The Death Of An Engine

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I was building up speed on the wet and flooded track, but nowhere near the upper ends of the rev range – I was pulling between 5000 and 6000rpm when something metally-sounding happened inches from my head.

The throttle instantly felt light and so I pulled the clutch in and the engine stalled instantly.

It’s kind of hard to know what to listen for when an engine goes bad on you, as you don’t want to be pulling the car up if you’ve just rattled part of your exhaust loose. Keep your foot in when chunks of metal are crashing around the engine will mean a huge bill, however…

I thought that we’d had a main bearing failure, as it reminded me of how it went on my first time ever in the car, and as it turned out the engine had seized solid, so it’s a good job I got the clutch in so fast!

What had happened, however, was the piston had hit an exhaust valve, or the valve had broken.

Either way the valve head had become a part of the piston:

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The valve stem had poked out a perfect cylinder of piston, and then everything had mashed up everything else.

The head had also taken a fair beating, although Glenn still thinks this could be repaired with some welding.

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Checking the conrods everything seems to be ok, and although there was some light scoring on the main bearings, it’s also an old engine so it was probably just normal wear.

With this much metal spread all around the engine (and it will hide in any place it can), the only option is to totally disassemble everything, clean it in a paraffin bath, blow it out with an air gun, and build it back together.

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So what caused it?

We initially thought it was an error with end float settings, but as it’s top end, the more lilkely cause was when I missed 4th gear on the pit straight at Donington. This buzzed it a bit, so we should have probably stripped the engine over Winter – but knowing we’re building a new one to put in mid-season we hoped to nurse it through.

This means we’re butchering a few bits from the new engine, but decided that getting the old one back in for now is our best option.

So it looks like we’ve avoided the big bills, other than time, but it’s still looking very tight for making Brands Hatch this weekend. We’re still hopeful, but we should have our answer within the next 24 hours…

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Castle Combe – Not the best start

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After the usual last minute rush to complete the over-Winter work on the Sheane, we braved the threats of snow by using a Land Rover Freelander as the tow car in place of the trusty VW Camper.

With limited space in the paddock, we were in the overflow car parking, slowly sinking into the cold, wet mud as the rain continued to hammer down.

There are a lot of newcomers to Formula Vee this season, and I find matching names to faces to cars to be a bit of a struggle, so tried my best to get around most of the old and new drivers and crew for a quick chat. Hopefully I’ll get to meet the few stragglers at the next round – if I make it there…

I wasn’t really feeling it, getting up early, travelling to the circuit, messing about in the cold and wet. This seems to be becoming a common thing with me racing. After the long Winter break I was even thinking that maybe I like the idea of racing more than I like the racing itself. I’d even had some thoughts of hypnotherapy to focus me a bit more…

All that went away as I slid into the trusty Sheane, though! I felt relaxed, excited, and really wanted to get out there!

I’m putting my doubts down to a stress reaction, for now, but will be keeping an eye on that.

The car was pulling to the left which is probably due to straightening the front beam a bit more. It wasn’t anything I had to fight with force, but if I took my hands off the wheel it veered off. We were keeping the old shot tyres (especially the balding rear) from last year, as we decided against putting the new ones on just yet. And other than sorting out the oil leak onto the clutch, the tired old engine was still plodding away behind me.

When we filed out of the pit lane it was my first time ever around Castle Combe, which can be quite intimidating, but we were behind the safety car – a rare thing for us to experience but one that I’d welcome regularly for managing races.

Even at greatly reduced speeds the spray following other cars made it very hard to see anything and was getting a bit cold as it drenched my chest.

I’d watched a few onboard videos and found a mod to play the track on Assetto Corsa, but the two didn’t seem to match up entirely – at least I knew which way the track was likely to go.

I was also experimenting with a visor modification that could totally eliminate fogging for me which would be a massive advantage in these conditions – I will do a separate blog about that one soon!

After one lap the safety car disappeared (not that I’d been able to see it since it left the pit lane!), and green flags were waving.

I was behind a few cars who seemed (perhaps rightly?) a bit scared of the conditions, and I would have chosen a much quicker pace if I was on my own.

Just as I decided to get past and set my own pace, Ian Buxton slipped past and I decided if I followed him but went slightly slower I could get a good solid pace to get my standard three laps in, and then see how much more I could push.

I passed a few cars as I felt out the grip levels – not bad really save for a few patches of standing water – not getting anything seriously out of line despite the low tread on my right rear tyre.

Rory Melia appeared out of the spray ahead into Camp – a corner I really wanted to try out hard in the dry – and I had enough closing speed to go around his outside and tentatively power away down the straight.

I eased into fourth gear past the pits and was pulling around 5000rpm when the engine note suddenly changed. I quickly pressed the clutch pedal and the Big Red Light Of Doom glowed up from the dashboard ominously.

I knew it was all over as I coasted to the nearest marshal point on the grass, expecting to be leaving a wake of oil and engine bits behind me. I may have had a little bit of a swear, but if that doesn’t come out on my video then it never happened, and I was calm and collected.

Jumping out of the car I couldn’t see any holes in the engine case or oil pouring out, so figured it to be a bearing failure and engine seizure – much like my first time ever in the car.

I watched the rest of the qualifying dejectedly from under cover of the marshals post, then jumped back in to be towed home on the Wagon Of Shame.

