After a very successful first race of the season at Silverstone, expectations were high for Brands Hatch. This round would be a unique one too, as the TinTops were to run a split grid due to the fact that Brands can only take 32 cars at any one time and that there were over 40 entrants. So, the Class A cars were to have their own race with Classes B through E in another, in which our humble Clio was to compete.
The weeks leading up to the race were a little different for me as I was out on holiday for a number of weeks and hadn’t seen Rob, Ryan or the car since before the Silverstone race. So, my preparation involved sitting by a pool on the other side of the world watching youtube videos. Nevertheless, we had proven the car was capable at Silverstone, despite some chronic understeer reported by both Rob and Ryan and were excited for the next round.
We attempted to address the understeer as much as we could prior to the Brands race with a little tweeks to the set up. We also looked, yet again, to make some tweaks to the seating position. As you might imagine, with the rotation of drivers that we do it gets difficult to fit all 3 of us in the same seat. For this race, we had decided to fit a dished wheel to help bring all of us to a more comfortable position for our arms. For me, the lanky one, this made a huge difference. I was able to lift the clutch without glancing the back of the wheel with my knee now.
Ryan and I decided that I would take the car out first in both qualifying and the race, so off I went out searching for that perfect lap. This was the first time I’d driven the car since the winter engine build and immediately I felt the difference. The speed down the pit straight was the most apparent; touching 115mph heading in to paddock was quite exciting. After 15 minutes in the car, I’d managed to clock a 56 dead, agonisingly close to the 55s.
We did a practise driver change at speed whilst we had a chance and Ryan went out for the remaining 15 minutes. Unfortunately, Ryan wasn’t able to better the time I’d set, but that had still sat us 2nd on the grid. The pesky black Clio of the Collins boys were just in front of us and a very fruity 1.6 Civic just hundredths of a second behind in 3rd.
When we returned to the pits we noticed the coolant level was below the bottom of the reservoir. A little further investigation and we found that the water pump had been leaking under pressure. This was probably part of the reason the pace of the car had dropped off a little towards the end of Ryan’s run as the engine was overheating a little. We wouldn’t be able to change the pump at the track, so decided that we’d top it back up and pray for the best in the race.
The race was soon upon us and for the very first time we were to sit on the very front row. What we found a little odd was that we would line up in alongside the pole sitter, meaning that the only advantage they had was the inside line. I managed to get off the line pretty well and got in front in to the first corner, something I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have done if I was a couple of meters further back on the grid. Nevertheless, I tried to maintain my speed through paddock hill catching a little slide down the hill on cold tyres. Despite out-braking myself in to the Druids hairpin and getting another slide on the exit of Graham Hill I maintained the lead after the first lap. There had been an off at the first corner and immediately the safety car was out on track.
The safety car came in a few laps later and we were racing once again. I kept a keen eye in the mirror and spotted the Collins Clio have quite a moment coming through Paddock Hill Bend and this had let the Civic through in to 2nd place. By about lap 10, the Civic was right on my tail; I’d been struggling to match the pace we’d shown in qualifying. A few laps of defending and I finally conceded the place when the lighter Civic made a dive for the inside in to Druids.
We were still 1st in class at this point, so it was a case of following the Civic and not getting in to too much trouble. However, it wasn’t going to be that simple. Just after dropping in to 2nd I had seen a driving standards flag, which I had thought was for me. So, I acknowledged it and continued onwards. A few more laps past and I saw another driving standards flag accompanied by a sign signifying that a 5 second stop go penalty needed to be served. I was quite confused, I didn’t think I had been off track, but perhaps I had consistently been making an error….
I entered the pits to serve the penalty, drove straight to the end of the pit lane and stopped. The steward checked the car quickly and then sent me on my way. It had turned out that both the driving standards flag and the penalty had been for another car and that next to the flag was a number that I had not seen. I had made a big error, which had cost us just under 30 seconds, dropping us to 3rd in class and 4th overall.
A few laps later it was time to take to the pits again, but this time for the mandatory driver change. Everything went smoothly and Ryan took over. He came out on track in a bit of dead space, far enough in front of the car behind not to be troubled but far enough behind the car in front that there wasn’t really a chance he would catch them. This was more unlikely as the car was running very hot, due to the aforementioned cooling problems, which meant our race pace was slower than our qualifying pace. To add insult to injury the rear left wheel bearing began to make some horrible noises and by the end of the race it was totally destroyed. Fortunately Ryan brought the car home safely and we remained in the same position.
A bit of a “what could’ve been” race, but the car was still in one piece and we’d got another race under our belts. For the next race, we now need to replace wheel bearings and figure out a solid solution to the cooling issues.