Changing the Class B Regulations – Formula Vee

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Essentially the only differences between a UK Class A Formula Vee and a Class B car are that Class B cars:

  • Must use steel dampers
  • Can only use dampers with one adjustment (ie combined bound & rebound)
  • Must have the dampers attached to the lower trailing arm and the beam or chassis (so they’re on the outside of the car bodywork)
  • Can only use a maximum of 2 coil spring/dampers for the rear.

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So the theoretical advantages are the suspension components are cheaper to buy and simpler to use, and will likely be heavier than those allowed for Class A cars….

And, umm, that’s about it.

It means that whilst the dampers are much older technology, it’s arguable that using more modern stuff (within Class A rules) will make the car any quicker at all, let alone be a big difference. Overall car/driver weight is the same for both classes, so you can just offset the damper weight by using a lithium battery or eating two less burger at the Vee Centre Annual BBQ!

As clear and definitive proof of this, James Harridge has won races outright in his Class B Maverick – in fact he’s only in Class B to make the point that there is no difference. I believe Ian Jordan could also run in Class B and whilst winning races overall, but chooses not to.

I’m proud to be in Class B, and take the championship seriously, but even I have to admit there is no real difference, so it’s pretty pointless.

So what is the point of a Class B?

To be cheaper? To allow cars of a different specification to race? To reward newer/slower/less ‘financially gifted’ drivers?

At the moment, it’s none of these things – which is a shame because it could really be used to do so much more! For drivers and for the championship overall. Anything that gets more cars out on the grid is a good thing, right?

Now at this point I have to state that I don’t think Class A regs should change. Class A should be the hardcore, tune everything until it breaks class – and ALL cars from any class should still be Class A by default.

Here are my proposals for what Class B should be:

Irish Style:

Class B is for new drivers. It gives them a chance to win a trophy whilst still learning their skills. If you finish in the top 3 in B Class, you’re automatically shifted up to Class A from the next season, so it keeps fresh blood in B.

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Vee Centre Style:

Class B points are only awarded to anyone finishing outside the top 10. This makes it all a bit more fun, and also means that when you do progress into the overall top 10, you stop scoring any B Class points. So effectively your reward for outgrowing Class B is that you’re already finishing in the overall top 10.

Those are the quick and easy options that will cost nothing for anyone. Then we get into the more meaty options:

1600cc aircooled VW engines:

Again, this is basically adopting the Irish series regs for Class B. Because all the Class A people will already be frothing with outrage, it’s probably a good idea to have controls on these cars, again much like the Irish series, so that overall they’re not as fast as the Class A cars.

The Irish cars, as we’ve seen when we’re combined on track, are pretty evenly matched and yet have different strengths and weaknesses. They run on smaller wheels, different tyres and have a control camshaft, which (in theory) keep the cars very even.

Our Class A cars definitely have the legs in them in top speed, but they have more grunt – this means a Class B car could win overall, on the right track.

The biggest advantage is that the controls keep the cars reliable to the point that you can stick an engine in for a season or two and not touch it – something our current 1300’s couldn’t even dream of. As engine costs are huge in our series, this could mean a massive saving, and that new people with no mechanical skills would have a much better chance in the championship.

As a bonus, if we did adopt the full Irish Vee regs, it would mean all of their cars would now be eligible to race with our series as Class B cars, and we could also go racing with them in Ireland.

When I’ve raised this with drivers I’ve found massive backlash – but why? Just carry on with your Class A cars and regs! You don’t NEED to change anything!

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Watercooled Polo engines:

Another suggestion is switching in a totally different engine, such as the watercooled Polo. This would mean much cheaper, much more reliable, and more powerful engines with greatly reduced costs.

The downsides are that they would be outright winners unless you hamstrung everyone, and could mean massive changes to chassis to get them to fit. And is it losing the whole spirit of Formula Vee, even with a VW engine?

Claiming Rules:

Anyone can buy anyone elses engine for a set fee.

This would mean there would be no point spending thousands on your engine, because after every race everyone else has the option of buying your engine, and you have to sell it for that set price.

Very controversial, and no doubt comes with a whole heap of problems, but a great way to stop costs spiralling…

Other Restrictions:

These should make the formula cheaper and more accessible, and preferably raise reliability. Obviously, targeting engine costs and reliability are the best targets here.

Cheap and easy options are:

  • Add a rev limiter
  • Raise minimum weight
  • Control camshaft

***EDIT***
Oh, and I missed a couple of things out!

Age of Car – we could do a lot more to get the hoards of old Vee’s out of sheds and back on track! Maybe having Class B as cars over 15 years old would knock out the newer and more expensive to buy cars in one fell swoop, and encourage owners of all the 90’s cars to get rebuilding? Maybe even Class C for the proper vintage Vee’s – I know Glenn Hay has a 60s Beech (or is it Beach?) that could see the light of day again if we had anything to race it in, and the 70s Scarab Mk I.

This also has the plus-side that it really shouldn’t affect the front-running A’s, as it’s doubtful any 60s spec cars would be able to win races outright. I should note that it wouldn’t be entirely my choice, as drivers like Ben Miloudi have proved it is still possible to win races in a 20 year old car that’s well prepared – so to me a “15 year or older” Class B still isn’t enough of a difference – although it would make it easier to enter B as in theory all cars would be cheaper to buy than modern machinery.

I should have also mentioned that the older Class B regs from around 2008(?) had Class B cars using points ignition. It was an attempt to distinguish the classes, but in reality just meant to be in Class B you had to put up with severe unreliability and a multitude of problems – so I’m definitely not suggesting we go back to that!

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Donington Park 2018– My View

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After coming away from Silverstone with more piston problems, we were left with a few hard decisions for the rest of the season:

  • Quit and prep the car ready for 2019
  • Put a new piston and barrel set on, and risk the exact same thing happening (or worse), or
  • Totally strip the engine down, rebuild with part run-in pistons (as we had no testing time we couldn’t use a new set), and risk running out of time!

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We’re not quitters, but we’re not stupid, either, so went for the latter option with some long hours for me and even longer for Glenn!

We made it, driving down on the morning for the one-day event, and the sun was even shining enough for me to make use for my customary sun cream.

Qualifying

I still had to be a bit gentle for a few laps to run the engine in, and with the maximum of 32 on the grid (with several reserves also waiting in the wings) that was always going to be a bit risky.

For Silverstone I’d made a change to the front anti-roll bar that shouldn’t have worked at all, but weirdly it had, so I left it. Even weirder, now it chose to do what I’d expected it to do, meaning I had some horrible understeer going on! At Old Hairpin and Coppice especially I was having to really wrestle the front end in – easily fixable, and the balance of the rest of the car was great, so I was still happy.

