BRANDS HATCH 25/26 July 2015


Brands was a tale of two totally different races, and results. But before that, some background.

The issues that prevented us racing in the mid-season were resolved with a great deal of effort and assistance from the CTCRC, who bent over backwards to assist a competitor back onto their grid. A mid-season re-jig of the rules, it turns out, can be done, and the XJS is moved up to class A. The reasoning, in essence, is that the car has proven a bit quicker than expected (or than we expected!)  the Jaguar is a little more sophisticated than much of the field, stick it in with the bigger engines to balance it out a bit. I’ve no problem with that, nobody else minded, couple of class B cars very happy about it, problem solved. Well,  I suppose it might be that someone had a problem with it, but they would have to be a small-minded, poisonous, talentless tosser of no measurable value, so we can overlook them.

On top of that, there’s a refund scheme in place. Get a 20 car grid, and BARC will give you £75 back each. That drops the entry fee to a level below I was paying when I started out in 2007. So we got a 28 car grid, and it was cheap. Splendid.

Preparation for this event was a bit late, by my standards. We got the go-ahead a month before the race, but there was a lot to do, the garage was full, the lorry was out of MOT, you don’t just throw a car that has sat for 3 months back into combat. The last time she raced, late March, she won the race from the back of the grid in the rain, and set pole in the dry, so we are playing in the right area, the car can’t be that bad. Some people would say that if it’s a race winner then it needs no work. They would be wrong. It has be maintained, and then it can be made better. 2 areas that will make her faster – reduce understeer, and improve brake balance. This is not exactly the work of moments.

Also, finally, she got a fibreglass bootlid, one of Bear’s cast-offs he’d made and decreed not good enough to sell. Admittedly I hadn’t committed to fitting that until he ran over my steel one with the lorry, which did influence my decision. That absorbed a lot of time meant for other jobs, because his cast-offs are cheap, but need a load of work. So, we took 12kg off the rear end, the understeer situation was addressed, but not the brake balance. Hindsight suggests we should have done the brake balance!

Heading for Brands late on Thursday evening, imagine our joy at finding they had closed the relevant junction in order for day-glo pricks with head torches to strim the sodding weeds at the roadside. After 3 ½ hours on the road, an extra 40 minutes following their mindless diversion was sufficient for a Bear, already growling with back pain, to consider adding a number of road crews to the list of things he is prepared to run over.

For the first time in years, I arrived at a meeting without checking the weather forecast. After weeks of summer, and being out of the racing mindset, I never looked. My shorts and T-shirt offering was therefore perhaps unwise. Forgetting to take shoes without holes in was worse, because testing ended wetter than spawning salmon.

Testing was fun. Soggy, dangerous fun. The first session was damp but drying, and the old AO48s I was trying coped surprisingly well, plugging in the 58s on a track with wet patches in key areas wasn’t bad going, nowhere near full pace. Carving of the rear pads had not changed the balance on the brakes, first time into Paddock at pace and I was certainly more awake afterwards, must remember not to try to brake there again with cold front pads. How such words would haunt me. Clios everywhere. I hadn’t ever paid any attention the Clio Cup, you see it on the BTCC coverage, but they are tiny cars, nothing serious, surely? Well, as they skipped past me on slicks like guided missiles, going 4 seconds faster, I may have revised that view.

Driver awake, a little analysis of the car revealed better turn in, we have addressed some of the understeer, and it’s a faster car, for sure. That is progress, at least.

Then it rained. To see what they are like in the rain, I took the Yokohamas again. These were old and past it when I tried them last year. They are no younger now. It was, at best, dicey. I think we managed a 1.11, which is about the same pace as a glacier. A new set would be a lot better, but we haven’t got a new set, we have these wooden ones. What we concluded therefore was that we could rule out, definitively, very old AO48s in the rain. You might say we didn’t need to test that. You might say it’s a hell of a way of getting a rusty pilot’s reactions back up to speed, after that session I could have caught flies with chopsticks and I’d waved my arse at more people than the average streaker. Nothing good ever comes easy.

