FROM THE PITLANE
Another crappy race to end what has been a crappy season. This one pretty much encapsulated every rotten piece of luck you can encounter, and really this is a summary of an entire season in one meeting.
It was also a weird meeting, primarily because so many people are taking it a little bit too seriously. Let me be clear about it, nobody cares who wins this championship. It means precisely nothing. I’ve been there and done it and at the time it seemed to matter, but then you take one step further into the wider racing community, and not only does nobody care, they don’t even know Jags still race.
We prepped a slightly different pair of cars for this weekend.
It's just a jump to the left, then a step to the right. Gail does the timewarp again.
Floating XJS gets a clutch. Classic team shot, David cleanly-attired, man on floor getting filthy, Philip looks anxious.
Special racing clutch saves weight by doing without any friction material. The rag on the floor is what was left....
Take a proper look at Darth Pearce's car, and it's basically half roll cage.
Baby Jeffery is in the West Riding X300 this weekend. That's an expensive trailer behind it, not a new rear spoiler.
A sideways burgundy X300. Askham or BCB? Truth be told, this weekend it could be either!
Rocketted through the pack, took the class lead, broke down.
And there go another dozen windscreens....
Matt tries the short cut. I've tried that myself, it isn't as short as it looks.
Another photo stolen from Roger Gage.
We're getting used to saying that.
There is nobody so helpful as a fellow competitor who wants to take a good look at your car to find out why you're faster.
That fibreglass bonnet looks heavy boys, let me help...
Senior Jeffery found something to polish. You have to keep him busy.
Only 6 of these were ever made in this colour. Two of them happened to be in the same spot, by pure co-incidence.
So there were a few bad tempers, a lot of protesting of various results, and it all got a bit silly. Following on from Combe’s retirement-rich race, this would be another festival of mediocrity. And with 3 retirements from 3 sessions, Kutuka were proud to lead the grid. Never had such a run of results in our entire history with this series, never.
Before the event even begins, there is fallout from Brands Hatch, months ago. At Brands, Comer’s car blew a water hose and lost coolant at Paddock. We now know that was a water pump failure at fault, but the effect of it was a red flag. At the time the stewards looked at the result, decided that Comer was an innocent victim of a sudden mechanical failure, and was not to be penalised, so on countback he won the class and that result stood. No protests were lodged. After the meeting, a strange email purported to suggest that though this was the decision at the time, the blue book said it shouldn’t be, and as nobody liked the result, it was being overturned.
We fully expected, at the time of the race end, that Comer would be excluded from the results. Confirmation of the results the following morning, however, meant that the time to protest the results passed without dispute, so that was that. The later attempt to change that did meet with our objection, and Philip was encouraged to dispute that attempt, not because it was wrong – he probably should lose the result, it makes sense – but because procedurally that was now incorrect. But we left it to him to challenge, it isn’t our business, we’re not racing, we can only tell him what the rules say, we have been around long enough to read a few of them.
Now, months later, someone else, somewhere, has looked at the points tables and decided that the Brands result is a problem, and if Brands is altered then they make progress in the championship, so it is challenged, we hear at Donington, on 2 grounds. 1, an attempt to rule the race a non-event, and 2, to reinstate the result. The first was a nonsense, the second succeeded. That denies Pizzala a set of points from that race and changes the championship picture for somebody, presumably the challenger. So Brands is finally set back to the way the regulations suggested. We find it odd that despite the fact that we said this at the time, it takes someone else’s protest to set things straight. Sometimes you get the feeling that it doesn’t matter how right you are, if it’s troublesome that you’re right, then you’re wrong.
There’s intrigue afoot then, and we joyously don’t care. We have only 2 things to do this weekend, get Comer’s car reliable and running to a pair of good results to end a crap season on a high note, and secondly to tow Matt Jeffery’s borrowed X300 about. The latter was easy, it’s Dangerous Brian’s old car, subjected to a little lightening by current owner Peter Dorlin, and prepped for this event only by adding Matt’s wheels to it. As a borrowed car we’re not looking to prepare it, adjust it, modify it etc, in fact it was strangely frustrating to play with, because immediately we can see a thousand things we’d do to this car, but we can’t.