Unfortunately the number of cars on track led to inevitable yellow flags out for cars that had gone off. This meant the only flying lap I managed to get in was red flagged into the chicane, leaving me in a disappointing 21st and 17th for the races.

As most other had the same issue, this would mean a fair few of us were out of place, so I had some work to do in the races to get back up there!

More worryingly, we had been leaking a bit of oil, which we didn’t need at all.

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Race 1

I got off the line fairly well, but then got boxed in behind Vaughn Jones. I’d still made up a few rows and could see Bill ‘Wom’ Garner and Andrew Cooper just ahead, so we had the first 4 Class B cars that close into the first corner, and changing positions all through Old Hairpin and up the hill.

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Alex Jones went to the outside of Vaughn around McLeans, and I had a good enough run to outbrake both of them, sailing through on the inside and setting my sights on the orange car of Sam Engineer ahead.

As we hit the brakes for the chicane I could see all sorts of nonsense kicking off ahead.

Colin Gregory had spun and was stationary sideways across the track, and Rik Lanyi spun in avoidance, also ending up sideays just as I was turning into the first part.

With no clear route through I scrubbed as much speed as I could before abandoning it altogether and flicking my car to the left, away from the carnage but over the gravel trap and raise ‘sausage’ curb.

After getting a bit airborne I landed facing the right way on the start straight, t back on the power – miraculously, everyone else made survived the spins without any contact, and so everyone continued!

It had shuffled the field a little, and now the orange car ahead was Ed Lowndes, with Sam behind me.

I pulled the same move as the previous lap on Ed, my front right locking slightly but still sticking the car up the inside on the brakes. I held him behind me for the next lap as I tried to get on the back of Wom, but then Ed got a great slipstream to get ahead through the chicane, and Sam followed him through on the next straight.

I now had the two Bears cars of Alex and Richard Waddingham looming in my mirrors so figured I may as well just go for the orange cars instead of worrying about defending.

Sam pushed Ed hard into Redgate, but I knew they’d both left their braking too late and let Sam slide from the inside line, cutting Ed off, and then I cut back on the normal line and was alongside Sam at the top of the hill. Not seeing me, he moved right for the kink, putting me on the grass and forcing me to brake (something he did apologise for afterwards).

I didn’t let it phase me, and got a much better run through Old Hairpin to overtake Sam up the hill, then driving hard to pull out 2 seconds by the next lap, chasing down Wom who was also getting a move on in the distance.

I’d also noticed the infamous black and white flag with the number 18 next to it – I’d been exceeding track limits, so also knew I had to tidy things up and stay well away from the green bits on the other side of the curbs. I knew I’d been taking a few liberties and cutting corners to the maximum, but wasn’t entirely sure if I was being warned for that or my excursion through the gravel trap at chicane.

Suddenly a red car appeared ahead – I could see that Tim Probert had a few bits of his car flapping around that shouldn’t be, so assumed he’d gone off or tangled with someone (I could see after he had a huge ding to his trailing arm). And like a shark I tasted blood in the water!

I hung onto the tail of him for a few laps, almost sticking my McLeans overtake on him before he finally seemed to gather himself together a bit and start to edge away.

By this time I was well clear of anyone behind, so it came as a bit of a surprise when I saw the white Sheane of Colin Gregory closing in. I took Old Hairpin pretty well, thinking I may be able to hold him behind me even though his (ex-Adam MaCaulay) is faster overall, but he flew past me up the hill doing about 20mph faster!

It was crazy! I just threw a hand up and had to watch him disappear – although he almost overcooked it into McLeans! I miss my old scraps with Colin, but will have to find a good bit more to get back on level pegging with him, as he’s on it this year!

And then I saw the chequers, bringing it home 14th overall and 3rd in class behind Wom and Cooper.

The scrutineers pulled me and a few others in to check the chassis was all matching their spec drawings, which was new to me, but again my worries were more with the excess oil from the filler cap. This was likely related to being held for a long time yet again on the grid – occasionally everyone seems to forget that you can’t do that with aircooled cars!

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Race 2

I was confident I could knock at least a second off my lap times, and this time I was starting ahead of Cooper and a few rows back from Wom.

As I chatted to my sister Michelle in the holding area, her boyfriend Mark Russell, who was helping out, noticed a pool of oil in the right side air scoop.

I flipped my mirror to have a look and knew it was over. Glenn had a quick look but there was nothing he could really do with that much time – a push rod tube had sprung a huge leak. I told Michelle to let one of the marshals with a radio know that one of the reserves could jump in to race, and we pushed the car back to the trailer.

I wasn’t even too angry about it (yeah I might have given the steering wheel a quick jab before I got out, but that doesn’t count!) – I think this year we’ve hit such bad luck it really didn’t surprise me!

As it happened the rest of the Vee’s only got a few laps in before a red flag – then with some car mistakingly following a retiring car into the pit lane rather than stopping on the grid for the restart, the race was cancelled. I bitterly thought that the car would have probably lasted long enough for me to finish!

In hindsight we should have just binned the old pushrod tubes and stuck a new set on with the rebuild (they’re fairly cheap), but it’s not something we’ve had before so didn’t know.

Don podium

It’s yet another blow to my championship, but we’re still hanging around in 4th place going into the last round of the year. We debated bothering to go to Snetterton, but other than a 15 minute fix the car is ready, and I still need to see if my improved driving is enough to fight it out with Cooper – even though he is out of reach for the B Class win.

I have a feeling Wom will be a bit handy around Snetterton after many kart laps but then me and Jamie Harrison have scrapped it out there, too, albeit in the 300 track and not the 200. Vaughn Jones has shown very good improvement through this year and so he’ll be in with a chance of tying up a championship podium, too. And will James Harridge return for the last race?

It’s set to be a good one just for the Class B battle, but you can guarantee I’ll also be scrapping it out wheel to wheel with Sam, Ed, Rik and any of a host of others!

And that’s just around me – no doubt there will be more awesome 5 way battles through the whole field, and what’s been an amazing Formula Vee season that’s been turning a lot of heads in the motorsport world.

Come along and see the best UK single seater race series – and don’t forget to drop by and say hi at Snetterton on October 13th.

SJN 2

Silverstone 2018 – My View

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With my rib on it’s way to healing, you can imagine my joy when lower back pain from my motorcycle accident took over! Thankfully, the reclined race seat position actually made it the most comfortable I’ve been since the accident, rather than putting me in pain again.

Having fixed all the gear selection issues after Mondello, and having straightened the trailing arm, I went out to qualify with the car feeling good, just stiffening the dampers slightly on the dry track.

