Eugene hasn’t been completely happy for almost a year now and she continues to grumble at me.
I have to admit that after over four years of reliable service I have no room to grumble back.
We went to Oulton Park on Tuesday to run the new engine in. The first dirty protest was a puddle on the floor in the garage when I’d taken her off the trailer and it turned out to be petrol. The culprit was quickly diagnosed as an injector O ring which took some time to find a replacement. I completely blame myself as, on top of this being my first solo engine rebuild, assisted by my Dad rather than Coggs or Jamie, it was also my first solo injector fitting experience. Looks like I’d nipped the rubber putting number 3 injector in and it was happy ticking over in the workshop but not climbing down from the trailer.
The second protest was four faults at noise. She was doing 108 with a brand new silencer on because of what seemed to be over-fuelling. When I was trying to hold her at 5,000 revs she was not running crisp. The pah pah pah pah sound was like she was on the limiter but revved up freely enough. The noise was cured by inserting a baffle up the chimney.
Out on track and she wasn’t running crisply. For the first time ever, I could note a significant improvement and sound change when the TVIS kicked in. Eugene has never done that.
During the last stint of the day, there was a marked drop in performance and on one occasion I looked behind to see a puff of smoke so I dipped the clutch at Druids and freewhwwled her onto the trailer.
Thursday night I had a tinker with the car putting new exhaust gaskets in and I also repaired a pipe to a sensor that had cracked which gave an immediate improvement to the running of the car. The compressions were checked and all were bang on 14 bar which by a stroke of luck puts her in to legal territory should the compression limit of 220psi be brought back in for 2015
So we will see if she lasts out. I’ve had a pretty poor season to date so no pressure like there was last year.
My lap times in testing were in the 2:12s so well down in mid-field based on last year’s qualifying times so let’s hope I’ve cured a few of the problems.
I would like to report dawned bright and breezy but the truth is that about 5:15am the sound of the rain beating down on the roof of the van was unbearable and almost overpowered the sound of the wheelie bins being blown across the paddock.
The rain ensued well into the morning, through Nippon qualifying and although it had stopped before MR2 qualifying started, the ground was wet and the spray from the track was terrible.
MR2 Qualifying was perhaps the worst I have ever had. I only managed to complete one lap at anything like competitive speed and it wasn’t really competitive. Lap one was the outlap. Lap 2 abandoned due to catching slower cars, lap 3 was my “quick” one despite me being baulked by a couple of cars. Lap 4 and Arron was in the gravel, lap 5 was another outlap, lap 6 and I was in the gravel, lap 7 another outlap and lap 8 I spun it at Knickerbrook. I think it can be best described as character-building.
Race 1 Attempt 1
I got a belting start from the fifth row of the grid and exited Old Hall in sixth place. I passed Simon Miles in the Hyundai Coupe on the drag up towards Shell Oils and by the hairpin I was on the tail of the leading quartet. By the end of the first lap, I was looking for a way past Nathan in fourth which, by the time we reached the haipin he had gifted me by firmly planting himself in the gravel trap I had visited in qualifying where he was joined by Eddie O’Cane. I pressed on, soon catching on to the tail of McKenzie Taylor but by the end of the lap, the red flags had been waved and we all lined up to do it again.
Race 1 Attempt 2
My start this time wasn’t that cracking and I decided to follow Paul Corbridge around Old Hall as he seemed to know where he was going. I’d had a better start than Paul so had to sandbag a bit behind him but it seemed all other routes were occupied. Paul drifted wide on the exit and onto the grass, a luxury I was denied as I had a big Orange Hyundai on the outside of me so I had to lift and describe a tight exit. I outpaced Simon in the Hyundai down to Cascades and by the time we reached the hairpin, Paul had exited stage right and it was now his turn to rotate along the grass towards the gravel trap. I backed off slightly so that I could watch but unfortunately, the hairpin loomed and I couldn’t stay to see the impact so I was off after the leading trio of Jon Winter and Adam Lucas in the Hyundais and Macker in the MR2, albeit quite a distance back. It wasn’t long before I was on their tail and I was hassling Jon going in to Druids where I discovered the different handling characteristics of the Hyundais as he lifted mid-corner and frightened the bejayzus out of me; my enforced lift losing me 50m or so.
