Silverstone, 30 May 2004

Picture taken at Silverstone courtesy of Steve Jones

Fresh from Oulton Park, a priority list was drawn up. The kappa needs more power, less weight and a couple of tyres. First things first, the kappa was taken back to Auto Integrale for a checkover and to attend to options one and two. Nothing had broken off at Oulton Park, all fluid levels were still good. I had been pointed to a Dutch site showing that simply fitting the larger 45mm intake pipes from the 164 Cloverleaf/166/GTA models would give an instant 20 bhp lift - and at only 194 direct from my local Alfa Romeo dealer, probably the cheapest 20 bhp I will ever buy.

The weight problem - even allowing for probably 30kgs of fuel on board when weighed up at Oulton Park, 1237 kgs was not good. Auto Integrale spent time looking over the car to see what could easily be removed, we had covered most bases during the build, smallest door mirrors money could buy, carbon fibre bonnet, that kind of thing. The spare wheel well in the boot floor looked promising and was removed - and then found to not be particularly heavy after all. The air conditioning compressor looks a much better bet, an idler pulley has been ordered from Gatwick Alfa so we can retain the existing drive belt - but unfortunately this has yet to arrive. Other small gains have been identified but these will be attended due in due course.

So tyres - one slick had been destroyed at Oulton Park, a large cut on the inside edge did that, culminating in an exciting moment braking for Druids. Another of the Avon tyres looked very suspect, displaying what appeared to resemble cleavage, with a sunken band round the middle of the tyre. I decided to buy two new tyres, and keep the strange one as an emergency spare. And that's where tyre hell started. Running 7.5"x17" rims restricted the range of tyres available to me, but Avon listed the 8.5/23.3x17 which gave an overall diameter of 600mm, and kept the gearing vaguely sensible (118mph at 6500 in 4th). But Avon had only 2 tyres of this size left in stock, in a super soft hill climb compound - the kappa would probably wreck those on the out lap. A look at the BMTR web site showed they were doing a special offer on 220/620x17 Avon tyres which would fit my wheels. And they were cheap - if 90/tyre can be called cheap. A call to BMTR elicited the bad news, they only had two. Their best suggestion was to run the slightly smaller 210/620x17 Avon on the rear - but of course these were not included in their special offer, full retail was 207/tyre! Not funny.

Next stop, Dunlop. They were very helpful, first was the bad news that I could not use the ex-BTCC 235/610x17 tyres being bandied about cheaply without running to 8.5" width wheels. They came up with a suggestion of 210/620x17, the first bit of good news being that these were made for a Vectra one-make race series, and that the one-make discount still applied. 132/tyre is not cheap, but better than 207 - if anyone out there has a line of suitable part worn or new slicks at better prices, mail me!

A further chat with the nice man from Dunlop got me some more valuable information - he suggested I should run 3.5-4 degrees of camber at the front, just what we had tried at Brands Hatch, before reverting to 1.5 degrees at Oulton. Then it all made sense - the crossply Avons don't like camber, the new radials thrive on it - so the camber was reset to 3.5 degrees. The car is riding 10mm higher now, to drop it back down will mean lifting the engine, or buying a job lot of driveshafts - and the gearing has now lengthened out to 122 mph at 6500 rpm in 4th, and 147 in 5th if I can find a long enough runway.

Picture taken at Silverstone courtesy of Steve Jones

And so to Silverstone - I was looking forward to this race for a variety of reasons. I like the circuit, I've always gone well here, also had a bunch of cars to play with whether overtaking loads (finished 19/30) in the Y10 back in 2000, or finishing last in 2002 in the Sud, but as part of a five car chain for the whole race. Silverstone is also nice and close to home, just under the hour cross country, combine that with a late start, and I didn't even have to get up early. But finally, having now run the kappa, this time with a little more power, and a circuit I know well, I was hopeful of moving up the grid amongst the Road Saloon guys that race along with us. I had been 2 seconds adrift of 6 places further up the grid at Oulton, and hoped here I could make most of that up.