Before entering the holding area, we were subject to a sound check. This is normal, but they kept us waiting for about 10 or 15 minutes with engines running – this is A Very Bad Thing for air cooled cars and it seems to be impossible to get the message across to the marshals that they can’t do this with Vee’s! The two cars ahead of me were cooking and smoking, and I was restlessly checking my mirrors for any signs that I was overheating. This could well have a bearing on what happened next…

Qualifying

I built speed steadily and was feeling very relaxed and in control – the Sheane was taking everything in it’s stride and I was giving a slight lift into Abbey and building up to taking it flat.

Coming down the Hangar Straight, the engine note changed and all the power disappeared just before I lifted off to get o the brakes. I switched off instantly, cursing as I let the car coast all the way back around and into the pit garages.

Fearing a bearing failure and seized engine, a compression test showed the front right cylinder had no pressure at all, and all the rest were down about 50 on what they should be…

With just two hours to go before the race, Glenn Hay did his thing to replace the piston and barrel, hoping that would at least get us back out there. Unfortunately we ran out of time, but were confident that we’d be on the grid for the second race the next morning.

The curse of Silverstone strikes yet again!

By way of consolation, I learnt I’d been running 14th for most of the session, and only dropped to 18th in the final laps, so I knew I was up to speed with the rest of the grid.

Race 1

Staring at my empty grid spot from the top of The Wing, at least I knew I could look forward to watching some great racing. Sam Engineer was the stand-out driver, as he was right on the pace and challenging Andrew Cooper!

I figured if he could do it, I could get into that little scrap myself, and with James Harridge not racing that could still mean a class B win if I could take Cooper!

That was my target set for the next day…

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Race 2

Overnight rain had left the track greasy. Just after I arrived at the circuit, marshals started shouting for us to get ready, as they wanted to send us out an hour early.

I pointed out that a few drivers hadn’t actually arrived yet, and the decision seemed to change to wait until after the church break. I’m too nice, sometimes!

There was a dry line on the warm-up lap, and I made sure to work my tyres hard. Rooting for rain, I’d softened the front anti-roll bar. It should have been taking a gamble if it stayed dry – as it turned out it did stay dry, but the car coped just as well with my compromised settings.

When the red lights came on I was completely focused on them. My whole world was just waiting for those lights to go out.

They did, and I passed six cars into the first turn with probably my best start ever!

John Hughes and Alex Jones snuck past, and Sam Engineer spun ahead, separating the pack as we took avoiding action. I was right on Coopers tail, exactly where I wanted to be, and poised to go for that class win.

I could tell I was a little down on power (we hadn’t done anything about the other cylinders), but I was driving well enough to keep me in touch in the twisty bits, so thought I could still make a move.

As I skittered through The Link onto Hangar Straight for the second time I knew I was in trouble. As I changed up to 4th gear Cooper shot away, and Jamie Harrison simply drove past me.

I saw a cloud of oil smoke in my mirrors as changed back to 3rd, but it hadn’t been the same power loss as in qualifying, so I decided to stay out and see if anything got worse. I didn’t seem to be losing much oil, but Mark Egan had also gone through as I concentrated on whether my engine was about to grenade itself or not.

I locked up the front tyres into the complex as I tried to claw them back in, and was right on Egan’s exhaust until we got back on the power, when he just started edging away and then I caught him up again carrying more speed through Abbey and hanging onto the back of him, Jamie and Cooper as we hit Hanger straight for the third time.

That was then the engine really went off a cliff, and I lost at least 2 seconds on them and Ed Lowndes caught, passed and gapped me, and Colin Gregory who wasn’t even in my mirrors tried to dive up the inside!

I held firm around the outside, sort of good to have last years sparring partner back wheel to wheel, but he still got ahead by half a length before we had to brake for the complex.

I stayed with them again until Hangar, and then had to admit it was futile.

My mirrors were clear (although I knew that wouldn’t last) so I decided to short-shift up to try and save the engine, and limp it through to the finish to pick up whatever points I could. Maybe my speed through the corners could keep me ahead? I knew I should be at least 2 secs a lap quicker if I could improve Stowe, so could have fun trying!

It took a good few more laps for Dave Leniewski to catch me, but then he shot past on Hangar straight in a battle with Richard Waddingham. Again I could stay with them on every other part of the track apart from anything using 4th gear – so I carried on pushing on the bendy stuff in the hope they’d tangle themselves up and I could nip by…

That didn’t happen, and my prayers for a red flag somewhere went unanswered as well, with a horde of white cars growing ever closer in my mirrors, led by Vaughn Jones.

I noticed the smoke increasing as well, now every time I got back on the throttle, and by the last lap I was leaving a trail of smoke all the way around – I still had full oil pressure and hadn’t seen any flags for me, so figured it was just cooking off on the engine.

I crossed the line just holding 18th place overall, and 4th in class, and I don’t think the car had another lap left in it! I switched off well before the end of the lap and coasted into the pit lane.

So a bit of a disaster, but I guess I saved what I could. It’s a shame I couldn’t show what I could do, as I felt I was driving the best I ever have, and the car was handling great.

As I write this we’ve been through all the emotions, from ending our season to mad scientist style planning to keep things going.

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We found the same piston had picked up again, and huge chunks of piston had crumbled away, and at least one more piston and barrel were scrap – but really all of them are done for. A section had also snapped off another piston ring.

After a very long discussion, we decided that if we just put new pistons and barrels on the same could happen again, and in addition we knew bits could well be clattering around inside the engine. Is it worth risking another set for something that could just happen again in qualifying? No.

So the only real option was for us to get the engine out, strip and clean everything, and then hope we have time to get it all done and back in for Donington Park on 2nd September. But then that means if we use new parts we have no chance at all of testing to run them in, and again risk expensive failure.

That meant hunting around to try and scavenge some pistons, and now we’re just in the parts bath and rebuilding race. Then there are problems with the VW Camper, an injector leak on the Freelander, and whatever else the world is throwing at us this week to stop us getting the car on track!

It’ll go right down to the wire, but Glenn says we can do it, so we’ll be there!

We’ve got 2 rounds left for our luck to change, and we’re going to do our best to force that to happen! See you at Donington…

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Irish Vee Festival – my view

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Topgear ieThe format called for three heat races, with every car racing in two heats. Then a ‘Last Chance’ race before the fastest car gridded up for the Grand Final, which would decide if the UK or Irish cars were fastest from almost 50 total entries.

Festival Heat Race 1

There is a bit of a fear amongst the UK Vee racers that some of the Irish are more willing to ‘make contact’ on track. Having taken careful note of their steel wheels my plan before dropping the visor was to play it safe – as soon as my world turns blue irridium, it’s a different story, though!

