Rockingham, 8 October 2005
Fresh from last week's run-out at Rockingham, we approached the last round of the series with optimism. The kappa had run well, and Owen Developments had sent over a new engine map with increased mid-range boost (don't you just love modern technology) as we had run so conservative last week. The weather forecast for the day suggested rain at some time, as we went out to qualify it was very overcast and there had been the occasional spot of rain, but it stayed dry throughout the session.
Last week's run out helped with most of the circuit, but today we were using the Historic circuit which differed where we left the oval and cut out a section of the infield, so lap times should be at least 10-15 seconds quicker than last week.
Qualifying was going well, there were 4 touring cars out for this race, and a Honda Civic that looked like it might be a fifth. I went past a lot of people although Julian Brown hassled me all round the first lap while I warmed the tyres, and of course I got passed by a couple of the tourers. I seemed to be staying with the Cosworth Sierra (being driven this time by Mark Adams) although when the times came out, they would show that to be a fallacy.
I chased Ian Kirk around for best part of a lap before he finally spun out in front of me leaving the oval, and late on in the session I was surprised to see Zak coming up in the MG ZR but as soon as I reached one of the straight bits, I never saw him again and was as surprised to see he had qualified right behind me on the grid, just a 35/1000ths behind. Wasn't too comfortable with the thought of a lightweight car barrelling into the chicane from the start, but hopefully I'd be well gone by then.
When I got back to the paddock, I was told I'd been running in 5th or 6th. By the time the results came out, I was down to 8th, but Peter Challis had already loaded up and left, his Primera stricken with clutch problems. That left three of us in Class A, so a potential trophy now beckoned, and of course there was still the need to finish the race to take 3rd in Class A for the season as well.
Lee Scott had the misfortune to kill his engine in qualifying, and the rest of the paddock were treated to the sight of Lee and his team changing the engine, 3 guys standing on the front wings with rope lifting it out the top. Terrible shame it was all in vain and he didn't make the race - still not sure whether I'm more impressed that he tried to change the engine, or the fact that he carries a spare! On the basis that I carry what I can change, the Nyssa Racing spares kit currently consists a pair of wheels/tyres and a set of spark plugs.
The first attempt at the start was a mess, I guess this could have been foreseen as both Derek Palmer (Jnr) and Simon Blanckley had not raced with us before. For some reason Rockingham marshals lined us up wrong on the grid anyway, I was alongside Zak on row 5 where I should have been alongside Jason Holmes in row 4 - but after the start was aborted, it didn't matter and we were correctly lined up for the second attempt.
First time round, as the pace car peeled into the pits, the guys at the front accelerated rather than hold station waiting for the lights to go out. There was little choice but to follow suit, and Zak had already gone too - as I went under the gantry the lights were still showing red as one of the lead cars had taken out a big lead by the time it reached the start line. I figured the marshals would soon be waving red flags to confirm, so after some uncertainty, continued at race speed (in 5th place) until the flags came out as we were about to rejoin the oval section. We slowed but as I came round to the start line, there was no-one there! Presumably the four up front had gone into the pitlane. This delayed things for a while as the grid was re-formed, correctly this time. We lost Simon Blanckley's Honda Accord who went off the grid into the pits and was never seen again.
One advantage of the extra start was I was able to try a different technique and found on the second rolling lap that the kappa would pull the tighter bends in third, and if I floored the accelerator pre-apex, would be on full boost at just the right moment. This felt like it would prove quicker than screaming round in second gear, fighting the wheelspin and trying to judge when to change up, differentiating between engine revs due to wheelspin and engine revs due to road speed. I was feeling even more optimistic of a good result and hoping to give Jason a good run.
A much more disciplined start this time round, I took advantage of the width of the track to sit outside the car in front (Anthony Allitt's Honda Civic) and as the lights went out I was able to accelerate past him, closing fast on the Cosworth Sierra. Jason Holmes managed to get inside me round turn 1 and as we approached the end of the oval section, I was in 5th place with the 5 of us having broken clear.
Braking for the chicane, I stayed out wide following the guys in front, but just as I went to turn in, I saw Zak making a lunge down the inside from way too far back. I was forced to run wide, was about to drive through the bollards on the outer edge of the chicane when Ian Kirk involuntarily tapped me (I didn't know this until he told me afterwards) and next thing I know, I smashed into the side of Richard Buckley's Rover Tomcat, sending him spinning off sideways. I could see the bonnet of the kappa had lifted and was loose on the front off side corner, but went to carry on racing. But smoke was pouring from the off side, I didn't want to take the chance that it was oil, and risk yet another wrecked engine, so pulled off the track and commenced with the swearing routine that is de rigueur under such circumstances. Bye bye championship trophy!
Once out of the car I could see the front didn't look too clever, the front bumper had been pushed downwards under the wheels, it was this that was causing the smoke. I had no idea how hard I had hit Richard at this point, next lap I saw him driving by at speed with an apparently undamaged car. Wasn't until I saw his car in the paddock afterwards I realised I had hit him broadside on the driver's side. I'm not impressed with Zak's manoeuvre, perhaps some people need reminding that while you can't win a race on the first corner, you can lose it there. He was so far back as to be ridiculous, and as I'd already shown in qualifying, I could leave him at will along any of the straight parts of the circuit!
Derek Palmer went on to win the race at the cruise his 3 second qualifying advantage suggested, from Chris Boon (Class C Honda Accord) and Mark Adams (Sierra Cosworth). Jason got 4th but not enough to clear him of Tony Soper in the championship, and Richard Buckley (out in his Tomcat rather than the Integra) was 5th.
The front of the kappa could be healthier, the composite panels survived better than the metal underneath. The corner of the carbon fibre bonnet was bent over but folded back straight and would be usable - I have another so will keep it as a spare. The front wings are knocked out of shape, might spring back when I take them off, but I've ordered a new pair from Ian. I threw the front bumper away although most of the damage was done trying to remove it from under the front wheels so I could get on the breakdown truck. But whole front of car has moved about 3" over to the right and front crossmember is twisted a little, so Auto Integrale will have a little straightening job to do!
So that's it for the season. We didn't get the third in class we had hoped for, and we will need the winter break to get the kappa back together again. We will be back, stronger, faster and hopefully "reliable-er"!
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Saloons championship and standings so far.
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