A bright sunny day and our best turn out so far this year - 21 cars spread over the two series. I got out to the assembly area for qualifying nice and early, but got caught by surprise as we suddenly got called out on track without the customary warning. I sat in the queue still doing up my belts, helmet and gloves, finally out on track and immediately Pete Simpson blasted past in Brooklands - clearly on a mission to get a quick lap in early. I started reacquainting myself with the circuit, 2 years since I've been here. I was disappointed to spot Julian Brown's Fiat X1/9 parked up just after Becketts - he had been having electrical problems all morning and had burnt out a fuse.

It got a little confusing for me, running through Copse in 4th just didn't work, seemed so much better in 3rd. At first I was dismayed until I realised that the kappa is a lot higher geared that I am used to, and I was changing into 4th on the exit at 90mph. I had a bit of a battle with Terry di Francesco in his Ford Escort - this is reputed to have 200bhp and clearly weighs in ounces, but has no grip whatsoever. Every corner it was dancing around, clearly Terry was having fun, but he was also holding me up in the corners. It took a few laps for me to reel him in, by now we were picking off a number of the Road Saloons, and I was getting the feeling that I wasn't going to be so far down the grid as usual. Finally I closed right up on Terry through the complex and held the inside line in Copse. He went wide as we went in together, but then he had to catch the tail and my exit speed was greater allowing me finally to make the break up the straight to Becketts.

I made a clean break from Terry, could see that far from being evenly matched, I was a bit quicker. Having a clear track I could start experimenting. The complex was a problem, normally I am really good through here, and although the kappa turned in nicely enough, there was little traction until very late out of Brooklands. Becketts on the other hand was a revelation, the line that worked best for me was straight-lining the kink deep into the inside kerb, braking from about 120mph and then hooking up the inside kerb all the way round, running out nice and wide on the exit to the straight. But nowhere on the circuit did I find 5th gear, at three separate points I hit 6500 in 4th just as it was time to brake - I either need a lot more power or even lower gearing. Late in the session, I thought I saw the water temperature rising, as it reached 112 I decided to pull in - this coincided with having just broken free of Terry, so I went for one quick lap (which did turn out to be my fastest one) and then slowed down and returned to the pitlane. Later in the day I realised that I just have not got used to the digital dash display unit yet - 112 was the oil temperature!

Back into the paddock and a pleasant surprise when the qualifying times came out. I started looking nearer the bottom of the list and kept looking further up, and further up still. I had qualified in 8th/21 runners, my best ever in relation to the grid size. All but two of the Road Saloon cars had been dispatched, I had not see Lee Scott's Fiesta XR2i which had narrowly beaten me, but was told by onlookers that he was very entertaining round bends. A couple of seconds further ahead was Simon Taylor's Honda Civic Vtec - he had gained on me from nowhere just as I slowed at the end of qualifying, but it was plain he had caught up while I was still trying. At the front of the grid, the now familiar pairing of the Nissan Primeras of Hale and Challis, with Phil Libby's Sapphire 3rd and a sterling effort from Pete Simpson to put his Integrale Evo ahead of Tony Soper on the grid. Behind me, 13 cars - 13 cars that would be barrelling into Copse behind me on the first lap, no chance of feeling my way into the race then.

Julian got his car fixed during the break until the race, so we were a full compliment of 21 cars for the race. As we went round the complex on the rolling lap, the pace car peeled into the pitlane, and the Primeras up front went for it, everyone followed suit, a lot earlier than I expected. I was at least in second gear this time so maintained my position in the race down to Copse. Being on the outside of the track was never going to be a good thing, I ended up running a bit wide during the first corner melee and Jim Mepham who had been on the row behind me nosed alongside round the inside of Copse. Further up front, Pete Simpson had got off to a good start but was very sideways through Copse. Jim and I had a long drag down towards Becketts where I finally managed to get past him only for Terry to come steaming down the inside and force me out wide.