And it doesn’t run right. It throws a coolant warning light at you every ten minutes, the clutch is great if you like the taste of your left knee, and it runs on 5 cylinders, sometimes. Why is he in this hunk of junk? Because his own car hasn’t finished development, and sensibly he’s not running a car that isn’t ready yet. Sometimes the smartest thing to do is not to do something.
Philip's had a bad year. but, all that’s behind us, it’s fixed and fast and lovely. We wish there had been a test, because some of this season’s woes could have been found with more testing, but that’s an aside. We always like to break it on test day then have a clean race, but then we tested at Combe without any issues at all and then it broke anyway, so there’s no guarantee whichever way you do it. But, with it fixed we intend to do precisely no work this weekend, it will all be about tyres and watching the weather, because it’s going to piss it down at some point on Saturday.
A leisurely hour down the M1 and we arrive to find Donington closed. There is an epic traffic jam of cars and transporters at the gates, hundreds of vehicles and people waiting to be let in. What a stupid idea. Slouching about taking the piss out of each other and catching up on the gossip is all fine and well, but can we go in now please?
A mad rush to get them all in and unloaded before the curfew for engines, it being Donington they demand silence early evening, because otherwise you can’t hear the 747s roaring 500 feet overhead quite so clearly. A late and damp bbq gets one in whilst we still can, because this truncated season crammed into only 4 months means we’ve got to get the last few attempted poisonings in whilst we can. Alcoholic indulgence is, without question, mandatory.
It is also the creator of the mischief that strikes when you get up in the night at around 3am and are faced with one of the great race circuit dilemmas. There is nothing in the blue book about taking a piss at a race track. There should be a protocol. It’s not like being at home, and there’s a rule for everything else. I’d suggest that the following guidance be considered by the MSA: Leaving your vehicle is necessary, aiming out of the window is not really a great plan, somewhat antisocial, and “don’t piss where you sit” can be added to “don’t shit where you eat” as good guidance for life. Do consider that any onlookers would simply see a man’s genitals poked out of a window, and that might be considered as dogging. When the MSA consult us, we're going to rule out urinating directly out of a lorry window as a solution in all but the most extreme circumstances.
There is a grand tradition for drivers to relieve themselves on the front wheel of their own transporter. I’ve seen several do it on other people’s. Reconsider such actions in the event that the paddock is floodlit and the toilets are only thirty yards away. The strangest thing I’ve ever seen was the incredibly drunk man at Anglesey, standing in the flower beds right outside the toilet block powerfully urinating all over the footpaths whilst making a noise like a walrus mating with a cordless drill. Try to avoid his solution too. I can’t, to this day, explain that. It will haunt me to my end.
How many clothes do you have to put on to get thirty yards to the gents? Underwear, check. A t-shirt? Check. Socks? Nah, risk it. Trousers? Give over, it’s 3am. You are now equipped in sufficient protective equipment to make the delicate, mincing barefoot hobble across the tarmac to the gents. If there’s someone else just going in, do reconsider. You don’t follow another man into the toilets at 3am in your underwear. Nor do you want to stand there in the drizzle, for two clear reasons.
In such circumstances, use the ladies, that’s far less creepy, there’s obviously no problem sneaking into a ladies toilet in your boxers, that’s fine. Whilst you’re in here, remember to put all the toilet seats up. You are required to take your revenge when you can. I would suggest it as protocol for anyone making that early-hour pilgrimage, let all seats be lifted henceforth as standard practice. Vive la revolution. That’s right, you just read four paragraphs about taking a pee, and that’s part of your life you’ll never get back.
Morning dawns wet and dreary, slate grey skies gently sprinkling everything with a dank blanket of mist, enlivened by occasional showers. The no engine rule, again you don’t want to be disturbing the 200-tonne jets thundering by, means we’re all pushing the cars to scrutineering. This is not fun. Moreover, cretinous people blocking the roads from all directions creates something of a traffic jam of silent cars as MGs rush to fill the holes left by Jags, meaning Jags can’t get out and the entire mess grinds to a soggy halt. People can be really stupid sometimes.
Panic in Jeffery’s corner, the car he’s been lent has no belts in it. It is fortunate we were able to come up with a swift solution, because that’s an event-ending mistake. But who would even think to check that a racing car had belts in it? You just don’t.
