FROM THE PITLANE
The work to repair the Comer car after Brands was
significant. Chassis jigged, then the damaged parts cut away, gussets added,
reskinned and repaired, new subframe, new shocks, new suspension, brake discs,
repaired door, new wing and sideskirt, paint thrown. New driver’s window, and
wheel. It wasn’t the work of a moment, and I was still sticking this thing
together at 9pm on the Thursday.
We’ve never repaired a car so badly mangled before, but then
this is the first car to have one of our seam-welded bodies and then get
crashed hard, so whereas the Philpot car was written off, this one could be
saved. That doesn’t mean that we’re not a little bit nervous, because once
again someone’s life potentially depends on my untrained welding. The car still
shows signs of not quite being square, the gearbox crossmember wasn’t totally
convinced about going back, but that could be a function of having put engine
on subframe before subframe went in car.
The panel gaps are not exactly Jaguar, the B pillar, whilst
pulled and welded, was not easy to shim to get the door hinges properly
aligned, and the door top allows some minor additional ventilation. Other than
that though, she’s ready, she starts, steers, and stops. What we need to know
is how that holds up at race pace, because the strains on the car are a bit
different in an 80mph corner on sticky tyres.
What, the race is when? Oh dear.
It was fixed. Briefly. Somebody put it in the tyres. There is a lot of duct tape here. A lot.
Nice wheels mister, who'd you borrow those off? Katy rolls out on R1Rs for a wet quali.
They gave us garages. Which was nice, but pointless for a single header, sadly.
The cold and damp of the West coast on an Autumn morning, enlivened by the ray of Lenthall sunshine.
The cars don't deliberately segregate by type, but it does seem to happen. Some XJS.
Champion-in-waiting, waiting. It's faster with bumpers and working brakelights, clearly.
Yes, indeed, what the hell is Lil doing at the very back? Wouldn't stay there, but shouldn't have started there!
Last load-up of the season, that's a wrap folks. See you in 2015.
This smiling assassin is the race winner. Made it look ever so easy.
So it was not without some trepidation that we arrived at
Oulton after an early-morning trip across the Pennines. But Philip, his usual
bouncy self, other than suggesting she still needs some cosmetic attention, is
swiftly in his pyjamas and rolling onto the circuit. We would later remind him
about the quip about cosmetics.
After three times round we decide that it must at least be
steering straight, and indeed when he returned to paddock he claimed she was
without vice. Struggling to believe that a bit, so we put tracking and camber
gauges on, and it did seem to be true. We set the dampers, which were all over
the shop, whilst her bearded owner polished off some of the overspray. In fact
by the time she rolled out for the second session she wasn’t looking too bad at
Another beard had arrived, Roger’s now-modified X300 bearing
the marks of significant work, panels still in gel coat, but at least now with
some power, and able to stop. We gently berated him about having bought a cheap
racing car and then spending vast sums of money on it, but that is racing.
We watch the blue and silver flash by ever-faster, and
breathe a sigh of relief. It works. It’s held together and it bloody well
works. Celebratory breakfast must be in order. So the red flags late in the
session are a bit of an annoyance. More annoying is that there’s only one car
that doesn’t reappear, and MacGregor reports that Comer’s in the wall at Island
with blue smoke pouring from under the bonnet. Given he’s up for a championship
if he gets full points we take that with a pinch of salt, because there’s
nothing wrong with the engine in Katy. But we can’t ignore the report that the car’s
in the wall.
The sinking feeling, again, of one of our cars involved in a
high speed prang. It’s really not worth this stress. An attack of the what-ifs.
What if it’s my welding. What if it’s that hugely-repaired subframe. What if
one of those bolts I put in in the dead of night wasn’t in right. What if the
brakes failed. What if the car just folded in half.
When the transporter arrives back at camp, it’s far less
worrying than we thought. Front end cosmetic damage only. Wing, bumper, bonnet.
Of course it’s the driver’s side, not the repaired passenger side. Suspension
intact. The engine fires and runs cleanly. Reports of her mechanical demise
somewhat exaggerated then.
