Mallory Park II, 12 September 2004

Two weeks since the last race at Snetterton, so much has happened. The main one as far as the kappa was concerned was the annual Lancia Motor Club track day at Castle Combe, a circuit the kappa had not been to yet. An early start saw us there at 9am, a trip to scrutineering saw the kappa fall foul of the noise police, registering 102.6 db on a 100db day. A trip to Merlin Motorsport, conveniently located inside the circuit grounds produced an extra silencer to attach to the tailpipe and keep the peace. Fot the first session, I took fellow Le Mans Euro Saloons driver Pete Simpson round for what seemed to be an endless number of laps. I was quite surprised to find the kappa was a lot more lively than usual, especially round the back half of the circuit. A second session with Keith from Auto Integrale demonstrated wild understeer coming into Quarry, and Keith was able to diagnose that the suspension was bottoming out. It hasn't felt this way all season so guess Castle Combe is just bumpier than anywhere else we have raced. A final session with Simon from Auto Integrale was enough for the understeer to reach epic proportions, barely able to get round Quarry, and then finally for the outside front tyre to cry "enough" coming into Tower. We limped round to the pits to find canvas on display everywhere and wire hanging out of the tyre!

The plan for the week was to raise the front suspension just in case Mallory Park proved to be bumpy - we didn't do the first race here this season and I hadn't driven Mallory since 2002, and couldn't remember what the surface was like. I was loath to buy a new tyre as we need to run larger tyres next season, rubber width has proved a limitation for this season, but the existing wheels won't allow anything wider to be fitted. I still had a pair of Avon cross ply slicks from the beginning of the season and decided to use these. But later in the week I had a change of heart and decided that a new outside front Dunlop was the order of the day with three races still to go, so one was duly ordered for Friday delivery.

Friday came and went, no tyre. And to add to the fun, on the way back from picking up the kappa from Auto Integrale, the back of the trailer broke off, the bit with the lights and the number plate. Short of some major welding, and finding a new hinge somewhere (that was lost on the road somewhere), the trailer was not going to be repairable. So as well as being a tyre down, the trailer looked hors-de-combat as well. A trip to the trailer hire shop provided a wooden lights board, and more time was wasted unloading the car off the trailer to change the other front wheel, then get both Avons fitted after all. Of course this now meant the camber settings were all wrong for the tyres.

For the first time this season, team Nyssa Racing took the Winnie up to the circuit the night before. Mallory Park is not so far away from home, and we had a late start on Sunday, but because the paddock is inside the circuit and there is no bridge, you have to get there early or be shut out, as happened last time we raced here. When we arrived at 8pm the paddock was already filling up, but the weather was not looking too clever as we sat down to barbecue food. Later that night it would appear that Hurricane Ivan had got lost over Cuba and turned up in Leicestershire as storms and wind laid waste the many marquees that fellow competitors has erected. Surprising all was calm, sunny and bright when we woke in the morning.

Finally, it was time to start the qualifying session. We were called over about 20 minutes earlier than expected. I was near the back of the group, and a small delay occurred while we waited for Richard Hill who had been caught out by the early call. Out on track the kappa felt edgy. I've never got on with Mallory anyway, but this time the kappa felt worse than ever round Gerrards. In fourth gear it was very nervous, flat in third it wasn't too bad, but unbearably slow. I seemed to be holding up Richard Hill so thought I'd let him go by, and then follow him for a bit, but he just drove away. This didn't bode well, time to get my head down. Later in the session I strung half a dozen steady 58 second laps, but had hoped for better. When the qualifying times came out, I was quite surprised to be as far up as ninth, less than 2/10ths off Richard Hill in 8th, with Lee Scott (having survived a scare when his bonnet flipped open) and Paul McIntyre within 3/10ths or so behind. Looked like it could be a busy race.

After an afternoon of will-it-won't-it rain, we ventured out onto a dry track late in the afternoon. Unlike most other circuits where we do a formation lap and then do a separate rolling lap, at Mallory, the rolling lap starts from the pitlane. I wondered when driving round if anyone had thought where they should be as regards formation - I started counting the cars in front so I took up the correct position, on the inside of the track. I got a decent enough start, closing in on Paul Connell in front of me, but got boxed in by Matt Hales' Vauxhall Vectra going round the inside of Gerrards which allowed Lee Scott and Richard Hill (who I had passed) to go round the outside and pull clear. I gained back on Richard coming into Shaws, thinking I might regain the place under braking, but he was just far enough in front to claim the corner. I followed him round and passed him back on the straight at the end of the first lap and slowly started to edge clear of the pack behind. Up front, Derek Hale had got the drop on Peter Challis in the Primeras, but Peter took the lead on lap 2 and gradually pulled away. Tony Soper and Pete Simpson were tussling for 3rd place with just a second or two between them as the gap fluctuated.

It all went wrong on lap 4, I'd been running without the engine fan to get the engine up to temperature quicker, now it was time to put it on. I can't actually see the fan switch when strapped in, with helmet on so reached back to flick the switch and then the engine just stopped. I was coasting along the back straight and through the Esses as the cars behind all took advantage and went past. Just as Tim Hyde, bringing up the rear in the Peugeot 205GTi, went past I realised that the master cutout was off! Flicking it back on brought the engine straight back to life, but I was barely rolling. It took me two full laps to catch and pass Tim, by which time the lead Primera had already caught and lapped me. Another two laps and I had gained 3 seconds on Rhys Bolton in the Renault Clio and passed him. I had expected to pull away quite quickly but Rhys clung on doggedly leaving me to wonder if I had slowed to his qualifying pace, or whether he had raised his game - the latter was true.

I had to keep full on it as Rhys and I traded lap times up until the Primeras came round for a second time and Rhys seemed to be slowed. As Ian Kirk came round to lap me around lap 21 I could see Chris Broad in the Astra at the far end of the straights. I wasn't sure whether I was coming up to lap Chris or whether I was chasing for position. Slowly but surely over half a dozen laps, I closed in until 1.5 laps from the end (I didn't know this yet) Chris got a bit sideways through the Esses defending from me. I closed up into Shaws, but not close enough to make a move. As I chased Chris down the start-finish straight, we saw the "last lap" board being held so I knew it was time to do something. I had figured by now that this was a chase for position as the marshalls had not waved the blue flag at Chris. I didn't quite have enough speed down the straight, Chris had exited Devil's Elbow wide to the right as he should forcing me to try and go down the outside, but I was so poor round Gerrards that going round the outside was not going to be an option. I got my nose past Chris at the end of the straight but he led into Gerrards and then got very sideways. I was impressed how he caught the slide, I was fully expecting him to fall off, but I managed to get close enough as we exited Gerrards that this time I got the inside line in the drag down Stebbe straight. We arrived at the Esses side by side, it was the last lap so it had to be now, so I kept a tight line through the Esses allowing Chris to run the normal line, but this gave me the inside line into Shaws where I braked late and hard to claim the corner and the position. I managed to pull almost a second in the run down to the finish line. Pete Simpson had been worrying all week whether the tank in his Lancia Integrale would last for 25 minutes, the longest race of the season, but in the end his front outside tyre cried foul after 23 laps costing him 3rd place. The result showed that I finished in 8th place, but with Richard Hill finishing just 8 seconds ahead, surely 7th would have been possible if not for my faux pas with the electrics!

Peter Challis played his joker for this race and moved up into second place, but Pete's DNF allowed me to move ahead of him (by 2 points) to remain in third, but Derek Hale has moved to within 2 points of Pete and still has his joker to play at Snetterton next month.

Take a look at some video from the race.

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

Check out the current points standing.

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