Silverstone I, 14 May 2006
Silverstone, the race I was looking forwards to. The National circuit is basically 3 straights linked by a fast Corner (Copse), a slow corner (Becketts) and the Brooklands/Luffield complex. Two of those corners I normally do well, so just to get to grips with Copse and the kappa should do well.
Except - the entry for this round was heavily biased towards Class A. Eleven of us entered (it was 12 until Matt Speakman pulled out) meant someone was in danger of scoring zero points. There were seven of the Super Tourer cars entered, along with Martin Byford's Renault Clio Cup, Tony Soper's Alfa GTV6 and new boy Naz in the Vauxhall Calibra Turbo. And lets not forget the guys in Classes B and C, its not like I've got them beaten that easily yet either.
But first the kappa needing checking over, after Croix it had simply been wheeled into my garage and left. Keith at Auto Integrale decided that although the front brake pads had survived Croix, they really should be changed. We found that the rear pads had finally worn down, they've only been in the car for 2.5 years after all, so these were changed as well. The brake lights were fixed (blown fuse) so they actually worked, and the oil breather tank emptied as it was full and had been spraying all under the car (won't go rusty then), specifically over the nearside rear wheel.
Once again, we were in the garages, so with Silverstone being close to home, I took the kappa down on Saturday evening and left it there ready for the morning. With nothing much to do, I was sitting around all morning until the scrutineer threw a curve ball. Where was the rear tow point? Good question - it used to be there, remember having a yellow arrow taped onto the rear bumper, but looking underneath gave no clues! There was a bracket on the cross member that would suffice, but we will have to sort a proper tow point before the next race. Can't even see where it went looking at all my old photos, but we didn't take that many from the rear.
We nearly got caught out with the schedule running ahead of time, but were lined up for qualifying in the assembly area somewhere around 12 cars back. Most of those in front were taking the outlap fairly steady so I passed quite a few of them in the hope of finding some clear track by the time the kappa was ready to push. This was the kappa's first visit to Silverstone since the old V6 days in 2004 and I was keen to see what sort of improvement would show on what is basically a power circuit. My previous best lap here was 1:13.005, pretty well 7 seconds adrift of the times Tony could manage in his Alfa GTV6, so it was going to need to be a big improvement to get on terms with him.
By my fourth lap, I had better my previous best, down into the 1:11s. Lap 5 made it into the 1:10s and lap 6 into the 1:09s to be followed by a string of 1:10s until my penultimate lap where I set my fastest time, 1:09.435. Someway short of what I wanted, but a decent improvement on 2004. Ian Craig had looked quick in his Class B BMW M3, I shaded him by just 2/10ths, and Simon Taylor proved a surprise package in his new Honda Civic Type R. He caught me up during the latter stages of qualifying and got past as I let one of the Tourers by. No problem I thought, have him down the straight. That was the plan anyway, but with a reasonable exit from Copse, I was still only alongside the Civic at the kink in the straight before Becketts, and only just got past again. The kappa is running reasonable power at the moment, but is very down on torque having last been mapped with a fried turbo - must get a remap asap. Predictably Simon was faster than me over a lap, a full 1.3 seconds faster in 8th to my 9th. 9th was a welcome surprise, then I realised that neither Derek Hale (starter) or Alex Schooledge (clutch) had made it out on track.
Looking back on the grid, Jason Holmes was 4/10ths behind Ian Craig, with Stuart Jefcoate, Richard Buckley, Jim Mepham and Matt Hale all within 4/10ths (and hence 1 second from me) of Jason. Clearly a decent start was going to be needed if I wanted a top ten finish. I had to expect the two non-starting Tourers to get past which meant really I needed to beat Simon Taylor! I reckoned I needed to beat Simon to Becketts if I was to have any chance.