Starting from a random tenth place, I made up four places before the first corner, and then to my dismay couldn’t get second gear again! I’d tested it on the short slow run to the holding area, but I guess race speeds changed things…

The UK cars definitely had the legs on the 1600cc Irish, but their cars pulled much better out of the corners. This made things very interesting, but without being able to get off the corners at all I was just a sitting duck as they all dived up the inside as I swung wide to keep the speed up.

I dropped steadily back down the order (picking up a few places as Stephen Morrin had a spin with another car getting caught up) until Bill Garner put in his inevitable appearance as we got a three car scrap on the go with Nicholas Mulhall.

With Bill getting bulked behind Mulhall on the start straight, I passed them both into the first turn, but then my tighter line meant the car wouldn’t pick up off cam. They both came past me as I hung onto the back of them.

Bill was in front going into the Esses but Mulhall went for the inside of the right hander, over the curbs in a move that was never going to be on, and tangled wheels with Bill.

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Bill’s car was catapulted up into the air, going almost totally engine over nose and actually having all four wheels off the track in that position momentarily. Somehow he slammed back down the right way up and I was left avoiding them both as Mulhall carried on.

I chased on, both of us putting a wheel off the track and almost heading into the pit wall, and then we weirdly took the chequered flag on the next lap as if we’d won!

With neither of us sure what had happened, we had a very awkward lap where I was sneakily trying to edge closer to Mulhall to take the place, and him realising exactly what I was doing and flooring it away until we got back around to take a definite flag!

That left me in 17th place of 22 runners, but I was really reaching the point of exhaustion by now. I guess not breathing properly was taking its toll…

Festival Heat Race 3

Starting from 16th in this one would make it all much tougher.

The first lap was all a bit rowdy, so I made sure I had space and found I had gears again but the positioning of the lever is very tricky to set up, and wasn’t quite at the sweet spot.

I got caught out behind a car that seemed to be blowing his engine, and hung out a little around Bridgestone, but was still in the mix.

Coming around the first turn I could see dust being kicked up, and then cars were sliding everywhere coming off the left flick onto the straight. The car to my left locked up and got dangerously close (I couldn’t see the huge oil slick at that point), but I had a much bigger concern.

Ahead were cars at all angles, sticking out of a Beano comic-style dust cloud that was across the track and grass from barrier to barrier.

I couldn’t slam my brakes on as I’d have been clattered from behind by everyone, and so stuck my right wheels off the track with left ones on it, guessing what might be a clear line through.

The dust was so thick I couldn’t even see my steering wheel, and then sudden;y there were stationary cars sat both sides of me but I’d made it through!

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Fully expecting a red flag, or at least for the survivors around me to be a little more careful after making it through, I two corners away from the carnage, turning into the Esses, when a car slammed into the side of me.

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Spun onto the grass, I wasn’t happy, keeping the car going and then weaving to make sure I had all my wheels on and nothing was going to fall off. I was dead last.

I came around to the scene of the carnage to see the dust cloud gone and red flags out, but what looked like a bunch of new cars involved. I couldn’t really work out what was going on, but one driver was out of his car and aiding another who was still in his broken wreck in the middle of the track.

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I believe that no red flags were out as the field came around again, and not even an oil flag. The cars that had missed the accident hit the oil full speed and went off, hitting a few of the already stricken cars… Luckily no people were seriously hurt, but a good few cars were….

I’d been hit by Jack Byrne – who at least did come and apologise after. As he said he just lost the front and it wasn’t some mad dive I put it down to a ‘racing incident’ and let it go. But look at where he hit me!

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Could he have aimed for my ribs any better if he’d tried?!? Luckily the impact hadn’t rattled my rib cage and the trailing arm and my air duct had taken the full brunt rather than me.

And though I could have made the restart, the Last Chance, and the Grand Final, I chose to call it a day there. I’d survived without any more damage to my ribs and had pushed my body as far as I could.

It was a shame to have to cut the day early the discomfort was now overriding the fun for me, and I felt I’d more likely be a liability out there than taking the fight to the Irish.

Overall, it was a brilliant weekend at a a great little track that’s far more challenging than it looks. It was awesome meeting some of the Irish legends and the racers I’ve been reading about since before I started racing myself.

I’ll give the race winners and full accolades in my shorter race report on www.racingteamvee.com soon.

I hope I get to race there again some day, and it would be even better if I wasn’t chewing painkillers every few hours to try and get through it!

Massive thanks to all the Irish for having us, and to 750 Motor Club for giving us the opportunity.

Now I just have to get fit ready for Silverstone in August.

Thanks for reading!

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Mondello Park Race 2 – my view

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I was confident going into the second race, pretty sure I had more speed in me even as the day grew hotter.

I was still really learning the track as I went, and had noticed some of the Irish like Jimmy Furlong were taking were totally different in places to what any of us UK guys were doing.

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Race 2

I got away ok, but Steve Ough, two rows ahead had stalled on the grid. I had to make a split second decision and threaded the needle between him and the pit wall armco barrier on full throttle. It’s probably best not to think about how I actually made it – I guess I’ve filtered through tighter gaps on my bike, though!

I was right behind Sam Engineer and Rik Lanyi and held a tight line to follow Sam out of the hairpin.

My Class B rival, and the car leading that class (with James Harridge out with engine problems) was Bill Garner – and he was just up ahead.

For the first time ever I dropped to second gear for Bridgestone, hoping to get more pull up the steep exit and onto the next straight.

A few cars ran through the dust causing everyone to bunch up again as I caught Sam into the final turn, and Rik dived down the inside and didn’t have to drive up and down the grass bank, as if taunting me!

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I suddenly had bigger problems, though, as I was in fourth gear instead of second, the engine chugging away off cam and me going nowhere as I fished around for second gear.

By the time I got any gear at all I was only half way down the pit straight and the entire field had passed me and gone through the first turn. When I finally got there it happened all over again, and I lost even more time trying to find gears…

OK, then.

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I knew I still had power, and third gear worked. I could just about get around in third everywhere, so decided to attack the empty track and at least try and catch someone before the end of the race.

Unfortunately things got worse as I then lost fourth gear, and then couldn’t find third again. I pushed on trying not to change at all, knowing it was pretty much all over…

Surprisingly, I did catch Rik (who had managed to spin at the last turn!) and then caught and pass ed Dave Wallis, who was struggling with the track.

With Sam Engineer limping it home with engine problems I was catching him hand over fist, with Rik also looming in my mirrors – I took at pretty futile last corner dive at Sam but would have needed just one more corner to pick him off before the finish.

This left me in eleventh place overall, bagging another second in Class B – proving it pays to push on even if you have major problems!

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I could see straight away that a nut had come loose on the gear shift assembly, so also knew it was an easy fix. I’d pushed my body about as hard as I could with the actual racing still not hurting my broken rib any more, but with constant pain from whatever I did I was starting to struggle.

