A lot of work to both cars since Snetterton. Vanessa takes a lot of abuse from running off the road a fair amount of the time, and her rear end needed repair, including some light welding and additional bracing. But, that done, her rear end ought to be more planted and secure than ever. Damage from Snetterton, I opined fatefully, would be best left until after Brands given the tight track and 28 cars predicted. You almost expect a few scuffs.
Comer’s car has an all-new old engine. We bought a very low mileage 1983 3.6 XJS, mainly for the wiring loom and ECU. The plan was to replace the entire injection system that had so plagued the car at Snetterton, by fitting the old, stupid ECU and a clockwork distributor that won’t accept no for an answer. The engine, however, turned out to be a little gem, so clean and new-looking both inside and out that it defied belief. The early head with the pointy cams was whisked off for a quick skim, to be sure, new gasket and bolts, and we plugged the whole thing in. In the workshop she ran up sweetly, sounding a slightly more aggressive note and without any of the histrionics we had at the last meeting.
So we were enthused about Brands, one of our favourites, and two scratch-built cars specifically designed for more twisty circuits. Vanessa was, after all, born at Brands Hatch in 2011, in a glorious sideways shakedown that led Roger to call me a lunatic. I was to test Katy the Friday morning, whilst the hire driver, Jay, would take Nessie out for the afternoon.
The return of the Beard was welcome, his XJS not sold and Kermit up for the first race of the season, testing would at least prove fun because I like slinging a car here and he likes having a lot more power than I ever do, we have had some fun on various test days for years.
Bear and his 3-up lorry set a new door-to-door record that defied physics, and we were sipping beverages in the new Webster motorhome long before the 11pm curfew.
The pitlane opened bang on 9am Friday morning, Katy was first out of the box. To my great joy I hadn’t completely forgotten how to drive and she was spectacularly agile. For the first few laps of that session she was easily the fastest car out there, admittedly partly due to a pilot who had little interest in slowly playing in to the circuit. She was, disturbingly, hitting the ground at Paddock Hill, pretty hard. Not just a springpan or bodykit, the subframe’s sump-guard, a piece of angle welded to it, was hitting the floor and making the car briefly skip. More worrying, however, a temperature gauge that flirted with the red zone after only 4 or 5 laps, and water coming from the overflow shortly afterwards. Back to base.
Investigations at camp suggested that the temperatures were actually fine, the mismatch between facelift instrumentation and 1983 temp sender to blame, the clever thermal probes of Officer David suggested that the water temp itself was not in issue. The overflow could easily be the coolant finding its level, you expect an overfull header tank to blow a little out.
A ride height change at the front, and ready for another go. Once again, she was fast, the engine pulled beautifully, and revved far more easily and higher than I am accustomed to. A short-shifter by nature, an engine that pulls hard through 5500 and begs to keep on going is an alien creature to me. Playing chase the Webster proved Katy was faster in key corners, and I very nearly ran clean into his rear end as the reds came out as I closed on his bootlid into Macleans, unsighted. Sometimes you just can’t see. That was nearly a little embarrassing. But once again, that temperature gauge and a loss of coolant worried. Not my car, I cannot risk it. We fitted a lambda readout, gave the old ecu a couple of cranks more fuel, the early type being adjustable, and the engine note responded well. Lean mix could explain things.
Back on track, and a Pizzala to hunt. Which Katy did quite easily, she is most capable, but reds again interfered. Released again, overtook him immediately, and set about discovering how swiftly we could earn a gap. Fast, we were much stronger at Clearways, the one-lap gap significant. He would later prove to have a diff problem. Katy, on the other hand, still had a water problem.
Time to address this properly. It’s not the mixture, it’s not the cap, or the gauge, we all know that a car that is rapidly pressurising the coolant probably has a failed head gasket, and it’s time to stop pretending otherwise . The test is over anyway, we know what we came to learn – the misfire is history, this works well so long as we just fix this problem.