The rain stayed. Back onto the old faithful, the R1R tyre. Wetter in the third session, but faster, the times were all over the shop with the traffic, and as I went looking for grip. I usually ignore all that crap about the wet line and finding the grip on the “karting line” in the rain, but it does apply at Brands Hatch, you do not hug the apex and tiptoe round here, the grip is out wide. I applied a very scientific method, which was to drive like a moron and let the car slide about the place until it found the grip all by itself. You turn in, the car slides straight on, and then eventually the front bites. Next lap, try that again, a bit wider at similar speed, and you build up a cumulative picture. Go here, go this fast. Eventually there was half an idea where to go. It’s my excuse for a small excursion at Surtees, all 4 wheels off briefly, but the truth is there was a puddle I hadn’t seen that I floated off on.

Day done, we have learned what we need. The huddle beneath the awning as the rain slashed down, barbeque sputtering with water, was not the most relaxed we’ve ever had it, but there was a degree of masochistic determination on display. Admittedly the McGivern clan come prepared, and waterproofed, and were not in shorts. The Bear, being medically qualified, was treating his injured back by taking his painkillers and more alcohol than any sane man can consume, collapsed on his bed with the heater glowing, watching films on his laptop, insulting anyone who dared to check on him. Though he forgot what those insults were halfway through, because he was so completely off his tits he lost his train of thought.

What I therefore mean by masochistic determination is that I got wet. But lack of facilities and comfort is never a problem for short periods, we come equipped with skin, which is quite waterproof, and internal heaters. It’s as if we evolved so as not to die when slightly inconvenienced. No need for all the whining and crying we would hear, you can get absolutely soaked to the skin for a couple of days and nothing bad will happen, you’re not going to die of exposure in Kent in July.

Morning, annoyingly, brought a busy paddock with bright sunshine and warmth. It dried sodden clothing, but meant we had to reset dampers and tyres. The 888s we’re on are getting low, they are on their last meeting, sensibly. They have done 6 races and 2 test days, this will give us 2 more races, which would make tyre consumption about 2 sets per season.

Misting up was a serious problem. Once it took hold, there was no fighting it. I had a rag with me, and wiping the screen every lap was not enough. It’s something I need to look at. To compound it, a Clio gave me a screen full of water into Graham Hill, we missed the corner completely, and bucketed straight off the road all the way up Paddock’s grassy counterpart to return and rejoin. Having soiled myself thoroughly, I called that session done.

Reset the tyres, and for the first time ever, we adjusted the dampers for the rain. Finally those double-adjustable front dampers are getting used for the purpose I invested in them for. Rain X-ed the car inside and out.  Back out for the last session of the day, the rain now at its heaviest, a real downpour that had caused all but the most foolish to give up. Enthusiasm saw me try to get on track with the Juniors in their Saxos. They don’t let you do that. Sitting in the car waiting, I figured it might be worth racing with my visor down. I mean these posh helmets claim all manner of anti-fog properties, does it work? Sitting in the pits hyperventilating to test your helmet is an odd way to spend a Friday afternoon.

The car was better. Applying the different lines, and the new settings, with conditions now at "boating lake" still saw times fall into the 1.07s. We were no longer such easy meat for the Clios, and no more offs. This is what testing is for.

Qualifying saw me beaten to assembly by a pre-2005 car, the 83s are mixed with the 05s, but the 05s are meant to be near-standard road cars, cheap racing, and not likely to threaten the sharp end. Out we rolled, passed him, got on with it, we did no dry testing so there is no option but to nail it from the outset and get a lap in. 28 cars is busy here, you have to find space to set a lap. Going hot immediately meant I was almost in traffic as I ended the green flag lap. First time into paddock and the rear had a bite at me, fronts not up to temperature yet, that got my attention, but then so did the red flags. Nothing more than a car which had ground to a halt, fortunately, but so much for clear air, we’re back in the pits waiting, in a queue.

Once restarted, Helen stormed past a Firenza, encountered traffic and lifted, and Mr Firenza came back past up the inside at Druids. He then appeared to be baulked by the same traffic going down Graham Hill, and moved to the outside, which is where I already was, because that’s where you pass the car that is in the way. End result was Helen sledging along the grass into Graham Hill, skirting the tyre wall with her pilot holding the wheel straight, not touching any pedals and swearing a lot. We rejoined in a bit of a mood, and Primett’s Escort was now ahead. Something to chase.


