This weekend was extremely character building for me but also very enjoyable.
The Nippon races were good as usual as we generally find a handful of MR2s or similar to race but I was extremely disappointed with my qualifying pace and especially my 9th in class.
The race went much better and a lights to flag battle for class honours with Jonny White and Craig Rankine with some very close racing which was as clean as it gets. The result went Craig’s way with me heading Jonny with a couple of seconds and an Integra between us.
Race 2 saw us much closer to the front of the grid improving from the 12th row to the 6th and the three way battle resumed with Jonny heading off in front and me bringing up the rear. After two laps I’d passed Craig and on the third I passed Jonny and as Craig and Jonny started battling I thought I might eke out a lead, but on lap 6 my badly understeering car wanted to go straight on at the Esses and I took too much kerb first on the left then the right and as the car bounced it’s way through the braking area, the inevitable spin occurred in Clearways. Craig went right and Jonny went left of me but clipped the rear of my car with his door causing a bit of damage. I waited about 45 minutes for the rest of the field to go through before I spun the car back in the right direction and set off chasing the back of the field. I managed to pass 5 cars before the finish.
MR2 qualifying was just further disappointment as I felt I should have been closer to the front than 9th and no amount of tyre kicking and eyeing up of other people’s camber settings seemed to do any good.
The race was much better but the car understeered on every corner and soon heated up the fronts which didn’t improve matters. I managed to claw my way up to 5th but any assault on Nathan for 4th was futile and I slowly dropped behind as the recovering Jon Winter was clawing his way through the field after his front scratter style start. He passed me with a lap to go and I had no answer for it.
Determined to find som problem with the car, I started removing wheels as Matt Coggins investigated a suspected blown head gasket. The first wheel I removed exposed the culprit in the form of a disconnected anti-roll bar drop link on the right rear. All the compliments I’d been receiving about my rally driving style and taking corners on three wheels now made me feel like a right berk so we headed out into race 2 with a freshly bled cooling system and the back anti roll bar set on stiff. If I was going to cure understeer I was going to cure it properly.
I got an absolutely blazing start, once again side stepping the struggling Hyundai of Jon Winter, and I had the outside line round Paddock Hill Bend so I could stay out of trouble, I thought. But over exuberance in the pack saw Craig Rankine ricocheting from car to car giving my door a hefty clout and eventually collecting Mark Worsley and the pair headed to the gravel and an early bath and the race was red flagged.
My side skirt had been ripped off and was hanging on the floor. I think Garry Lawrence tried to run over it to ripp it off (cheers Garry) when we gridded up for the restart but the Clerk of the Course was demanding a scrutineer come and inspect it and was unwilling to just rip it off for me. I got permission to get out of the car (and fell out hurting my hand) and a kind gentleman from one of the pit garages gave me some colour coded silver tank tape and the repair was made.
The restart saw me hurtle through to the side of Nathan and I held the inside line for Druids and was in 3rd. and less than a second adrift of the lead. I soldiered on and the gap fell and by lap four I was close enough to make a successful lunge at Arron Pullen and could set about catching Paul Corbridge who I passed for the lead on lap 5. I held on to the lead for three laps with Arron all over me like a cheap suit and an oversteery moment through Clearways scrubbed me a bit of speed and allowed Arron through into Paddock Hill and I simply couldn’t match his pace from then. My efforts were concentrated towards holding Nathan off for the last few laps which I just managed to do albeit by less than 0.2 seconds with Jon in his Hyundai and Paul Corbridge rounding out the top 5.