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When replacing the gearbox seals Glenn had found the end float to be 0.12000 which we thought was far too loose, having previously set it at 0.8000. The problem here is that the bearing also has some sideways movement, so you can get a false reading. Set it too tight and it’ll seize up – too loose, and well, no harm done.

It could have been this or it could have been this combined with the old engine, but we’re pretty sure we’ll find a rear main bearing failure. As I switched off so quickly, hopefully this will be fixable if the rest of the internals are intact.

However fixable it is, I’m now conscious that Brands Hatch is only three weeks away, so whether we can make it will depend on Glenn’s day-to-day work and how much time he can spare. We were planning on putting a newly built engine in the car around mid-season, but that’s not quite ready yet so I think we’ll be looking at rebuilding this one.

It’s a blow for my bid to take the B Class championship this year, but the same could happen to everyone else, too, so it’s still early days yet.

James Harridge got pole by 2 seconds and won the first race after a fantastic battle with Ian Jordon, after Ian Buxton fell away from the scrap.

Race 2 was another huge scrap, but this time between Ian Buxton, Craig Pollard and Daniel Hands – with Buxton coming out on top.

I was very interested in watching the new drivers – the stand-out man for me being Richard Lanyi. He had the pressure of driving Paul Smith’s Dominator – possibly the most successful Formula Vee car ever – after amazingly only taking his ARDS test the week before, and flying in from Switzerland so qualifying was his first time ever sitting in the car! Not only did he survive this, but he finished 12th and 10th in the races – I think he’ll definitely be one to watch this year once he gets more seat time.

So rather disappointing as an opening round, but if there’s a positive to take away that very limited time in the car, and with everyone else doing the full session, would have still put me 16th on the grid!

Assuming we do get the car ready, the next one is Brands Hatch – my least favourite circuit. Maybe now is the time to force myself to love the place so I can claw some points back?

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Looking ahead to the 2018 season

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2017 was the most open year of the championship for quite a few years. To pull no punches with that statement, the main reason was Paul Smith leaving Vee after dominating the series for years.

This attracted several former champions and front-runners back to the series Daniel Hands, and inspired the other front-runners like Ben Miloudi, Ian Jordan etc to step up and try to grab their chance.

Undoubtedly, some of the strongest competitors were either a bit rusty, only did part seasons, or had reliability issues – and with eventual winner Ben Miloudi not defending his crown and very strong runners like Adam Macauly moving his attention back to the Irish scene, 2018 will be even more of a free-for-all!

I’d say there are at least eight drivers likely to win the championship – and that’s without the usual surprise of a rookie jumping in at the front or one of the existing drivers stepping up to challenge the front runners.

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I think Class B will be even tougher this year.

James Harridge could be the first to take A and B class together – which is both good and bad.

It’s bad that all us other Class B runners are clearly in a different league to the likes of him so we have no chance of ever beating him on track unless he has problems. This means we don’t get any trophies, but then from his point of view why win one trophy when you can win two?

The good thing is that if this does happen – and if not this year then it’s only a matter of time – it might make the organisers make some changes to make A and B class more distinct, and bring it back to the original ethos of B class being cheaper, having older and less technically advanced cars, and/or more inexperienced drivers.

And I’m not having a whinge here, because if new rules came in that excluded me from B Class I’d be totally fine with that.

As it stands, though, I’m one of the serious contenders in B, and although I’ll be starting off with a less than perfect car there is another engine on the cards along with new tyres and a few other improvements to come later in the year.

Jamie Harrison has moved to the Bears team in a new car and will undoubtedly be the one to beat other than Harridge, and I suspect Andrew Cooper will be very quick again this year (if he’s coming back?), as well as Jack Wilkinson if he does a full season.

Colin Gregory will be in Adam Macaulays car and I doubt that will slow him down too much, but I’m not sure if he’ll run that to B spec or move to Class A.

Ross Price also showed he could mix it at the front in B without much experience, so he’ll be another serious threat.

And the joy of Class B means you’re even more likely to see absolutely anyone, old or new, suddenly click and be up the front!

We have a couple of new tracks to most of us – Castle Coombe to start with and then the Snetterton 200 circuit at the end of the year, and then Mondello Park for all those travelling to Ireland for a chance to try some International craic.

Me? I still hate Brands so will be trying to break out of that this year, and hopefully Silverstone will be kind ot me for the first time ever.

If I have mildly better luck than last year it would be nice, and I will definitely be looking to *puts on a European accent* push very ‘ard.

I know both the car and myself are capable of more, so let’s see if I can unlock it!

Hope to see you all out there, and let’s have a safe, clean but hard fought 2018 season!

 

***On a side note, you may have seen that I’m doing a charity parachute jump on 5th May – please click the link and throw a few ponds my way for this! It’s for a great cause and massive thanks to those of you who have already given!

Sponsor me here for Primrose Hospice!

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What tools do I need?

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A common question when people are looking to start racing in Formula Vee with their own car is “What tools do I need?”

The easy answer to this is “All of them!”, and as with everything, your collection will grow and grow. One problem we’re having at the moment is the weight of getting everything we need to the circuits using an old VW camper van – but I don’t want to digress into transport issues for this one, so back to tools.

There are some essentials that you’ll use a lot, and you need to really get these together to have any sort of chance.

