Brands Hatch, 3 July 2004

A long break since the last race but only a little progress with the kappa development. I had thought of "slotting" in some cams in the hope of liberating a few more horsepower for not too much money, so I gave Adie Hawkins a call. Things started out promising enough, I could get a set of (four) reground cams for about 350, or a set of billet cams for around 900. But then it all went silly - I would really need a whole host of other stuff to take advantage of the cams. Little things like valves, springs, bases, caps - twenty-four of each of course. All of a sudden I was up to 4k in parts alone and would probably need another 1500 for a throttle body kit to make use of all that. Plus labour!

Clearly a non-starter, the budget is all but gone. So we concentrated on removing some weight instead. Composite front wings and boot lid have been ordered from Alpha Composites but these have yet to arrive. During the rest of the season it is hoped that Alpha Composites will be able to provide composite doors and bumpers as well for the kappa, but everything is one-off so it will have to be done (ie, paid for) in stages.

We are still waiting for the idler pulley which replaces the air conditioning compressor, it is on back order with Alfa Romeo GB but we can't even get a delivery date. So Auto Integrale had to make do by removing little odds and ends here and there in the hope of these kilos lost adding up.

And so to Brands Hatch - we got the first slot for Saturday morning, not exactly ideal as normally Saturdays are spent making last minute checks. This time it was Friday evening, the most important job was to fit the new transponder - the old one had apparently not been working and had been replaced by MST Sports Timing. Amongst the jobs that didn't get done was figuring why the lap timer doesn't seem to work!

We were due to sign-on at Brands Hatch at 7:30am with the scrutineering trip straight after, but an underestimate of the new tow vehicle's (Mercedes G-Wagen automatic) slowness up inclines meant we didn't arrive until 7:50am. Not to worry, we found a space right by Julian Brown's Fiat X1/9, signed on instantly and breezed through scrutineering minutes later. The Nyssa Racing crew for today comprised Phil Thompson, pilot of Pandamonium, sadly still in re-development. Big thanks to Phil for all his help. Weather forecast for the day was changeable, but at least for qualifying it was bright and dry. I lined up quite late, somewhat taken aback by both the size of the entry - 27 cars - and the variety. New for today were a Lotus Elise (looked like an Exige to me, but what do I know), a wild Ferrari 308GT4, 2 Rover Tomcats and a 216 Gti (from the Super Coupe series) and a welcome return of Andy Thompson's Minari RSR. I wasn't sure quite what happened next, we went out on track for qualifying but everyone was going really slow, much slower than usual, almost as if we were following a pace car. I know its important to get the tyres warmed up, but its also important to get some speed up to generate the heat. I had not refuelled the kappa since Silverstone, I wasn't totally sure how much fuel I had on board, but on previous occasions it has been too much, so I wanted to get a decent lap in quickly. That's why I was in no mood to cruise around slowly, must have overtaken 6 cars on the out lap so I arrived at the startline fully up to speed. As we came into Paddock all I was could see was a big cloud of dust, as I passed it I saw Pete Simpson's Lancia Integrale Evo apparently parked in the wall a long way along the gravel trap - thankfully it turned out that he had stopped about 9" short of the wall, but unfortunately the rear suspension geometry looked awry so that was the end of Pete's day.

Pre-race day I had been looking at the entry list and estimating where I would likely qualify. I looked up the Super Coupe series race times and surmised that the Tomcats would be well clear of me, the 216Gti would probably beat me - and of course after Silverstone I expected both Honda Civics and Lee Scott's XR2i to finish in front of me. But running around in qualifying didn't seem to bear that out, I had a good dice with Simon Taylor (Civic) that ended successfully when I passed him into the Surtees Esses after which I slowly pulled away. Later in the session I overshot my braking area into Graham Hill Bend (wasn't sure whether I was distracted by Mark Skegg's flame-throwing Ferrari or whether Julian had dumped some water there - I later suspected the latter as for the next two of three laps my braking there seemed uncertain) and Simon got past again. I also met up with the Tomcats which didn't seem to so quick after all - of course if you catch someone on a slow lap for whatever reason, you don't know if that's a normal lap or a slow one for them! Looking at the lap charts, Nigel Ainge was 3 seconds slower than me on one lap (and quicker for probably all the others) so guess that's where I met up with him. In the end, I was surprised and happy to find I had qualified in 10th of 27, less than 2/10ths behind one of the Tomcats (to be fair, it was Jason Holmes first time at the circuit), but more importantly, 2/10ths in front of the Taylor Civic and well clear of the Kirk Civic and Lee Scott's Fiesta, cars that I had expected to be faster than me. Also behind me (surprisingly) was the Mark Skeggs' Ferrari (due to low battery battery not agreeing with the ECU). Julian was 1.5 seconds back, but I had caught him travelling slowly - more overheating problems, another failed head gasket and another early bath. Not looking too good so far for the Italian cars in the field!

At the end of qualifying, the cars were weighed as is usual. This time the kappa scored in at 1201kgs! Progress, although I'm not yet sure how much of the 36kgs less than at Oulton Park is down to the car and how much down to less fuel in the tank! We are headed in the right direction but need to get a whole lot nearer to 1100kgs.

