It looks so easy on YouTube!

21 05 2015

Blimey what a busy month! After all the rolling road sessions we were finally ready for a shakedown test. I just wanted to get some time in the seat, make sure everything worked and see if anything was going to fall off. A perfect venue for this is Llandow which is a race circuit near Cardiff – so not too far for me, and quite cheap at £90 for a half day. It was a wartime airfield converted to a race circuit in the 60’s. By the end of the 70’s it was in a bit of a state but was used for lots of non RAC events. A few years back it changed hands and now it’s been redeveloped with new tarmac and some chicanes added. It’s not really suitable for racing anymore but its a great trackday, sprint and test facility.

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Anyway, we spent half a day running round the 1 mile circuit. I probably did about 60 laps. It was mostly successful but we found an issue with the 2nd to 3rd gear change – which turned out to be a loose UJ on the remote (cured by fitting a fatter nut and bolt) , and an annoying oil leak from the timing gear end. I’d run out of excuses not to race so with a mixture of excitement and fear I sent my entry off to rounds 3&4 of the Mini Miglia Challenge at Snetterton.

I’m not sure where to start with the Snetterton weekend. I sold it to my brother Sean as ‘an adventure’ and that’s what it ended up being… We set off on the Friday morning for the 250 mile trip from Bristol to Norfolk. There isn’t an easy way to get there and the journey felt like it went on forever. Four hours in we had a blowout on the back of the campervan. The ensuing swerving put us right across into the fast lane which luckily didn’t have any traffic in it otherwise it would have been game over. After what felt an age I managed to get it straight and pulled up on the soft verge of the A14. Already pretty shook up we then spent half hour changing the wheel in the rain whilst endless streams of lorries passed by inches away. Not pleasant! We got it done and set off for the final leg of the journey. If we were cats that would have definatley been one of the 9 lives!

Eventually we got to Snetterton at 5pm and managed to sneak into the fellow Bristol miglia racer Sam Summerhayes’ awning on the end of the Owens Motorsport section. There had been a test day on the Friday and most of the other miglia runners had been out. It was a hive of activity with engines being swapped and setups changed. Endaf certainly had his work cut out looking after a host of miglias and it didn’t stop all weekend.

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After very little sleep Saturday morning came and there was a lot to think about. As well as preparing the car there is signing on and scrutineering to attend, then drivers briefings. I got through all this ok with the help of Sean as well as Nick and Chloe from CFM Motorsport, and got ready for the 15 minute warm up. A warm up is quite a luxury but I really needed it as apart from YouTube I didn’t know the circuit at all. I’d been here before doing spanners with Rob Talbot and his mini7 back in 2000 but never raced it. So it was not ideal when a CV joint let go 1 lap in. I’d have to learn the circuit in qualifying.

With the CV joint changed we rocked up at the assembly area on slicks with dry settings. Just before we were about to take to the track the heavens opened and it humped down. Looking around all the other guys had been here before and realistically they were going to be quicker so I decided to crack on with slicks and get my mandatory 3 laps in. As the session went on the rain tailed off so I pressed on even though Sean, Nick and Chloe had the wets at the ready. I finished the session with little drama but it’s fair to say my Autograss experience came in handy a few times! As expected the times weren’t great but I qualified 15th for the first race and 13th for the second.

After a quick check over of the car the race came round pretty quickly. The sun and wind had got the circuit back to being dry again. However, I’d not raced it in the dry so speeds, braking points etc were going to be different but at least I now had a fair idea of which way the corners went! After a warm up lap we took our positions on the grid. This is it then. The lights went out and we were all off towards the fast right hander Turn 1. Knowing this was an accident hotspot in previous miglia races I wasn’t surprised when there was a big coming together. A few wheel arches and other bits of trim went flying up in the air and the unfortunate Tony LeMay exited stage left. I backed off slightly and that was enough for the pack to get away from me going into Sears hairpin and the rest of the complex. Lesson number 273 of the weekend is that it’s essential at Snetterton to keep with the pack so you can get a tow on the 2 long straights. I’d lost this already so I was in for a lonely race. Maybe this was a good thing as there was a fair amount of carnage up front. I could tell this by the various wheel arches and headlight rims that I kept having to dodge! But I kept plodding on learning the circuit and trying to go faster each lap. I didn’t set the world on fire but I finished (10th) and didn’t bin it.

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Fantastic photos by Matthew Barrington

Watching my YouTube footage, as I already knew, it’s clear I was being over cautious in most of the corners so next time I’ll push harder. For instance Turn 1 despite being a 90 degree right at the end of a long straight was being taken by the front runners in 4th with just a slight lift, but I was changing down to 3rd. It’s certainly one of those corners you can take faster than you think, and there were several like that. Circuit knowledge is one of, if not the most important factors to be fast in this game. Unfortunately towards the end of the race I could hear some unhealthy noises coming from the gearbox. They seemed to clear when in 4th so I limped round in top gear for the last 2 laps. Because of this I reluctantly withdrew from race 2. Rob Howard kindly offered his spare gearbox but my worry was that if I damaged it I would have 2 gearboxes to buy – not just one, and that would certainly put us out of action for a few months. Besides, by that point I already been plied with 9% Belgian beer by our new friend from the internet Pieter Van Cleemputte… And since then Rob has told me the mainshaft on his spare was snapped when it went to Swiftune for a checkover this week – so as usual beer was the best option 🙂

So a night in the bar it was, and good to see the mini7 club still enjoys a pint of a Saturday night. Sunday came and we stayed to watch the mini7 and miglia races which were both brilliant as usual. We set off home as soon as the miglia race finished hoping to get back to Bristol at a reasonable time, but it didn’t work out like that.

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We got another blowout on the A14 (exactly opposite the spot where we had one on the way up!) and without a spare we were screwed. The AA came and rang round the various tyre suppliers and couldn’t get any anywhere so we had to be towed home. After 3 hours a truck came and towed us to the services where we waited for another hour for an AA truck. Eventually we set off for Bristol around 6pm. He said he knew a short cut. 3 miles in and we were in a big traffic jam, then diversions, then the M4 was closed near Swindon. And the final insult was 2 miles from home he had to stop for his mandatory 45 minute break! We finally got to my house at 1am, and then took an hour to unload the camper off the lorry, mini off the trailer etc. Proper knackered!

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So now I’ve had chance to strip the motor down I’ve found the cause of our gearbox woes. 2 teeth missing from the laygear on 4th, so the race is on to find a Jack Knight involute laygear before Brands Hatch at the end of June. JKD went bust years ago so I’ve asked everyone to have a look in their spares boxes to see what they’ve got. Fingers crossed!

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