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…
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.
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…
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.
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…