Brands Hatch 10th July 2005

A personal view by Richard Hawken.

1st race in the new car, an ex works BTCC Nissan Primera recently purchased from the Woodcock brother. We tested with the car on the Friday and put in some half sensible times, early 52's being the best. Encouraging enough for the first time drive. However given the car had been laid up for a year it had a few technical problems which we attempted to fix on the Friday.

  • Fuel pump not pumping hard enough, car has 4 fuel pumps to keep a constant 10-11 bar fuel pressure and one was struggling leaving us with just under 9bar. That was replaced and we tried again.
  • Brake discs severely warped causing steering vibration.

We headed to Brands Hatch on the Saturday evening to set up and prep the car for the Sunday race. Whilst I polished the car the 2 mechanics (Mark and Philly) set about changing the discs. 2 hours later it was finished with a different set of discs and clean paintwork ready for the next day. We set off to erect the tent and grab a handful of cold beers and a BBQ.

Up early Sunday morning, consistently woken during the warm night by the sound of a large diesel locomotive parking next to us. No it was Mark snoring in the tent next to us. How can one man make that much noise whilst asleep??

Fuelled with a decent breakfast we headed for the garages. With the weather getting hot we decided scuffed slicks and lower tyre pressures were to be the order of the day with just 20psi in the fronts. As I was just learning the car I left both front and rear anti roll bars on the softest setting. Both are controllable from inside the car.

Passed scrutineering then off to noise test which proved extremely tight for a super tourer with hardly any steering lock and required a push from a few marshals. We passed sound testing with ease as unlike the Cavalier the Nissan has a 2 silencer system which cuts out the ear splitting rasp that failed us on a number of previous occasions.

Out on to the circuit for qualifying the first thing I noticed was how bad the brakes felt, much, much worse than the previous practice day with the shaking almost enough to remove the wheel from my tight grip. Clearly these discs were much worse than ones we had on previously. Additionally I had noticed the steering feeling like the power pump belt was slipping, but is driven electrically so couldn't have been. It continued to provide power assistance so I thought nothing else of it. I did the best I could under the circumstances and pulled in after a few laps not wanting to shake the front suspension to bits.
Result: 5th on the grid

With only 70 mins between the end of qualifying and start of race 1 we had to work fast to put the old discs back on. The team went through the front suspension and tightened up some steering column bolts that looked a little loose. The power steering issue; nothing we could do, other than check for leaks and correct fluid etc.

We opted for fresh rubber for the race, though not being scuffed I knew I was going to have to take it easy for the first 5 laps or so. This time brakes better but far from perfect. New discs needed I think. A polite call to AP needed. Anyway a few laps in I was catching Soper in the Harrier when he spun into the entry of Maclaren corner. He see-sawed left and right across the circuit sideways leaving me almost nowhere to go, so I opted for some grass in full avoidance action. Amazingly we missed each other, leaving me in 4th and him 27th. The steering issue I had noticed during qualifying was back, this time tightening up during cornering through both Paddock Hill bend and Clearways. This was combined with a burning smell which previously I had put down to one of the road saloons burning their brakes as the smell was very similar. We were now well into half way through the race when I locked the Nissan up into Druids bend as some kind person had left oil all over the racing line. I could see a car beached already and I was heading for him. As I approached the edge of the circuit I released the brake pedal and steered. Luckily I had scrubbed off enough speed.

As I blast down the straight the team board shows me in 3rd now, which fills me with excitement, 4 seconds from 2nd place and 18 from 4th so I continue to chase the blue M3 in 2nd place.

But what's this, the steering has gone tight. Had I knocked the PAS off with my elbow? I flicked the switch furiously as I powered down the Cooper straight....no difference. I quickly concluded that the PAS pump had obviously failed. Stupidly I thought I could continue to the finish with my margin now 20 seconds behind me , so I continued to drive albeit much slower on the lap times. With cockpit temperatures around 65c, me wearing a 3 layer Nomex fireproof suit and 1 layer Nomez underwear and already really hot before I got into the car, I couldn't manage any more than 2 laps without the PAS. Reluctantly I pressed the hazard button and coasted in towards the paddock, filled with disappointment. How cool would have been debuting the car and finishing on the podium?

I crawled out of the car, completely exhausted from the heat and lifted the boot where the pump is housed. Sure enough smoke pouring out of it. Great, first race and a DNF. Colin who used to won the car asked me if I had been kerb hopping, as this is known to damage the electric pumps, but having learnt my lesson from kerbs breaking things in the Cavalier, I avoid them at all cost.

With no prospect of finding a replacement pump, my day was over, forfeiting the next race due to electro mechanical failure.

Talk about bad luck.
Result: - DNF

Next race 20th August Oulton Park

There is a 7 line write up on the car debuting at Brands on page 96 of this weeks Autosport.

To do list prior to then

  • New front discs...ouch
  • New electro hydraulic power steering pump...ouch
  • New battery (suspect)...ok
  • Buy a battery trolley...ok
  • Balance all wheels...ok
Photographs courtesy of Phil Gardener Motorsport Photography

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