Four Races and Food For Thought

HSCC Silverstone Finals

December 20th 2007.

As is traditional these days the HSCC held their season ending race meeting around the National circuit at Silverstone.  The home of British motor sport was a fine sight this year with truly beautiful weather greeting a packed paddock making up a full programme of bumper grids.  I know some people count the grids but even without that it was clear that most events had anxious reserve drivers.

For Ecurie Scalpel, there were four races to consider.  Yours truly was planning three in a row and Simon Diffey made up the quartet.  Simon had the troublesome Elden out fresh from a session on the rolling road last week.  He was quietly confident that a problem had been identified with the carburettor setting and therefore had hopes of a better showing than the last couple of frustrating outings.

For me there was the chance to drive one of Frank Lyons’ Lola T332 F5000 cars.  Generous as ever, Frank was fielding the First National City car for me, since my Chevron had gone to a new home.  The 332 is the ultimate F5000 car so I was certainly looking forward to the chance.

Next up was the Lola Mk1, which has spent the last couple of weeks under the expert care of Rob Hall, and many small but important changes had been made.  A great improvement was promised (which would not be hard I must admit).

After that it was back to the skittish but faithful Crossle 19F.  I have not really had the car out much this year but the recent test day at Donington reminded me what fun this odd car can be when running well.

So for practice.  Simon and the Elden were first up and soon encountered a problem when a slow backmarker forgot to accelerate and the nose of the Elden got a bit of a crunching.  Only a few laps had been completed and Diff found himself down in 20th place.  Leading the pack was the worryingly fast Michael Lyons – now certainly in the big league and not just the best of the novices anymore.

Lola T332 – what can I say?  Well, in my view this is a far superior car to the Chevron even I my amateur hands.  The car just feels lively and nimble rather than the slightly ponderous B28.  The engine in Frank’s car is slightly tired but even so I was pleased with the outcome – 10th place at just over 60 seconds and 2.5 seconds behind Frank.

Leaping onto the scooter, I raced around to the collecting area and was strapped into the Lola Mk1.  Oh dear – it was still pretty horrible.  Now this is better than the original description “gruesome” but the car is still not right.  I thought the rear end was way too stiff and overall there was much too much oversteer.  The gear change was a bit crunchy and any braking had to be done carefully with my foot fouling the throttle pedal.  Indeed when I braked at the end of the back straight on the first lap I nearly joined the BRDC hitting the loud pedal along with the brakes (the clubhouse is straight on at that point!).

Then the Crossle and I thought things went OK.  The track was getting very slippy with lots of oil at Copse and Luffield.  7th overall was a bit disappointing but I was not far off pole in time anyway.  This time however it was not Matthew Watts!!  Michael Lyons had done it again in the F2 Merlyn Mk10.  Sadly though the engine cried enough and he had to revert to the FF car for the race, starting from the back.

The Races

Poor old Simon –he just can’t catch a break with the Elden.  Off he went and for several laps was holding his own in the midfield and then suddenly disappeared.  It seemed the engine suddenly sounded expensively bad and he switched off.  Back in the paddock he found that the exhaust pipe on cylinder No 1 had simply sheared off about two inches from the manifold!  Quite bizarre really but at least not expensive which is something at least.  We plan a winter assessment of the engine because it still worries me that the power isn’t there.  Simon does not finish 20th in qualifying in anything really – certainly in a category like FF.  The car is making him look bad which he certainly isn’t.  Answer?  It has to be the engine!

The Derek Bell race was led from lights to flag by Peter Williams in his rebuilt March 761 F1 car.  Never troubled, he headed Mark Dwyer (Lola T400) and Neil Glover (Lola T332).  Me?  I ended up 7th after a fairly uneventful race just ahead of Bruce Fullerton in his yellow Lola.  The main problem in the race was a fluffy engine which got worse and worse as the race went on.  Onlookers told me later that there was quite an amount of smoke from the left hand cylinder bank so Frank’s decision to have an engine change over the winter sounds right to me.  In the meantime I must thank him for allowing me experience this wonderful machine – I need more!

The Lola Mk1 was next, with newly softened rear and filed off brake pedal.  I had told Rob after practice that I thought everyone else out there were racing their cars whereas I was just driving around in mine.  Would this be different?

Well the quick answer is yes – it was better than before although I still think the steering is too stiff and the drive train sounds very rough to me.  I made a sluggish start and stayed away from the bumper car stuff before cranking it up a bit – only for the gearbox to jam after three laps!  I keep reminding myself that these cars are real gems.  Mine seems to be pure Zircon rather than diamond right now but we have the winter to make it better.  Please, please!

After the enforced rest following the demise of the Lola I was ready to go for the Classic Racing Cars event.  Regulars will know that this event often included Matthew Watts clearing off to win leaving a bunch of us behind to scrap over the crumbs.  This one was no different really – at least the first part was anyway.  Matthew led from start to finish!  The rest was a bit different though.  For several drivers the race ended at Maggots where several cars tried to use the same piece of tarmac.  Out on the spot were Ian Gray, Mike Scott and Anthony Ross.

That left me behind David Coplowe in his McLaren M4A which he has owned for ever.  Putting it briefly, we had a massive dice which involved me surviving a huge slide coming out of Copse and dropping way back thinking I had a puncture.  Then I caught up again and tried to spin at Luffield but instead went rally crossing on the infield.  A couple of laps later I finally got ahead at Luffied and managed to hang on until the flag – third overall.  A nice end to the year I guess.

So what can we say for 2007?  Well, don’t ask me about engines for a start.  The Chevron, Surtees, Huffaker, Brabham and Lola have all suffered in this way.  The Lotus got crashed and the Chevron got sold.

On the positive side, Simon Diffey proved many times how fast he is and how slow I am – something to aim at.  Frank and Judy Lyons have proved firm friends when trouble raised its ugly head and son Michael is starting to deliver on the promise we saw earlier.  A winter of F Renault will tell us a lot about his future.  I drove my first F1 car, which was a great experience, and Derek Bell proved what we all knew anyway, that he remains a class act.  All I have to do is give him a car to drive in August 2008 and make sure it keeps going a little longer than three laps!

Oh yes – there is the new arrival in the form of the Golden Wonder called the Toj SS02.  Now that should be fun!

Thanks go to Stuart Riley for looking after us so well and without much complaint.  The HSCC office also do great work with good humour and great enthusiasm and not enough money.  Finally, I have to pay special tribute to Frank Lyons – a true gem and real friend.  I could not do it without him really.


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