I’ve asked Glenn and a few drivers what they’d say are essentials – but even that isn’t very clear as you’ll need different stuff if you’re doing your own engine/gearbox etc. Here’s a basic list:

  • Spanners from 6mm-20mm
  • Sockets from 10mm-22mm
  • Plug spanner
  • Huge filthy great breaker bar
  • Big socket nut for the flywheel
  • Hammers (ball head, soft head)
  • Philips/Flat head screwdriver
  • Pliers (thin nose and circlip)
  • Wire cutters
  • Tyre pressure gauge and pump (you can borrow these trackside but best to get your own!)
  • Brake bleeding kit
  • Jack (add stands and a quicklifter for luxury)
  • Hacksaw
  • Files (flat, round etc)
  • Feeler guages
  • Duct tape
  • Plastic ties
  • Lock wire
  • Metal clamp rings (for fluid pipe fixings etc)
  • Fibreglass repair kit
  • Fuel can 20l x 2 (you might just get away with one can)
  • A weird length of rubber to shove in the petrol tank to try and see how much you have left
  • Rags/towels (save your old socks and y-fronts!) for cleaning, mopping up and wiping your feet before you get in the car
  • Slave/jump battery
  • Some kind of heat is a massive help, be it something for welding/undoing tight bits or a hairdryer to warm your hands up.
  • Gazebo – you can survive without one, but we’ve broken and bought one, finally!

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You’ll also need the more consumable stuff:

  • Engine oil
  • Gearbox oil
  • Brake fluid
  • Fuel – Tesco and Shell do 99RON petrol at the pump, or race fuel is allowed up to a certain octane rating (see rules)
  • WD40 (the anti-duct tape)
  • Brake pads (we use standard Beetle road pads, as the car is so light they work as well as anything)
  • Brake cleaner spray
  • Gaskets (for everything gaskety – some silicone might also come in handy)

You’ll notice I’m not giving specific oils, as people get all secretive over that, and what people use will vary quite a bit! I know people using DOT3 brake fluid and DOT5.1, but we have no reason to think DOT4 won’t do the job, for example.

When you get to engine oil you’re really into stormy waters – fully synthetic oil is great, but does a 50 year old engine really need it, especially as today’s mineral oil is many times better than the best oil F1 was using back then…? Or do you go middle and get semi-synth, and what weight?

Anyway, this lot should give you a rough idea of how to come in at the cheaper end of things and still make most things easier for you – feel free to add anything you’ve missed, or pick holes in anything I’ve got down here, too!

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Charity parachute jump for Primrose Hospice

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I know many of you often wish I’d jump out of a plane, and now you can help that to happen without incriminating yourselves!

 

On 5th May 2018, I will be doing a tandem skydive to raise money for Primrose Hospice and in memory of my Step-Dad, Vic Dovey, who was taken by cancer in February this year.

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Primrose Hospice cared for Vic in his final weeks and have been a massive help to our families during this time, and have helped with others close to me in the last few years, and so I’ll be proud to raise funds for them, as well as displaying their branding on my racing car again this year.

Unfortunately the timings mean I can’t get in on their group charity skydive on 16th June, so I’ll have to be extra brave and do this on my own!

Despite being a bit of an adrenaline junky, I am actually scared of heights, so you can rest assured that this won’t be easy for me!

 

If you would like to sponsor me for this parachute jump, you can give me cash (I’ll get a form printed out if people prefer to do it this way) or do it online:

 

https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/jamescater18

 

If you can donate £1 it all builds up, so please give what you can, however small.

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Progression

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I am faster than I was.

The only problem is that everyone else has got faster, too!

This can make it feel like you’re not making much progress towards the front of the grid, but does have the bonus that you’re scrapping with the same people, which can be a lot of fun.

People seem to get faster in leaps, almost like unofficial divisions. The way I see it, I have two more of these ‘leaps’ to go until I’m up there, fighting for race wins. Whether I’ll ever actually be able to make those leaps is another matter…

At the moment I’m hanging around the fringes of the top 10, and the next leap will get me fighting for the top 6. At Anglesey I stayed right on the back of the lead chain until the end of the first lap, and then started falling back (or technically they all started getting faster and I couldn’t match the pace). So, driving well and with a bit of luck, I can scrape in the top 10 but that’s about as much as I can hope for.

You may have noticed that I’m being brutally honest with myself, here, and I’m saying that this extra speed is still purely in me.

Sure, the Sheane would benefit from new Ohlins suspension all round, but would that really make me faster? I think I’d find a few tenths of a second, but it wouldn’t be a ‘leap’ forward.

There are a lot of people in Formula Vee who buy a new car expecting it to carry them forward, and in almost every case the only profound effect it has is on their wallet! And that is because whatever car they’re in, the limiting factor is still themselves!

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If you put me in Paul Smith’s all-singing, all-dancing Dominator, I have no illusions about the fact I wouldn’t go much faster. The best I could hope for would be that the new car made me feel more comfortable and confident, which may help me towards making that next ‘leap’. Otherwise I’d be much better off spending that money on a bunch of test days to pound around the track.

These thoughts were backed up at Cadwell, where eventual championship winner Ben Miloudi drove my car for RTV. Despite me thinking I was giving it about as much as the car could do, Ben battled for the lead from his first time out in the car!

I’m certain that if you put any of the front-running Vee drivers in any car from the rest of the field, they would still be front-running drivers – just like if you put anyone else into their cars they’d still be around the same speed as they normally were.