Coming up towards the complex I was lining up for a late overtake on Terry when I saw the yellow flags being waved - Peter Challis, winner of the first two races, had seemingly spun at Luffield and had to wait until all the cars had come through before rejoining in last place. Getting past Terry was going to take another lap - I gained loads braking late and tight into Becketts and by the complex had closed right up, being treating to another display of the dancing Escort, but this compromised Terry's exit speed, I chased him down the straight and then held a tighter line through Copse to regain 8th place. That same lap, the Challis Primera came steaming through on a mission that was to take it back into 2nd place before expiring late in the race.

Picture taken at Silverstone courtesy of Mary Harvey

The next few laps were quiet - no-one in front, no-one behind, a test of discipline to keep the foot in and the lap times up to scratch. At the start of lap 8 I had my first excitement for a while rounding Copse - which has a blind entry - and finding a bollard in the middle of the track, directly on the line. Not sure who came through previously to me, but suspect it was Lee Scott's Fiesta that may have clipped it, either way I chose to swerve round it rather than hit it full on. By the following lap it had either been hit or blown off the line. At the start of lap nine, I was lapped for the first time, by the Hale Primera going into Copse. A lap later, Primera number two came past going into Becketts, Phil Libby caught me at the far end of the next straight - so at least the expected top three were in place. But would Tony or Pete be fourth? Two or three more lonely laps, and then I could see an orange Fiesta in the distance, and I appeared to be closing. My first thought was it was Lee Scott (who had qualified one place ahead of me), maybe he had a problem and was slowing? But as I reeled it in, I realised it was the similar looking car of Alan Duly. And within a lap I has caught and passed him going into Luffield - I had lapped someone! A lap later and it was another Fiesta being lapped, this time Kieran Fribbens as we went across the start line. Later that lap I found out who was lying fourth, Tony Soper - who came past me going into the complex. I was quite surprised to be held up through the complex, the GTV certainly looked like it was trying, so although I thought the kappa was struggling through their, it was actually better than the lighter GTV. I found out later that Pete Simpson had held off Tony for many laps until he started to run low of fuel - this cost him 2 or 3 seconds per lap after that and Tony soon reeled him in.

I was back on the case of mopping up back-markers, next was the Peugeot 205 GTi of Tim Hyde, but as I closed down on him into the complex, the yellow flags were out again. Terry had gone off into the gravel while paying more attention to the blue flag while being lapped than to where he should be braking! This delayed my move on Tim until exiting Brooklands, already I could see my next prey ahead. I caught Rhys Bolton's Clio going into Becketts. Shortly after this I was brought back to Earth as the Hale Primera lapped me for the second time. I lapped one more car before the end of the race - Jim Mepham's Golf which had slowed later in the race. On the last lap I was gaining fast on Stephen Hollis' 205GTi, I needed one more lap to catch him, but at the same time I was watching Pete Simpson closing in from behind, he needed one more lap to catch me! So I was quite relieved to see the chequered flag. Coming back into the pitlane at the end of the race, I saw the Challis Primera parked up and realised it may not have finished. The results showed indeed that it had not finished, and promoted me to 7th from 21 starters and 19 finishers. Julian managed to fix his X1/9 to last the race, although his 12th place was at the cost of possible engine and/or turbocharger damage.

So Class A and race spoils to Derek Hale's Primera, and only fastest lap points to Peter Challis. Julian remains in second place in the championship despite having twice run as sole entrant in three races. Stephen Hollis picked up his first win with Terry's visit to the kitty litter. We now have 26 points from a 4th and 5th in class which leaves us level 5th with Peter Simpson, two Lancias together, and without an urgent injection of power, the last time we shall be this close. Late in the race I saw that the kappa left a white smokescreen leaving Becketts, all dash readings seemed OK and the engine seemed OK, but it will be back to Auto Integrale for a full check over. While there we will hopefully remove some more weight, the air conditioning compressor will go as soon as the idler pulley arrives, and Keith and Jim have identified many small weight savings which hopefully will all add up. There will be an investigation into whether we can gain more power before the next race - we will not be competing at Anglesey - at Brands Hatch in July, where we look forward to another good turnout, and another good race.

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