This was the Masters end-of season bash and very important for us to do well, given the irritating "new-car" niggles we had to endure at Brands and Spa.
We were relieved to see a good representation of the Gp2 Brits especially the beautiful red and white Grab Weslake Capri, piloted by Steve Dance (winner of Spa), Mark Wrights/Dave Coynes quick Zakspeed Escort, and a similar model from Pyke and Swadkin, albeit amongst a smallish field of 13.
was typically "Oulton in October" with the obligatory light rain coming
off the Irish Sea, making everything damp and greasy.
Waiting for the race we were able to see "enough blue to make a pair of sailors trousers" but they were probably fluttering over Rio.
Race and still a residual dampness at the rolling start meant we couldn't live with the nimble Zakspeed and Mike found himself eleven seconds adrift of Mark Wright at our 23min driver change-over. Lucky for us they lost about 6 secs during their stop and that allowed us to get on terms and chase down the second driver (Dave Coyne) as he seemed at first, to struggle with the car.
The Grabman was right up there and the three of them wanged into Old Hall and Steve came out first. I love that piece of track, you hear the engines and then the cars suddenly pop-up out of Deer leap, you know they are coming but its still a surprise as they appear and then the hurtle past the pits into the first corner.
Well, we managed to maintain that lead until the flag with the rasping Escort coming faster every lap and the Capri right there too, venting its howl of frustration, gradually munching its gearbox.
Well we had done it, everybody got very excited, not the least our very experienced ex-F1 driver Mike Wilds, who, considering he has driven most of what we have ever drooled over, was surprisingly endearing, jumping up and down and kissing me - steady on there Mike!
There was much amicableness on the podium, the losers consoling themselves that it had taken a TVR Tuscan champ and a ex-F1 star to beat them. Steve's teenage daughters had finally surfaced from the hotel and couldn't stop smiling at their new-found hero, they all have such very wide smiles, they make Alex Polizzi's look like a pout ,then he kissed them, it was all very (half) Italian, adoring, and because they are all beautiful, it was too.
The meeting was great for us in that many fans from the North West had come especially to see Mike, and having the Northerners lack of embarrassment about such things, happily informed him of how they had kept an eye on his career from when he was no'but a lad. He diligently obliged a long procession of autograph hunters, one even persuading him to sign a black and white racy picture of himself, one in a line of scantily-dressed famous drivers in drag, with, reassuringly, for me after the kiss in the pit-lane, a half naked woman in their midst. No you do not want to go there, imagine Gerry Marshall in the line, and you have the idea.
After the garlands, the cup, the Autosport interview, the group photos and the back-patting had subsided, we started loading the car for the long drive home, hoping we would not have anymore trouble from the Izusu Trooper which blew up at Hartshead Moor on the way back from this track, the last time we came here.
Mike tugged my arm "You know, Chris" he said " this would be go very well round Spa" and with a wink he was gone ..!
Spa Masters TCs race 21/09/14
What a hard week-end that was, dragged everything we could think of across the North Sea to a damp testing at Spa on the Thursday afternoon with the usual concerns at this track, with changing degrees of dampness complicating the choice of set-up and understanding.
was early morning on the Fri. so again nice and damp on big fat slicks (was intermediates
such a bad idea? - I don't think so)
These included a beautiful Gp2 Broadspeed Jag XJ12, "the actual" Baby Bertha Firenza, a pair of RSRs, the pair of quick Brown Bros. Gp2 Escorts, two more box-arched Zakspeed versions, two gorgeous Capris (a perfect repro of the Weslake-engined GRAB Gp2,and the UFO car), a couple of quick Corvettes, a lovely old repro early Gp2 Alpina 2002, a spectacularly fast lightweight DB4 and many others making up the 56 cars on the grid.
In our second drivers qually session, Mark Cole lost 4th gear on his first lap but surprisingly still managed 9th, a whisker behind the Jag that monstered us on the straights but we easily got back on the curves.
So there we were with gearbox to get and an engine down on top-end power, nobody could figure out why, but luckily, a day and a half to sort it..
We had a spare box brought from UK and fitted it on the Saturday afternoon, then began to make some informed guesswork as to why the power was down as against recent rolling road figures.
Many other teams were complaining about the atmospheric conditions and loss of power, changing jets and stuff, but we felt that ours was a basic airflow problem and made alterations to that, to see if we could get our top-end power back and waited for the Sunday midday race, a little more unsure whether we had done the right thing, as the crunch- time approached.
The drivers, Stephen Markey and Mark Cole were hoping for a full wet race so they could actually win the race on reduced power. One of those guys must have a private line to the clouds because it then started to bucket down constantly, rivers of water flowing through the paddock We waited for it to stop to do those little last minute checks it didn't. Everyone was wet and dispirited apart from the Drivers who rubbed their hands with glee and had a rictus of happy expectancy spread across their faces.
Tannoys blared, full wets fitted, suspension softened, anti-mist sprayed, blower heater fixed on dash, heavy with fuel, we snorted onto the grid, confident that we stood a very good chance.
Alas! after only the warm up laps Stephen felt a suspicious vibration from the left rear and came in, (well done mate) only for us to discover a loose bullet stud and a broken hub spacer - for us the race was gone, but no damage to the car. You build a car, tighten everything up, race it, then see what needs tightening all over again, and then do it again, probably came down to a thickness of paint wearing away in practice.
things to take away with us,? Well the power was nearer to what we got from the
rollers, the car handled perfectly in the wet and Stephen was convinced the car
would have won the race had it not been for the breakage. An expensive testday!