Alex Jones is one driver who has successfully made one of these ‘leaps’ – and he did it after driving a new car. However, this new car probably wasn’t the key. Alex had a load of professional driver coaching and worked really hard off the track to re-focus his efforts as a racer, and I think all of that paid off far more than his new car.

So is coaching the way forward? Quite possibly – but bear in mind you can’t suction cup the instructor to your car if you race single seaters, so that will make learning much tougher than having someone sat next to you. And it’s expensive, relatively. It’s not really an option for me, as I don’t have any spare budget at all, and driver coaches don’t work for free – especially for a new 40 year old driver who’s not expecting to quit his day job and reach Formula 1 in this lifetime.

A cheaper option is to have online coaching on a sim like iRacing. Here you will be coached on everything you need to drive faster, but then of course you’d have to translate that into real life – which is easier said than done when carrying 20mph into a corner can have you upside down and on fire in a gravel trap!

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I know a few drivers in Vee have also used iZone Driver Performance at Silverstone. This seems like a great idea – you basically pay around £160+VAT for 2 hours on a driving simulator. For that you get a full performance report showing your strengths and weaknesses. I haven’t looked into this too much but it does seem like the most viable option, and then no doubt there’d be a blog all about my experience – so watch this space!

The other option is to make sure you listen to what people are saying, read everything you can, and try and put the thought out of your head that you might crash and kill your car!

This year I do intend to push myself a lot harder, so expect me to try and put that into words as I figure out how to get myself further up towards the pointy end of things!

It’s not that long to go, now – I’ll see you out there soon!

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Ban The Grid Girls!

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Today, the motorsport world has been divided as the top level formulas have banned grid girls.

The Brolly Dolly, a staple of just about any televised motorsport, will now no longer be a thing in Formula 1, and this will no doubt cascade throughout all forms of motorsport.

I can kind-of see why the decision has been made, but think the reasoning misses some huge factors, and rather than stopping degradation of these women will only hurt them.

First off I should say a few things. Formula Vee does not have any women on the grid holding umbrellas for us. If there are women around the cars at all, they’re normally driving them, friends and family, or taking pictures. There is no point at our level, as grid girls are purely employed to look good and promote a brand.

Despite how everyone these days tries to be politically correct, sex still sells.

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And let’s face it, standing holding a flag on a grid isn’t exactly grinding on men in a shady club where they’re at risk of being groped.

Are they being objectified? Maybe – but they’re also earning a lot of money and every single one of those women are there through their own choice because they want/love to do it!

They work hard staying fit and taking great pride in their appearance, and although there will always be a few idiots, most of us respect them and what they do.

These grid girls are feminists and feminine – some are mothers and some hold down high level careers away from their modelling work – some begin or boost their careers by doing grid girl work.

It sounds to me like a lot of the people crying to ban grid girls think by doing so all the girls will suddenly become racing drivers, mechanics, team bosses, marshals etc, or whatever they deem to be a ‘more respectable’ job/hobby/position.

They won’t, because there are already women doing all those things, and grid girls just want to be grid girls.

And they should be allowed to do what they want without being shamed for it, and especially not told they can’t do it by someone who isn’t doing it themselves and probably has no place supporting the motorsport industry anyway.

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This is only my opinion, and please feel free to comment whether you agree or disagree – I just feel bad for the girls knowing how excited they get about being given the privilege of appearing on the grid supporting their heros or whatever their reasons for doing it.

By banning grid girls you’re not empowering these women – you’re just putting them out of work and potentially destroying their career.

So who is that helping?

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Looking back at my 2017 season

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It’s only now that I’m looking back through my camera footage (as I make the compilation video) that I realise what a terrible first half of the season I had!

I’ll post my long edit video first for those who don’t want to read my long edit blog:

And I also must thank my sponsors JooVuu for supplying the best action cameras and accessories from a UK company, and Primrose Hospice who have been there and helped several people close to me in the last few years.

So what happened to me in the 2017 Formula Vee championship?

Oulton Park International

OK, so I drove really well at Oulton Park, but as I left the pit lane in qualifying my engine spat out a spark plug with the thread still attached, leaving me trundling around to qualify at the very back. If not for that, I’d have undoubtedly got my first class win, and quite possibly done the double.

I love the track and have done hundreds of track day laps on bikes, so it didn’t really surprise me that I was quick there. When I was on a charge with the recovering Dave Leniewski at the end of race two, we were about two seconds a lap faster than the cars ahead of us – even getting in each others way – and the speed I closed in on Jamie Harrison into the final corner I actually put two wheels onto the grass and was going to put all four off and pass before the braking zone before Common Sense kicked in!

I still think I could have pulled it off, too…

Brands Hatch GP

So from that high of my first ever second place trophy, we went to Brands Hatch for an amazingly expensive and rare go at the full GP circuit.

In terrible conditions with relentless rain, I lost the back on the exit of Paddock Hill in qualifying, correcting the slide no problem… but then the rears hit the outside camber and it launched me into the gravel so fast I got my first taste of how big an accident you can have there. Luckily I stopped before hitting the wall, and Paresh Kumar and Chris Whitehouse both helped massively getting the tonnes of gravel out of EVERYWHERE to get me out with seconds to spare before the start of the race.