But first - a problem! Just when you start to get complacent, taking reliability as accepted. I hadn't noticed anything from the driver's seat, but other competitors mentioned an oil spray. Keith was in support today, so had a quick look over and found the cam cover had cracked and was leaking oil. OK, not exactly the sort of show-stopper we came accustomed to last year, but a shock none the less. Team Pongo donated the silicon sealant while we hoped for the best. Keith reckoned we had lost a litre of oil during the 15 minute session, so if it carried on leaking at the same rate, we not have much left - unless we got black flagged first!
Five rows back, I almost forgot you can barely see the start lights until I rounded Woodcote. The lights went a lot earlier than at Croix, and we were off. Not a bad start per se, was on the inside going into Copse and a bit close to Martin Byford in front, with Ian Craig going round the outside. Simon Taylor was fractionally in front but over to the left, as he moved towards the right I got through the gap to gain the place going into Becketts - just as I had hoped for. Going up the back straight I was gaining on Martin Byford but not quite enough to make a move into Brooklands, instead Ian Craig came sweeping through inside and made the pass on me.
Lap two - caught and past Ian down towards Becketts, we went round side by side before I managed to get the power down and make a break. But already 3 seconds behind Martin - he's gone. More pressing for me were Ian and Simon. With Ian in front of Simon I was fairly happy, I knew Simon could go a lot quicker. By the end of the third lap, I'd pulled out a 1.5 second gap over Ian but Simon was all over him, it was just a matter of time. Sure enough, on lap 4 with Derek Hale storming past (he started at the back in his Primera), Simon got past Ian and started hunting me down. I kept the gap steady at a little over a second for a couple of gaps until we (surprisingly) came up to lap Alex Schooledge. He too had started at the back, and unknown to me at the time, had spun on lap 4 ruining his tyres in the process. As I came round Luffield preparing to make a move on Alex, the back of the kappa stepped right out. Simon did well not to collect a sideways kappa but this allowed him through. Never did feel quite so confident at Luffield after that during the race, was never sure whether I slid on something, had picked up oil from Nigel Ainge's blowup, or whether self inflicted even. I got past Alex and by the end of lap 7 had pulled out a comfortable 5 second gap back to Ian.
Lap twelve - going down to Becketts and the blue flags were waving. A quick look in the mirror was followed by me diving left and standing on the brakes to make it VERY clear I was getting out of the way. Peter Challis had Alvin Powell's Mondeo climbing all over him - apparently they were swapping places all race long. This, and locking up at the end of the straight, too busy watching Alvin taking Peter, and just staying on track cost me a good 3 seconds compared to my previous laps, and laps 2-6 had all been under my qualifying time. I must learn to qualify better! This dropped my now 6 second advantage over Ian down to 3.5. I got back on the case and back down to a string of 1:09s again, pulling about half a second per lap back on Ian building up a gap again to finish 4.5 seconds clear in 9th place.
Up front, Alvin Powell got the better of Peter Challis by 4/10ths, with Simon Blanckley 6 seconds further back in third. Derek Hale's storming drive from the back ended with 4th place after Richard Hawken pulled out on lap 12. Derek provided my "moment" of the race, having lapped me down the start-finish straight I decided to follow him through Copse running sooooo very wide trying to match the Honda's cornering speed. Must learn not to do that!
Other moments of note during the race - catching Naz a lap before his retirement going across the grass at Copse, that's taking moving over to be lapped to an extreme! Pongo (Simon Jackson's Vauxhall Nova) had a scuffle with a Golf leaving it ready for reincarnation, and my last moment dash to the line to lap Daniel Davies' Golf between Woodcote and the finish line after not quite catching him down the back straight. Finally, realising I'd dropped my best lap by another second - only 2 more seconds to find to be competitive with Tony's Alfa (at Silverstone anyway!).
We're giving Mallory Park a miss, we just don't have the funds to do a double header this month and the kappa could use some attention having been all but untouched for four races now. We can weld up the cam cover - not going to find a second hand one in the UK anywhere and can't bring myself to use a Fiat branded one from a Fiat Coupe. And we promise to fit a rear tow point before the Donington round.
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