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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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