With the rain still pouring, I had gear selection issues and started from pit lane, and under a first safety car experience, I found myself trapped behind a struggling Peter Cann who couldn’t catch up to the main pack as his own car was handling like a nightmare. I got in Trouble for pulling alongside him to motion him to catch up – which was a bit harsh, if you ask me!

And then a circlip on the gearbox popped off leaving me to retire, stuck in second gear, anyway…

Race two saw me lose it going into Paddock Hill as I locked the rears (still wet) and put it straight back into the gravel.

It took weeks to strip the car and clean and get all that gravel out. It was terrible.

What I did learn there was that I’d crashed by not pushing. Leaving it in fourth gear for Paddock meant I had less engine braking than when I’d normally drop to third. This meant rather than my rear wheels slowing me and stabilising the car, their momentum pushed the rear on… The physics all make sense in hindsight – and I was only leaving it in fourth because I was trying to keep everything safe and in ‘survival mode’ to just finish in the terrible conditions…

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Croft

I put it all behind me for a sunny Croft, where I always go well but am usually hampered by being unable to get second gear out of the hairpin. Not this time, though, as we had all four definite gears!

After a sensible qualifying I shot off the grid (something I’ve been getting a name for this year!) holding a tight line through the first corner. With 15 cars right up my exhaust pipe, I was then pretty committed to staying inside through turn two, but Mark Egan didn’t see me and cut to the apex through my front left wheel as I got hit from behind trying to brake a little more to avoid the inevitable…

Race over with my first contact-induced DNF. I still say Mark should have left me racing room as I had nowhere else I could possibly go (other than block-passing him), but it was also a ‘racing incident’ so I couldn’t really blame him, either.

And as the marshals pushed me off the track with a snapped steering arm flapping in the breeze, it also started to rain on me. Yeah, thanks.

Going out for the second race I could tell instantly that the car felt all kinds of wrong. The steering wheel wasn’t straight, for a start. A red flag saved me from dropping back further in the field, and I convinced myself I was just being a wuss, and the car was fine.

On the restart I ignored the handling issues and gave it everything, closing down Colin Gregory at the fastest part of the circuit… but as the steering wheel wasn’t straight, when I straightened the car up ready to brake into Sunny In, I’d actually put my left rear onto the grass just as I hit the brakes hard.

This was an amazingly fast spin that wasn’t entirely unpleasant as I mowed the grass to the inside of the track (seriously, I had grass get inside my damned helmet, somehow!?), but then realised I was going to go back across the track. Bill Garner did well to avoid me, but I’d blown it and was down to the back of the field again.

I scrabbled a few places back in the couple of laps we had, but it wasn’t great. Another lesson: If you think the car is doing weird scary stuff it’s probably not just in your head.

Anglesey Coastal

With Glenn Hay working his magic, the car was in top shape as we went to Wales.

And it did all feel good – I was in tune with the car, and drove the best I ever have done, under the sun, by the sea.

It was also some of the most entertaining racing as I diced first with Martin Snarey and then with Colin Gregory, and beating both to the flag.

I stayed right with the lead pack for the whole first lap in the seconds race, which was another first for me, but although still driving well was unable to keep Jamie Harrison behind me in the closing laps, as I missed a gear as we diced and then just couldn’t catch him again!

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Silverstone International

Another track where I’d normally go well, but in qualifying a faulty seal was leaking oil onto the clutch, resulting in much slippage. Some hasty bodge repairs got me out for the first race, but sadly didn’t hold and I had to crawl around to make the finish.

This did mean I had to try and over compensate in the corners, resulting in my most awesome video moment to date – a huge filthy great drift through Vale performed almost to perfection!

I had a brilliant fight at the end of the race with Martin Snarey, swapping places several times in the closing laps, and getting a great cut-back on the last corner, only to be foiled again as I was unable to get any power down and he beat me by just under a tenth of a second at the line!

A late night from Glenn, with help from James Harridge, Jake Hockley and Michelle Berry meant I started the second race with a fresh clutch. This sorted out the worst of the problems, but some slight clutch slip remained for the rest of the year – something we aim to fix by fitting stronger clutch springs.

The race went well, and I showed a fair pace and was running third in class for most of the race, after brief dices with Colin Gregory, Bill Stenning and Mark Lawton. All the time in my mirrors I was watching Jamie Harrison charging ever-closer, and thinking I’d covered the line well enough I slowed a little too much into Abbey, only to have him slide to the outside, blocking my exit and getting through in a terrific sneaky move, and knocking me off the B class podium by a tenth of a second!

Rockingham ISSL

Opting to save our tired car and not do the practice session meant I was at a disadvantage going into qualifying, but at this stage saving the car was more important, and I knew the track from bike trackdays. Or thought I did – except we were doing a slightly different layout!

The race was pretty terrible with everyone terrified of hitting the wall in the downpour. Everyone spun and went off everywhere, but I found myself ahead of Pete Belsey and Paul Taylor and doing ok – only to run very wide on the last lap and have to spin around to get back on the track. That was a bit disappointing as it would have been a great result, but at least I hadn’t hit the wall!

Race 2 was cancelled as even the safety car didn’t like the conditions out there – I would have still been happy to go out and have a crack, though!

Donington Park National

Surprisingly, despite the number of disasters over the season, it turned out I was a mere 1 point behind second in the B Class championship going into the last round. Jamie Harrison just had to make it to the grid in one race to win the title, which left me and Colin Gregory fighting for the rest of the podium.

