DONINGTON PARK, 05 MAY 2007

FUN AND FROLICS IN FORMULA ONE

Almost nine months after I bought the car I had the opportunity to make my debut in a proper F1 car – the Surtees TS9B. This was also my debut in the Masters Series run by Ron Maydon and team including Christopher Tate and Rachel Bailey. This was also the first time that the Masters Series had laid on the entire event – each race was part of their new package of F1 cars, sports cars, sports races and saloon cars. Also along for the ride were the HGPCA and their wonderful collection of early GP machinery.

The Surtees turned up looking beautiful and ready to go as one might expect from the highly professional team from Hall and Hall. Unusually for me I only had the one car for the weekend so I was able to concentrate on driving this beast in what was a pretty rarefied atmosphere. Also taking part in the race was James Hanson in his rapid March 761, Frank Sytner in his Penske and a couple of what I called ringers! Duncan Dayton and Andy Wallace shared Duncan’s beautiful Brabham BT33 doing one race each – sadly in my class!

Qualifying was in the dry thank God. The traffic was pretty bad and the speed differentials quite extreme so looking in the mirrors was of paramount importance. In addition to that however my biggest problem was with the gearbox where I was still struggling with fourth gear. I found changing up to fourth was somewhat of a lottery and was therefore very worried about buzzing the engine with potentially disastrous consequences. We had also made a new seat in the morning and immediately I found it was no good. I was sitting too low in the car and could not really see out properly and was trying to look through the screen – not good. Overall therefore I was happy enough to finish 14th out of 23.

Talking about looking in the mirrors I was immediately surprised to learn that ownership of an F1 car does not imply a high standard of track behaviour! One particular driver blatantly chopped me on two occasions as I was passing – for no good reason other than not being peripherally aware – more of him later though.

Come the race I had the old seat in place, which was better. At the rolling start things got quite hectic into Redgate and I dropped a couple of slots. Having got into my stride though I soon began to struggle with fourth gear again and was losing whole chunks of time. I was just about to pack it in when I decided to carry on and just change from third to fifth. After a few laps I settled down and also began to notice various cars spinning off or taking trips through the gravel traps. My times came down and I actually overtook a couple of cars before the flag dropped leaving me in 12th overall. Shockingly I was stopped in the pit lane to discover that I was third in class. Under the podium arrangements for the day out class was brought up for flowers, champagne and an interview. Quite a baptism overall then! For the record, the race was won by Duncan Dayton followed by Sytner and Hanson.

After the race though there was the small matter of the gearbox, which soon revealed itself to have a badly worn dog ring and ratio. Both were soon replaced by the extremely efficient Alistair, who was looking after the car and trying his best to look after me!

Race 2. Now this looked like being a different matter because the weather forecast was for showers. It rained on and off all morning although never seriously. However as the sports cars noticed the rain was enough to make the track extremely treacherous and many cars went rallying and spinning in all directions. As if ordained for the big boys, after lunch it dried out and our races was held in sunshine.

Off we went again and once again Redgate was very busy. Manfredo Rossi in his beautiful Brabham BT42 arrived inside me with all four wheels locked and smoke everywhere. I pulled out of that one as you might imagine and was immediately passed by four other cars – these boys take no prisoners I guess. There seemed to be quite a few folks anxious to win the race on the first lap so in a cowardly fashion I let them get on with it for a laps or so.

Now I was able to realize that the gearbox was perfect – so it wasn’t me after all! Head down then and off we went and I soon encountered the man with no mirrors. Arriving at Redgate – which turns right of course – he was alongside the unfortunate Mike Wrigley in his March 711. Imagine Mike’s surprise when our friend turned left straight in o the March, which was out on the spot. I was then left with the problem of getting past this man safely and it took me two laps before getting by on the run up to Coppice – a great relief.

By now the race had settled down and a titanic battle had developed between Hanson, Sytner, Bobby Verdon-Roe (McLaren M26) Andy Wallace, Richard Meins (M23) and David Methley making his debut in a March 761. Eventually Hanson won out over Wallace and Meins. Methley was fourth and Sytner blew his engine a lap from the end.

Blew his engine? Did he ever! Simon Hadfield was left to clear up pieces of the sump from the track when the dust had settled. Naturally all the oil came out and landed nicely on the exit from the chicane. One lap from the end I had just put a demon move on Nick Rini in his Surtees TS19 entering the chicane to suddenly see yellow flags AND THEN an oil flag. I was just planning to allow Nick past me again when I hit the oil slick and went past the marshals post on the exit sideways – enough the be able to see Nick exiting the chicane backwards! I held it all together enough to do one more lap before the flag fell and found myself in 9th overall and second in class.

Feeling pretty happy with the outcome I was then summoned to the Clerk of the Course!! I was just about to admit my error of passing under yellows when I discovered than I was in fact the innocent party!! Both David Methley (simple mistake and no harm done) and another driver (quite deliberate in my view) had passed me under yellow flags. David apologized and the other unnamed mad was quietly classed as DNF. Justice eh?

So what was it like then? Well, I was more than happy to return safely with the car intact and without and engine problems. There is no doubt that these are very special cars that demand all you attention. Everything certainly happens at greater speed in an F1 car but I am sure the speed will come with practice. They are thoroughbreds and the best boys get the most out of them for sure. And what about the driving standards? In my humble opinion they are no better than a regular Formula Junior race. The good guys are really good and the bad guys need to think about taking up golf!

 

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