A swift dash to the exhibition centre to collect tyres I bought off Ebay, new R1Rs for my own wet use, allows a road test of Philip’s Ford Ranger. It needs a powerlock diff, because it was a bit oversteery. Shhh, don’t tell him. Race weekends allow a variety of experiences.
And so to qualifying. It’s dried out enough to make even worn 888s acceptable, and it’s still drying so it should get faster. Both cars are fuelled, running, and off they are sent. Bear goes to assembly to orchestrate proceedings. Usually we both go, but we’re strangely busy to say we’ve nothing to do, the tyre call for Matt is made late and we’re throwing 888s at him as the cars roll out. Well under 5 minutes for 4 wheels swapped and torqued isn’t bad going, thank Christ for the impact gun.
And so out they roll. Fingers crossed, because it’s a slippery-looking track, and it is possible to hit things here, how this was ever going to become an F1 circuit I have no idea. As usual, Barclay looks fast, but rumours are again that he’s tested twice here, and whether true or not he has practiced, and that reaps rewards. He did look like he nearly put it in the pit wall though, that looked a bit sphincter-tightening. Howard, as usual for him on a damp track, takes time to play in, whereas our boy Comer is right up there straight away, on lap 3 he is 4th on the grid. As he comes by the pit wall, however, it sounds as if he’s missed a gear, the engine is revving hard comparative to forward motion. It’s OK the next lap, so who knows.
And then he goes missing. Ah hell. What is it this time? I mean, really, what? We’re not far away from the end of even our substantial patience.
As the session progresses it dries, and the times lower. That 4th becomes 15th, class pole becomes class 5th. It’s still not dry though, and that means Matt in the X300 is able to punch above his weight. He is good in the wet, youth and bravery favour him. Too young and tiny to understand damage and injury. I suppose if you are the size of a pencil there is a lot of interior to bounce around if you have a crash, it must look a lot like a playpen in there.
Dean is very slow, but then he’s running in a new crank. We didn’t even know you had to run in a crankshaft, we thought you ran in the rings and bores, not crank and bearings, but what do we know.
Again, the session is notable for the relatively off-pace times set by the established runners. Barclay, Howard and Butterfield take the top slots, where are Hill, Pearce, Coppock etc these days? Something has happened here. It is oft the case that new blood brings a fresh perspective and developments, it could be that the series has had that shot in the arm it needed. Certainly from the outside, looking at a class A grid of 12 cars now it once again looks like a race worth being in and winning, something worthy of competing in once again.
If A has improved though, C has not. Palmer is not on pace, Ramm isn’t here, Philpott doesn’t seem to be a fan of the wet, and Roger is sliding all over the place on new 888s that refuse to give him any grip, he is far down the order.
D has only 2 in, and B is a very divided grid, Barclay well in front and indeed on pole, the next car back more than 2 seconds adrift. That is no longer a race, that is a trouncing, and you wonder whether B class numbers that have fallen off this season are in any way affected by the dominance of that car? The whispers of disquiet are louder here, the usual allegations flying. Multiple test days, enormous time spent on the car, driver tuition etc. Thing is, none of that, if true, is anything approaching illegal, anyone can do it.
Which leaves the mutterings as being those of envy, the complaints being that the game is being taken too seriously. And, well, you’re always going to get that. They used to say the same about us. It’s all balls really, the winner of anything is often the one who invests the most time. If you want to fight it, obsess about it as much as the other guy. If he then also out-spends you, well that’s something else, but until you’re as insanely committed as the other fella, don’t complain.
Seath is late on the anchors at Redgate, the car throwing him about and on the edge, but he keeps making it stick, he looks relatively a good deal faster than at Combe. A proper manual box up it explains much, but he was committed.
A mixed up grid from the wet quali should make for an interesting race. So where the hell is Comer? It appears on a towrope. The smell gives it away before the driver can even explain that he lost all drive. That clutch is fried. It moves under its own power, just, at tickover. That is very broken.
Breakfast whilst it cools, and at a little after 11 we tackle the clutch. We happen to have one. When the slave comes off and a clump of black, gritty rag falls out of the hole you know what you’re going to find in there, but the complete lack of any friction surface whatsoever on the plate does come as a surprise. Never seen one this bad, ever, anywhere. With three men on the job it’s a shade over 2 hours before the car is once again mobile. It would have been swifter, but we broke the special spanner that takes the gearbox off. Whilst we’re lying there we are treated to the feet of the great and the good of the JEC being given their paddock tour. What appears to be a swearing, levitating XJS greets them. We know how to put on a show.