My left rear tyre was down to the bone, the clutch slipping on every upshift, and the engine just very tired and down on power – but I decided that I could still do it!

After a safe qualifying session the first race was in heavy rain, and in the first few laps a few cars dumped oil all over the racing line. I opted to play it safe with cars going off everywhere, and thanks to Colin having a nightmare start ending on the grass and all sorts, I did just enough to stay ahead of him with no dramas.

Race 2 was dry, and it was calculated that on drop-scoring I was actually still 1 point behind Colin in the championship – so had to beat him again!

Nothing else out there mattered more than my mirrors after I’d made another good start and got ahead of him. I was managing my race nicely behind Mark Egan and Andrew Cooper, but then he caught me when I missed a gear shift, and went through along with Ross Price.

Kicking myself as they pulled into the distance, I was ok with nursing the car home to a safe 3rd place… but then something came burning up inside me and I decided I had to win!

I clawed Ross and Colin back in, and then we traded places in an epic battle – we were all fighting very hard and giving nothing away, but also all safe around each other. A proper battle.

As I lunged to the front of them I missed my braking into Clearways and as I managed to hold it all on the track they both came back through, but then almost touched wheels into the chicane. I’d stayed just far enough back to stay out of trouble but be ready to pounce, and out dragged them both up the pit straight.

Ross had one last attack into Redgate but had to go in far too hot, and I just let him sail by and then cut back under him on the exit. I got my head down and pushed hard, dropping them both off to a safe distance, braking early and softly into the final chicane to make sure I came out on top.

It felt like one of the greatest achievements of my life!

I realise it was only for 2nd place in a B class championship, but in my opinion if you don’t get excited by that then what are you even doing it for?

Then of course the bubble burst and I became the first driver of the weekend to get a time penalty for passing under yellows (despite many being called up and mine not giving me any kind of advantage) – which dropped me back so far in the race I lost everything to finish only 4th in the championship. Still not bad, but it does take the shine off things.

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From 2nd to 4th via The Naughty Step…

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Here is the full video of the yellow flag violation:

So, yeah, I had no idea I’d done anything wrong, as I either didn’t see the yellow flag (the only thing I cared about in that race was the white car behind me) or thought the marshals further on had the green flag.

Bear in mind the camera is much higher than my eye line, and so my vision was very much blocked by the cars between me and the incident (ironically, the stationary car causing the yellow was Jamie Harrison who had just won the B class championship!).

I wasn’t intending to violate the yellow flag conditions, the safety of marshals and other competitors was in no way compromised, and I later dropped four or five places down the order so didn’t gain any advantage.

I do not in any way dispute that I overtook under a yellow flag – only the fact that the imposed penalty took me from second in the championship down to fourth in the final race deciding the season.

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Called to the Clerk of the Course

My name was called after the race to go see the Clerk of the Course, and to take my video footage with me – which I did very promptly, breaking off celebrations and went straight there. I still had no idea I’d done anything wrong, and thought they were checking my footage to try to catch someone else doing something (I didn’t think I’d be able to help here, either).

I was told what I’d done after the Clerk had spoken to two other drivers, and we reviewed the footage. She said she had three choices of penalty for the offence:

  1. Exclusion from the race.

  2. A 10 second time penalty.

  3. Points on my race licence.

I pleaded for her to take the third option – especially as several other Vee drivers had been caught overtaking under yellows in the previous race, and NONE of them had been given any kind of penalty at all.

She was firm but friendly, and argued that the consequences to my championship were not her consideration. Fair enough but COME ONE!

I had no choice but to sign the document to say I’d done it.

I was told that I could appeal the decision on one of three grounds if I paid the fee (about £240!!!!!!!) in cash within 30 minutes:

  1. That the offence had never happened.

  2. That the penalty applied was too harsh or unfair.

  3. Another option that I don’t recall.

Of course my grounds for appeal would be that the penalty was far too harsh as it would decide my championship position, and lose me a podium trophy.

In the circumstances, I would be effectively paying £240 to make sure I held onto second in the championship. After all, nobody would be so heartless as to turn down my appeal on those gorunds, would they?

750 Motor Club were supposed to be there for us drivers, to keep us happy, and would make a sensible and compassionate decision, right?

Appealing the penalty to the stewards

I told the race organisers that I would be appealing, and that stopped the clock as I ran to the paddock to try to raise the cash – but someone had let it slip that they could take payment by card if they had to. I should hope so too! Who carries any cash these days – let alone that much?

It had already been around 2 hours after the race finish, so most were packed up and heading home. Tim Probert handed me my two third place trophies as I went past, but I gave one back telling him it was in dispute. Then I went back up to the Stewards with Glenn, Michelle, and James Harridge and chatted with them about my options and what was happening.

I had to write out a statement on my appeal form, in which I made it clear with my first point that I was appealing the penalty, but the Stewards were already pressuring me to hurry up as they wanted to leave for the day.

I waited while they sat in another room considering it, and reviewing my footage.

There were two stewards from 750 Motor Club, one head steward from the MSA, and an observer there.

They called me in and questioned me about my appeal, asking me to watch my footage again.

I thought this was a bit strange but did it, and they told me repeatedly that I’d overtaken under a yellow flag.