McKenzie lost it a bit at Lodge and by Deer Leap both myself and Paul Manyweathers were all over him like a cheap suit and the Hyundai did us both into Old Hall for third. My enforced avoiding action allowed Macker back up to fourth and by the time I reached Shell Oils, Simon Miles had snook fifth from me giving me an unfamiliar view of four Hyundais in the top five of a race. I think if we stretch the point, there was a point somewhere at the beginning of lap three where they occupied the top four places for a short time but by the time braking for Old Hall was over, McKenzie had regained his place from Simon. By Shell Oils for the third time, Simon had bagged himself fourth spot and I hope that the photographers got the shot for Jon and the Coupe Cup wall of fame as we all strung out behind the four coops.
Things went a bit Pete Tong on the way down to Knickerbrook though as Adam had been on the grass at the chicane and all got a bit close. Some frantic driving saw Simon lock up and spin out, Macker took to the grass straight lining the chicane and I mopped up by sneaking into fourth and the lead of the MR2 race.
The three Coupes had strung out as we started lap four and McKenzie was all over me so I was defending. It wasn’t looking like we were going to make in-roads from here. I had a blistering run round Cascades and the hairpin and by the time we reached Knickerbrook, I had caught the coupe of Adam Lucas and gapped McKenzie. I kept the momentum through the right at Knickerbrook and was gifted third by Adam who must have made some kind of mistake on the exit of the corner. For the first time in the race, I was able to take Druids unobstructed by a coupe lifting mid-corner and the gap behind increased. I spent the next lap feeling like Ringo as I followed Jon and Paul around and although I narrowed the gap very slightly, I was unable to catch them. More importantly, I was first MR2 home so the magnum of Veuve Cliquot was mine.
MR2 Race 2
The Coupes of Jon and Paul took the front row of the grid and they are notoriously bad at getting off the line with being front scratters. In this case, Jon got away fine, Paul a little tardy but Nathan from behind had an absolute flier and had snook up my right on the pit wall. As we neared the corner, Paul veered to his right and across my path and I was unable to avoid the contact and he was rotated across the front of my car and into the innocent Nathan. I was able to sidestep the rotating Hyundai and continued, albeit with a slightly dishevelled car.
As I descended towards Cascades, my only thought was where to park the car. The steering was out of line, there was a terrible vibration from the front end which was transferring up through the steering wheel which was difficult to hold on to; I was convinced that I would have nothing in the way of a front end left on the car and there was the sound of bodywork scraping on the ground and rubbing tyres.
Re-assessing the situation, I was currently running fourth behind Jon Winter and Mckenzie Taylor who had avoided the incident by being in front; and Eddie O’Cane who simply drove round the outside of it from the fourth row of the grid. Checking my mirrors I couldn’t actually see any other cars. Soldier on!
The first lap was a bit pedestrian and I trailed Eddie by a couple of seconds but the next one I pushed hard to see if I could catch him despite the car troubles. I managed to eek a second out and was within striking distance. A blistering run through Cascades in third gear gave me a run up towards Island bend where Eddie tried to carry a little too much speed, touching the grass and going into the most spectacular spin I have ever seen, rotating at least four times but the speed the car went round was unbelievable. Eddie ended up pointing the right way, selected first gear and carried on behind me.
I now had a 7 second lead over fourth place but could not make any impression over the leading pair who were now 5 seconds in front so I decided to reduce the risk of putting the ill-handling car into the scenery and backed off, doing just enough to keep in front of the closing pack.
What I didn’t know is that the reason why McKenzie missed all the action at the start is because he set off before everyone else so had been awarded a 10 second penalty. By backing off, I’d allowed him to eek a gap out in front of me which turned out to be 10.2 seconds. Bugger. Could have dragged the sorry looking car to another win if I’d have known. Never mind. A win and a second was a good weekend for me and could well have been the swansong for Eugene after a fairly brutal five years of racing.
Thanks go to my Dad for helping me to rebuild the engine and to Matt Coggins and Will for their help on race day.
I plugged an external mic into the camera to get a better quality sound for race 2 and that went tits up. Sorry it’s a bit silent.