FROM THE PITLANE
SNETTERTON 2013 - part 1
After last week’s aborted start with the driver who forgot to enter the race, the season now gets underway for real.
This support crew gig is a pain in the arse sometimes. Kutuka have three drivers out this weekend, all of who expect us to be on hand for whatever plans, schemes and crazy project they have in mind, indeed they can do very little without us. It’s like having kids, from what I hear.
That means being on site ready to roll cars on track first thing Friday morning. And that means being ready well in advance, and that means 2 days off work. A glimpse at the race times, some idiot scheduling the Jags for 5pm on Sunday, means a calculation of a 10-11pm return home, and two days off becomes three. One wonders how many people give up their entire holiday allocation to trek off to race meetings they won’t even compete at. Not that I’m complaining. Much. Or often. Much.
Pre-season tinkerings have achieved interesting things. Comer’s new car developed a misfire during Cadwell testing, and a new lambda sensor appeared to cure it. That car has been drag-raced up and down the Kutuka driveway as fast as there is space for, and having lost rear traction at 5000rpm as I passed the house and pretty much soiled myself it struck me that it felt fixed.
The hire car, Vanessa, has had last week’s damage erased with a polish and a new sticker to hide the Ginetta junior smiting that took place, but is fighting fit already and our one consistent, known quantity.
The Jeffery car, whose pilot ran the engine without oil at Oulton last year until it destroyed itself, has needed engine work doing. A delay in confirming that repairs could take place mean that it’s not going to have an engine in time, and the Bear, generous to the point of stupidity, has decided to loan that car his own race engine from the all-conquering Christine, to see how the boy-child does with what might be the most powerful AJ16 on the grid.
Everyone on nice new 888s, and off to Snetterton, the Bear as ever trying to break his own record, which is under 3 hours door to door. Given that I understand it’s over 170 miles, and that the truck has a speed limiter, I don’t see how that can be done, but as he chased a Warbutons lorry up darkened Norfolk roads at full chat, and I slowly sank deeper into my seat to avoid looking outside, it occurred to me that though I was to test a new car tomorrow the greatest risk to the whole weekend was happening before my terrified eyes.
And they wonder why I drink.
The morning dawned damp and deserted, leaden skies pregnant with cold misery. A Kutukan was seen in a coat, for Christ’s sake. Three cars unloaded, and noise tested, the Jeffery car out of curiosity, to check that new horsepower wouldn’t equal loud problems later.
The skies delivered their payload as I headed out on circuit in Katy, the new Comer car, on shiny new 888s. Now in fairness these conditions were pretty piss poor, and a sensible man would have stayed in the paddock, but am I really going to miss the chance to find out what these tyres are like in heavy standing water? Of course not. All data, however dangerous it is to collect it, is data.
I may have reconsidered this plan as we floated around the track, the car appeared well behaved but there were clearly moments that I was aquaplaning in a way that I would not expect on the older R1R tyre. So that answered that then. Heavier rain = R1Rs. Good to know.
Caterhams appeared out of the wall of spray the Jag threw up, as I gingerly slithered into the braking zones a tiny pair of headlights would suddenly appear and the car would instantly develop an “Oh shiiiiiiit” attitude in the mirror as he spotted the big silver roadblock. Spun Caterhams were everywhere. I love these conditions, they are a good laugh, if perhaps designed to get your attention.
A sphincter twitching like a rabbit’s nose tends to mean I'm having fun, but it was also clear that the car wasn’t right in the engine department. Low down hesitation, the top end flat as spilled ink, it pulled beautifully between 3800 and 4600rpm only, and that made life quite tricky because you really can’t drive in an 800rpm band very well. It would rev beyond 4600, but it took forever, if you’d told me that the rev counter was lying and that in reality the numbers were 1000rpm out I would have been sold on it.
Investigations would occupy the entire day as we swapped every single ignition component on the car, every connector checked, every sensor, potentiometer, and mystery box changed, probed and replaced. Nothing. Philip, taking over for the far drier but still wet afternoon shift, was sent out anyway to get track time and wet weather experience in the car, given tomorrow’s forecast for a wet race. Oddly he didn’t try the short-shifting multi-gearchange approach I did to keep in that tiny power band, but whatever works for you.
Eventually a diagnosis of sorts was reached, and a swapped fuel pump appeared to restore order to the world. Frustrating as hell, these gremlins. We do prefer the older cars like my beloved Helen, with an actual distributor that does half the job, and a magic black box in the boot whose sole job in life is to say “yes” to giving you more petrol.
Of course the American hire driver, Jay, had a worse day, as he had left booking testing late, and there was no room at the inn, his day spent dejectedly begging for track time to no avail.