I already knew this, and had acknowledged that in my previous meeting with the Clerk of the Course.

The 750 Steward kept telling me I’d overtaken under a yellow flag and would not budge an inch or listen to anything I said. I seemed to be getting through more to the MSA steward, but every time I seemed to be persuading him to my side of things the 750 steward would chime in again telling me I’d overtaken under yellow.

He kept repeating that their recommendation for overtaking under yellows was to exclude me. When I asked why there were three options available to them he refused to answer or discuss it.

Again they kept going over the aspects of my yellow flag violation, speaking about the safety issue (oh, where the marshals were on the opposite side of the track, well off the track, and behind other cars??) and insisting that I had overtaken before the green flag post.

It was like I was arguing with a bunch of people that the sky was blue, but they just kept telling me that the grass was green.

The whole atmosphere was extremely hostile, with all of them against little old me. I stayed polite and calm, but couldn’t help feeling they would just bully me down on anything I said. You are technically allowed to take in a representative, but are told in no uncertain terms that this is discouraged and the stewards don’t like it.

You can call in other drivers as witnesses – which I was asked if I wanted to do – but why would I when I was arguing the PENALTY??!

They asked me to leave the room as they discussed more, and I knew I had no chance at all – and the 750 Motor Club Steward was the main one properly gunning for me. Thanks for the support.

I was called back in and they told me that their decision would stand, at which point I again tried to tell them that they were deciding the championship with a penalty, and THAT was what I didn’t want to happen!

I was threatened with total exclusion again for raising my point, so decided to just shut up.

They told me to go back and wait outside and then they would be out soon with the forms to sign.

“Can’t you post them to me?” I asked, having been there for around three hours.

“No, you need to sign to say that you agree with our decision.”

I didn’t thank them as I left, but also resisted slamming the door on my way out. There was no chance I was giving them another second of my time, so told Glenn, James and Michelle that I was leaving now and wasn’t going to say I agreed with their decision.

I was left with the feeling that the appeal process is totally pointless and just a money-making scheme. I felt that the club at least would have cared that deciding the final race of the season with a penalty (that didn’t even need to be applied!) doesn’t look great for the club, and none of the drivers would appreciate it, either!

I have some pride shining through the bitterness over it all as I got the decision through the post a week or so later, when I read the “Driver left” bit where my signature should have been.

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I just have to remind myself that they can’t take away the fact that I did it on track – I won that second place in the championship with a great drive after a head-to-head scrap!

I have also filed a formal complaint with the MSA about how my appeal wasn’t even heard or discussed by the stewards in that meeting, which they have failed to respond to in their stated 10 days. I chased it up a few weeks ago and was told that it will be looked at, and they apologised for not sending an acknowledgement.

We’ll see how that goes – I’m guessing absolutely nowhere. Either way it won’t change the result – but maybe people standing up a bit will get them to change things in the future?

I’m debating uploading my full complaint letter to them, but will hold on and see what they respond with, first. So far it’s been over a month…

Donington Park – Race 2

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Race 2

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With the track now bone dry and warm, it was set to be a very different second race.

I talked over my tactics with Glenn Hay – I was going to go for it, but if Colin Gregory was showing he was much faster, I’d just let him go and make sure I kept a safe finish to secure third place in the B Class championship.

I stiffened the front anti-roll bar back to dry settings, but left the dampers soft in the hope it would help me find the last of the grip from the worn rear tyre.

I felt relaxed but totally focused as we took the grid. I was in 18th place with Colin just to my right, his second best qualifying time 0.04 seconds faster.

Andrew Cooper was directly in front of me on the grid with Jack Wilkinson a few rows ahead – I was expecting Jack to disappear but thought I might be closer to Cooper in this one. Not that it really mattered, as all I had to to do was beat the white Sheane of Colin.

With the championship won and pressure off, I thought Jamie Harrison might come through strongly, but I knew I’d been faster than him here before.

I slipped a fingertip under my visor to wipe away my condensed breath one final time, as I inhaled twice deeply to oxygenate my blood and slow my pounding heart.

The lights went out and the Sheane shot forward instantly. I slammed it into second gear thinking I should give drag racing a go, and then Cooper was drifting across the track to cover the outside line as I pushed the lever forward into third gear.

I had to feather the throttle slightly with nowhere to go before we turned into Redgate, but we’d all got away well and I could see I had space behind to take a decent line – Colin was still behind but I had a few car lengths plus Phil Waterhouse slotting between us.

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Cold tyres down the Craner curves was always a hairy moment, and as I opted for the slow-in, fast-out line into Old Hairpin Colin passed Waterhouse with two wheels on the grass around the outside.

I was totally focused on the red and white Challenger of Cooper as he went through the final chicane all over Mark Egan’s Ray, and as Egan checked up on the exit all I saw was clear track to the left and had a run down the straight.

I still didn’t think I’d have the speed to stay ahead of Cooper, but was alongside Egan into Redgate, settling behind him with Cooper a few lengths behind me as I realised I was second in class and holding my own!

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I put a tyre half over the curb as we came back onto the pit straight, watching as Cooper picked up a tow off me and Egan pulled out another car length over me.

I snapped the gear lever into fourth as fast as I could… and got a big bag of nothing!

Cooper shot past me with inches to spare, followed by Colin. I finally got fourth on the third attempt as Ross Price also blasted by.

