Saloons - Round 2
CSCC Group 2 -
May, 1997 - Oulton Park - Full Circuit
When the car goes,
it goes very well indeed...
One day, I'm going to
arrive at the circuit, the car will qualify without
anything breaking, jamming or stopping, I won't hit
anything, or have odd vibrations, I'll qualify well
and I'll be in the right frame of mind to start the
race after which the car will be returned to the
trailer without needing any remedial work. I'm not an
unreasonable person, I'd just like to experience this
once in my life.
Instead of this
nirvana, the day started off badly and got
progressively worse, yet it was still one of the most
enjoyable races of my life, if very frustrating. I
say it, because I had to withdraw from one of the two
races I was scheduled to run, but more of that later.
The Autosport Guide to
Oulton Park begins "Many drivers have a
love-hate relationship with this scenic venue. Its
beautiful scenery is matched by the spectacular and
demanding nature of the track." It was only my
second visit to this track despite it being one of
the three circuits which are all roughly the same
distance away from home - roughly 90 minutes by car.
I like Oulton, but have always struggled a bit there
- largely because of the two fussy chicanes which
have been inserted over the years. I just can't seem
to get the right degree of aggression.
Come race day, we set
off early having left the car there the night before
for the 'pit crew' to look after overnight - or so I
thought. Their car broke down on the way - complete
loss of compression on No 1 cylinder - so I was on my
own for race day.
Just over half way
there I suddenly realised that I had forgotten my
race licence, so I had to double back in some haste.
All this put us over two ours behind schedule, but
somehow still managed to get to the track in time to
have the car scrutineered and make the tail end of
the Formula Saloons qualifying session. So something
was salvaged. Unfortunately, the car had developed a
HUGE vibration which felt like axle tramp that was
making the car undrivable under deceleration - even
on just a trailing throttle. It was so bad it
actually pitched me off the track at one of the
chicanes on the out lap.
discretion was called for I returned immediately to
the pits and began looking for the cause.
One thing that has to
be said for the CSCC is that it is truly a club with
all that implies. Fellow Group 2 competitors and
others from other CSCC championships all lent a hand
in trying to diagnose the problem, but none of us
could find anything. In the end, more in hope and
desperation than anything else, I replaced the front
wheels with the same set I had used last time out as
it was the only change made since I last ran the car.
The good news was instant cure of the new vibration
for the Group 2 qualifying session. The bad news was
that although I had also replaced a suspect half
shaft wheel bearing the week leading up to the race,
the transmission noise and harshness remained - so
the session was spent more trying to identify the
source of that problem than get a good grid position.
Still, I was not unhappy to see myself third on the
time sheets confident I could go much quicker.
What I am still
baffled by is just how a front wheel induced
vibration can feel like it is coming from the back
and only on deceleration. Any ideas will be warmly
welcomed as I am not usually so wrong with my
Anyway, deciding that
the car probably wouldn't stand two races, I elected
t withdraw from the Formula Saloons race - for which
I hadn't qualified as I'd only done one lap and would
have had to start from the back of the grid anyway.
This as it turns out
was not a good idea as I will explain later.
Come the Group 2 race,
we lined up and at the lights I made a good start
which meant we were three abreast into the first
corner, getting squeezed onto the grass and back to
third for my troubles on the way out.
A tense battle for
the lead meant a lot of action and tyre smoke.
The three of us
battled for first with usually never more than a
couple of feet between us - except when I had
encountered selection problems out of the
Knickerbrook chicane. This was both good and bad.
Obviously it was a further problem, but the upside
was that it confirmed that I had a significant
performance advantage as I was able to claw back as
much as 8 or so car lengths in less than half a lap
and the 'drive around' was not a significant problem.
A short while later we
were three abreast into the fast Island bend - again
getting squeezed onto the grass for my trouble, again
finding myself back in third, but with a new race
leader. Within a lap I had taken second as was ready
to launch a serious bit for first.
Diving down the
outside for the Shell Hairpin looking to take the
long way round the banked corner and defend an inside
line into the following chicane - a move I am still
sure would have succeeded - I found myself without
any brakes to speak of.
Somehow, I managed to
half spin the excess speed away and keep it all
together, but my race was run. The remain few laps
was all about limping to the end to be classified as
The rear end view
that Chris would like to show more of!
The following morning,
the cause of the brake loss was all too apparent and
took all of one second to fix. A bleed nipple had
worked loose. I am certain that I could have one the
race and made it two group 2 wins in 2 starts, and
set a new lap record in the process, so had I run in
the Formula Saloons race I might have identified and
fixed the problem in time. Still, second fastest time
while dicing wasn't too bad and the potential is
clear - and the racing while it lasted was some of
the most enjoyable I have ever had.
The next round is two
months away, so I will have time to get to the bottom
of whatever the transmission problems are.
But maybe, the next
race meeting will be that Utopian state I talked
about at the start.