However, with the gear problem fixable for the Irish Vee Festival races the next day, and having dropped my lap times by more than two seconds, I decided to enter. I was never going to win anything, but it would be good to put in an appearance to show my support for the Irish lads.

With us missing out on the free BBQ by working a bit late on the car, we headed to the local ‘chipper’ for a very tasty burger, back to see the auction raising around 7000 Euros for Laura Lynn Childrens Hospice, and a few pints with the drivers and crews.

Incidentally, the night before we’d been to the local pub and had some amazing food there, too along with lively banter with racers and locals. And found you CAN get six people into a Nissan Micra hire car if you use the boot.

I’d invested in an inflatable mattress for the night to try and support my ribs, but didn’t really sleep as the slightest movement left me wide awake in agony, but I got enough rest to think I’d be able to have a crack at the Festival…

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Mondello Park Race 1 – my view

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As I flew through the air shouting a rude word at the car driver who’d hit me, my thoughts were already turning to Mondello Park.

My helmet slammed into the road, and then I was trying to pick my battered Honda VTR1000 up with the aid of a couple of people as I realised my ribs were broken. As they moved the bike out of the road I knew that with the race only a week away, I was in trouble.

Fast forward through a week of trying to play down my injuries, a random allergic reaction swelling both eyes shut, not taking pain relief so I didn’t build up a tolerance, and not even being able to climb into the Sheane Formula Vee, I helped Glenn Hay load up with my left arm still as weak as a kitten.

He headed off for the ferry and I had one more day for my body to recover before I was on a flight hours away from having to race.

I turned up the radio on the hired Nissan Micra as I crawled in traffic out of Dublin towards Naas on the N7, amusing the woman behind as I blasted Rick Astley at an uncouth volume because I thought it was funny.

Arriving at Mondello Park I ran up to sign on for the free testing, noting all the other UK Vee’s had driven 6 test sessions already, spoke to Glenn as I donned all my race kit, and dropped myself with only a slight scream into the driving seat, just in time to catch the last session.

I agonisingly tightened the six point harness and found the race seat gave me enough bodily support that I actually could work the steering wheel with just my arm muscles.

I rolled out of the pit lane, acutely aware that if my rib fracture was unstable, with my increased heart rate (around 170bpm at full race pace) and breathing, I’d soon find out if it would puncture my lung…

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The run-up to Mondello had not gone smoothly at all. It seemed like one cost had been piled on the next – ferry prices and a mix-up with offers with some paying £800 (we got it for £260)… Then we found Ireland only has 95 RON petrol, so we would have to pay around 200 Euros more for 99 RON fuel to be delivered to the track… Then we found we all had to wear full fireproof underwear (thanks to Giles Groombridge and James Harridge for helping out with this)… Then we were told the ‘free’ festival races would cost another 100 Euros…

But we were racing at a new track, in a new country, and it was about time we gave some support back to the Irish racers who’ve raced with us in the UK.

Saturday was to be a UK championship round for us, with the Irish Vee’s having their own races for their championship, and then Sunday would be the Irish Vee Festival to raise money for the Laura Lynne Childrens Hospice, and where we would mix it wheel to wheel with the Irish cars in a series of heat races.

Now flash back once more to the test session – I heaved myself out of the car and took a few paces, swallowing down the pain. It was a very tricky circuit, but the important thing was that I’d be able to race. I expected to be at the back of the grid, but not too far off the pace.

Qualifying

I was on brand new tyres, and in even in the heat it was good to finally have some rear grip in the car once again!

I concentrated on trying different lines, watching what everyone else was doing, and trying to decide whether to use second gear at the three tight corners, or to keep it in third.

Of the 19 UK cars registered only 15 would make it to the grid, and predictably I’d qualified in thirteenth place. It’s probably also worth noting that it was all the quick drivers who’d made the trip over, and so I wouldn’t be gifted many places ahead of where I’d normally be!

I stiffened the front anti-roll bar to get some better turn-in for the slow corners, and decided I wasn’t going to enter the Festival races unless I knocked at least two seconds off my lap times.

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Race 1

The lights changed very quickly, and I mildly fluffed the start but didn’t lose out too much.

I locked a front wheel and ran a little deep into the first hairpin, but recovered it well to still pass Sam Engineer on the exit, and suddenly I was looking at Bill Garner and the chance to take second in Class B from one of my usual rivals.

I ran over the edge of the curb on the very next corner and Sam slipped by me again as I twisted my brake bias dial a little more to the rear.

The car felt good and I stayed with Sam, diving to the inside into the first corner on the next lap and pulling a small gap as I concentrated on chasing down Bill.

The races were timed 15 minute sessions, which was great as you knew you were getting full track time, and could actually see the clock counting down by the start line.

I steadily increased the pace for the next few laps, but Sam was still with me and sticking his nose alongside, but I was drawing in my B Class target.

I saw Bill go in hot to Bridgestone, and as he slid wide I was alongside him on the exit and had the line into the Esses, where I knew I was faster.

I stayed in front for the next two laps, but he was soon onto my trick into Bridgestone – braking before the right kink then getting back full on the power for a moment before braking hard for the right hairpin – and was all over the back of me with the orange of Sam still there in the mix, too.

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He got a great run onto the start straight, and although I covered the inside he had enough to sneak by under braking and cut my front off, gently tapping my front wheel with his rear as he went through (I don’t think he even felt it and it didn’t do much but turn my wheel slightly).

I chased on, with so little between our cars we were regularly alongside each other, sliding around and having a great scrap.

I still had a slight advantage through the Esses, and outbraked him into the final hairpin over the very tricky crest and seeing five minutes left on the clock.

I started swinging wide and onto some extra tarmac on the entry to Opel, screaming it in third now down to Bridgestone with the extra speed, but I couldn’t shake Bill, and Sam was only hovering just behind ready to take advantage of the slightest mistake.

Taking a very defensive line into the Esses and staying inside into the first hairpin were enough to hold Bill at bay, although it was slowing us both up. One minute left.

I came out of the last hairpin with relief, but then to my horror saw there was no chequered flag out!

It was the one time I’d stayed to the left, and I swore to myself as he edge up my right hand side down the straight.

We glared at each other as we approached the braking point, neither one wanting to give in.

Sliding into the corner, drifting through it and then kicking the back end out as we got back on the power, we were inches apart but not touching.

We were still locking eyes through Opel, twicthing the steering wheel to correct, and alongside all the way down towards Bridgestone with me on the outside line.

I pushed Bill late into the kink, watching him sail past too late into the braking zone for Bridgestone as I cut back in tight, getting alongside him with my right wheels just kicking up the grass at the edge of the track.

At the Esses he wasn’t suckered into the same move quite so easily, but I still cut back and used my advantage to get a good run down to the final turn, both of us braking impossibly late, but me even later as I dived to the inside as I had done earlier.