One head gasket swap. The old one shows number 4 with clear signs of failure. Brilliant. It’s good to find a problem. There is an expensive Seat that broke its gearbox first thing this morning and which is supported by a very large artic which doesn’t seem to have any tools in it, and has to borrow most of ours. A random wanderer borrows a multimeter. It’s that sort of day.
Jay has arrived and is sent out to test Nessie, though he is back after about 5 laps only, complaining of something wrong with the rear end of the car. That the car is sitting at a funny angle and dragging the carcass of a 888 along the floor seems to explain that. Replace both the rears because they are different wheels for his race rubber to the test set. Off we go again.
Head gasket swapped in a leisurely 2 hours, Jay circulating on circuit apparently without drama, all has gone well. As testing ends, time to crack the iced drinks and kick back.
Saturday passed in a lazy haze of tinkering. We took an exhaust off Katy to swap a stud, mostly for entertainment, ran her up to temperature to check our repairs, and enjoyed the smug feeling of a temperature gauge sitting resolutely in the middle of normal. Sorted. Both cars fuelled and ready to go.
The chaos of a pathetically-organised paddock then, there is a full race meeting on today, and MGs don’t seem to care where they are supposed to park. As the Jags start to roll in the paddock fills swiftly, until there is simply no more room. Doesn’t affect us, we’re in, but we can’t help but interfere, stealing space where we can, moving stuff about to organise our own little corner of the world. It’s something to do, isn’t it?
BCB is back, his new X300 ready for battle. It really isn’t. Road pads, road fluid, he’s going to die. Positive camber on the rear end, both wheels toeing in to varying degrees, we’re a bit worried for him.
A wander through the paddock shows that despite Terry’s best efforts, almost nobody has a car with all the right stickers on, including some old hands who really ought to know better.
Sunday at last, scrutineering is the usual breeze, Katy and Nessie sail through. Scrutineers are seen photographing Comer’s car, which still wears the altered stickers we meddled with at Snett. BCB, on the other hand, doesn’t fare well. The car won’t now run, and his belts fail. Despite being brand new, they lack a date, so cannot possibly pass. Start of a miserable day for Bruce.
So to quali, and off hurtle our heroes. Paddock space at a premium, we have to send a roving Bear to assembly whilst we guard the fort. Some muppet with a Noble thinks he’s a Jaguar, and that he can squeeze his Range Rover into space reserved for racing cars. I have killed for less. Piss off and park your road car somewhere else, you can see it’s busy here, how about you exercise your little legs and walk twenty paces to your car?
BCB has diagnosed his car and attacking his wiring, he is just ready for quali, when he reappears looking glum, burst the zip on his race suit. For the second time in as many meetings with Bruce I have to rummage in his gentleman’s vegetables to do his zip up. I don’t think he’s really here for the racing. But his car dies about ten feet from us, no volts in it. Cue a quest for a new battery, and a lunchtime qualifying behind the safety car, but he would make the race.
Comer appears fast at Paddock, and getting faster, until he disappears. We can only hope that he has fallen off the road. Jay is doing a solid job but seems to be, once again, racing in qualifying. But that’s OK, not everyone wants clear air to set a time, some people like the combat to get them going. The usual mixture of smokescreens, puffs of tyre smoke, people blatantly racing, very few seem to have the wit to actually qualify during qualifying.
Our hopes are dashed when Comer’s car appears on the end of a tow rope. Loss of coolant has pulled him into the pits. Not again. Nothing for it, it’s another gasket swap, and do whatever we can to make this car run cold.
This is our last spare head gasket, and the swap is faster, we’re pulling bits off still hot, but we’re drilled in this from Friday, three blokes can tear the head off this car very quickly if they all have a designated role, and whilst it is a pain in the arse to have to do this again, there is a certain peculiar satisfaction to being part of a well-rehearsed team who know what they’re doing, you can take a perverse pride in it even as the sun beats down on our scorched bonces.
