I purchased Daphne back in September 2014 but the connection with the car goes back much farer than that.
Back in 2009, Matt Coggins and myself were both racing in the MR2 series and Matt had a business idea. Based on the fact that there was no-one turning good quality turn-key budget series racing cars, he had identified a gap in the market. To demonstrate his ability and experience based at World Rally Championship level; Matt would build a race car using the same principles as used in world championship rallying, starting from a good base shell and adding the correct and necessary bits, rather than taking an average road car and removing sufficient bits to make it look like a race car. That’s when Daphne was born.
When first built, she was driven in the MR2 series by the then current British GT driver Jody Firth and despite being fresh out of the box, was taken to victory in her first race. Since then she has been in the ownership of Jody Firth’s Dad and was driven by his brother Nick, then was sold on to Ralph Budd and campaigned in the MR2 Series before being acquired by the Darren Cox who is better known for spearheading the Nissan Zeod Deltawing project than.
When I acquired the car, she was pretty much unchanged since she was built in 2009 with a few subtle modifications such as the ducting to the radiator and and a brand new set of silicone hoses. There was a rattle from the engine that didn’t sound too serious and was put down to being water pump or alternator related as it went away with the fan belt off.
Adding all the clues up, and looking back on the car’s more recent results, it was quite plain to see that it had issues with overheating so a plan was hatched to sort it out.
The car was delivered to Barnsley College in early 2015 and was designated as a working project for the Level 3 Motorsport students. They were targeted with preparing the car for a race on 26 April at Brands Hatch at which they would attend and run the car. I was the lucky bloke that got to drive it. All this under the watchful gaze of course tutor and ex MR2 racer (future MR2 racer as well) Matt Coggins. Matt’s has a history in many professional race and rally teams including M Sport, Ford’s WRC team.
During the run-up to the race, the car was stripped of it’s suspension and the engine and gearbox removed for inspection. A compression test had revealed that something was amiss inside the engine and a new paddle clutch was also to be fitted. New shock absorbers and springs were fitted and everything else tidied up while it was off.
The engine turned out to be worse than initially imagined. The head bolts were barely tight and once removed, revealed that the gasket had gone between all of the cylinders and some water jackets too. The bottom end remained intact so a skim and a rebuild ought to have rightened it. We had sussed out that it was highly likely that an overheating problem had probably caused the head issues rather than vice versa; so we set about curing that. A new water pump was fitted and the radiator and coolant system checked. All was brand new and in good condition. We were obviously not the first to try to cure an overheating problem.
The engine was completed and installed and quite happily fired up and ran quite well. It came up to temperature very quickly; even quicker than should have been expected with a new thermostat fitted. Before her maiden voyage, we decided to give her a bit of a tweek in the timing department to make sure she was a little bit advanced to give her that little bit more grunt. Unfortunately, the timing light was broken and we couldn’t get a reading of anything under 39 degrees of advance under any circumstances. The distributor was moved round a notch but to no avail. She wouldn’t even start (12 teeth on dizzy means a 60 degree retardation per tooth) this time. A new light was sourced and this confirmed that the advance was at 49 degrees on tickover and if the distributor was wound to its extreme, this could be reduced to 39 degrees.
We systematically replaced all of the ignition system including the ECU, the distributor and the wiring loom, all to no avail. The ECU fault codes were reading 7 and 11 which pointed to throttle pot and ECU but we chose to ignore the bit about the throttle pot for a number of reasons. Firstly, there is absolutely no way a throttle pot would affect the ignition timing in such a way but more importantly, we didn’t have a good spare.
The next day dawned quite early. It was by this time only two days before race day and we had a dead car. A throttle pot had been sourced from Jamey Firth (which could actually have been a full throttle housing with a pot on the end), fitted and had cured all known problems, the ignition timed and the car sat ticking over with the cooling system bled, and all before 8am. Text from Matt. “Car’s ready”. The only problem which is not insurmountanble is that the car does the hunting between 1,000 and 2,000 revs on tickover thing which we have forgotten how to cure. I think it is a wax stat or something that needs fettling.
Race day dawned after an evening of merriment round the barbecue and a nocturnal track walk, at the end of which it had just started to rain. The precipitation throughout the night and into the morning was relentless and the students were set to work preparing the car for a wet qualifying.
Qualifying was extremely slippery and it was still raining. I confidently started looking at the top of the sheet for my name and came across it quite soon having qualified 11th from the 39 entrants. My target was the top half and would have been outside the bottom 10 had it not been slippery so it was difficult to hold back the smug grin that had found itself implanted on my face.
I wasn’t scheduled to compete in race 1 so had settled myself on a camp chair at the bottom of Paddock Hill to watch the action when I got a phone call from Matt. You’re in the first race, they have just called for you by name. I checked my watch to see if it was April 1 and then tried to work out how I was being wound up; but he’d brought the car to the paddock exit and relieved me of my coat and chair and sent me on my way.
Determined to hold on to the advantage I had gained by a good qualifying, I drove the car as if I’d pinched it and was sort of holding my own. I was being picked off by the faster MK2 cars who could simply drive past me on the two straights but as one passed me, another one fell off. I’ll let you watch the videos of the race but to cut a long story short, I was in a pretty safe fifth position before I had an almighty tenk slapper on the last lap and gave the position up to Ben Rowe which dropped me to sixth. Unfortunately for some, the post race weigh in founf three cars to be light, two of whom were in front of me so I was elevated to fourth. Im not sure if a MK1 has ever been in the top 4 of a Championship race before but the smug grin I had after qualifying had turned into a full blown beam; interspersed with a bit of blushing when a few people came to tell me that I had driven a cracking race.
The students in the team had one thing to do before the last race and that was a rain dance. The only thing that didn’t go well all weekend and as I watched the other formulae, it was clear that a dry line was forming and we were in for a much less moist race. A last minute call was made to switch the car to a dry suspension set up and we trundled off to the assembly area to await my fate.
I was overly nervous at this point as I’m not too keen on pressure from behind; and I was under no illusion that I was going to get it. I’d decided that it would not be too much of an embarrassment to drop like a stone through the field and that I would defend my position to a point but concede to faster cars from behind without too much fuss. I made a good start from my 8th place on the grid, maintaining the position for a few laps until I started to get picked off by the faster cars. Fortunately, the rate of attrition in front of me was nearly as high as the rate I was being passed so I managed to hold on to a reasonable place, coming home 9th overall and first in class A. What I did realise is that the Toyo tyres perform much differently to the Yokohamas that I have been driving on for the last couple of years and the tyre pressures that I chose for the last race were way too low as the car tended to skip around the corners using far too much of the sidewall than they should have done so I will have a bit of learning to do if it turns out to be dry for the subsequent rounds of the championship.