Early qualifying slot means early race slot - somehow we were slot 2 after lunch, rather than the first race, but this probably went in our favour. Just before lunch, the rain started. Just a quick shower tahn ended as quickly as it started, but during lunch it came back a lot harder. This is not F1, its takes about 20 minutes to change all four wheels over so a deadline for a decision was set. A small spanner thrown into the works was the schedule was pulled forwards 15 minutes from that advertised, but it was still dry so we went with slicks. Driving over to the assembly area, it started to spot with rain again so I reacquainted myself with exactly which switch was the wiper - can't see the switches when strapped in with helmet on, need to know exactly where it is. There was a few minutes delay on the start line while we waited for cement dust to be put on oil all down the Cooper Straight. And then we were off on the rolling lap, with the two Tomcats in front (one alongside) and the two Civics right behind, a good start was important so I remined in second gear round Clearways and was ready to go when I realised we were going round again - presumably to make sure we knew where the cement was. I wish someone had told us before hand - but anyway, round we went again.

There was good and bad news at the start. The good news was that I got the drop on Jason Holmes' Tomcat which I then held off for nearly two laps - clearly the extra track time from qualifying for the Super Coupe series had now got him up to speed. The bad news (which was to be race defining) was that Ian Kirk's Civic came storming through into Paddock - being stuck on the outside of the corner there is always a chance that an incident with someone inside can push you off, so better to be slightly careful. Up front, Peter Thurston's Honda Prelude had an early lead from Derek Hale's Primera. Ian was proving to be a problem, first of all holding off the Tomcat for a couple of laps before it was my turn to start climbing all over his rear bumper. The problem for me was the Civics were very quick in a straight line, but not running slicks, they held me up in the corners. Especially at Surtees and Clearways where I would have been much quicker. While busily trying to find a way past Ian, it got worse - the other Civic got through. With the two of them battling, it was twice as bad. Just nowhere to get past, if I went for a gap one or the other would be closing it off. Simon ran very wide into the entrance to Clearways lap after lap but having been slowed through Surtees I couldn't get alongside befor she shut the door lap after lap. It was a few laps of good clean racing, judging the length of the (long) kappa bonnet had me worried I might nudge him.

On lap 8, the lapping started - that is, we got lapped! First through was the Primera which had got past the Prelude and was about 5 seconds clear by now. I had hoped that the Civics might get baulked as we were being lapped and give me a chance. The Prelude came though into Paddock, both Civic ran wide and slowed to let him through - this was it. But Simon took advantage too and ran up the inside of Ian going into Druids to make the pass. I tried to follow him through the gap - been watching too many BTCC races - and got alongside Ian running inside him round Druids, but as we came down the hill towards Graham Hill, he had the inside line and I was forced to concede again. I was still trying to figure how I was going to pass the Civics - we had lost the Lotus Elise to the gravel trap at Druids (I didn't know until later we had also lost Phil Libby's Sapphire) so was further up the order than I though. This was planned to be a twenty minute race so there was plenty of time to find a way past, one which would probably involve hanging back at Surtees and Clearways in the hope of getting a good run through down to Paddock, or doing the same at Graham Hill and pushing through inside into Surtees. But it didn't matter - on lap 12 going into Clearways there was a bang, and then water and steam coming from the bonnet. I rolled off the throttle, turned into pitlane and switched off the engine as I rolled to a halt - race over. With smoke (steam) pouring from the bonnet, the marshal came running over with the extinguisher, but I told him what had happened. He helped unclip the bonnet, but it is also cable tied at the front for added security so we couldn't fully remove it - he could see a water hose had come off. Whether this is all that is wrong, or whether a head gasket has gone, time will tell.

So, an enjoyable race cut short - but I had made progress in outqualifying ALL of the Road Saloons cars. The race itself was red-flagged 3 or 4 laps later when the Tim Hyde Peugeot 205GTi went off in an unsafe position, and the results taken from the end of the previous lap. Over the last 4 laps, Peter Thurston's Prelude had gained 3.5 seconds on Derek Hale's Primera so guess he wasn't too pleased at the race ending 5 minutes early and to lose by 6/10ths of a second. Tony Soper, in the Harrier again for this race, was 10 seconds futher back in 3rd, with Tim Lewis and Andy Thompson finishing on the same lap. The two Civics came first and second in the Road Saloons series, Simon having pulled 2 2 second gap by the end of the race. The Italian car curse continued with Mark Skegg's Ferrari having retired after 8 laps, I think with no brakes. But it was good to see Chris Brogden back in the Fiat Uno, with a new engine, this time supplied by Avanti Motorsport, and a lot nearer race pace. Looks like he had a good battle at the rear of the field with Tim Hyde and Alan Duly, the three were separated by a second until Tim went off.

Three weeks until the next race, a double header meeting at Cadwell Park. The kappa will be off to Auto Integrale during the week so they can check on any damage and hopefully have her ready to come out again asap. To cap the day, I had a blow-out on the trailer on the way home, the tread delaminated and totally destroyed the mudguard. Lucky it was a race day and I had the trolley jack and tools to change it by the road-side. Bad things go in threes - somehow the focus on the on-board video moved between qualifying and the race, so I have a super close-up view of the race which is all but unwatchable - more galling given its the closest racing I've had in a couple of years!

Visit the Le Mans Autoparts site for details of the Le Mans Euro Saloons championship and standings so far.

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