Summer was here, the Clio was going well and Ryan and Rob had obtained their National A licenses in time for the only international race on calendar at the wonderfully picturesque Spa-Franchorchamps circuit in Belgium. We set about looking for something more suitable than Rob’s old Mondeo to tow the Clio there and back with. Unfortunately, our budget didn’t quite stretch to a van without holes in the floor but luckily Ryan’s Dad came to the rescue and leant us one for the trip.
We left at about 3am on the Thursday aiming to arrive in time for a little practice and scrutineering, unfortunately the Belgian traffic put pay to that. So, the first chance to drive the circuit would be in Qualifying with new brake pads and tyres all round.
We arrived at about 6am, slightly fractious and set up our “garage” for the weekend amongst the other Tin Toppers. The Simpsons were there with their 206 and Tom Mensley with his Clio was too, so we knew we were in store for some good racing with them. Steve Simpson mentioned that it isn’t really much like it looks on Youtube, so that was our meticulous preparation out of the window! We managed to find a great place to camp for the weekend, right next to the iconic Eau Rouge corner.
Our normal race days pack signing on, scruitineering, qualifying, race briefing, watching a bit of racing, lunch, antagonising the competition and the race itself into one day, but spread over three days made it much more relaxed.
Friday was the busy day; we got through all the official bits and pieces relatively easily and prepared ourselves for qualifying. Rob went out first and took it quite easy to bed in the new pads and get used to the track. Back in a couple of laps later he handed a warmed up car over to Ryan to try and set a time and he put us 28th on a grid of 64.
We were scheduled to race the next day and we would be doing a rolling start. We were surrounded on the grid by an array of cars, we were sitting right behind a Porsche 911 and crucially in-front and to the right of us was Tom Mensley in the other Clio. The Simpson 206 was a bit further up the road. This was probably because they practiced on Thursday.
One surprise we found from qualifying was that the extra track we’d got on the front using some spacers meant we got some fairly severe brake pad knock back. Easily dealt with but a bit alarming the first time it happened! We talked about what we learned beside the track that evening, getting bitten to death as it had turned out we camped next to a swamp with lots of midges in it.
The race started well. With such a long lap there was plenty of time to get everything up to temperature and Rob managed to out brake a couple of people at the end of the Kemmel straight, including Tom, putting us first in class. He pressed on and managed to catch and pass the 206 coming out of Pouhon. Rob admitted he felt he was doing uncharacteristically well and felt a bit nervous about it so was actually quite pleased to see the safety car board come out a couple of laps later. When it went back in, Tom was right behind and managed to get a good drive out of Eau Rouge, passing along the Kemmel straight. Our car’s pretty good in the quicker corners and Rob managed to squeeze back through before the pit stop.
Our pit stop didn’t go as well as we’d practiced. We’d fitted a new seat which is much more snug and fitted some bungee cords to hold the seatbelts out of the way but a bit of fumbling put Ryan out just behind the other Clio. He tried his level best but he started struggling with the clutch meaning he had to nurse it through the gear changes and never managed to catch Tom. A couple more cars came through towards the end meaning we finished 16th overall. We were the 4th Tin Top and 2nd in our class.
After the race we got the tools out to find out what was wrong with the clutch. Some slack had developed at the top of the pedal throw and this put the biting point for the clutch just below the bulkhead.
We split the gearbox from the engine and determined there was nothing wrong there. Eventually we tracked it down to faulty master and slave cylinders. The way we’d installed the slave cylinder (originally it used a cable system) meant that there was a bit of a bending force on the piston and this had caused a very slight weep. Unfortunately the master wasn’t pumping more fluid into the system from the reservoir hence the dead play. We re-organised the slave cylinder which seemed to fix the problem and tested it out behind the paddock with a few quick gear changes (The Belgians are quite liberal about that sort of thing). This satisfied us that it would be fine for the race and we could re-visit it when we got home.
Ryan started Sundays race. Overtaking Tom on his first lap but the clutch problem reared it’s ugly head. There was a very long safety car period as a Ford puma and a Honda S2000 had a fairly serious coming together and waiting for this to end before the pitstop was the wrong strategy. We were the second to last people to swap drivers and went from just behind the safety car to the back of the train.
From here and with only a semblance of a clutch Rob pottered round the last couple of laps enjoying the scenery. He did have one rather scary moment when the safety car went in and the tyres weren’t up to temperature. Going a bit too quick through the fast left hander of Blanchimont he spun about 3 times along the strip of grass by a concrete wall which we’re sure only looks about a meter wide or so. Luckily for him, the barrier’s stayed away and no other cars were collected. We came home 45th in the end.
Overall, we had a nice time despite the lack of trophys. The weather was great and we had a fair few friends and family along to help out and watch. The clutch hydraulics have been re-designed now and are almost back together, this will rule out the same problem occurring in the future. Other commitments rule out Mallory park but we’re focusing on Donington for the next race in September.