But back in action, and in some ways it’s a far preferable problem to the previously problems, it’s simple, mechanical, and it can happen. Philip is a bit hard on his clutch, it’s just one of those things. First one he’s knackered in 3 seasons, so he can’t be that bad. It looked ok when it was last out though, so who knows.
And so to race. As we get to Redgate to watch, a BMW flies into the tyres at full chat, big impact, bits raining down. What we don’t know is that the new big cheese of the JEC is standing right there to watch his first race, and is allegedly knocked cold by a flying rock. Didn’t see it happen, don’t know if it’s true, but you should have heard the post-race gossip, which varied from this fella falling over in shock to hospitalisation with head injuries. Whatever, didn’t see it, don’t care.
It’s now dry, so full speed ahead gentlemen. A rolling start, which we’re not fond of, not that it matters. All manner of championships up for grabs, but we have no idea who is up to win what, not interested given we’re not involved, but we’ll try to guess based on who is taking what risks.
Busy start, the usual mix of inside line traffic jam and outside line gamblers, smoke from a big lock up but no contact, clean first corner and they’re off, Barclay running for it early, the lazy sound of spooling V12s in pursuit giving the impression that they are just warming up for the chase.
Comer makes a good gain at the start, then swiftly rockets through into the class lead, cocks it up, loses it, regains it and powers away looking like a sure fire win and hassling B class saloons. But then at a little under half distance, Comer disappears. For fuck’s sake. I’ve had enough. Bear has had enough. Officer David has had enough. All that time invested, and the bloody car just keeps stopping, and we thought we’d cracked this, this was our weekend to sit back and revel in the velocity we’ve unlocked from that car. What can possibly have broken this time?
At the front it is a bit confusing. There are people falling off a lot, and something happens under a yellow flag, apparently, as both Howard and Coppock are suddenly ahead of Barclay. Some of what happens would later become clear when the race result was protested. Word has it that a couple of drivers had their licenses endorsed this morning for yellow flag infringements. We don’t know if that’s true or not, but what appears to happen here is that Barclay slows for a yellow and the other two pass him. You can see why he’d get cross about it. Whether it matters is another story, because we thought Howard was lining him up for the pass even before this, and Barclay would pass Coppock back.
However, the counterpoint from the video cameras in the following cars was that Barclay appeared to slow too much for the yellow, and the cars in close attendance took evasive action, passing him in the process. Ultimately that would be the version endorsed by clerk of the course, and the pass stands.
The quiet star of the race though is young Butterfield. That XJ40 is being hustled round well. Not lairy, but quick. He is massively down on power compared to Coppock, but he would beat him to the flag. He has nothing like the machinery of Chris Palmer, but he’d beat him too. In fairness, Dave Bye ought to have a better car, but he couldn’t catch him here. 3rdplace overall for that car is doing very well indeed.
The muppets are out in force. Seath might have actually been Crook this race. One of them put Simon’s wife’s shopping car in the grit but managed to keep going. Scoins fell off the track at every possible opportunity, including twice in succession at the same corner, which is about as feckless as you can get, and eventually, having dropped stones all over the entire circuit to ensure as many smashed screens as possible, parked it well and truly in the grit for good. The commentator offered him a tone of resigned derision he probably deserved. Askham couldn’t take a corner without dropping a wheel off the circuit, but then from the look of things there’s no powerlock in that car.
Pizzala, on the other hand, appeared to suffer from a severe brain fart. The pressure is on because he can win the championship if he scores full points, I think. I’ve not paid much attention, but I think that’s the story. First quali went wrong, then Comer has fired past him, and now he’s behind the swift Macgregor car for the class win. As his apparent desperation to pass increases, so does his speed fall away, the approach to Redgate becomes off-line and too hot, turning in with heinous, squealing understeer, running wide into exit oversteer with two wheels in the grit. That’s not how you go quickly, and he would lose his grip on the car ahead, and the points.
With so many cars off the road everywhere the circuit was well and truly littered with crap. Several windscreens suffered, which is pretty standard here. Bit like Brands in that respect. MacGregor disappears, promoting Pizzala, whose driving then calms down.
