lap. Hilliard took his chance over 1 lap to try to retake the lead in the pit stop but couldn’t, one lap later Guess emerged from the pits just behind. Then the chase was on.
As the race went on the tyres on our car went off, and clearly the tyres on car 29 were no better. As the tyres got worse and the race went on the lines and driving style got more and more outrageous. The pressure got to James Guess in 2nd place and he spun off at Gracelands, 3 laps from home. With the pressure off now and the lead over new 2nd place man Andy Peck over a lap we cruised for home and took a comfortable victory, at the end of a very hard race.