Tore after the Firenza and passed him, then chased Primett. He is quick, really quick, but I have more power and I’m still pissed off at the Firenza. He surprised me a little, didn’t let up to find a gap and set a time, he pulled the Lyddall trick of passing everyone he could and hoping in the process that it would set a time. Being in pursuit allowed me to be a little more judicious, and the lap that we got clear air was also the one on which I sorted my lines out and committed to it. And Helen reeled him in. It turned out to be the last in this shortened session, and it was good enough for pole. 56.5 not a sparkling pace, but the track was a bit green, and it was nearly four tenths faster than Howard, pole position. My first at this track. Tight in the top four though, all 4 cars split by only half a second, two Jags lead two Escorts. The brakes are irritating, it will stop far later than this if only the balance were there. But, race what you have, and what we have seems swift enough so far.

Kamp Kutuka – we must change this stupid bloody team name – was enthused. I caught Officer David smiling in an unguarded moment. Celebratory bacon butties all round. I refused to accept it until I got hold of a timesheet. Proof is important.

The race then was going to be interesting. I have already told anyone who will listen how this goes. Helen starts well, but Howard starts better once you’ve covered the first 50 yards. He’s going to pass me, I will get passed by one or more Escorts as I chase him, and he’ll get clear and run off as we fight. It’s quite predictable really. I am also told Dave Howard is chasing this for his 100thwin. He might be quite determined then.

Before this I had only ever led two races from pole, a legacy of always trying to win races in the wrong car, I suppose, but as we sat in assembly I was alarmed to discover that the car had a rapid, rhythmic vibration. Investigation revealed that the car wasn’t running, and that it was my heart. This may surprise those who think I don’t have one.

Green flag lap, accelerating and braking hard to get the front pads up to temperature. Howard astern is weaving, but braking is, I am certain, the better option. Rocking the car about at 50mph just doesn’t have much energy in it. Gridded, 28 cars line up, red lights out, go.

I then watched with sinking heart as Howard bolted on a brand new set of 245/45 888s. The biggest 888 anyone’s running in this series is the 225/50, because we are restricted to a maximum 8J wheel even in class A, and minimum sidewall, per regulations, is a 50 profile. Those are the rules. Tyre choice is pretty narrow because of that. The 888  range skips from 225/50 to a 255/50, which is a massive tyre, the sidewall height is proportionate to the width, and a 255 is so tall the car would fall over sitting in the paddock. There is no 235, or 245 in the right profile, so you’re stuck on the 225.

We both qualified on the 225/50. But the V12’s in invitation class, and they are allowed components outside the rules, quite legitimately. There’s a Camaro out here running 285/35 tyres for God’s sake, not that it seems to help. I hadn't thought of this. Dave's a smart racer, and he knew he had this swap coming. Bugger. That 245/45 is a nice tyre, I had a set when we were playing with the pre-93 boys, it’s an extra inch of tyre on tarmac, per wheel. I can’t do that, I’m in class A, stuck with their regs. So the man I'm not sure I can beat here is bolting an extra 12% grip on, and bedding them in in the pre-93 race he’s doing. Shit and damn. To be fair I'm not confident I can beat Primett either, but I can pass him on sheer horsepower to take the lazy way out, and I'm not going to do that to an XJ12.

Bit of wheelspin, then she grips and goes. Howard is alongside, but too late to get across, he gives the slightest of squeezes but doesn't mean it, Helen is inside at Paddock, we’ve held the lead. Get your foot down and fly, you fool. I made a run for it, but you can’t get clear fast enough when your opponent has that much power, and lap one is tricky on low tyre pressure and not enough front brake temperature. And he’s cornering fast on that damned tyre, I cannot get the break I need, got to defend. I just need one second to make something of this, but you can’t get the gap. Into Clearways and I’m sure this is curtains, but Helen gets the power down better in a long, slight, drift, and we get back to Paddock in front. One lap down.