The race grumbles to its end. Barclay set off after Howard, seemingly in a bit of a temper, but Howard matched the gap as soon as he could be bothered to notice it was closing, the chase was never really on. Butterfield held his 3rd place, a good drive to do so, whilst behind Bye battled successfully to beat Coppock. Gail’s XJ40, lots of new bits and enthused from testing, an anonymous and lonely drive to 5th or 6thor thereabouts. Such is the pace of development that we knew as soon as we learned the testing times that the pace was not going to be there for her this weekend, the game has moved on a bit. I am still certain that the old hands are not finding it as easy to extract the 888 pace advantage as the new boys. I am increasingly certain that this is because they’re simply used to the car not being able to do what it can now do, therefore it cannot, and they are not chasing the setup that would allow it to do so. The next generation are.
Race end, nobody died, most of the cars finished. No heinous damage to anyone’s pride or possessions, beer o’clock?
The answer to the Comer mystery is to be determined swiftly once the car comes back in on a towrope, again. Up goes the bonnet, the jab on the starter provokes no attempt to fire, and that is quickly determined as lack of spark. Now that is most odd. A defective rotor arm is the problem, swiftly diagnosed, and a new one from the big box of them in the truck and she’s back into life within moments. Well, that’s annoying. Burned through behind the rivet, as they do. The new one is also the rivet type, but they last long enough to do this meeting, we have a big pile of these because it’s what the Bear used to run, he would chuck them away after every meeting and fit a new one, so we’ll just do the same here, nobody ever kills a rotor arm in the space of a race.
Scoins car has half a beach in the bodykit, the sound of gravel pouring onto tarmac is distinctive and punctuates the noise of beer cans popping. I swear that these guys regard the racing as a real obstacle to the serious business of drinking.
Macgregor’s engine has a rod through the side, first time I’ve ever seen that, and there is a suggestion of bad tempers being thrown about. It’s just had a £1300 complete engine rebuild, we’re told, then gone elsewhere to be tweaked and tuned for more power, and now it’s gone bang the blame appears to be pointed at the engine rebuild. Sounds like bollocks to me.
You don’t get a full engine rebuild for £1300. If you then take it somewhere else, and they fiddle with it, then you completely absolve the first tinkerer of any responsibility whatsoever, even had there been any, tinkerer number 2 now accepts all responsibility hereon in.
We once had, with regret, to leave James Ramm stranded with a blown clutch because after a quick look under the car we decided that we dare not touch another engineer’s work, and that’s nothing like the scale of this sort of meddling. Some engine builders will refuse to ever again touch their own work if someone else has so much as painted a cam cover.
And, to be fair, this is a race engine. It might be a mildly-breathed on road engine, but stick it in a racing car, drop the diff to a 4.09 like this and therefore encourage the driver to bounce the valves off the windscreen, then there is no warranty, guarantee or even the faintest hope of apportioning blame when it goes bang. The second you hit the circuit you void all warranties. You race it and wreck it, tough. Such are the lessons that we have learned with time.
No race result is called, because of the yellow flag issues, and a search for footage and laptops and proof begins. For us, other than the loan of a laptop, that means dinner time, we weren’t racing. It can be nice not to be involved. The result would eventually stand.
Morning dawns, and race 2 will mark the season end. We watched this one, but after Comer’s initial charge from the back took 8 places in only 2 laps his car broke down again, and a lot of the fight leaked out of us at that point. Even our relentless optimism can be blunted. It was business as usual at the front, Howard cleared off and managed the gap, Barclay chased like hell but had no real chance, and Butterfield outperformed his XJ40 to come third, because he was actually 4th save for Palmer’s penalty for a jumped start. Palmer had had to work pretty hard to pass him too, so it must have been a bit of a slap to get the penalty. Think about that for a moment though – Palmer’s all-conquering XJS struggling to pass a fairly inexperienced young driver in an XJ40 without substantial power mods, and that’s what we keep banging on about, there has been a changing of the guard this year, the old faces are nowhere.
That jumped start was later blamed on a defective start procedure, and there would be more post-race shouting, but we couldn’t see either the start or the shouting so we neither know nor care.
In fact other than watching Pizzala again go into horrible under then oversteer at Redgate under pressure from Askham – Askham hasn’t raced anything for two years now and his car is barely fit for racing – there was little of note this race, other than a little whoops moment from one of the new boys in one of those identical West Riding XJS, the classic of steaming up someone else’s rear bumper on the brakes.