Thermostat also removed, vandalised, bypass blocked, a gaffer-tape special to seal the radiator absolutely to the car, no air shall pass. Comer is dispatched to buy proper coolant, we’ve been running her on just water, but something extra might help. There are those who believe that you may not run antifreeze or any glycol-based coolant in UK circuit racing, that it is banned in the MSA blue book. That’s not actually true at all. There are no restrictions imposed on coolant by the blue book. Some race series specify water only, but the MSA itself does not. Aluminium engines are meant to use an inhibitor, and whilst we tend to lean towards water-only, adding coolant might help to, you know, cool it.
We take the water pump off and apart, for the sake of completeness. Nothing wrong in there. Put it back. Now it leaks. Take it off, put it back on. Now it doesn’t. Christ on a bike.
The timesheets are encouraging. Ramm takes pole, by a fraction from Howard. It really is a fraction too, the top ten are not widely spaced. Olson, amazingly, puts it 8th, his best quali ever, by a good ten places. The value of testing and an agile car cannot be underestimated. Comer, despite his woes, is 13th, class pole despite still playing himself into the session, clearly more speed to come.
Unusual to see Philpott high up the order. I’m a bit confused by this car, because it’s Loz Ball’s old machine, clearly with a lot spent on it since, but it’s usually a mid-pack machine. Brands can be a bit of an equaliser, power not quite so important as we have long proven, but last year this car was nowhere in this race, and now it’s right up the front end. I don’t know quite what this car is now. Last time I looked inside it the dash had been cut in half, which makes it a class D car, but some of would be legal for class A, with some class C pretensions. No idea what is actually going on inside it to have it pop up so high on that grid, but it did later seem to be quite nippy, it accelerated very well. That said, the tight and busy quali does make for an odd grid, Gail is way down the order, Palmer too, though struggling with a misfire.
Barclay is about where we expect of him now, we said he was to be watched, but Dave Bye is already out of action, ran a bearing in quali and already well into his beer. Coppock senior broke an engine mount and could barely steer, he is almost last, but now repaired and expected to charge through.
All wrapped up and ready to go in good time. Literally nothing more we can do, this car runs as cold as we can make it. Why did it fail that second time? Well, according to the gasket we took off, it didn’t. No evidence at all that the gasket has failed, we’ve done it for no reason. Hence all the extra activity, she just got hot and threw up, so make her run colder and all will be well. This is part of the problem for the budget racer, the stuff you’re using is crap thrown away by rich men. We don’t put fully rebuild engines into roadgoing class cars, you steal what look to be the best bits from various wrecks, strap it all together with some basic checks and a skim, some new bolts, and then hope, but sometimes running old crap means comes back to haunt you. Sometimes you spend half a season finding the right combination of old crap to make it work. But then sometimes finding that combination makes for something magic. It doesn’t appear to be this particular combination.
Lenthall, wrestling with a misfire talks Office David into giving him the crank sensor off his parked Daimler. Who says we don’t practice what we preach?
Finally, at the end of the day, a race. A number of drivers had, as portents of doom, remarked that starting a race a little before 6pm was going to mean that any kind of stoppage, even in the race before, was always going to cost the Jags their full distance. It was almost inevitable.
Lights out, and Howard makes a good start, makes one decisive, very firm chop across Ramm’s nose, and the race is over. Ramm might actually have been faster, but it was instantly clear he would never get past that XJ12. Absolutely a foregone conclusion from then on.
Jay loses places fast, which was expected, Comer makes a couple up, as usual. You do watch from behind your hands when your cars are racing. Dean Sewell, who has just lettered Comer’s car to get rid of the accidental masturbation reference, now ends up in a good, close quarters scrap with Comer, eventually emerging the victor, but it’s always good to see two cars in a clean, close fight.
Barclay is a resolute third, powering home for the saloon win, with a flying Dorlin struggling to break through to give chase, that Philpott car an unexpectedly difficult foe. It did seem nippy, and it was being driven robustly.