I’d lost momentum, but tried to hold onto them, knowing I was strong up the hill out of Old Hairpin.

Colin and Ross were side by side into McLeans, but Ross had to lift as he went wide. Taking the corner well I took advantage and passed him, but Colin was still a fair few lengths ahead, drifting a wide line around Coppice.

I love Coppice. The apex is blind and it takes balls to commit to it over the blind crest. I nailed it and was close enough to catch a slipstream down the back straight.

I took a dive up Colin’s inside at Redgate from a long way back, but never got close enough to force the issue as he closed the door – then I nearly jumped out of my skin as Ross went around the outside of me! Nice sneaky move!

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This time he got the better of Colin into McLeans, but ran straight over the curb on the exit, showering me in mud (seriously, there was a splatter right over my left eyeball on my visor for the rest of the race!), and we both passed before Ross was back on the tarmac.

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I closed right up into the chicane, but Colin had his head down and started to pull away. Ross slid up the inside into Old Hairpin and I thought he might be able to drag me back to Colin. Christian Goller also came through on a crazy charge from the back of the grid (he’s going to be seriously quick next year), but I wasn’t concerned as his Challenger is A Class. I tried to come back at him into the chicane but backed out rather than taking him and potentially Ross out as well.

What was concerning me was watching them all drop me as Christian passed the other two B Class cars and I failed to claw my way back to them.

By the end of the lap, Colin had at least four or five seconds over me and I was starting to think what could have been as I checked the empty track in my mirrors.

I looked for Glenn and my sister Michelle on the pit wall as I passed, settling in to bring it home for third in the championship… and it was about then that I thought:

“I can’t have that.”

Screw the slipping clutch and screw the balding tyres – I wanted this! I might never be in this position again, so what sort of racing driver was I if I didn’t try and do it?

I’d been consciously using every inch of the track and the curbs all weekend, and hitting my lines almost robotically. I cleared my mind and went for it, and by the end of the lap was totally in the zone.

Ross and Colin started getting more scrappy ahead, and when Ross again ran over the curb exiting Old Hairpin I blasted past up the hill.

I carried my momentum, taking seconds off Colin through McLeans and Coppice, even making enough to pull out of his tow into the chicane to force him into a defensive line.

He held me off down through Craner, but I was all over him up the hill faking a move to the outside braking into McLeans that he had to cover, going in too hot. I simply cut back and drove past him on the exit!

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Thinking I was clever, I forgot to brake into Coppice, flying straight over the crest and heading directly towards the fence. And I still didn’t want to scrub off too much speed and let him back through!

I threw the car hard right, the back end stepping out over the curb, but caught it instantly with a twitch of opposite lock.

But I was wide, and saw a flash of white and then black as Colin went through along with Ross!

My refusal to scrub off speed had left me close enough to catch their slipstream onto the straight, and as they went side by side into the chicane I waited to take advantage of the contact…

By some miracle they kept their wheels apart, but they’d lost speed and I hadn’t. I held the left apex a split second longer to bring me to the left hand side of the track on the exit, and had already passed Ross and was alongside Colin before he could move across to block me.

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Silverstone and Anglesey had taught me about over-defending, and instead I just drove, taking a mid-track entry into the final chicane to discourage Ross from making a dive as he’d got past Colin and was in my tow,

He still had my tow down the pit straight, pulling out to go inside me into Redgate – but I was never going to defend that move! I braked as late as I dared, trailbraking to the apex as Ross overshot the line in front of me, and I cut back again on the apex carrying full speed.

They had no chance after that. I set my fastest lap of the race even though I braked early into the chicane knowing I was safe.

I punched the air over the line as the realisation hit me that I’d done it!

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I was screaming in the car all the way around the lap, and it was an amazing feeling knowing I’d not only done it, but came back through after dropping back. I’d won it fair and square, and there’s no finer way to feel alive!

People were cheering me! I jumped out of the car and it was all hugs and handshakes, and excited chatter as I shook hands with Colin and Ross (who’d finished between us).

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I hugged my sister and even Glenn (a very rare moment for me!) knowing I’d done it and got second in the championship for RTV!

I knew I was third in class, so also had another trophy but didn’t even care where I was overall (17th), as I’d done everything I had to do.

I’d been told to take my camera footage to the Clerk of the Course, so did so happily, knowing I’d had a clean race and hadn’t seen anyone else do anything dodgy, so wouldn’t really be able to help much.

And then they took it all away…

When I’d overtaken Cooper at the end of the first lap there had been a yellow flag out for a stationary car on the grass on the right hand side (I couldn’t see anything as my view was blocked by other cars). Even though the safety risks were minimal, and I hadn’t gained an advantage (having dropped back four places within a lap), they decided to ruin the championship and decide the final race and championship results with a 10 second penalty against me rather than just give me points on my licence.

This dropped me to sixth in class, meaning I’d lose second in the championship… and third… and would end up fourth.

I paid £250 to appeal the penalty (not the reason for it) which was all a farce where the stewards refused to even discuss the penalty, and while all this was going on I missed the awards ceremony and everything.

I’m trying not to let this bitter ending ruin it for me but it’s hard.

I know I did it. I did it fair and square on the track, and everyone else knows I did it.

And that’s what I’m doing it for – to prove myself on the track.

Whatever the stewards say they can’t take that away from me.

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You can view the full onboard video here: