After the last round at Castle Combe in September there was a feeling of unfinished business at race HQ. After a season of highs and lows we have experienced the disappointment of retirement (twice) and one failure to start, as well as the buzz of podium finishes. To retire from the last round with a broken driveshaft was gutting, but to pull out of the race from the class lead was a hard pill to swallow.
Fast forward to the Walter Hayes Trophy held over the weekend of 6th 7th November. The WHT is a festival for Formula Fords, but they stage a few historic and production based closed wheel races to pad out the schedule. Our partner TM Racing like to run here as a season finale, and we went along in the R50 Cooper last year, so we booked on to run again this year.
The difference this year was that we were eligible to run in a 1 hour production endurance race, with a mandatory pitstop and optional driver change. I elected to do the full race myself. We were planning to use the race as an opportunity to prove the mechanical repairs and upgrades fitted to the car after the trouble we had in August and September. We had fitted new driveshafts and wheel bearings, as well as reverting back to the original gearbox with a new Limited Slip Differential fitted. My best times in the R50 were 1:22 during the race on 2020, so given the extra power of the R53 we expected to be around 1:17 or so this year.
As it turned out the car was much more punchy than we thought, I clocked 1:10’s very consistently during qualifying. The recent remap which added 20% power and a lift of 20% torque, coupled with the superior drive out of corners with the competition LSD made a massive difference. The concern we had was endurance. We were not allowed to refuel the car at the pitstop, so had to run the full race on just a tankful of 45 litres. The car was using about a litre a lap at Combe, and the Silverstone National circuit was a tiny bit longer.
I qualified 4th on the road, the second of the Hatchback cars, and first in my class of sub 1600cc cars.
We took the start and I settled into a conservative rhythm of 1:11’s as I was heavy with fuel. The two front row cars, a Zeos Sports prototype in P1 and a Porsche Cayman GT4 CupSport in P2 screeched off into the distance, and I pounded round behind the P3 Astra which began to belch blue smoke on the grid.
After 8 laps I came through Copse to waved yellow flags and sure enough, the Astra had expired – so I was up to P3.
After 24 laps I was called into the pits by my mechanic Andy from the pitwall. It was exactly half distance time wise, but worryingly we had used more than half a tank of fuel.
I returned to the track and set about “stroking” the car for the remaining 30 minutes to make sure we finished. I was short shifting, and running one gear higher for most of the lap, but my times only dropped to 1:13’s, so it seemed OK.
After 18 more laps the fuel light came on, and I started to get concerned. The other car in my class had retired, so as long as I finished I would get a trophy for the class win – but could I finish?
On the 23rd lap after the stop, the car spluttered on the Wellington straight, I stopped breathing to see if that would help!
I cruised round to the pit entrance and the car kept running, sadly there was no chequered flag this time…. I logged 1:17 lap, but had at least another lap to run. I slowed further making sure to weave a bit to slosh the last dregs of fuel to the pick-up pipe.
At Copse the Zeos had run off into retirement. I was up to P2, but it would count for nothing if I stopped on the track!
Logging a 1:50 for what would surely be my final tour, I was relieved to see the chequered flag just as the engine coughed its last. I popped the box into neutral and pushed the clutch in. The new wheel bearings probably helped as I rolled over the line, to much cheering from the marshalls on the pitwall, and rolled to a stop just off the track 100 metres after the line!
Cutting it fine! Race distance plus 100 metres is not what I’d hoped for, but a result is a result!
I was pushed back through the gate in the pitwall and got a bit of fuel from my crew and drove round to race control to present myself. They confirmed my finish in second and I was presented with a nice trophy. I was also classified winner of class TC1, so that upped my trophy haul to 5 for the year.
The aim for 2020 was to keep things clean and amass 12 or more race finished so I could qualify as a track instructor. That goal was achieved. The aim for this year was to do some proper racing and score a few trophies. We managed a total haul of 5, and did a lot of racing in the process. We also learned what the bittersweet sting of retirement is like, so all in all a very successful year!
The cars will be tucked up for the winter, and we have a third car to complete so we have a fuller fleet to offer for 2022. My race car plus two cars for hire.
We have confirmed the continuation of the sponsorship from Wiltshire RoADAR, and hope to secure more sponsorship to assist with our efforts during the coming season.
Onwards and upwards.