MR2 Series 2011 : The Story So Far

Officially we are now two rounds into the 2011 MR2 Racing Series season but I’ve already competed in eleven races. Firstly, there was an initiation race in April; a double header of Nippon Challenge cars and Mr2s at the Silverstone National Circuit,. Next came the 750 MC MR2 Challenge race which half a dozen of the regular MR2 series drivers entered. This was a double header with heats and I ended up driving in three races there. The first round of the MR2 series proper was a couple of weeks later and back at Brands Hatch followed at the end of May by the second round at Castle Combe where I entered the Nippon Challenge as well to gain more experience on the track and benefit from the drastically reduced entry fees.
What I have realised is that my car is crap. I’m not saying that the whole of the problem is the car, I’m still trying to drive it like a Mk 2 Escort on gravel and it’s an MR2 on tarmac so there’s a vast difference. Both the car and myself are improving though, slowly. What I have been doing is messing about with the suspension. Lowering it, raising it, trying different track and tow angles, adjusting the camber and fiddling with the tyre pressures. And I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t really know what I’m doing.
At the Silverstone race in April I’d qualified the second MR2 on the grid. Some of the main protagonists were absent but there were still some quick lads behind me. In race 1 I held on to finish 3rd MR2 but had some serious handling problems while trying to keep pace with the flying Jon Winter who was the eventual MR2 winner. Race 2 was much worse!
Brands Hatch for the MR2 Championship with the 750 Motor Club and the car had been put back to standard suspension. The standard height springs made it look like a 4×4 and the uprated road shockers were struggling to keep the wheels on the road. Having said that, the car was gripping a lot better, didn’t eat any tyres but did seem to lean a bit. Half way through the day, an angle grinder was procured and the springs shortened a bit to a more suitable height and a class A record lap was set.
A fortnight later, on the first of May we were back at Bratch; this time with Red Dragon for the MR2 Series. Now if I was a gambling man, I would have put a couple of quid on myself here, three races worth of sneaky practice and some suspension mods a fortnight before should have made me one of the favourites but a second covered the top ten qualifiers and I was down in 8th. Should I be disappointed with this when I was 6 seconds quicker than the 38th qualifier? The race went quite smoothly but I was disappointed not to be able to match the pace of the front-runners and although I made a few places up, I also had a couple wrestled from me to finish 8th. Race 2 was a similar story, places gained and places lost, a bad start due to getting pushed off the road in the congestion at Druids dropped me half a dozen spots before we reached Graham Hill Bend and the next few laps were spent gaining places and avoiding the carnage Jonny White was leaving in his wake. A trip to the scenery along with Simon Garderer to avoid a rotating Chris Shackle put paid to catching any more cars up and when Paul Corbridge spun and rejoined in front of me, he was able to pull away and leave me to hold off Gardener.
Castle Combe was the next round on Spring Bank Holiday Monday and I had done some homework. I’d managed to get some suspension settings that they use for Autocross racing in America so, armed with the tracking gear and a camber gauge, my mate Pud and myself wound the suspension settings on to the car. In fairness, we didn’t even have to move the rear and the front was within a fraction of a degree but we were safe in the knowledge that it was pointing where it should have been. All the work seemed fruitless when Monday morning dawned and it was drizzling profusely. The type of rain that wets you through. I spent the couple of hours between scrutineering and practice unbolting suspension bits and strut braces to try to soften the car a bit. The rain also wet the track and made everyone drive like girls, except for the girls. For the Nippon Challenge, I was second MR2 in a respectable 7th but behind MR2 rookie Charlotte Burridge who’d shown us all the way round. MR2 qualifying was not so good. Every quick lap I attempted was thwarted by someone spinning, a yellow flag or simply catching someone that was driving like a nonce.
Nippon Race 1 was wet through. I escalated myself to fifth overall and had a couple of attempts to pass the Celica in front for 4th but it wasn’t to be, his straight line speed was way too quick so I spent the race fending Richard Avery off instead. Fifth and first in class was quite an achievement though.
MR2 Race 1 was always going to be interesting with 34 cars on the grid so caution was the order of the day. By simply avoiding spinning cars I exited the first bend in fifth place and was in shouting distance of the leaders. Matt Smith had held on to 4th from his second spot on the grid and was inches in front of me when he backed off mid corner and I headed for the grass to avoid him and I rejoined in 9th just behind Steve Hennessy and Dave Thomas. Dave was disposed of at the very next bend and Steve was more than a handful with his similar Cogsport engine but I had a better line into Camp Curve where Steve gave me loads of room and I nailed it down the start straight and up to 7th. Richard Avery had taken a visit to the scenery at Quarry and Charlie Budd was taken Buffalo Girl style at quarry to put me up to fifth and a couple of laps later I was gifted fourth as Aaron Pullen took to the grass in front of me. In front I could see that Matt Smith was now in second followed by Mark Woods and Dave Pittard had decided that he didn’t like us and had just buggered off. I closed the gap to Mark and was thinking about how I might get past when we started to encounter back markers on lap 5. Despite being quite close at one point, a podium was never on the cards but I was close enough to see Matt Smith take second place.
Nippon Race 2 was simply a futile attempt to fend off faster cars as they streamed past on a drying track. I retained the GT150 class lead however from Nathan Harrison who came in second a handful of seconds behind.
MR2 Race 2 was shaping up to be quite interesting. I had time to fuel the car after the Nippon race before they were calling us to the assembly area and then on to the grid for what was now a quite dry track. Some drivers had the time to bolt their suspension back on to give a dry set up but mine was still on Mr Soft mode. Despite this, I was able to catapult the car from the second row of the grid and follow Dave Pittard into Quarry and settled down behind him in second place. I was able to follow Pittard quite closely but he was carrying more speed through the faster corners and pulling away on the straights. I was dropping about a second or more to him but then catching it all back up around quarry and the Esses where my car seemed more settled. But Dave was a fast learner and he was getting quicker lap by lap and I was over-driving trying to keep up and had started to make mistakes. With me off his bumper he was able to concentrate on his driving and eked out a few seconds lead as I bounced it over the kerbs on the exits of the corners. Lap 7 was to be my downfall as with second place almost in the bag, I managed to spin it through 720 degrees on the oil slick Matt Smith had left behind after his engine self destructed and by the time I’d managed to restart it and weave my way through the wrecked cars on the grass, I’d been demoted to 10th and behind Nathan Harrison. Lucky for me that I got it going again as the bit of grass I’d spun on to was occupied by half a dozen interwoven cars the next time I passed it. I was just able to pip Nathan for 9th place before the chequered flag dropped a couple of laps early to give the marshals some extra time to clear the wreckage up.
So the season so far has been a bit of a learning curve. The main points I’ve learned are that KYB shockers are not as good as everyone makes out; and they won’t last a full season in a race car; and despite everyone telling you that a set of cut down Apex Springs accompanied by KYBs and Red Stuff pads are all you need to be competitive, no one actually does this. It looks like there’s still a bit of room for improvement after all.

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