Once again, we had decided to avoid camping on site by travelling up to the track in the morning, it would be less than a 2 hour drive from our base, so not too difficult. Today was to be remembered as the day where nothing would go right for our poor Rob.
The first thing to go wrong was that he remembered half way up the M6 that the tickets to get into the circuit were still in his sitting room. That was £60 he could have put to better use! Never mind, we got there, unloaded, ran through the standard checks, torqueing up the wheels, applying rainex and anti-fog to the windscreen and windows etc. Scrutineering went through without a hitch and we poked around a couple of the other cars (plus a quick team photo!).
There was a new Clio in the class this time; Tom Mensley, who had previously been racing with his brother Paul in one of the quick Ford Focus’ had branched out and bought his own car. It hadn’t had much preparation yet. The door cards only came out the night before, but he had a fair amount of power, massive brakes and Tom is quite handy at driving. So he was definitely one to watch out for.
We had two back to back qualifying sessions since we had entered the Sports vs Saloons race here as well. I needed two more signatures to be eligible to enter the Birkett relay at the end of the year, so we really needed to be classified in both races. Tin Tops qualifying was first and the new wishbone bushes had made a noticeable difference. The car felt a bit more eager and gave a bit more confidence. Rob went first, bedded in the brakes and did a couple of quicker laps before handing over to me. The plan was that Rob would do a longer stint in the second session to learn the track a bit more.
I put in a 2:02.1 which was enough for 12th on the grid and second in class behind the number 10 Wallwork Clio. This was a little disappointing as without the black Colins Clio there we would have hoped to have a bit of a margin on the other Clios. We still had a good chance of a class win and should place a bit higher up in the final standings since we tend do a little better in the race, typically making up a few places in the pit stop. I stayed in the car for the Sports vs Saloons qualifying and managed to better the time from the previous qualifying, putting us 16th with a 2:01.6 behind 13 Caterhams, a turbo charged MX5 and a BMW M3.
Rob went out next and didn’t manage many laps before he had his second mishap of the day. Coming up behind a slow Civic, he went a bit too quickly into Lodge corner and ran wide on the exit. Rather than doing the sensible thing and allowing the car to go off and ease it back onto the track, he wrenched it right and attempting to correct the slide, span in the other direction hitting the steel barrier on the left. There isn’t a lot of runoff and the damp grass didn’t do a lot to slow him down. The datalogger showed a 34mph impact but it was a glancing blow, certainly not a head on impact. Even so it pulled the bumper off, only hanging on by a thread and there was a bit of damage to the chassis. Also, not to mention Ryan’s newly made airbox. He was only yards from the pits, so managed to drive back in. The marshals informed Rob that he had to head to the medical centre for a quick check over whilst the rest of us got to work straightening the car out.
The bumper was back on and a makeshift grill made from the side of the plastic crate we carry the spare fluids in was cable tied in. The alignment was checked, no problems there and we were patched up ready to take to the the grid sitting alongside the no. 10 Clio. Rob was starting and his two previous attempts have been pretty lousy with lots of wheel spin and a couple of lost places, so more practise was needed. He did better this time using a few less revs. Despite still looking at the tacho when the lights went out, he made it into the first corner in front of the other Clio and by the end of the first lap was up to 8th.
The field started to spread out a bit quite early on, the cars in front of us starting pulling away but Rob wasn’t under much pressure from behind, so we were in a reasonable position if he could manage not to make any mistakes until the pit stop. That’s when he made his third mistake and this one cost us the most….around 40 seconds in fact. We had looked at the data after qualifying and I had told Rob that I was using third gear into the 2nd chicane (Hislop’s) so he thought he’d give it a go in the race, in the slippy conditions. This seemed to put him out of sequence and, having carried a little more speed than the previous lap, span off sailing a fair way into the infield and losing 16 places. He returned to the track and had quite a lot of fun making back nine of those places before handing over to me. Unfortunately, the error meant that we weren’t going to come home with another trophy if the other Clios had no problems.
We made another place up in the pits and coming out, we were sitting in 11th overall, 4th in class. I got straight on it and could see the 3rd in class No. 10 Clio of Mark Wallwork in the distance. After 2 laps at around 3 seconds quicker than Mark, I was soon on his rear bumper. Seeing that the track had a little more grip than he first thought, his pace seemed to pick up and it became particularly difficult to pass. As we continued to lap at a decent pace, we caught a few slower vehicles. This opened up the gap and I stuck behind Mark until the chequered flag. We came home in 10th overall after a retirement ahead of us, still 4th in class. No trophy this time. The 4 Clios were very evenly matched, with all 4 fastest laps being within 2 tenths of each other. It would’ve been a particularly tight race if we’d not had the little spin early on. Well done to Paul and Craig achieving their first class win. Here’s the Tin Tops race in full:
I started the second race and after a bit of dicing made it in front of the M3 and one of the Caterhams that started in front of us and started to pull out a gap. I came into the pits and this time through no falt of Rob’s, the handle came off when we tried to slide the seat forward. There were a couple of swear words but we managed to get the seat adjusted and Rob set off to finish the race. With a bit more caution, Rob put in some good laps, battling nicely with an MX-5 to bring the car home safely in 10th place overall.
Not the results we were hoping for going into the weekend but we all had a nice time and now all have the signatures we need. The car is still just about in one piece; there’s a bit of tidying up to do to make it pretty again though. We’ll be testing the day before the Snetterton race to try and optimise the set-up a bit, especially now the competition has got a bit stiffer. So, we look forward again to the next round and hope to end the season on a high.