Brands Hatch, 980322
Over the previous winter I made a number of modifications to the car. Most of these were safety related, but included stiffer rear springs donated by BSC, much larger rear brakes purchased from BGC and even a fresh engine built by Ken Bell and only fitted the week before the race. I had to run this in doing motorway miles in the evening and torqued down the heads just the day before the race. That I was moving house just five days after this did not help my preparations in any way, but what the heck.
Thanks to my friend Peter for towing the car there with his V8 Land Rover, it saved me having to drive to the circuit in my race car. Thanks also to his wife Maxine, as the race was also on Motherís Day, so taking Peter away for the day was a bit unfair!
To start with, the slicks did not feel good. The trick is to push them hard enough so that they will warm up fairly quickly, then make the most of the extra grip. I was gaining confidence with the new engine, larger brakes and the racing tyres. With only 15 minutes of practice, it was time to see what I could do with the car.
The Delta driver shortly passed Paul and I did the same. I followed the Delta for a few laps before deciding to make a way past, since my car certainly had better performance if only I had the nerve to use it. Nothing for it but to pass the car, whether he was going to help me in this manoeuvre or not. A slight clenching of muscles and a dive to the inside with some light braking and before I knew it I had gone by. I then worked on building up my speed, settling on some braking and turn-in points and trying to find out which lines worked through the corners in my car. Not that much of this really made sense, as it wasnít much more time before the session was over.
On my return to the paddock, I didnít think to check tyre temperatures or pressures until some time later, but just looking at the fronts showed that probably only one third of the tyre width was really working. The remainder of the tyre surface just picked up all the rubber scraps from the track and was no real help in cornering effort. Adding another two or three degrees of negative camber would probably solve that, which is something I would have found out if I had managed some testing beforehand. I was unable to make this change in the paddock so just increased the tyre pressures a bit more in preparation for the afternoons race.
One feature of the Auto Italia races is that they use a handicapping system to start cars in groups with intervals between each. Within each group, a better practice time gets you nearer to the front, but the faster groups of cars start further down the grid. This means that the lower capacity classes have a chance of winning races outright and that the fast cars do have to overtake others in order to take a win. Those cars that did not set a practice time in the correct qualifying session start in the rearmost group. I am not entirely sure of the mechanism the organisers used to determine grouping and grid placings but it somehow resulted in my car being on pole position!
This was somehow due to me not being in the fastest five cars, but being fastest in my class. Either that or they liked the colour scheme!!! Whatever the reason, it just meant that I had more to worry about. To be honest, I was not all that nervous at this time. Well, not until my number one slot on the grid and my novice status gave the TV crew a reason to interview me. After all, how would you feel at your first race, with your car due to start at the front and you being asked for your comments? Not exactly something I had rehearsed beforehand.
Sitting in the car, checking the mirrors to watch the other cars take their places. Then the green flag is waved to indicate all were ready, on with the red lights in the gantry directly ahead of me. A few more seconds, then it is out with the reds and on with the greens. Go! Drop the clutch with quite a few revs on the engine and all I get is masses of wheelspin, hitting the rev limit into the bargain. Damn it, I should have known better. Grabbing second and seeing an Alfa 75 looming very large in my mirrors. Rev limit again in second and quickly into third gear. Coming into the off-camber Paddock Hill bend it seems to be three abreast with the Delta on the outside, me on the inside and the 75 up with us already. Discretion being the better part of valour, I eased through the corner and allowed the 75 past. He did have more speed into the corner and a better line for it and I really did not want to go off on the first bend. Down the dip and up the hill to the hairpin at Druids I am with the Alfa but do not feel brave enough to try for the inside. The power of my car seemed to be enough to keep the Delta at bay, so I put him out of mind and concentrated on the 75 ahead of me.
Cursing my bad start, I was sure that I could go faster than this car but every time I tried to go for the inside with some late braking, self preservation caused me to concede the bend. Just as I was starting to feel brave, a full course warning was flagged, after what I think was three laps. This is indicated by black-and-yellow quartered flags and all cars are then supposed to slow down to about 50mph and drive around within a car length of each other. This continued until the obstruction (a car in the gravel) was cleared from the course and then racing could recommence. All the laps covered under these flags counted towards the result. The main effect that they did have was to remove any time intervals that had been applied in the handicapping used for the start. When the green flag was shown, the fastest cars - which had started at the back - were right on the tails of the rest of the pack. Naturally, they then worked their way through much quicker than they might have otherwise.
Over the remainder of the race, I was passed by some of these cars. In my defence I will claim that I did keep within the leading batch of cars and I also managed to get by the 75 which originally beat me at the start. The final result put me in sixth place, second in class. If you want my excuses than I will say that these others were vastly more experienced than me and had quicker cars too. Well, at least half of that is true.
Really though, this was a good race for me. I had a few slides along the way, a couple of very minor touches and apparently some kind words from the commentator during the race. I managed to keep out of trouble and went fairly quickly. I know that there is more time to be had from the car if I set it up to use the slicks properly. There has got to be more to come from the driver.