DONINGTON PARK, 15 APRIL 2007

THE SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS – OR PETROL FOR THAT MATTER.

The entire world turned up at Donington Park for the HSCC season opener in hot dry weather that fooled many people into thinking it was summer. A bumper entry indeed, with full grids in every category that included the Chevron B28, Crossle 19F and Lotus 20B from Ecurie Scalpel. The Lotus and Crossle were as last seen in October ’06 (more so than we thought as you will see); while the B28 was fresh from an engine re-build by Terry Van Der Zee.

For 2007, the Chevron is being run by Frank Lyons and his band of wonderful enthusiasts including ace spanner men Simon and Harry – supplemented by Harry’s cousin on this occasion. The car had only arrived to Frank two days before the meeting so this was very much a venture into the semi-unknown.

The first crisis appeared at Scrutineering where the Crossle and Lotus were noticed to have date expired seat belts!!!!!!! This piece of self-inflicted incompetence was truly unforgivable and a lesson to all concerned. Stuart Riley made many phone calls and managed to obtain one new set of belts that were put into the Crossle over lunch. Only having the one set meant the Lotus had to retire to the truck for the rest of the day. NOT a happy sequence of events. Thankfully the club were very helpful and understanding and allowed me start from the back of the grid in the Crossle for the Classic Racing Cars event.

So to the Derek Bell Trophy and the Chevron. Practice started on time and off I went for a couple of quiet laps to bed in the new pads and check all the gauges because of the new engine. Apart from a slight smell of petrol all seemed well until a sudden spray of fluid hit my visor running down Craner Curves behind Lincoln Small in his ex-Derek Bell Brabham BT30. Unsure that the stuff wasn’t coming from the B28 I pulled in for a quick check – all was well. Soon enough it became clear that it was poor old Lincoln who had fractured an oil union and dumped a nice oil slick around the track so the practice was fairly limited and quite slippy. I ended up 10th on the grid behind pole man Simon Hadfield in his Lola 330.

The race itself was a bigger problem though. After the rolling start I soon found myself a lonely 7th wondering if I was going to survive the now terrible smell of petrol. I tried the visor open and the closed but it just got worse and worse. I was delighted to see the flag drop when I had managed to secure a very queasy 6th place and second in the F5000 class. Simon Hadfield was the winner but only after punting off the March 782 of Peter Meryick at the chicane on the penultimate lap!

I have often read about drivers suffering from fumes in the car and wondered how difficult it could be – it often sounds a bit sissy in period articles. Well now I know for sure that 25 minutes was bad enough. I am not surprised Jim Clark drove into a ditch at the Nurburgring in his famous 23B debut having driven for more than an hour. It really was a very unpleasant experience!

After some fresh air and a drink I jumped in the Crossle for the Classic Racing Cars event. Mathew Watts was on pole as usual in his BT28 and I was firmly at the back of the 28-car grid. At the lights I shot away and managed to make up quite a few places before Redgate and simply drove flat out from there on. I have mentioned before that the 19F has troubled us a lot with erratic handling in the past – we have changed tyres and various things to stop it darting about in a straight line. On this occasion however the car was quite predictable and much easier to drive. One or two yellow flags and traffic held me up but I was nonetheless happy – and a bit surprised – to finish third overall behind the usual culprits Watts and Ian Gray in his ex-Watson BT30.

After the race Stuart Riley told me that he had quietly raised the rear of the car because he was convinced it was too low. I wonder if he would have mentioned it if the handling had been worse! Either way I am delighted with the progress we have made and for the first time I feel I can really lean on the car “in company”.

As for the Chevron – a leak from the fuel pressure gauge was found so hopefully I will not be poisoned next time out. For the B28 that will be around the streets of Pau. For the other two cars it is the wonderful Cadwell Park in Lincolnshire next week – new belts for the Lotus of course!!

 

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