A major rebuild of the car took place over the winter, largely comprising of a gearbox rebuild, engine strip and check, new 15" wheels and tyres which necessitated rear wheel arch extensions, Wilwood aluminium front brake calipers with new vented discs, steel half-shafts and a total re-paint in yellow and blue. As usual, Martin (Stackpoole) was instrumental in the car being ready in time.
A feeling of gloom crossed both Martin and me as we arrived for a scheduled test session at Mallory Park, just four days prior to the Donington race. I had scheduled the last minute test at the short Leicestershire circuit, but the weather was very poor with persistent rain all morning and although there were no dry spells we did manage 25 laps and proved to ourselves that the car was not going to fall apart in the first race.
This pre-race session allowed us to try the new dry weather tyres (terrible in the rain) and also the old wet weather tyres which were a marked improvement and significantly better than I remembered them being. In fact the last time I had used them was over 18 months previously at a terribly wet race meeting at Brands Hatch when I severely damaged the rear of the car.
Come Saturday and the drive to Donington the evening before the race was equally wet, but miraculously the rain stopped before we arrived and was not seen again that weekend.
Practice A reasonable session given my period of absence from racing, but significantly slower than Paul Lucas who was using Kevin Ginger's heavily modified Mk IV Spitfire. Paul had blown the engine in his own car in a race some weeks previously and had not yet been able to rebuild it. His practice was equally unfortunate and he was sidelined after only a handful of laps with a holed oil cooler, but still managed to set fastest class A lap.
I was third on the Class A grid and slightly quicker than all the other Triumphs which was pleasing, but marginally slower than Brian Cook in his hugely improved MG Midget. Brian's lap times have improved by several seconds this year and he puts this down to his discovery that both front shock absorbers were defective.
The TSSC Triumphs were: Myself, Paul Lucas, Dave Beardsley, Steve Crane, Martyn 'Grisly' Adams and Bob Moseley in Spitfires, John Davies in his newly side-skirted Vitesse, the GT6 of John Pinkney but being driven by Colin Elstrop, the two Sports Car Supplies GT6s of Andy Haw and ???? and Russell Munn in the TR7 Sprint. Not a bad Triumph turnout.
The Race The start of the race was a total shambles with cars forming up all over the place. Apparently the grid was supposed to be lined up in the assembly area in grid order and then once at the grid the drivers were supposed to find their own start points. However they forgot to tell to drivers and the ensuing grid bore no relation to the practice times. Luckily I was closer to the front than I should have been so there were no complaints from me!
Brian Cook had one of his typically quick starts and was in the lead of Class A by Redgate (the first corner). Paul had been baulked and was directly in front of me, but was soon charging after Brian who he caught and passed after only a few minutes. I followed Paul through, but could not keep up with him.
By lap 3 Paul was out with a seized differential, leaving a huge trail of gear oil round the final section of the circuit. This put me comfortably in the lead of class A. However caution got the better of me for once and the oil line which Paul had laid down slowed me through one of the faster parts of the track allowing Brian to catch me up and overtake with only 1 lap to go.
A lapse of concentration let Colin Elstrop through at the end of the last lap - Although he is in a class higher than me for the 750MC championship, I had forgotten that he was in the same class as me for the TSSC series. Damn.
Hence I was second in class for the 750MC and for the TSSC. Still, not bad for first time out this year.
Further back, but not very far, was the closely fought Dave Beardsley, Steve Crane and Martyn Adams battle which ended in that order. Dave's performance advantage over Steve and Martyn is slowly being eroded making for an exciting season. I'll have to keep on my toes otherwise they'll be up with me and I can do without that!
There is very little opportunity for me to work on the car at the moment as I am working all week in Amsterdam and coming home only for the weekends. However, following the Donington race there was very little to do and Noreen and I arrived at Cadwell on the Saturday afternoon prior to race day. The Formula Vee section of the club had arranged some evening testing so I paid my money and did about 10 laps of the full circuit.
A substantial amount of the track had been re-surfaced since my last visit over a year previously and the sharp right hand corner into The Mountain had been somewhat modified. This right hand corner was notorious for extreme kerb hopping with most drivers, me included, getting the left wheels over the kerb, let alone the right ones! A collapsible post has now been fitted at the apex along with harsher steps in the kerbing to deter such activity. The result of this change alone has been to add about one second to lap times.
Meanwhile Martyn "Grizzly" Adams had been testing on the Friday and had shown a huge improvement over the past couple of races. He was lapping seven seconds faster than last year and only a half-a-second or so slower than me. This gave a target time to aim for and an obliging Kevin Ginger timed my laps for me.
About half way through the session I had a sudden and huge tank-slapper of a slide through Mansfield which left me about 40 yards off the track. A later inspection of the car showed excessive rear wheel bearing play which could not be corrected for the race, so I wound up the shock absorber stiffness on the back of the car and hoped for the best. Whether this was a contributory factor or not I do not know, however I had been suffering from unexplained rear wheel patter both here and at Donington.
Practice More cars than allowable race starters were entered leaving a couple of class A cars as reserves. However, due to the non-appearance of four entrants (including Pete Richards in his new racer, a Fiat X1/9) they all got in.
After a good, relatively traffic free practice I was delighted to be lining up 8th on a grid of 26 cars, right alongside Paul Lucas and only three quarters of a second slower. Next in Class A was Martyn Adams followed after a significant gap, by Steve Crane, Dave Beardsley and all the others. There was nearly 20 seconds a lap separating the front and rear of Class A. In all, ten Triumphs turned out making it one of the best attendances for some time.
The Race For a welcome change I got a good start, beating Paul off the line and up the long left-handed hill. However, come Park Straight and Paul with a better exit from Charlies, dragged past me into the class lead. Over the next 2 laps Paul opened up a 5 second gap but I hung on as best I could, closing it back to about 2.5 seconds by lap 6.
With only 2 laps to go and with Paul was getting closer and Martyn safely about 40 to 50 yards behind me, disaster struck. The engine coughed and spluttered and went into a decline. A glance at the instruments showed zero fuel pressure - an old bugbear had come back to bite me again. I've had this problem before and it's caused by the pump not being able to supply sufficient petrol for the carburettors. At maximum throttle (more than half of this circuit) the engine drinks petrol at over 1 litre per minute - I'll have to get a bigger pump!
By judiciously backing off on the throttle and running in a higher than ideal gear to keep the revs low, it is possible to drive through the problem but it meant Martyn catching and passing me half way through the penultimate lap. I tried to hang on but was losing him and I was worried I would lose 3rd place to Dave Beardsley who was thankfully still not visible in my mirrors. Russell Munn in the TR7 Sprint and a Lotus Elan also passed me at this time, but as they both run in class B it didn't worry me too much.
Yellow flags on the Park Straight indicated a hazard. Lying on the track at Park corner was someone's entire exhaust system, I later learned it was Martyn's and it was drastically affecting his performance. Unbelievably I started reeling Martyn in again, he had a big problem somewhere.
On the last lap, against instinct, I backed off the throttle and ran through the gooseneck in 4th and Mansfield in 3rd gear - far too high but necessary to build fuel pressure. Then a stab on the power and I caught and passed Martyn at the clubhouse. Overtaking here is extremely uncommon as the track is very narrow and a mistake often means an unscheduled visit to the tyre wall at about 50 mph. I just squeezed past Martyn's ailing car, but by Barn I was out of fuel at the carbs again and assumed Martyn would be able to re-take me. However his problem was as severe as mine and although I dawdled over the finish line at about 40 mph, Martyn was still just about behind. It was the closest and tensest finish I've had for quite some time.
Martyn was undeniably disappointed at not coming second, but being third he gained his first ever motor racing trophy.
Dave Beardsley finished fourth and secured the 1997 750MC Roadsports Class A Championship and also second overall. Steve Crane, desperate to beat Dave, threw it all away again with a spin, guilty of trying too hard. I know, I've been there.
Pete Whiteman was back racing in a poorly Spitfire, this his first outing since a monster crash at this circuit earlier in the year which bent the chassis and wrote off the bonnet. His newly repaired car was misbehaving all day and he wasn't really in the running. Newcomers Davy Jones and Taffy Edwards both turned out in their Spitfires, but Jones was left against the tyre wall at Park Straight.
Class A Result - 1st Paul Lucas, 2nd Jon Wolfe, 3rd Martyn Adams, 4th Dave Beardsley, 5th Steve Crane.
The rear wheel patter experienced at Donington and Cadwell was put down to excessive float in the rear wheel bearings and this was corrected for Pembrey by gluing the bearings in place with a special Loctite bearing retainer. This seemed to work fine! We also fitted a new, higher capacity fuel pump to try to alleviate the starvation problems.
The only problem on the journey was being stopped on the M4 by the police for not having a break-away cable fitted to the trailer. They also noticed a slight disparity between the registration number on the Range Rover and the one on the trailer...oops produce documents...
Practice Before practice even started we suffered a few more problems with the car - this is probably as a result of not being able to undertake quite so much preparation as usual due to my living in Amsterdam during the week. I noticed a fractured water feed pipe, the rear fog light was inoperative and it was not possible to select reverse gear. All three were sorted by practice however.
Contrary to my normal method of charging from the outset, I decided to go for the slow build-up of speed during the practice session. However, my plan was foiled when I lost traction on lap 8, just as my lap times were progressively improving. The problem emerged as being a sheared drive key probably caused by the bearing being glued in slightly the wrong place preventing the wheel flange being pulled up tight onto the drive shaft. This meant that all the power was being transmitted through the key and understandably it broke.
Once the key is broken, the drive shaft spins in the output flange and makes quite a mess. It was fortunate that we were able to bodge it up for the race. Luckily we had some key steel and managed to clean up and modify the output flange with a file and an angle grinder! It was then crushed onto the shaft with a couple of hundred foot pounds of torque on the retaining nut. It survived the race admirably.
The Race I was easily out-qualified by Paul Lucas and by just under a second by Dave Beardsley, however I was reasonably confident that barring any problems I could beat Dave to the finish. Steve Crane was right behind me and uncomfortably close on lap times.
I had a good start off the line but had made the mistake of adjusting the brakes before the race. I now had far too much front bias and the wheels locked up into the hairpin allowing both Dave and Steve Crane through in front of me. It took 4 careful laps to catch them and as I passed Steve on braking at the end of the start finish straight I could not select 2nd gear and had to run wide at the corner. This let Steve and Dave get away again.
I understand that they passed and re-passed each other a couple of times as I charged to catch them. On about lap 8 my devilish rear-wheel patter set in again (what the hell is causing it?) and from that point it was a real battle to keep the car on the road with two monumental spins ensuing.
On the second spin Martyn Adams got past me, dropping me to 5th in class A. However, Dave was sidelined when both his throttle cables broke and Martyn let me past on the last lap when I sneaked in behind a Lotus which was lapping us both. He was suitably annoyed with himself as it promoted me to class third.
Not a bad season so far with 2 second places and a third from only 3 races. Thanks to Mike and Martin whose efforts won that 3rd place for me and also for towing the race car home and unloading it for me after the race.
Light rain began only half an hour prior to practice but a change to wet weather tyres was made. We were lucky enough to be able to use the huge F1 style pit garages and the foul weather, for once, was no problem at all. The tyre choice was right as the track was very wet by practice time and a good set up left me second fastest with Paul Lucas a second or so quicker, and Dave Beardsley a comfortable one-and-a-half seconds behind. Then the news came that Paul was out with a wrecked engine. Class 'virtual' pole was mine with a good gap to the next car. A class win was in my grasp for the first time for about 18 months and the butterflies duly visited.
We checked and re-checked the car determined that I should not be sidelined by a silly problem.
The Race The grid was formed into the collecting area, but after a 20 minute delay, the whole race meeting was cancelled because of excessive standing water on the track. Having acheived 'virtual' pole, to use a football expression 'we wuz gutted'. Probably my worst racing day ever.
After a change of running order (brought about by a team meeting the night before - or ganging up on John as it's sometimes called) Dave Beardsley took the start leg and started us off in the way we were to continue by blowing up his engine after only one-and-a-half laps. Steve Crane (second out) wrecked his gearbox after about only 25 minutes, and was followed by me who miraculously managed about 30 minutes without any problem other than being shoved off the track (literally) by an errant Austin Healey.
This largely inauspicious start was followed by Russell Munn in the TSSC Spitifire colloquially known as Quasi, and he withdrew after only a few laps with a blown differential. Things were getting worse and worse and, guess what, they got worse again. Russell Williams stint ended up with his gearbox biting the dust, pulling him out of the team. Sixth on the track, Bob Mosely did a tremendous job lapping well and actually came in on time.
In the meantime, a team of able mechanics (lead by Andy Jowett) had stripped the gearbox and propshaft from Dave Beardsley's car and re-fitted it to Steve Crane's but all was not well as the clutch would not engage correctly. I went back out to do my second stint - planned to be 30 laps but I was called in early when the pace car came out to allow clearance of broken down cars from the track. Other than that it was a good spell in which I had an exciting 20 minute race with a Rover engined (1400 cc) Caterham 7.
Bob went back out while I got ready for my third stint. Further investigation of Steve's clutch problem, which involved getting the gearbox out again, revealed that somehow some of the flywheel bolts had sheared leaving us with a totally dead car.
My third session had lasted about 15 laps when I noticed a small amount of oil spraying into the car from the transmission tunnel and decided to come in as smoke began emanating from under the car. This was especially annoying as I was having a good dice with Brian Cowan in his mighty Aston Martin V8. As I pulled off the track the engine shuddered and died. Investigation showed that the front pulley nut had come off and allowed the pulley to shake free taking the crankshaft woodruff key with it. This meant the valve timing went haywire and the engine died as the pistons hit the valves. Good night Vienna to me and only Bob Mosely left.
Sagely, Manager John asked Bob if he wanted to continue alone and between them they decided to withdraw the team with over 2 hours still to run. By the end of the race at 5 o'clock, our team area was virtually clear and most of the team had left. Not a good year for Team TSSC, but I guess we'll be back next time.
As a point of note, poor Dave only lasted a handful of laps in 1996 when his car was also canibalised for spares and has decided that for 1998 he will arrive with his car in pieces right from the start to save time.
As ever, John Davies did a good job of organising not only the team but the accomodation and sponsor's hospitality (with Jo Beardsley) and it was appreciated by everyone. Martin Stackpoole spent most of the afternoon out on the pit signalling wall and he and his sporadic helpers did a good job of keeping the drivers informed of progress. Thanks again to Mike & Martin for towing my race car home (in the van, not personally) so I could return in the Range Rover with Noreen and the kids.
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