This time I locked my right front just slightly, and Bill had to delay his turn in whilst I tried to gather it all up and get my own car turned. I let off the brakes and got straight back onto the power to drift tight up the inside, snatching full opposite lock and staying hard on the throttle.

I was at an obscene angle but I’d got through the corner, but then couldn’t wind off my opposite lock as the car was still rotating, rotating, and then I had a grass bank directly in front of me!

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I floored it in second, blasting up the dusty incline and spinning the rear up again to do a full circle, a flash of orange parting the dust in my mirrors as I spun the car back around, down the bank, smashing my nose cone into the tarmac and still fighting the wheel with my foot in.

As I headed for the line Justin Chatten added insult to injury by just pipping me to the post as well!

I was mad with myself for a few seconds, but then the epic last lap sunk in and I had to hand it to Bill for a great drive and a battle I won’t forget!

That sort of scrap is the whole reason why I race, and when you’re involved in something that close it really doesn’t matter about your overall result, because it feels like a win either way.

As it happened, with James Harridge having engine troubles and dropping out, it turned out that last battle scrap was for the B Class win – so I couldn’t be too unhappy with a crowd entertaining second place!

Better still, my ribs were still in place, and with every painkiller I could get inside me, I just had to wait until Race Two to even the score…

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My View Of Croft – Race 2

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Race 2

We all run Formula Vee with our ignition timing advanced. It’s a way to use all of the potential of higher octane fuels, and I’ve even heard some claim to be running more than 30 degrees advanced – but people in the paddock don’t always tell the truth for that kind of stuff, and even if they are doesn’t mean they’re sticking to the rules to be able to do that…

With the bodged-together engine since our old one died at Croft, we’ve been running less advance than normal. Using his vast experience, and with none of the right equipment, Glenn advanced us a degree or so to tap into a bit more bhp. Very risky, but I was getting slaughtered on the straights.

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The car balance had help up fine, but corner exit grip was a bit iffy in places. The near-bald right rear tyre wasn’t helping, so I dropped the pressure a little on the rear to see if I could get it to dig in a little more without just overheating. A rear anti-roll bar would have been useful here, as a few clicks harder would have been good, but I was reluctant to change our rear damper settings as I suspected it was more the bumps upsetting that aspect of the car, and other drivers were saying the same.

All this aside, I knew everyone else would have made improvements or just learned the track better, so they would all be putting faster lap times in, relatively (technically about a second slower than Saturday, because of the heat).

The lights went out.

My plan was to latch on to Ian Buxton a few rows directly in front of me, and though we both started quickly, by the time I snatched second gear his car was already picking up it’s petticoat and giving it legs over mine.

I’d blasted past Bill Stenning and had Andrew Cooper ahead for second in class B as my target, when Bill Garner appeared on my left.

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I held the inside and let the brakes off to ease up to the inside of Cooper around Hawthorne. He had to concede my better line through the chicane, although it pushed me wide on the exit, where I found air under my right wheels at the end of the curb, before manhandling it all back onto the tarmac.

Watching Cooper in my mirrors, I hammered it into Tower but the tyres didn’t quite have the heat in them to grip. The rears lurched into oversteer mid-corner, which I collected with a flick of opposite lock but this meant I had to delay getting on the loud pedal.

Cooper got the run off the corner and just had his front wheels ahead as we turned into the Jim Clark Esses – normally taken flat out with only one line through.

Cooper was throwing up all kinds of dirt from his outside line, and with him still just ahead, to avoid disaster for the right hand exit, I had to ease off and let him through. I tried to fight back on the inside into Barcroft, but he closed the door.

All this had definitely slowed us down (I hadn’t even changed up to fourth gear!), but luckily Garner had stayed behind (probably expecting us to crash) and I got on the throttle early into Sunny In and let the car slide all the way around onto the next short straight.

I had one last snap at Coopers heels into the hairpin but then he was edging away and I just sat back and tried to see exactly what he was doing, so that I could try and copy it.

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My car felt like I could do anything with it. I was getting pretty out of shape in places, but there was never a moment where I though I might lose it… where I wasn’t fully in control, really. Something had definitely clicked in my head and I think it has a lot to do with confidence.

Although losing Cooper, I was also steadily drawing away from Garner in my mirrors (with a flash of Jamie Harrison before he encountered problems), but wasn’t cruising to maintain the gap as I was enjoying it all too much.

I remember going into Sunny In far too quickly, still trail braking and clearly overcooking it all, and just planting the throttle to bring the rear around as I drifted up to the edge of the curb on the exit as if nothing had happened.

And of course there was lots of opposite lock as I tried to get whatever was left of the tyres to do something out of the hairpin.

I’d been noticing my pit board, for once, too – I think the first time was when Craig Bell must have spun off, and I caught him onto the pit straight. My board read ‘P10’ so I was chuffed with that, and gave Glenn, Mark and Michelle and thumbs up!

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Suddenly the red flags were out as I came into the complex, and I dived into the pit lane pretty sure they wouldn’t bother restarting the race.

Sure enough, the marshals waved me down pit lane and through into the holding area. There was nobody here to stop me, and I was first off the track, so I was a bit paranoid about getting a penalty, but if the gates were all open and nobody was there, surely that couldn’t do me for it?

I rolled back happily to our awning before getting out to shake hands and chat to the other drivers. It’s nice to see the respect we all have for each other after the races, despite how hard we race.

Oh, and I had my first ever trip to a real life podium for coming third in Class B, with a great trophy! And 10th place overall gives me my best ever result to date (not counting non-championship results), and it was earned the hard way rather than through attrition of the front-runners.

There is still loads of work to do before we go international and head to Mondello Park in Ireland in July, and I’m a bit gutted that it’s so long away, as I feel like I’ve unlocked something in me as a driver. I need to get back out there right NOW and try it!

With time to work on the car and address some of our issues, it looks promising for the trip, though – and at last I’m back in the championship with a strong chance of racking up points!

Bring it on!

Croft Podium 2018

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My View of Croft – Race 1

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As I stood at the back of the trailer, being pelted by raindrops bigger than the umbrella I was hoping to shelter beneath, a river of water ran off the ramp and filled my entire ‘waterproof’ shoe within seconds.

It was like starring in a sad French film, so I shrugged, waiting for Glenn to bring back another wire to bypass the right running light – the latest in a chain of disasters that morning.

By the time our woes had been sorted, and we’d changed the battery on the Land Rover which had gone flat as we worked, FIVE HOURS had passed over our expected leaving time.

