My enthusiasm for racing my MR2 had been buoyed by a previous visit to Brands Hatch a couple of weeks earlier when I contested the MR2 Championship; which is predominantly contested by the much faster MR2 Mk2 cars. Despite being way down on the power of the larger engined machinery, I had managed to get a fourth and seventh place in my two races and shocked a few people on the way. The results were testament to the quality of the build of my new car and the pace I was able to set was similar to that of a few years ago when the MR2 Series ran a much faster tyre.
Daphne, as the new car is affectionately known, is the result of a six month project by Barnsley College’s Motorsport students who have stripped down and rebuilt the car to exacting standards and presented a car which is capable of running very competitively in the MR2 Series.
The weekend at Brands hatch would see me contest the Nippon Challenge on Saturday and the “Your Irish Shop” MR2 Race Series on the Sunday. In the Nippon Challenge there are a number of classes based on brake Horse Power and the MR2 fits squarely into the GT150 category for cars of 150bhp or less. What usually happens in the Nippon Challenge is that the handful of MR2s, MX5s Hyundau Coupes and the like enjoy a spirited race for class honours while the big bangers of the GT300 and GT250 class cars sprint off into the distance.
Nippon Challenge Race 1 went completely my way, sprinting off from the other GT150 cars and enjoying a few close battles with the GT200 and GT250 cars initially but eventually trailing them home to take class honours.
Race 2 was not so clean cut. A pace car incident bunched the cars up and at the restart I found the car to be down on power with a baying pack of MR2s snapping at my heels; but I still managed to hold off their attacks and take class honours.
The drop in power was due to a failed exhaust box which had allowed the sound deadening material to half escape and block the outlet up.
The MR2 Race Series was to be contested on Sunday and after a slight overnight shower, the track was completely dry and bathed in sunshine by the time we got away in the qualifying session. My pace on the Saturday had not gone un-noticed and I was being hailed as the man to beat. As I set off towards the assembly area I had a number of cars follow me so they could get on track behind me. Adam Lockwood was returning to MR2 racing and was immediately behind me in his newly built mint green machine which looks amazing. We made it out on to track and Adam and myself formed a partnership and were immediately on the pace setting 59.5 second times on the early flying laps before we encountered traffic and had to back out of quick laps to find track space. Towards the end of the session, Adam went a tenth quicker than me as we both dropped to the low 59s and as the session was halted early due to a car in the gravel at Paddock Hill, we shared the front row with 59.1 and 59.2 seconds respectively in Adam’s favour.
Race 1 saw me extremely nervous before the start as, from the front row, you have just about everything to loose. A good start had me lead in to Paddock Hill Bend followed by Adam Lockwood and Nathan Harrison. We all lapped at around the same pace and soon had a second lead to the following cars with less than half a second separating us. I made a tiny mistake on the exit of Graham Hill Bend on lap 5 and both Nathan and Adam tried to capitalise, coming down either side of me as we approached Surtees. Three abreast around Surtees is apparently quite rare but we gave it a go and ended up back in order, line astern before we traversed McLaren. On lap 9, I was able to eek out a small gap; sufficient for me to attempt to run some racing lines rather than the defensive ones I was being forced into. I opened the gap to about a second but was gutted to be joined by the chase car who pulled in front of me on the Cooper Straight and the field came back together once more.
One of the very rare safety car restarts I have done and certainly my first as a leader, I was able to stack the cars up and made a good, solid getaway dragging three other cars with me and slightly away from the pack for what was now a single lap sprint to the stripe. The newcomer in the battle for honours was Arron Pullan; no stranger to the podium, Arron was hungry for a chance victory and attempted a buffalo girl manoeuvre around Nathan at Druids but Nathan wasn’t going down without a fight and blocked. The only remaining route for Arron was to back out or take to the grass and he chose the wrong option, hurtling up the inside into Graham Hill Bend unable to stop and collecting the rear of Adam’s car in the process turning him sideways in front of the pack. Chaos rained as the field was all stacked up but Nathan and Adam pulled it back together and headed off towards Surtees and on to McClaren where Adam tagged Nath and they both spun out across the grass leaving Neal Hurren and Arron to mop up the two remaining podium spots.
Race 2 and my first ever pole position and once more with jangling nerves and everything to lose, I managed a clean getaway and led Neal and Arron into the first bend. Neal had to defend vigorously from Arron so their pace was a little steady and by lap 3 I had eked out a full one second lead and had resorted to racing, rather than defensive lines once more. Lap 4 was eventful as Arron passed Neal and Craige Rankine threw it in the kitty litter at McLaren and we had the pace car out again.
The restart didn’t go as well this time as I’d opted for a different approach of backing the field up by taking Surtees painfully slowly and not accelerating until quite late in Clarke curve. I basically didn’t want Arron behind me so was hoping this tactic would allow someone to jump him. On the contrary, he ended up jumping me and we crossed the stripe side by side and playing chicken into Paddock Hill Bend where the battle for testicular mass went in my favour.
A four car “pain train” as the commentator referred to it squeezed an advantage out at the front of the pack and eventually Peter Higton slipped back a second or so leaving myself, Arron and Neal to slug it out over the ensuing laps. We remained line astern with some serious defensive and attacking driving until lap 12 when Ralph Bloor encountered what appeared to be a serious engine failure. Being in the lead, I had the benefit of an unobscured view of the smoking car traversing Graham Hill Bend as I descended Paddock Hill and unsurprisingly saw the oil flags out at Druids. Ralph had continued to occupy a racing line round Graham Hill but I was able to keep inside this by driving gingerly over the kerb. Arron was not so ginger (although he is ginger) and I think put a wheel onto the oil and got a bit lairy, dropping a second or so as we both watched Neal in our mirrors as he slid straight on to the grass and out of sight.
The race was soon halted and I crossed the line and the red, rather than chequered flags; celebrating a second outright victory after a most enjoyable and successful weekend of racing.
Massive thanks to Matt Coggins, Will Rose and Adam Marshal who kept the car nailed together all weekend.