It was a rather comical incident for those of us watching at at Redgate, that track is awfully wide, and right in the middle of all that space there is a sudden puff of smoke, a chirp, and that unmistakable noise, that of someone stamping on a giant Coke can, followed by wibbling recovery from the smitten. Post race inquiries revealed the classic riposte to whacking someone up the arse on the brakes, that the other guy braked far earlier than expected. Mind you, the allegation that the victim admitted that had he been fast enough to give chase he would have retaliated for this on track was a little bit worrying. Nobody looks kindly upon even a hint of “afters” in this game. From our vantage point, a bonnet and a rear bumper are the fairly mild casualties of it all, you see worse in traffic jams.
To enliven proceedings, our resident Roger, who swears that this really really definitely positively really is his last JEC race in the XJS, had a good long slovenly spin at the exit of Redgate, throwing soil with the abandon of a child left in the garden with a trowel to play with. Well, if you don’t have a spin now and then are you really trying?
And that was that, another year over as fast as it began. Post race gossip grows like weeds as penalised drivers stomp to race control. Standing atop the truck tailgate surveying this scene, as an outside party, the whole show can often look a little peculiar, and the aftermath of the races can present an odd series of vignettes that from afar could easily pass for the work of a young playwright with a fascination for character study. Or a kids’ playground, but one you’re allowed to watch. In truth Terry’s role is a lot like that of a headmaster most of the time, but a caning is extra.
The young chap peering at his bent bonnet declares that he is going class C anyway, which is the sort of statement that usually causes worry lines to form, if after two races in a slow roadgoing class car you start looking for the sharp end of the grid it might be seen as a little ambitious, but then what is life without aspiration?
Comer’s car is again dropped back alongside Kamp Kutuka. We go straight for the rotor arm. Yep. Burned through behind the rivet. Of all the bad luck. Any other one in that bag might have got him to the end, but one, selected on pure pot luck, has failed him. All year he’d run on the other one, and now the car eats a two in ten minutes. If Philip didn’t have bad luck this season he’d have no luck at all. You can’t write this shit.
Three cars to head home, we’re taking one extra back. Swiftly loaded, and en route, Bear with three Jags, me learning the debateable charms of his little TVR. Strange car, lots of nice noises from the front end, nice ride, nice overdrive button that begs to be fiddled with, but not all that quick, a bit gutless. And the windscreen tries to fall out at 100mph. Ahem. Apparently.
A swift flash home looking over that long curved fibreglass snout to the accompaniment of the huffing rort of that little V6, the drive just long enough to reflect on what has been a very odd season. Odd that it’s all over and we’re still in August. Odd that of the three cars we took to Snetterton back in April, only one is still aboard the truck. Odd in that laptimes haven’t, for the most part, improved as much as we expected. Odd that the people who found new speed were not the old hands. Odd in the dominance of the saloons over the XJS, the lack of progress of the XJS mob generally. Some strange incidents, a lot more bad temper and controversy than we’ve seen for a few years. More contested race results than we’ve ever seen in all the preceding seasons put together.
Irritating too. We’ve never had such a bad year. Comer’s car, well, you know your first meeting with a new car can be a devil, but for the ECU to fail was a bit rude, because the car was otherwise great, she was swift. The Brands Hatch woes, eventually traced to a defective water pump, well that too you can sort of forgive. But after that, Combe’s water temp sensor failure that lunched the weekend for him, and now a clutch and two rotor arms, just what are you supposed to do about that? It’s such completely shit luck that you wonder who has the voodoo doll.
Then there was Vanessa, used and abused and smashed into a twisted ornament by a hire driver, her loss still keenly felt.
And Matt’s car, his engine lost in development hell as the damage and investigations from last season’s end of year failure deepened at every turn, blown bottom end joined by head damage conspiring with fuelling issues to simply rule that car out of this short season.
So many the woes that the development of our own machinery has been severely compromised, and only now having finished this year can we even look to our own season, fortunate that there are still three meetings to go, we can still squeeze 6 races in and then the Birkett. We can only hope that this becomes a year of two halves.
Who won the Jaguar series this year? I don’t have the faintest idea.