With our luck this season, it was hard not to get depressed. Plus, as we loaded the Sheane up the night before we saw the top suspension arm was bent. It had taken Glenn every spare moment to repair the damage we knew about from Brands Hatch (bent steering arm joint, holed side panel, side chassis tubes all caved in, bent rear axle tube etc) and so we’d be using the gutless and untouched engine we’d struggled with, only this time on a power circuit.

At least I got my first attempt at towing the car as I drove part of the way on the long trek to Croft in North Yorkshire through Bank Holiday traffic.

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But when we got there, with the shadows drawing longer, it was sunny and dry! And that’s how it stayed for the weekend, as the Midlands suffered horrendous thunderstorms!

I’d found a last-second way to attach the brand new RTV gazebo to the trailer, and so we set about getting that up as Michelle and Mark arrived to help out for the weekend, and things were definitely looking brighter as the sun faded over the fields.

Qualifying

Expecting the car to try to kill me at the first corner, I was surprised to find it felt very balanced. It pulled slightly to the left, but I could live with that if it was willing to play ball in the twisty bits. Glenn had strung it all up and set it as it was, and so we’d pretty much compensated for the bits that were still bent.

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For once, I started pushing a fair bit straight away and got a few slides from the car that were very controllable. Slowly scrubbing memories of last years top speed spin from my mind, and a very tense moment watching Martin Snarey spin in front but managing not to collect me, I qualified 14th and 14th for the races.

Not bad considering I still had absolutely no idea where to brake for a good few of the corners! All I did know was that I’d watched my footage from last year and knew I should be braking later and carrying more speed, well, everywhere.

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Race 1

I stayed out wide on the first turn (memories of getting taken out on the inside last year!) but was on Coopers tail, when Bill Garner slipped up the inside. As soon as we got through the chicane he began easing away on the straight.

I closed in again around Tower and kept it pinned all the way to Sunny In – where Bill had had to brake hard to avoid the backwards me last year! This time I’d mildly locked my front right over the bumps and hung onto his tail as I took a tight line through.

I knew I had a great run but just wasn’t making any impression, and I could see cars all over my mirrors jostling for position behind me. I closed right up again into the hairpin, lighting up my tyres (I’ll come back to that later) as I got the power down and hoping he’d be one of the unlucky ones to miss second gear.

He didn’t, and again was eeking out time on the straight as my lack of power began to get frustrating… As he eased away into the complex again, I was a sitting duck as Jamie Harrison drove up the inside and was out of reach before I even had a chance to put up any fight. I recaught and tussled with him a little but couldn’t make it too much of a scrap.

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As Dave Leniewski got alongside and passed unchallenged as well, I realised I’d have to seriously push it in the bendy bits and see what more I could reach for. A few things started to click in my head as I got the car sliding more, controlling it on the throttle rather than steering, but I still had a long way to go, and Sam Engineer and Mark Egan shuffled me back one more space at a time in the pack.

I knew I was much faster into the first corner and Sunny In than the herd of cars around me, but without the grunt to stick my nose alongside anyone I just couldn’t use it. Even when I got a great exit they’d soon pull it back and drive away again.

And, of course I had to keep it all clean to get some much needed points on the board. “Don’t spin” had been Glenn’s advice, and the lairy slides I was having might have been slightly at odds with that advice.

But I was learning all the time, and enjoying it, and eventually got Egan back (much to the amusement of our respected crews, who were stood watching after Glenn had helped solve a few problems with Egan’s Ray before the race!).

It’s hard to appreciate how difficult it can be to race in a tight pack. When you go for a move on one car, the cars behind you will take advantage as you get blocked, and sweep around you even as the disappointment of your own failed pass sinks in.

Following Sam through the flat-out back section, his car misfired and I had to brake (yes, not even just lift off!) for two crucial corners up to Sunny In, and on Sunny Out, putting myself out of position on the exit. Mark didn’t need an invitation, and drove past me at my weakest point on the run towards the complex.

I tried to find a way past onto the finish straight, but had no chance as I saw the chequered flag being waved up ahead. I’d been shuffled all the way to the back of our pack, but still finished a respectable 16th and 5th in class.

And now I had a few lightbulbs clicking on in my head…

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Brands Hatch – How it looked from my seat (Race 2)

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And then came the crash…

Race 2

My usual start took me forward a few rows and the car felt good, although still lacking power.

I was still in ‘safety’ mode so not trying anything daft, and I’d got myself into a pack of about nine cars, so that took a bit of restraint. I’d taken to dropping to third gear for Paddock as the engine seemed to handle the revs ok, and I was still getting that flat spot in fourth.

Neil Aldridge had an absolutely terrible lap and dropped right from the front of our pack and I had a great run on him into Paddock around the outside.

As I’d committed, Vaughn Jones cut from the outside line to the inside to make a move on the cars ahead, and spun on the inside of the corner just ahead of Neil.

I saw all of this and moved another cars width to the left so that I was right on the edge of the track and Neil had plenty of room to also move left as Vaughn’s spin took him across the track.

Unfortunately Vaughn either clipped Neil or he had to dive left more to avoid him, and I was directly alongside and going past.

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Neil sideswiped me wheel to wheel, causing us both to spin with him now in the gravel.

I could hear his throttle fully open as he slammed into me again, his airborne rear wheel ripping a hole through the aluminium side panel inches from my head, this hard impact sending me off at a tangent across the track to the infield.

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I was on the grass with the engine still running, looking very carefully at my right rear wheel where it felt like the main impact had been.

I knew the front would be bent, so wasn’t paying much attention to it as I eased the car forwards, and it was heading in a straightish line. I cruised up to Druids and was starting to think I could crawl around and pick up points, until I dabbed the brakes and the car slewed left and over the gravel.

I knew it was race over for me, and remembering how they’d red flagged qualifying when Bill Garner pulled off at that exact spot I was eager to get the car to a safe place where they wouldn’t stop the race.

I pointed left towards the marshal post and a group of marshals there were signalling crossing their hands in front of them in the ‘no’ gesture, so I pointed to the right, to the infield of the hairpin to a dirt road that would take me behind the barrier.

I should note that all this time I couldn’t see behind me, as the crest of the road meant all I could see was the top of Paddock Hill, 300+ metres away, so there was no way I could make out any cars. Everything else was hidden in the dip.

Still pointing to the infield, I looked at the marshals who were pointing repeatedly to the spot I was looking to go.

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I gave a jab of throttle and crossed the track and into the refuge area – but as I ran up the curb on the infield I saw the pack stream past me in my mirrors. Close. VERY close.

I was fuming.

You can hear me, dripping with sarcastic rage, say “I don’t think they should have told me to do that!”, before getting out and stropping around a bit, moaning to the spectators about what had just happened.

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A red flag came out for Neil and the marshals came over to help me.

