DONINGTON PARK, 02 APRIL 2006

WHY ISN’T DONINGTON PARK IN CALIFORNIA?

The weather forecast did predict rain it must be admitted but we certainly didn’t expect the trouble it would cause all day. For the HSCC season opener at Donington Park we had the Surtees TS8 returning to the track for the Derek Bell Trophy and the Crossle 19F making its debut in the Classic Racing Cars series – the car now minus slicks and wings. We had tested the Crossle earlier in the week and found it to be extremely evil in the handling department – darting around unexpectedly especially at high speed – so were not very confident about troubling the leaders. The Surtees however looked to be ready after its winter rest.

The TS8 was first out under overcast skies with the odd drop of rain. I had not really run the car for a year to the majority of the session was getting to know each other once more. Overall I was pretty pleased with the practice time of just over 1:13 and tenth on the grid. Simon Hadfield and Martin Stretton led the way comfortably, more than two seconds quicker than anyone else while a bunch of us were grouped at times from 1:10 onwards. There is definitely more time to be had from the driver in this car so I was reasonably confident of a good race.

The Crossle was however a different matter. The changes from slicks and wings had made a dramatic difference to the car and it was now unpredictable in the extreme. There was no sense of being able to lean on the car especially in fast corners. At high speed down the back straight the car was quite worrying indeed with an alarming tendency to jump sideways coming over the crest under the Dunlop Bridge. Coincidentally the current owner of Crossle, Arnie Black, who also owned and raced this car for the best part of a decade, was in the paddock visiting from Belfast. His immediate reaction on looking at the car was that it was riding too high at the front. Having watched out on track he reported back that the front was rising quite significantly at speed – not surprising therefore that it was going light at the front under top speed.

Dramatic action was required so we turned the front springs down four full turns and because of the rain coming down softened the front roll bars and completely disconnected the rear bars. Arnie has also offered to take the car back to the factory and fit new drive shafts (it is currently running illegal non-period CV joints rather than original doughnuts) and then set the car up in Kirkiston. This would certainly seem to make good sense and is in the plans for the future.

The Races

Over lunch the rain started in earnest and had all the DBT drivers looking skyward. Eventually everyone put wet tyres on and set off out the out lap before the rolling start. However the track seemed to have a clear dry line and as we came around to the pits the entire field dived to the left and started frantically changing tyres onto slicks. All except yours truly of course because our tyres were not in the garage area – space restrictions meant we were banished to the back of the pits area. By the time the tyres arrived the race was long gone and so I stepped out very frustrated. As it happened I should have stayed as I was on wet tyres as it suddenly began to rain with three laps to go and the winner was Mark Dwyer driving from the back of the grid (he had missed practice) in his March 742 powered by an M12 BMW. He overtook leader Simon Hadfield on the last lap – Simon says he simply wasn’t concentrating – for a perfectly timed victory.

That just left the Classic Racing Cars event to ease the annoyance for the day. Things didn’t look good when the clutch suddenly started grabbing and making the most horrible screeching noise standing still. On the start line when the red lights went on the car naturally started to move which didn’t help but I did manage a good start and gained a few places into Redgate. Hanging onto the back of Ian Gray’s ex-John Watson BT30 all was looking good until the red flags appeared on the second lap. Off we went again but this time my start wasn’t as good. However a race long battle with the Brabham continued with Gray’s better handling car just winning out. Final result – 7th overall and 3rd in class. In fact, with three laps to go the heavens opened and survival became the main aim as the track was very slippy indeed. The handling of the car was significantly better though when the track was dry and I am sure we can make things even better with further setup changes.

Next up is Cadwell Park – the mini-Nurburgring of the North! We are running the Crossle again and also the Lotus 20B Formula Junior which is returning after the retirement at Goodwood.

 

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