I can take Paddock faster, a smidge quicker at Graham Hill, and it seems we can get through Clearways, but the straights are a problem. That big grille pulls me back towards it going up to Druids and down to Graham Hill, there is always a gap leaving the corner, but not quite enough that he doesn’t get it back immediately to threaten me. He can’t out-brake me, probably, he’s carrying an extra 100kg, but I still have that brake balance issue and can’t leave it as late as I might. He won’t dive on me, he’s clean, if I can keep this going it might work, but you know he's planning the move and it messes with your head. Another lap clear. Briefly there is a tiny gap, but it vanishes. Damn.


Three laps of this, and I see him swing wide at Graham Hill for the cutback. Parked it in the middle of the road, not quite a Jag width to the inside. Imagine my dismay then as a Jag came up the inside. Instinct opens the door a hair, and through he goes. Where did that come from? There wasn’t space, I was so sure. Helen went straight back up the inside at Clearways though, but this is a straight drag race, and we will always lose that to that vast V12. He shuts the door into Paddock. Chased him, sold it down Paddock, but mis-timed it, scrabbled for a gear, dropping a wheel in the gravel and Primett now has a bumper up my inside. I can either shut the door or not. I don’t think I have it, I made a decision and opened the door, he’s past. 1st to 3rd in 3 corners, bollocks.

This is now a frantic battle. Reports of Howard’s brakes glowing orange from the abuse as he runs, Helen’s tyres are taking it hard and my brakes are getting hit. Extra ducting did make the pre-meeting prep list, but there are limits to what we can do within a 16” rim.

Three more laps of close racing, I swear I hit that Escort twice, but no contact was ever made. Canny, plays to his strengths and my weaknesses, guards against my strengths. He’s always going to defend the inside of the pit straight, but he waits for you to move for it before he does so. Once was so close I was in his back seat. I can pass him down the straight every lap, but to do so I then have to pull over to defend, and fighting every corner. All the while, Howard is sneaking away. Not a lot, but enough. I am certain I can get him back, certain, and I want to stop fighting and get after him.

That informs what happens next. In the rush of combat, and the mental pursuit of the win, you forget about the here and now. Along the pit straight again with Primett back ahead, left it a bit late this time but it’s going to work because I want it to, and late will be ok because we’re going to pull in front just as it’s time to brake, mess up his apex, slow him down. There wasn't a plan as such, more like a thought that occurred to me as it happened, I thought I was learning on the job. What the little voice in my noodle should have said is that the Escort is half a tonne lighter, so good luck with this, but I'm getting out. In my head, this piece of genius has already worked and I'm now after Howard. This was not correct, I had the timing on this very wrong. I pulled in front, hit the brakes, and I was about 20 yards too late, which is a week in racing terms. Pressed the pedal harder in hope, she locked the rears, my brain said come off the pedal and push it again, but the message never reached my foot. A scream of tortured 888 as she locked the rears hard, performed a fast 180, and went backwards into the Paddock gravel trap.

It takes a long time to go from 120+ mph forwards to a dead stop backwards. Well, not long at all, actually, but it feels like it. You have time to be embarrassed. Nobody ever tells you when you start racing that your brain changes, the cliché about time slowing down is actually true, you have time to think. Even as you head backwards you want to do something to save it, but that’s optimism against physics, when the car is perpendicular to the line of travel you are not coming back. Then it thinks this is very fast. It tells you, helpfully, that it’s a 120mph braking zone. It reminds you that you've never crashed here before. Then it thinks that the wall is quite close up at the top. It reminds you of seeing BTCC accidents here, and the Mazda that made it into the inner paddock by clearing the fence. You are still travelling at 70mph. You wonder what to do with your hands. You wish you could see the wall coming. Then it thinks about fitting rear wings on XJS being a right pain, and wonders if this will be hard enough to ripple the roof. At no point did brain worry about body, just the car.

Helen stopped in a cloud of dust, short of the tyres, the gravel trap worked to wonderful effect. The cabin absolutely flooded with a fine cloud of roiling beige dust. No contact, she’s safe. I can see cars coming at me out of the windscreen. We’re a fair way off the road. The marshall’s post is about ten feet away, that’s handy, nice parking. Fired her up, tried first gear, she’s not shifting. Killed the sparks, leaped out to perform the awkward lollipop sand dance. There is no other way to describe a helmeted figure moving through knee-deep gravel.

Safety car, and a recovery truck. They have you fire the car up and assist by spinning the wheels as they pull. Even so, the recovery truck is leaving rubber as it tries to get us out, but out we come. The drive of shame back to the paddock, as the race resumes.

A glum David calls me an arse. A drunk Bear called me a loser, but he slurred it, to the extent that I don’t know if he knew which race he was watching. This is perfectly acceptable, in both instances. We were joined by a leather-clad groupie, which distracted briefly. She is more forgiving, and therefore immediately accused of being the cause of the whole problem.

It is traditional, of course, to blame such incidents on an external cause, so this unfortunate lady is inevitably the most likely candidate. There is evidence, Rebecca is pretty handy with a camera, cameras are always the direct cause of car accidents, there’s one round her neck, and she was standing in a good place to see it happen. Hmm. There is evidence for the camera/accident link, more than one professional has noted that “the magnets” are applied by removing the lens cap, and I could get statements to that effect.

On the balance of probabilities, however, given her previous form, it is more likely that Nessie did this, despite not being here. We can all agree that part, this is clearly the Nessie curse still at work.  However, as Officer David had not, as promised, updated her every ten minutes, it seems more likely than not that he therefore caused her ire and it’s really his doing. Plainly it had nothing at all to do with leaning on the middle pedal too late and too hard. I am reassured. So long as it's not my fault I don't mind. Remember that at this point I am pretending to be a racing driver and I've just flown off the road at high speed in an irreplaceable car.

The two rear tyres are ruined, you could fit them to Mr Square’s car. I said it was their last meeting, but not quite as I’d imagined. Having gone in backwards, there is not a lot of gravel, all the scoops and edges point forwards. Nothing like the buckets of it coming out of the Falcon over the way, which needs a shovel. Whilst in here with the wheels off, we set the dampers for rain, and fitted the R1Rs, then Rain X-ed the car. Then started dancing. The forecast says rain. It now must.

Whilst my fellow drivers appreciate a good exit, we’re not a very thrilled camp, which is a bit odd given how long we’ve now been at this game, we know you don’t win all the time. We have a rule, which is that if you don’t fall off now and then you’re not trying, and if you’re not trying why bother? Of course you are meant to fall off in testing, not the race, so my brain is stuck in replay mode, mentally pressing that brake pedal a bit less or throwing the car into Paddock to see if it might miraculously make it. The last time I threw a car off the road in a race was 2009. Here.

As night fell like a drunk I’m challenged to get the car onto the podium tomorrow. Even I think this is a bit much from 28th. We negotiate and agree top 5. I have my reservations about that.

I know I like the rain, but there is a limit. A charge from the back is fun, but one mistake, one spinning car you can’t miss, a safety car, an early red flag, any of these can prevent progress. For this to work I need to be on my game, everyone to be slow and sane, and no interruptions. Cannot get top 5 otherwise, and really it’s wrong for me to even be thinking it. But if you don’t aspire, how can you achieve?

This series thinks I’m a wet weather nutcase, we have had a really good run in the wet with these boys since we nicked pole position on that 43-car grid at the end of 2013. But that reputation has a downside, you are now expected to deliver something, and it’s perhaps a bit unfair, there is no law that says I should come anywhere other than p28. But Dave Howard has been winding me up about the rain for the past day, even Primo has had a go at it, telling me I’ll be with him at the end of lap one. But that’s all mind games, getting your head messy, not genuine expectation, we all know I’m 27 cars behind and therefore screwed.

But, as we’re not expecting this to go all that well, nothing to lose here. Anyone starting last isn’t going to get to the front, it’s about how far up you can get.  I have also taken a crumb of comfort from yesterday. I was worried that my attachment to the machine had made me less committed, wary of risking the car. Plainly not.  It feels a little like I'm back. Well, I'm clearly up for this race then.

I think I’m going to struggle with the 2005 boys, all front wheel drive stuff, a lot of road car attributes remaining, some good pilots. Further up, Bray’s Fiesta is a race winner in wet races, he’ll be trouble too. Even if he only has one arm. Which he does.

Standing in the gents, late that evening, having broken my usual vows and succumbed to a pint, I’m joined at the sinks by an Astra pilot from the 93s. “How’d you get on today?” “Binned it at Paddock, you?” “Clearways.” Moments you only get in racing.

The morning dawned grey, and the grey discharged its contents in a wonderful hiss of rain that sent bleary-eyed drivers who aren’t on track til 3pm deeper under their covers in smug comfort and a secret smile. Nice to be able to lie in once in a while. The rain settled in for business, occasionally letting go of its grip on the track but always a gentle, drizzling threat before returning with a vengeance. With the car already ready, the slight schadenfreude of seeing others fitting better tyres in the rain, though the Firenza was changing bald things for slightly less bald things and has as much chance of making that work as I do of winning Miss World. The poor bugger with the Esso-liveried Capri is changing all his settings yet again on a flat, exposed, concrete pad in the downpour.

Camp packed, we mooched the day away watching safety car after safety car for the muppet squad. The Clio Cup race was beset with incident, the star turn there being a certain James Dorlin, whose p2 finish put his interview on the tannoy, and I swear it was actually his big brother, they sound exactly alike.


The MG race was abandoned after 3 cars off in 3 laps. The Juniors put two in Paddock in two laps, one upside down. The CTCRC cars, on the other hand, were actually well behaved. Curious. We naturally timed Howard’s laps in the 93 race, see what we’re up against. It is wet, properly so, we can see there is little grip.

 I know I passed a lot of cars, but of how, where and why, I have no proper memory. Only watching the video later informs me. When there is a lot going on, you tend to skip the detail or your brain explodes and a cuckoo on a spring pops out of your ear. The next thing I know is that there is an orange and silver Clio, bloke called Jose, who doesn’t look in the door mirror before apexing Clearways, doesn’t expect the Jaguar inside and there’s a brief kiss of fibreglass to plastic. But no harm done, my aluminium underpinnings preventing damage.

That cost me an extra lap passing him and what I think was a Peugeot. The Pug was easy, power and brakes at Druids, then the Clio got oversteer and a wobble on, no straightline match for a clean exit, now it’s time to chase the Fiesta. It dawns on me that the Fezza appears to be third overall, which means we have gained a lot of places very quickly, and I'm not clear how. In fact TSL would later suggest that opening lap had dispatched 19 of my foes, but I am buggered if I can tell you how that worked out.

Winding up for an easy pit straight pass, there is a red light on the gantry. Shit and corruption, they’ve red-flagged it. I lifted off, and coasted round Paddock, to find there was no red flag anywhere else. We actually now think it was the meatball flag for another car. It was Druids before I believed it and resumed the chase, vital seconds lost. Caught the Fiesta easier than I expected, passed it but let him back down the inside to Graham Hill, where he fell off briefly, and away we went.

Tiptoed inside at Paddock, past and clear now to chase Primett. Caught Primett using those same wide lines and closed quickly, with a little voice saying “this is for the lead” over and over in my noggin. Made sure I got the run onto the pit straight in case this was the last lap, I need my nose in front at the line. If it had been last lap, we’d have won by 8/1000 of a second.

Back up the inside he comes at Paddock, but it’s plain that if I just stay here and do that every lap I will now win this, if I do nothing else. And yes, I did consider it as a last resort, but I don’t think I want to play that game. Up his inside at Druids but no grip there on the exit, Helen throws the tail as he gets the wide line and the grip and fires down the hill, which might then inform the oversteer he gets on exit of the next corner.  Helen gets the cutback as the Escort wobbles like a drunk trifle, close alongside as he recovers, and slides up the inside to make a definitive pass. Fuck me sideways, I’m leading, and we’re only at 2/3 distance.

Now to be cautious. I only have to win by a nose. I know I say there’s grip, but I don’t mean there is grip. I am finding more than most, but it’s not a lot, it’s bloody slippery out here, this ain’t easy. Lack of grip in the rain is not the same as losing traction in the dry, there isn’t the same sensation of the tyre getting hold of the road, it’s either gripping, or not, there is almost no grey area, and when it does slide you can do little but twirl the wheel and wait for weight to overcome velocity. 3 laps of this, judging the speed, the grip, the gap. This is worse than chasing them down.

