The last round; Oulton Park, September 28
The story of the Oulton Park round starts in June at Brands Hatch when the car mysteriously overheated after one of the races. The radiator had gone off like a kettle with no warning in the paddock after the race, and despite it never doing this before, it was decided that it was because of the heat as some other cars had also done the same.
The next round at Mallory with the car treated to a new radiator, she blew a hose off in qualifying and once again boiled like a kettle. From this point on, we were being observant with coolant levels and checking for all the tell tale signs.
At Cadwell it was found that the car would do a 15 minute stint, no problem, but try and push it to two and the engine would overheat and turn the cooling system into a boiler unit and in Nippon Challenge Race 1 I had a geyser shooting 30 feet out of the top of the radiator at one point, taking the cap and a substantial towel with it. The engine had actually seized at one point but with copious amounts of cold water added, she eventually fired; and once the oil had cooled and started to recirculate, the rattling lessened and she was declared good to go. The cooling system was bled after each stint and survived the weekend with a couple of MR2 podiums but it was declared too dangerous to risk it for Oulton.
Despite there being no championship for the MR2 series and no points awarded to tot up to see how you’re going on; there is a fiercely contested “Driver of the Year Award” for the most consistent finisher, and despite my many mechanical issues during the year, I had always managed to drag the car home in the top five, and more often than not, on the podium. Arron Pullen and Paul Corbridge had shared the top step of the podium with eight wins apiece but both had suffered DNFs due to engine or tyre wall related incidents so it was all to play for at Oulton.
The three week gap between Cadwell and Oulton, for me consisted a week’s holiday and a week running an Expo at Olympia so when that had all finished on the Tuesday prior to Oulton Park, Jamey Firth, Matt Coggins and myself started to rebuild the engine. Before my holiday it had been stripped and removed with various parts going away for washing, skimming, pressing in or honing and everything arrived at the workshop on Tuesday night. The midnight oil was burned and vast quantities of energy drink consumed and by the early hours of Wednesday, a complete engine was sitting on the bench ready to lift in.
Wednesday night I was joined by Jamey and between us we fitted, piped and wired the car and in the wee small hours of Thursday she was purring like a kitten in the back of the MR2
Thursday night, Matt and myself repaired the splitting rear cross member and fitted the driveshafts and engine mounts, bled the clutch and generally completed the car and at 9:30 the workshop doors were closed on a completed car.
We’ll call it a test day but it was more of a running in day. The revs were limited to 5,000 initially and after a while I allowed 6,000 and as the stint drew to a close, I let her have 7,000 to see how well my pottering around had taught me the lines. The 2:10 I posted was apparently competitive with the rest of the MR2s so I was happy but the exhaust had sheared from the manifold so with Nathan’s help, I drilled, tapped and generally cajoled the chimney back into place before we joined the rest of the crowd on the track walk.
I had entered the Nippon Challenge as well as the MR2 series so I lined up for quali sporting new rubber. The session was, as usual a bit of a joke with faster cars overtaking on the straights and pootling round the bends and slower cars generally getting in the way. I was lucky to get a 2:12 lap time under the circumstances but towards the end of the session, the car was down on power as the exhaust was once again coming adrift. It was bolted back into place in time for MR2 quali.
MR2 quali started badly. I was late arriving in the assembly area so was last on the track but quite easily found some space but there was a terrible vibration coming from the back of the car. I couldn’t come into the pits as there was no-one to fix anything and I would certainly lose the full session. I persevered and either it improved or I got used to it and by the end of the session I was back up to speed and qualified third on the grid.
Race 1 started well and I was quickly up into second through Old Hall and got the run out of Cascades to pass Paul Corbridge before Shell corner but a slow exit pace had the extremely eager Arron Pullen alongside me up to the chicane and the lead was short lived. My finishing had been more consistent than Arron’s during the year so I was quite happy to sit behind him but he needed to get some places between us so backed me up by brake testing me (that’s stamping on the brakes half way through a fast corner so that I would either crash or run up the back of him and break my radiator) through Druids and Lodge corners. Paul passed me for second and I was fairly comfortable with that so decided to stay behind and pick up any pieces dropped as they started a hammer and tong battle for the lead. If Arron’s plan was to back me up and get cars between us, then my plan was working as well. Nathan had dragged himself up to fourth place and was nicely holding the pack up so I now had a few seconds cushion. Towards the end of the race, I missed an apex quite significantly and this allowed Pete Higton to close up on me. Nathan was struggling with power and had let him slip past and after a lap of following me, he got a run out of Lodge and drew alongside past the start line and I had to employ some vigorous defending to keep him at bay. Pete lost time as a result and I maintained third to the finish.
Race 2 I had another good start and settled in behind Arron and Paul once again. A gap instantly opened up behind and I just sat on Paul’s bumper as he chased Arron for the lead, and on the odd occasion I was able to have a shifty glance up the inside but Paul was defending well. On lap 3, the two leaders started to pull away but I got my head down and dragged them back and by the end of lap 4 I was back on their bumpers and having another sly glance. On lap 5, Paul made an aggressive move on Arron into Knickerbrook which didn’t quite pay off. He drifted sideways and allowed Arron back through and compromised his speed up the hill where I passed him into Druids. I had a few laps to go so set about catching Arron who had a 50 yard lead. I closed the gap and opened one to Paul but at Lodge, Arron Brake tested me again forcing me to take avoiding action. I think Arron must have forgotten how comfortable I am on the grass but it did gain him a few yards but wing man Paul followed me onto the rough and suffered a massive tank slapper which dropped him a few places. I caught Arron back up again during what was now the last lap and his defence consisted weaving all over the road up the hill from Knickerbrook and a heavy brake mid-corner at Druids so it was impossible and also un-necessary to pass. I followed Arron over the line for second place and the coveted Driver of the Year Award.