Pulling on his beard causes Philip to confess that the car
felt so good, and he was carrying so much speed, that he tried the corner in 5thgear. 5th. It’s 4th gear all day long. You need 5thin this car at 120mph. I think we have identified the problem. You can’t take
Island at 120 in a class A XJS. And he appears to have just proven that. Four
Wing pulled and pushed until it sort of resembles a wing
again. Bumper beam beyond salvation. That was my old bumper beam, that one’s
done 5 years on my car, and about 5 laps on this one. Bonnet removed and
spacered on the hinges to get it to fit again, pins straightened. Front skirt
slowly riveted back together, using a series of pre-drilled pieces we carry for
exactly this purpose, and a big sheet of alloy we have had thrown on the floor
of the lorry for six years, for exactly this purpose.
Back on the car, a pile of silver tape and a strategic
sticker, she’s back, and rolls into action for the afternoon session. Now,
Philip said she felt fine, but we could hear the misfire from the paddock, so
after the session it was plugs out, cleaned, no good. A failed injector
diagnosed and swapped, back onto six cylinders. Good. She then ran faultlessly,
indeed she was able to hang with the car of Lenthall in the next session, which
is a pretty good benchmark for a class A machine, we’ll take that.
Mind you, Lenthall’s concerned about his engine and backing
off the timing. I don’t really understand carbs, I thought you sorted things on
the rolling road and then left it alone, but with lots spent and the Birkett
coming up, it’s enough to make anyone a bit ginger.
We cut testing short, sit the last session out, no need to
pound round all day, it works. Sign on and scrutineering is at oh-my-God
o’clock tomorrow morning, but they are letting cars scrutineer tonight, which
is sensible. Katy passes, despite the duct tape, but breaks down on the way
back across the paddock. Not sure at first if it’s the car or the driver,
Philip hasn’t really got his head round the fact that she doesn’t idle very
well when cold because we deleted all that crap and you need a foot on the
throttle. But no, it’s the car. Bizarre. Sounds very much like she’s not
getting fuel, and a swift grope reveals a hot fuel pump moving nothing. That’ll
do it. Spare pump fitted, and she’s cured. Good. We’re calling that our three
problems. Crash, injector, pump, the weekend will now be perfect.
An arriving Hill attempts to change her tyres, and is
clearly struggling. Wandering over to assist we discover that someone has put
her wheelnuts on so tightly it’s difficult to believe the studs withstood the
process. It takes a long breaker bar and a fairly substantial pull to break
them off, I’d guess they were set to over 200lb. Why?
Having pulled the wheels, I did have an immediate question
about whether she’d planned to use the brakes at all this weekend, the front
wheel presenting the outside pad with about 2mm of material left. As we all
know, that means about one lap of wear because they simply overheat and fall
apart in seconds when they get that low. Whilst scrounging for more, having not
brought any, she fell out of the van wearing flip flops, and it all started to
get a bit farcical as one-armed woman begged pads from one person to have
another fit. Calipers weren’t all that free either, for the record. Driver’s
side was worse again, they were on the metal. News that this car had been
checked pre-event did lead to a question about whether she’d annoyed Mr Gail
lately. We mentally add another car to the list of those we’ve assisted, and
pat ourselves on the back for another car not buried in a tyre wall somewhere.
Wheels torqued to a more sane 75lb, and I couldn’t help but note they didn’t
fall off all weekend.
This unexpected additional work did rather make the
already-lit barbie taste a bit more brake-paddy than usual. Drinking a furious
quantity of Roger’s wine offset it somewhat, but did make the morning a bit
We’ve not timed Philip all day, on purpose. We were,
however, much more interested in the times on race day. My best round here,
ever, is a 2.02.047, set in 2012 in my last ever outing in Vanessa, before an
American smashed her up for us. That was a nicely-handling car with 260bhp, a
rather tricky brake imbalance, and old 235 888s bought off Ebay for £100. We’re
projecting that a full-on C class car, on new rubber, can hit a 2 minute lap
time here. That would be very respectable.
