Castle Combe, 16 April 2005
Finally some good news - we went racing! Following on from last week's gearbox failure, we sourced a Fiat Coupe 6 speed gearbox (allegedly stronger than the 5 speed we had been running) from Torque Italia in SE London. Due to a screw-up with the courier company, I had to go over and pick it up myself on Wednesday after work, and then take it back to Keith at Auto Integrale so it could be fitted later in the week. That little trip took me 5.5 hours by the time I got home, just in time for bed.
Sterling work by Auto Integrale saw the gearbox changed, the alternator changed (another component from the donor car which had failed), the burned rear light changed and the car all checked over ready for action.
The good news continued for those of us in Lancia circles, Pete Simpson would also be out to play at Castle Combe, Owen Developments having resolved his turbocharger problems and teased a massive 365 bhp out of the Lancia integrale engine. Or maybe that's not such good news as its a bit more than we have!
So Saturday morning, and for the first time this season I arrived at a race track WITH the race car. No testing yet of course, but the early signs were that the gearchange was now managable unlike the previous one where wrong slotting from 2nd to 1st was all too possible. It was a cold morning but dry as I lined the kappa up in the assembly area near the back of the queue. With little previous experience at Castle Combe (I raced the Alfasud here in 2002) and the way the kappa had behaved so badly over the bumps last year on the Lancia Motor Club track day here, combined with not having driven the car with the current engine, I was more than a little apprehensive. A shame, because with none of the ex-Touring Cars in the series out to play (Pete Challis was having a new clutch fitted, Derek Hale was concentrating on repairing Matt's Vectra) there had to be a chance of a race win going. Not that Tony Soper or Pete Simpson would be easy to beat of course, just the chances were increased.
And I wasn't the only one there early - Pete had the bonnet of the integrale open. His problem was simple, a brake servo hose had come off leaving him with effectively no brakes. Luckily for me, Keith and Simon from Auto Integrale were supporting me, and quickly diagnosed the problem as being gearbox oil escaping through the dipstick tube. A quick trip under the car to clean up all the spilled oil later and all should be fit for the race. I commented on how badly the kappa was behaving and Keith softened off the suspension at both ends. I also noted the rear tyres were still cold so adjusted the rear spoiler to its next position in search of a little downforce. Because we've had no track time, every practice session and race for the time being will be doubling as a test session while we try to understand what works and what doesn't.
Up front, Dave Nixon had put his Rover Tomcat on pole with Tony Soper over a second behind. Stunning performances from Andrew Ludlow and Steve McIntyre saw them both qualify ahead of Pete Simpson.
Lee pulled away at about a second a lap for the next 3 or 4 laps and then it was plain he was gone and the race was lonely. Behind me was Richard Perks' Honda Civic, but a decent distance behind me, close enough to keep me honest but most of the time not close enough to be a major threat. It looked like being a bit of a lonely race, every now and again the Honda appeared a little closer, but come anything resembling a straight, it went backwards again at a rate of knots. At one point it got within 1.5 seconds of me but then my lap times improved dramatically and I dropped it completely. On lap 6 I came up to lap Tim Morgan-Barrett, then over the next few laps slowly picked off more back markers. I was lapped by Tony Soper on lap 12, although I had to move over at the end of the straight to let him through and then found staying with him easy on the run to The Esses, but he was quicker through the bends and slowly pulled away. The next car I could see was one of the Minis that had qualified just ahead of me. Over a couple of laps I gained slowly to the point where I was getting close. I had expected to see blue flags followed by some co-operation, but then realised this was a battle for position. As I moved onto the tail of the Mini at Tower, so Dave Nixon's Tomcat (in second place) came up behind. The marshals waved the blue flags as I exited Bobbies, but when I accelerated after the Mini, I dropped the Tomcat. I was right on the Mini through Camp and a flat out blast down the straight saw us side by side through Folly after which I cleared enough of a gap (the Mini couldn't pull 140mph) to stay wide, lift off and let the Tomcat through. All too soon after this, I saw the chequered flag, just as I was lining up to lap Rhys Bolton's Clio.
The bumps on the circuit had been hard work, the oil pressure was all over the place in the last half of the race, and the howling, presumably from the power steering, was banshee-like. But we made the finish with no other drama other than to find the centre of the front splitter missing. No idea when I lost it, probably at Avon Rise when the car felt like it was grounding hard, although I'm told it was grounding at Camp as well. At least we have points on the table now. Tony Soper had reversed his qualifying position to win the race by 8 seconds from Dave Nixon with Pete Simpson finishing an excellent third. Most drivers improved their lap times over qualifying somewhere in the region of 3-4 seconds, but the kappa lap time had come down by 5.5 seconds courtesy of three quick laps near the end. If I could have got on the pace a little quicker - like during qualifying - I imagine I could have finished at least 3-4 places higher. With more track time, hopefully I can realise the kappa's potential.
Check out some video from the day.
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