I asked why they’d told me to cross the track when the leaders were that close and they told me they’d been saying “No – don’t go!” and were actually pointing to the approaching pack of cars and not telling me to go…

So we’d simply miscommunicated – not surprising as there are no pre-arranged hand signals between us, and, as demonstrated here, it could all be misinterpreted. I shouldn’t have used the marshals as my eyes when I couldn’t see – they already do a hard enough job and I shouldn’t have assumed we were on the same wave length.

It’s definitely not their fault, and do a brilliant job keeping us safe.

I also realise that this incident will look Very Bad to everyone, and on the TV coverage, so wanted to at least get my side of things across! Another lesson learned, and luckily no harm done.

I’ll do a separate damage report, but we do still hope to make Croft.

Thanks for sticking with this very long write-up!

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Brands Hatch – How it looked from my seat (Race 1)

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Well at least this one will be longer than the Croft report. I will also look at some of the more controversial moments that I may have got myself involved in.

I entered the race at the last second, and at that stage the engine wasn’t actually back together again! We’ve used bits from the new engine that was nearly built up – but that means we have a few mis-matched bits and had to go with a ‘safe’ setting with lower compression and other compromises.

We were up at 4am and made the start of qualifying, though!

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Qualifying

For once it didn’t start raining as the Vee’s lined up to go out – in fact the sun scorched down all weekend.

I had to ease the engine in so was taking it easy to get my mandatory three laps in, and these were also my first laps in the car for six months (I think we can discount two sodden laps at Coombe).

Before I could do that, the session was red flagged with a car pulled off at Druids. I was also noting that a lot of people out there were driving as if it was the last lap of the race, throwing it around both sides of the slower cars and having a whinge when they didn’t disappear – in short, I was waiting for a big accident…

And on the restart it came. Dave Wallis had lost it at Clearways, and with James Clennell left unsighted behind another car, he ploughed into him.

I had the very surreal and almost cartoonish experience of coming around Clearways to see their cars on each side of the track, and two wheels rolling up the centre of the track on their own. Unfortunately I had some camera issues meaning this footage was recorded over – but take my worked for it when I say it was WEIRD to see! And a bit scary…

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I didn’t like the look of Clennells car – a lot of chassis deformity, but thankfully he and Dave were both able to walk away. Dave commented to me that if that was in the sidecar he’d raced last year, that might not have been the case for anyone involved… Which is why I chose to race with four wheels instead of two!

My car had been smoking, and we found a fixable oil leak. The engine seemed ok but not particularly sharp, but I found that getting back on the throttle to turn into Paddock Hill I got nothing. I described it as a flat-spot in the rev range that we can probably attribute to the new heads not being delicately tuned to the length of the carb manifolds.

Solution for the race? Either drop it to third gear (risking high revs), or go into the corner a lot faster in fourth gear.

So only one option, then!

Race 1

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I made a great start and blasted through a few rows. This is where things can get a bit awkward, especially if you’re trying to keep out of trouble, as you’re now right in the thick of the first corner bottleneck, and if you make a great start you can be around cars that will lap much faster.

If you back off too much you get hit by those charging behind you, but if your ‘ambition outweighs your talent’ (as Stoner said) then you can take out half the grid…

I backed off more than I normally would and lost a few places into Druids.

Things settled and I was in about a seven car group, although I was towards the back still feeling things out with my car.

Everyone around me was racing hard but fair, and despite the number of us swapping and changing, I think we all trusted each other not to do anything daft. This is where you get some great racing, and you’re also not slowing each other up.

I let what seemed to be the entire field plus half the Locust grid up the inside of me into Druids as I was focusing a bit too much on keeping it safe.

Then Bill Garner starting dropping all of his oil over the track. My visor (oh, that reminds me you’re still waiting for my report on my anti-fog modifications – stay tuned for that!) was covered and it was like a wake coming out the back of the car.

Rory Melia was ahead of me when Bill overtook him going into Paddock Hill, and I could see as soon as Rory hit the brakes he lost it on the oil. I thought I could ease on the brakes and nip up the inside before he spun, but the instant I touched my brakes the back end swung around like I was on ice.

I stood on the brakes to lock everything up, but I was travelling directly backwards and all I could see in both of my mirrors was Rory directly in my path. I let off the brakes a little to get some steering back and managed to get some angle so I didn’t clatter into him, and as a bonus still stayed out of the gravel trap.

Alex Jones had an interesting view of this as he was directly behind us, and we part to let him through the middle just in time.

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Tom Roper wasn’t quite so lucky, but managed to slam on his brakes to avoid me, now almost stationary in front of him as he came over the blind crest.

I wasn’t getting any lights from my dashboard to restart, so let the car roll down the hill and tried to bump start it, but even this was to no avail. Finally, just as I hit the rise up to Druids I tried the starter again and it fired in a cloud of black smoke, and I blasted off to chase down Vaughn Jones in his Spider.

I instantly felt that all was not well, and I seemed to be losing power all the time, with the engine sounding rougher and rougher by the lap. And I’d already lost a lot of time and many places…

To spice things up, at least one other car was also dumping all their oil onto the track. I remember for a few laps there were three distinct lines of oil through Surtees – the flat-out left hander – and you basically had to pick one of them and see if you could hold on!

I caught Vaughn as I neared Druids, and just caught a glimpse of the leaders right behind me (what happened to the blue flags??). I let Daniel Hands**? and Graham Gant through up the inside, taking a wide line in, and seeing Graham seriously sideways on oil and headed for the tyres (well held, that man!), decided to cut back for a late apex.

Here’s the moment where some say I knocked off the nosecone of another car:

I overtook Vaughn down the Cooper Straight and then still managed to stay stupidly wide, risking putting myself off and losing the position I’d just made to allow another two leaders to have the inside line into Surtees, all of us sliding three wide on the oil.

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I don’t think some of the faster cars realise just how much effort we put into getting out of their way, and we often get sarcastic comments about “not looking in your mirrors”. Sometimes what they actually want is for you to disappear, but we still have to turn into the corner at some point as well, and if you’re so great a driver why do you expect us to be able to use less track than you? Remember that the MSA rules tell you to stick to your normal racing line and it’s up to the car behind to find a safe way past you – imagine if we all just stuck to this? Then we’d see some proper moaning.

Anyway, rant over…

I crossed the line a sorry 20th with the engine sounding awful. Speaking to Glenn we were ready to just put it on the trailer and take it home, rather than risk more engine damage, but he decided to have a look at compression readings.

This was down to what we expected, but a fair bit lower on two cylinders – still not really enough to explain the problem, though, so he checked the valve clearances as a last hope.

We found one had become very tight, and one very loose, so after a quick adjustment that seemed a likely culprit. We headed to the Kentagon for a meal and some banter with the other drivers, and were happy to give it a crack for the next day.

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