And then the weather intervened. It rained overnight, and
the cars would be heading out for a wet qualifying. OK, fine, it plays a bit
towards us, and I chuck my own R1R tyres that were lurking in the truck on Katy
for a bit more grip, figuring he’d put more heat into these than the 888s. It
did, however, take Philip about 18 starts to get the car out of the garage and
we were close to slapping him when he finally remembered to use the throttle.
A mixed bag of cars, four of them up for championships of
some form or another, none of them in action here since 2012. Naturally, none
of them are setting the screens alight in the wet, but Ramm is the only
modified class car to wake up and get on with it, he is so much faster than
anyone else in class that I’m not sure they know it’s qualifying.
We can only judge from the pitwall, but it looks like the
class A cars are going well, Macgregor and Comer seem swift, whilst some of the
mod squad seem way off pace. Then there’s a safety car. In quali? Lewis has a
deranged bonnet, suggesting his easy cruise for points and a championship is
not going to plan. Seems he smote some tyres and left them in the road, hence
the safety car.
As the timesheets come out we’ve got Ramm on pole by a lot.
MacGregor and Comer in 2nd and 3rd mark the best
roadgoing class performance in qualifying since 2008, when a pair of roadgoing
XJS took the entire front row here on a similarly wet track. Now, it’s all well
and good saying that’s because the heavy, soft, low powered cars are better in
the wet, but there are two problems with this. First, Class A cars are no
longer 240bhp machines like in my day, the game has moved on since then and
they are now pushing power levels that the old modified class cars used to
produce before they got serious about it. It is true though that being heavy
does help. But there’s a but, see point 2.
Second, the pole man is class C. You can’t therefore say
it’s the class of car at fault, because Ramm’s at the front. Well in front. That
means class C can do it. That means
you have to ascribe the pace of the
rest of the class to a combination of setup and driver talent, and on a day
like this Ramm has marked his territory as clearly as if he’d pissed on
everyone else’s front tyre, he is simply better. And assured simple victory in
the race if he gets off the line and fails to crash.
Comer is somewhat pleased with 3rd. It is hard to
suggest that’s not very good, given 6 days ago this car had no subframe or
engine, and 30% of the body panels were damaged yesterday. His tyres were still
cold. If we could have only switched them on… We made him purchase breakfast.
Terry looks harassed. Somewhat tricky circuit, decent grid,
most of it back to front, it’s one of those days that accident reports are made
of. It’s tempting to knock Philip out and steal his car for this one, I bet
this is going to be fun. Might get tricky passing myself off as Philip, he’s
had people turn up to watch. That fills us with dread, because every time he
has an audience the car explodes, or crashes. Or both.
Drama as someone spots that Lewis has a polycarbonate
windscreen, which they tried to ban. Trust me, we asked this one ourselves! And
then someone realised that the regs had a peculiar punctuation error that
permitted it. I’m saying nowt. The car also bears tie-in plates to join
rollcage to screen pillar, bolted in. A muttering man wielding a spanner
complains they’re always coming loose. Which tells you how much the shell’s
shifting and that they do therefore help if properly installed.
A helpful Bear suggests welding them in, and is told that
cars with them welded in are in breach of the blue book. Sigh. No they’re not.
Not in a month of blue-mooned Sundays. But it’s part of that great mystery of
racing, interpretation of the rules. One car giving you both extremes, taking
advantage of a mistake in one set of rules, but then misreading another set and
therefore missing an advantage worth far more than the one they did exploit.
An early race means fill her up, pack all the stuff, and get
ready to go home. But, one of the West Ridingites blew two trailer tyres
getting here, blew in this sense meaning exploded rather than anything more
orally-related, and we’ve agreed to take his car home. Or rather somebody’s
car. When it comes to West Riding you never know which car is going which way
with who, but so long as they all get there who cares? That means unloading the
truck, which is still stocked with my spares from Brands Hatch. 16 wheels and
tyres, a gearbox, 4 hubs, a transmission jack and a complete rear subframe have
to be unloaded and manhandled into the back of his van. Dave Bye in an odd mood
helps out by occasionally punching people. I’m not quite sure why. I’m sure we
all deserved it. These weekends can be a bit odd.
