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Silverstone International – Rounds 11 & 12

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After a major gearbox rebuild, we arrived at a very cold and damp Silverstone on Saturday morning, knowing we’d have to test the gears in qualifying.

Things were a bit hectic as we got scrutineered and sorted ourselves out ready to make the first session of the day. A lot of the others had been testing the day before or at least arrived the night before.

Not realising quite how wet it was on the track, I kept my dry suspension settings we’d last used at Anglesey, but raised the tyre pressures a few psi. With the gearbox to test out and both races within a few hours of each other, it was never the intention to set the world on fire in qualifying – just to get us in the races safely.

Qualifying

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I was one of the first cars out onto the track, and immediately realised it was extremely slippery, and we should have softened everything on the car right up and gone far higher on tyre pressures! This was also my first time ever on this track in anything but bone dry conditions.

On almost every corner I was locking wheels on the brakes, the back end stepped out mid-corner, and then again when I tried to get on the power.

I counted off the three laps I’d need to qualify, and then tried to get the hammer down.

That lasted a until I got to the second corner, failing to catch a filthy great slide through Farm, but doing an excellent j-turn across the mud and gravel to get pointing the right way before rejoining the track.

A lap or so later I lost it again through another of the fastest corners, doing pretty much a mirror image of the previous spin and j-turn at Stowe.

I was having fun controlling the car out there, but this time – unlike at Croft – I wasn’t very fast to go along with it – only managing 23 and 22 place on the grids for the two races. I’d have preferred to be in the top 20, but with the 38 car entry and with a car that was a right handful, I guess it wasn’t bad!

Even better was that the gearbox now felt perfect, and we wouldn’t have to fine-tune anything!

Race 1

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Moving out of the holding area, we were then held in our grid positions for a long time before being allowed out of track.

Being aircooled, Formula Vee engines do not like this sort of treatment. I have wondered a few times this year if the organisers are aware of aircooled engines and how fast they will cook themselves if left sitting there revving away… Switching off isn’t a great option, either, as we run a total loss system, meaning everything is powered off the tiny battery, and once that runs out we’re going nowhere. It doesn’t take many starts to zap all the juice – and so we’re using starter packs before we go out for a good reason!

Eventually, they let us loose, and I set about warming my tyres and feeling how much grip the now almost-dry track had to offer.

On the grid I held the revs, then after only a slight hesitation as the starter lights went out, I dropped the clutch and powered away.

It was an absolute beast of a start, and I felt the rear tyres right at the edge of traction as I shifted up to second gear, lifting off the power as I found space to get around a stalled car, then up to third gear as we came to the first corner.

I’d already passed around 8 cars as I dived to the inside where nobody else seemed to want to be, trying to stay with the pack, but losing a couple of places to the more powerful cars down the Hanger Straight as I was bulked at Village and hadn’t got back up to speed.

Coming back passed the start line, I was alongside another car and decided to try and go up the inside into Vale with barely a lift off the throttle.

It proved too much for the slightly damp track and cool tyres, and I wasn’t able to catch the spin, slewing sideways across the track at an obscene speed as I looked at the rest of the field shooting towards me out of the fastest corner on the circuit.

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Luckily, although stopped in the middle of the track sideways, I was well off the normal racing line, and slammed it into first gear to get going again right at the back.

Catching the tail end of the pack down the Hanger Straight, red flags were being waved just as my engine started making an uncomfortably familiar sound.

Back at the start line after cruising in, the noise had vanished, and I could see the marshals were gridding people up in their original positions for the restart, which was taking even more time as we sat there stationary.

At least I’d be able to reclaim my 23rd place – although I wasn’t expecting to do more than pull into the pits if my car started making the strange noise again.

As we finally started another green flag lap I could tell I’d lost a fair bit of power, and the car didn’t want to rev. I limped back and pulled into the pit lane to see what Glenn thought was the best course of action.

Finding nothing obvious, he told me to go for it, and although the other cars had left the grid some time before, I chased out onto the track to see what happened.

What happened was the noise came back down Hanger Straight, and then got twice as loud, with the car not revving over 5000rpm. I throttled off and pulled into the pits to retire.

The familiarity of the noise became apparent as we found the cause: two of the engine studs had snapped – much the same as the one at Donington earlier in the year, except these hadn’t shot a hole through the covers.

After the valiant efforts of Glenn Hay and Clive for a few hours, we reluctantly conceeded that we weren’t going to be able to make the grid for the second race. One of the threads was irretrievably stuck in the engine case, and all the drilling and hellicoiling wasn’t shifting it.

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So it was a very expensive weekend, after showing so much promise.

Even more soul-destroying was that this was the first time ever I had a lot of people come down to watch me!  By my sisters, Michelle and Stef, my brother in law Alan, their two beautiful kids Poppy and Calum – and even my fiancée Julie (wearing my old Redditch Arrows #18 US Football shirt!) were making their first ever visit to any race track!  You’ll also notice the new JooVuu sponsor stickers on the car, and RTV decals…

Despite all this, it’s also hard to be too down about it.  My ‘fan club’ seemed to enjoy the excitement of it all, and without a doubt their enthusiasm and jumping around spurred me on a lot!

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I also got to watch some of the brilliant racing that is Formula Vee – with Paul Smith winning both races and the championship (and jumping straight into a Crossle for two more wins – the most total wins ever in a day in the history of the 750 Motor Club!), James Harridge sticking the Maverick on pole and hounding Smith in both races, Adam Macaulay storming through from the very back to challenge for the lead and a great drive from Tom Roper as he got to grips with the TCR Sheane.

We should make Snetterton – where I got an 11th place last year – but it will be a total engine strip and rebuild. We may even put another engine in that was being saved for next season.  The problem with this being whether we’ll be able to do a shake-down test to avoid another expensive weekend of DNS’s…

Wish us luck!

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