The Jeffery creature had to be encouraged to go out and try the wet track, but we watched that car go past the pits like land-based missile, making a noise like the devil’s vaccum cleaner chasing Cerberus, and concluded that it appeared to have the ability to drag that vast barge through the air at speed. Which was rather the point.
As the day ended, a strange yellow orb in the sky created a peculiar warmth that caused most Kutukans to explode into flame as if doused in holy water. We could at least therefore light the barbeque.
Morning brought more cars, a late start, and sunshine. A few notable developments around the paddock. The Barclay car now in class B form still has the same basic engine underneath all the modified class trickery, and we immediately list him as a contender. Anyone moving from roadgoing to modified class in the same car has to be worth watching if they can drive to begin with, and this bloke was immediately fast last season, none of that messing about for five years spending thousands in development, he appear, blew the class away, and now he's moved up. He will be fast.
One thing Seath and Pizzala have in common is illegal bodywork, and with an eligibility scrutineer lurking about the one thing in their favour is that he didn’t appear to have read the rules. Suits us, frankly, because who really cares about the nit-picking anyway? So far as we’re concerned the rule ought to specify your weight, tyres, brakes and engine mods, then leave you alone, not look at minor details like whether you have cut your exterior bodywork as these 2 have. You do actually have to admire Chris’ approach, because not only has he got the NACA scoops in the rear wings, but he’s augmented them with exterior scoops in addition to really flout it. Dear Mr eligibility scrutineer, in your face, I defy thee, take issue if you dare. I think I approve.
V12s thin on the ground with no Doyle – word has it that the senior Doyle has no engine yet and presumably that means no race for junior either – and no Merrett – seen lurking about but with no car we can only assume the next 600bhp engine is still in development and hasn’t yet been tuned to blow itself to pieces with sufficient ferocity to be allowed to race.
The younger Dorlin, however, has the customary West Riding start to the race season, in that they have come up with a new and interesting plan to fit AJ6 engines in XJ6 coupes, it bristles with 6 throttle bodies, but due to a slight fubar in interpreting the rules that moves him to class D with the V12s, and due to time constraints the engine is claimed to be essentially standard in all other respects. That leaves the maniac in the fully modified class with an estimated 260bhp or so, which is less than some class A cars have fielded lately. Clearly Rich had picked a whole bouquet of oopsie-daisies.
New boys in the shape of 2 new class A XJS, one a repainted ex-BCB car in disguise, the other of unknown origin. A returning Seath has a new car that looks nothing like the photos that we’ve seen on Facebook and appears in a dirty grey rather than what appeared to be gleaming silver, but it is at least straight and if Seath’s past is any guide likely to be fast in a straight line.
Class C are the usual suspects in the form of Palmer and Ramm, supplemented by our resident colonial Olson, and the ex-Quirke car last seen in 2008, now run by Lenthall. He would give us vast entertainment as he decided to lighten the car at the event during the long downtime between races, treating us to the occasional display of swearing and a flying heater blower. A peek under the bonnet revealed the ugliest damned exhaust manifold I’ve ever seen, apparently a leftover from the car’s class D (2008 class D, roadgoing 6 cyl XJS) past, which we’ll decide cannot be true because it wouldn’t have been legal for the class back then so it’s clearly all a scurrilous rumour. Ahem.
Ramm’s car was barely dry from the paint shop after last year’s argument with Oulton park, and the engine sounded as if it has more to give yet, but the pilot himself looked a good deal more chipper than the last time I saw him, no sign of the defeated look in the eyes that marks a driver who’s had enough. Good.
The saloon turnout generally seemed a little low. Butterfield’s XJ40 has been on a diet, but add Gail’s XJ40 to the list with Derek’s Mk2 and Lewis’s XJ6 there really weren’t many more saloons out, and every single one was in class B, save for the undefeatable V12 of Howard. Howard appears to be planning a full season in the series, meaning the rest of us should resign ourselves to a fight for second place.
There were probably lots of other developments, but we can only plant listening devices in so many motorhomes. Some of you should be ashamed of yourselves. You know who you are. Not as many Satan-worshippers as I suspected though. We take particular interest in what the newer drivers are up to, because we’ve been around for a long while now, and we already know what the older drivers will do, give or take we can tell you now the order they’re all going to finish and who they’ll be racing. The only wild cards in all this are who has completely messed up their car over the winter, who is going to make the first big mistake that smashes one up, and who the new boys are.
Saturday dawned unexpectedly bright, got everyone all excited in qualifying, then drowned them when they least expected it. Scrutineering was a mere formality, the new rule about scrotes not pulling the kill switch pull handle means most of them aren’t testing it, indeed the whole process now seems swifter than I remember it. I think part of it is the general look of a car, some look sorted, some don’t, but it also depends on your attitude. We watch Gail flirt with her scrutineer, which is not something that’s likely to work for us, so I offer to bring our guy some girls. Didn’t seem that taken, so Bear didn’t get to try his cheerleading outfit on.
It shouldn’t be possible to tell from the pitwall who is going well, but you can. Even better if you can borrow the timing screen from the FFCorsa Ferrari team and find out for real, but we teased ourselves with that by waiting til the end. From the pitwall visual speed trap Ryan looked faster than usual, Howard faster than anyone, but Palmer going well, they looked like the front end of the grid to us.
Comer, on the other hand, appeared to corner well, but the car was slow in a straight line. It didn’t seem to be misfiring as such, but it had no guts to it, and that’s a real problem at this of all circuits. Bear’s engine sounded its customary, aggressive self in the Jefferymobile, and there was an awkward moment as Dave Bye commented that it sounded like that old red XJS. Look innocent, because it’s a secret this weekend, don’t want anyone picking up on what’s lurking under that bonnet and copying it.
Oddly Jay doesn’t seem as slow as we’d think he would be, brand new circuit and all that, he’s not going to be last. One of the new boys sounds offbeat, engine clearly not best pleased, but a couple of cars seem slower than usual.
To the timesheets and largely as expected. Howard on pole by a lot. Comer last, by a lot. We immediately fall on the Comer machine, and now that we know it’s petrol delivery, a great deal to do. Swirl pot out and cleaned, filter cleaned, extra filter added. Measure the fuel flow. Fuel regulator borrowed and tried, fuel pressure tester borrowed from that same friendly Ferrari team, who pronounced “Kutuka” in a way that only a small Italian chap could.
Eventually, of course, it all came down to a bodge. The issue is something really quite complicated, and there is no fix for it. All we can do is have David fool it. To me, fooling the ECU means make it watch a card trick whilst Bear sneaks up and unplugs it, but he knows better. It’s not a fix, but a terrible bodge that will give it too much fuel, but it might be better than not enough.
Our other drivers are faring better, Jay is a good few spots faster than his last meeting, and Matt is closer to the front of the saloon pack than ever before in the dry. A chance to watch some of his footage on one of those fancy little computer things made by that fruit company makes us wince a little, still not got the hang of slowing the car down before slamming the gearbox down a cog, we look forward to asking the ECU what max rpm was today, but it is also clear he can go faster yet, and we like that.
With cars bodged as needed, refuelled, and the drivers slapped for good luck, the long wait for the race, and the inevitable demand for parts from racers far and wide. The downside to the big truck is people assuming you have everything.
To the race, and the inevitable happened. The grey skies rolled in, and opened with the same deliberate consideration as the pigeon full of blackberries sitting above your freshly-washed car. You cannot shoot clouds in the face in retaliation. As they sat in assembly, the rain started, and it would fall ever heavier throughout the race, starting almost dry and ending in a cold April deluge.
From the rain-swept howling gale that is the artificial hill at Agostini you cannot see the start, but nearly all of the rest of the track. With three cars to watch, each with differing classes and goals, it gets a bit muddled, but entertaining. At the front end it looked like a scrap, if Howard is to be beaten anywhere it will be in the wet, and his dice with Palmer was uncertain, you couldn’t tell how much faster he might be able to go, or if this is the wet weather lottery at work, we know Howard is not as enthusiastic in the rain as some. It did make for an entertaining race, but there was a nagging feeling that whatever Chris did, Howard would let him have the overtake knowing that he could breeze back past down Revitt on the last lap to take the win. Cat and mouse goes the way of the cat when there is nowhere to hide.
There is method to the Kutuka madness here, we are very interested in what he’s capable of in that car because when we head off to Rockingham in a month’s time with the touring car boys, I’ll be racing him. And I’ll be doing it in a 3.6 that doesn’t have any of the trick toys on it that Palmer’s car does, and worse still, Howard isn’t the quickest car in the pre-83 category. The only way to make it work against the phenomenal torque of that XJ12 is to out-corner the monster and get out of range down the straights, and that was Palmer’s only hope here. Chris didn’t make it work, and his is a better car than mine. I may be in quite a lot of trouble.
As the field floods through on lap 1, Jeffery is just about holding station, he is always poor on the first lap and lets the field swamp him, but he’s about where he started for a change. Olson has dropped back fast, whilst as they round Agostini Comer is setting class leader Pizza up for the overtake at Hamilton, and is then leading class A from the very back of the grid in only half a lap. That’s 12 times better than my record, the bugger. We are often asked why we put the time in on that car, what the joy is in it. Races like these are the answer.
As the race matures and the rain begins to drip down my neck, Office David smug in the sort of outerwear that a North Sea trawlerman would find to be a little bit over the top, and everyone trying to use the Bear as a windbreak, conditions clearly deteriorate. It is only in such moments that I wish I were out there, we used to make this sort of weather work for us so very well that you wish you could have a play, but I had my fill of that yesterday morning. And as the conditions worsen, so does Coppock the First speed up.
He is still running the R1R tyre. Whether the rain was such that suddenly the 888 fell away and the R1R came into its own is unclear, because we have in the past equally seen that Coppock in the rain does improve lap after lap to come on strong in the final phase of the race. Either way, he closes down the lead pair, Howard measuring the gap backwards in this filth, and the run to the flag is not anything like as comfortable as it looked it should have been. You just don’t know with Howard though. He would later explain that a missed gear made things closer than expected.
Further back, and Comer made a quick gap on the class A cars, then appeared to fall asleep, pottering round like a big nancy boy he gets overtaken again by both Pizzala and Seath. Waking up from his afternoon nap, the timesheets say Comer then immediately takes a full 6 seconds off his laptime, passes Pizzala back, and hurtles into the essess alongside Seath, who falls off the road, leaving Comer to win the class. So that I understand myself, he passed the rest of the class in half a lap, then had a snooze, got passed back, woke up, and did it all again. But, that aside, he could have been going 6 seconds per lap faster? Which is the same pace as the guys up in 10th place, despite the sick car. Philip did confess his sins the following morning, and threw orange juice all over his own crotch in what we assume to be a ceremony of penance down in Somerset.
Somewhere in between these 2 extremes on the grid, Jeffery demonstrated his wet weather pace by hanging on to the tail of the saloon scrap for the class lead, right in the mix most of the time but just lacking that killer instinct that could have stolen p2. We don’t know if it’s experience or the sheer weight of polish that causes that, but the saloon scrap was tight, and encouraging. Tomorrow’s dry track might be a different tale. As predicted, however, Barclay was the one to watch, his amazing opening lap put him in the lead of the saloons, and there he stayed, if anything looking better in the worsening conditions.
Our colonial Olson, not loving the rain, did lay on a nice little late-race spin at Agostini to wave to us, which was nice, but he’s already on record as hating the wet, and he wasn’t last by a long shot, a distinct improvement since Oulton Park.
As the downpour increased and the cars sloshed their way back in to paddock, the inevitable sodden misery as race boots, overalls and steaming drivers all became immediately PWT – piss-wet through – such that prizegiving had a distinct smell of wet dog.
Tomorrow a whole new day, dry, a new track, a new quali and a new race to be had. Time to put wet feet up, raise a glass and eat curry. The chauffeur-driven Daimler service to the curry house was a bonus, it’s worth bringing Officer David for this alone.
Part 2 shortly. No, you'll have to wait.
A pre-season misfire for Vanessa was diagnosed in traditional style - driveway drag racing. The neighbours are really appreciative.
And a little pre-season paint erased the scratches I put in the poor girl during ambitious qualifying last October. Add stickers and go...
That's two thirds of them ready to go.
There is a sweepstake as to how long they stay looking this good.
Damp, wet and soggy.
Typical really, it was dry when we arrived, rained for testing, then dried out again. Cheers.
"And what did you get for Chistmas?"
"A pony and a shiny ankle bracelet Gail, you?"
Drivers haven't seen each other in 6 months you know.
Thankfully somebody in this paddock still has a sense of humour.
You can always rely on Derek.
The first meeting of the year usually has the largest, shiniest turnout.
Chris Palmer is the only car in class E, which doesn't exist.
It is a bit odd really. 6 months on, 6 off, then catch up on half the year in ten minutes of gossip in assembly, then combat.
Howard cleared off in qualifying, by a lot. It wasn't close at all.
The race was better.
Comer was slowest, by a lot, with about half his horsies having run away.
He is pictured here desperately looking for the rain.
OK, so, this is turn 3, and Pizzala leads the class, our boy is 5 cars back. At turn 6 he took the class lead. We were watching, and we don't know how that happened!
Vanessa had a clean race in tricky conditions.
Anyone notice that only the Kutuka cars had gone to the trouble of shrinking the sunstrip to fit properly?
Whereas young Jeffery is so high up the grid today that he got a nosebleed.
He could have done with a bungee cord to Rich Dorlin's rear bumper though, that boy was off.