And so, after a very odd season, out they roll for the final
round. The track is now bone dry, but green, class A “advantage” now negated.
Ramm takes turn one in the lead, and disappeared into the distance, not even in
the same race. I’m fairly sure we heard him doing a Speedy Gonzales impression
as he smoothed it through Old Hall. His attempt at Roadrunner is very poor, you
Macgregor made turn one in second, and he then had the great
joy of Comer in third as a buffer to the baying pack, he got a good gap as
Philip held off his old rival Drage, now in modified trim, and by the time 4thbecame 3rd, MacGregor was gone.
The real entertainment here was the train of saloons. Lewis
was clearly initially happy to stroke it home, but Gail cut through the pack
from dead last in a hurry, and soon there was a Lewis/Coppock/Hill/Lenthall
train that changed places every ten seconds to confuse the commentator. Gail got
through past Coppock as Lewis defended, and now he was in real trouble, he had
to go into go-fast-elbows-out mode, but we all know when he wants to that
saloon gets 40% wider.
As the leader purred his way to an ever-increasing, easy
gap, this train swiftly consumed Comer, as they should, and caught Drage, who
we assumed had developed a problem because they swallowed the gap to him in
short order and then streamed by. Lewis passed him on the brakes into Hizzies,
and then Gail did so too from at least 100 yards further back. I know she likes
a dive on the brakes there, but she murdered him in a move that had us watching
from behind splayed fingers. It’s not long before Coppock and Lenthall pass
too, third becomes 7th in only two laps.
Our hero is still circulating in 8th, and Squires
is closing. We all know Philip needs a mid-race siesta, and as the mirrors fill
with XJS he wakes up, puts his foot down, and extends the gap again. Which says
maybe he had more pace. Like the other A class of MacGregor, so far in front
that the train fighting for 3rd never even saw him.
And so it settles down, right until the very end, when
Macgregor lost the brakes, sailed straight on at Knickerbrook down the escape
road, and then buried it in the grit at Lodge. I’m thinking that had I had no
brakes at Knickerbrook I might have been more judicious at Lodge, but then it’s
entirely possible the pedal had returned by Druids and he hadn’t felt this
coming. This promotes Comer to the class lead, and Lewis to 2ndplace as he fought off Gail to win the championship. Ramm had finished the race
sometime yesterday, given his interview, packed up, gone home, had a bath, done
the crossword, and was ordering pizza as the last car crossed the line.
Two cars hauled into the truck, we’re ready for off. The
disappointment of the timesheets confirms Comer got a ten-second penalty for
rolling out of his box on the grid. He explained that he was just checking he
was in first gear. Berk. Squires got 5 seconds for track limits, but Comer’s
siesta meant he was under 5 seconds ahead, and therefore lost the class win.
Berk. We would have liked a win to finish off Katy’s phoenix-like tale. If the
phoenix was a real bird, how would you cook one? Every time you took it out of
the oven it would come back to life.
We’re outta here. A shorter year than usual, we only rolled
the circus out for Silverstone, Brands, Donington and Oulton. 2 class wins at
Silverstone. 2 smashed up cars at Brands. One mechanical failure from the class
lead at Donington. One shoulda-been victory here. But the pace is there. The
Jeffery tank is plainly much faster than before, and simple changes will make
that better again. The Comer machine, when not being smashed up for him, is
consistently swift. It’s just a shame that happens a lot.
Our focus this season has been elsewhere, and will continue
to be. You can only go about the place providing support for other series every
so often if you’re running a full championship elsewhere, so our hit-and-miss
attendance is unlikely to get any better. So, please, gentle listeners, please
make sure you’ve checked your own brake pads, because next time we might not be
there to catch you.
2014, over and out.
This is not a trick colour-fade photo where white blends into burgundy. Roger just hasn't painted the bonnet.