Before it could really get into its stride, however, disaster. Comer’s car comes into view at Paddock back end sliding hard. He gives it the full opposite lock and tries to save it, but into the gravel for a sudden end to his race, and a dustcloud so big that it looks like a special effect. As the next car hoves into sight, they too have a big wobble, as do successive machines, Ramm doing well to catch his. Obviously something on the track. Our immediate suspicion is Philip’s car has shed coolant, but the commentator calls oil.
Gail appears completely sideways, but without appearing to have any opposite lock on, that big yellow school bus just appears at right angles to the direction of travel, and she would later confirm the car snapping sideways and just sitting there waiting for the pitwall to attack her, then sudden, merciful greenery, the car stops sliding sideways, rolls forward, and she autocrosses back onto the tarmac. Webster in close attendance misses her by inches.
Final straw is Dean, who saves the slide and wrestles it out of danger more by force of bicep than physics, but with his 2 wheels briefly in the grit they throw the red flag. And at 6pm, with a small trail of coolant to clear, that’s game over.
Not that this is instantly apparent. They pull Comer clear of the gravel, and then, for reasons best known to someone, direct him to drive it back. They don’t know the race is abandoned at that point, this car dropped coolant, and is full of gravel, yet they make him drive slowly round the entire circuit. Somebody had a brain fart there then, because now there is not just 200 yards to dust, but about 1.1 miles, with a helpful trail of pebbles to shatter every windscreen on the grid. Really clever.
Not a shock to see the cars sent home at that. One wonders how much of that call was the actual coolant at Paddock, and how much was the dawning realisation that the entire track had potentially now been polluted. Could they have actually restarted the race otherwise? I think they could. My opinion is that the red flag was because somebody make a bollocks of this, not the incident itself. Couple that with the desire to go home, and end of race. Not totally fair, if that’s what actually occurred. I do like to speculate.
An incredibly dusty Katy drives back to base. I’ve never seen one so thoroughly gravelled. Excitable children would write messages in the dirt later. Philip laments a sudden burst of steam from the bonnet vent as he passed the start-finish line, and an accident that happened the second he hit the middle pedal. It is bizarre. Not a gradual build-up of temperature, no trailing coolant lap after lap, observers, marshalls, the clerk of the course, all agreed this was a sudden and immediate explosion of coolant and an immediate accident. Clearly that’s not something normal.
Despite offers to get us another head gasket we decline. There is more wrong here than that, and we cannot send that car out again. Some people would indeed fix it and go again, but you cannot behave like that.
Philip is very phlegmatic about it, and there is then the peculiarity of the results sheet. On countback from the red flag, lap 5 is the race result, and on lap 5 he was leading the class. But his car caused the red, and usually that car is excluded, yet this is not what the results say. Results, however, are provisional, and it is clear that the Clerk of the Course is reviewing it, so it is bound to be put straight in the morning.
A boozy bbq, the discovery that Barclay does a surprising number of impersonations of other drivers, that Ramm can scorch paintwork, and that Rich Dorlin spits on the end for luck, are the markers to end a frustrating day at the track.
PART 2 shortly.
From the Pitlane - Brands 2013
Something missing here. Not quite sure what, but something....
With hindsight, I really hate this sodding engine. Which is a shame, because she sounded great.
Back in action, and set for qualifying.
You have to admit, the white car is really pretty. I hope we see more of her.
24 hours later, and still waiting for qualifying.
A busy paddock just keeps on getting busier. This bit wasn't even designated for Jaguars.
XJ6s by the light of an artificial sunset.
The water is from washing cars, not incontinence.
BCB's shiny new deathtrap.
Please fix the brakes before the next race. Please.
Deano strokes Katy.
Either that or it's something to do with the new stickers.
OK, final offer. £50 cash, no kinky stuff.
Many who wandered over to this truck were wildly disappointed.
We were watching this fight with one hand over our eyes - stickerer and stickeree in battle.
Vanessa was having a pretty decent race.
Here's to many, many more.