It dawns on me that the two leaders are now only 400 yards ahead. I may have shouted “aloha” at Howard’s bootlid. Why? Well, I was pleased to see it. I don’t know what you think the correct greeting is for a bootlid, but I’m happy with my choice.

As soon as Helen was clear of cars, and could use the lines she wanted, we closed fast, after having a brief chat with myself about having plenty of time left. When I say I had a brief chat, I mean the video will confirm that I am actually having a talk with the car. I do this sort of thing, leave me alone.

Assessing the strengths and weaknesses of the car ahead wasn’t a long assessment. Howard was struggling putting power on tarmac, and Helen was having less trouble. More accurately I think I was more willing to risk losing the rear because I don't have his massive torque to worry about. I know smooth is fast, but you do have to feel for the limit and if I can see where his grip limit is, I have to see if mine can be a bit more. The wide lines found more grip such that I could brake and turn better, the question was how to pass. I had a look leaving Graham Hill, if you were a proper nutter you’d have a go there but no point being daft. Exit of Clearways was the answer, simply laid the throttle down gently to get a decent drive out of the corner and held station to the inside until the braking zone, pulled alongside, and he’s sage enough not to try and block the move.

So to the race. It’s a long, long way back to the 13th row, I’m 26th, not 28th, and I’m not asking why. The sheer mass of metal in assembly ahead of me is startling. We pull all the tricks to keep the car dry. Poddling about with carrier bags over my boots til the last moment. Visor down, blowers on. Threw David out of the car so he didn’t breathe on the windscreen. Keep dry, don’t breathe on the glass. It worked, mostly.

Two green flag laps. I have a plan. Trailed the brakes for both of them, lumping on the pedal regularly, by the time we stopped to grid up they were nicely toasted, and I hoped would convey some heat to the rubber.

Lights out, and time to see if my reputation is deserved. Through between the twelfth row, left to pass some of the eleventh, round the outside at Paddock past the tenth and ninth, I think. To the centre into a very busy Druids, one car back up the inside but then I can cut inside him on the exit and pop a couple more down to Graham Hill in a howl of oversteer. That worked out, must have done maybe ten cars there, a good start.

After that it’s all a bit of a blur until I reached the Esso Capri, which was a handful of on-the-lock-stops oversteer and no match for IRS out of Clearways. I literally cannot remember the first three laps in any detail at all, just fragments. I remember Helen spinning up at the top of 3rd gear just as I went for 4th, trying to put me in the pitwall, requiring a one-handed correction that I suspect I was lucky to get away with. There was a lot of wheel-twitching. Next time we have a race like this I’m going to strategically place a lump of coal on my seat, it’ll be a diamond by the time the flag drops.

Here we go again. Smurf-suit up and check the track is where we left it.

Photo: Officer David

Lining up for qualifying on this diverse grid meant the usual plan. Be there first.

Photo: Mr David

The Bear was wildly enthusiastic all weekend. But he cheered up in the end.

Photo: D McGivern

Quali saw our first ever pole position here. Jags and Escorts two by two. Noah was delayed by 24 hours.

Photo: Grommit.

Race 1 start went as well as I could have possibly asked, and better than expected.

Photo: Rebecca Gibbs

At this point you even begin to dream, you've got a car length clear, run away!

Photo: BHP

That car length has disappeared. Damn.

Photo: BHP

As my grandfather would have said: "fiddlesticks." Slotted it up the inside with a fag paper to spare, a really good, clean move.

Photo: BHP

Worth having a cheeky look back up the inside though.

Photo: BHP.

Despite how this race ended, the joy to it is how competitive it is. 3 totally different cars on the same pace.

Photo: BHP

And then I did this, which handed second place away about  a second later. Damn.

Photo: Rebecca Gibbs

This was another tight tussle. Closer than last year too. Shame it ended in the same manner!

Photo: Rebecca Gibbs

Race 2 started a little worse. 25 places worse. Though we did steal 9 of them by turn 1.

Photo : Rebecca Gibbs. I said she knew how to point a camera!

But he does have 6 more cylinders, this might not work out!

Howard takes the lead.

Photo: BHP

Careful Jerry, one of those invisible Caterhams parked here.

Inexplicable photo: David McGivern

We've got the apex held, it's all about traction and horsepower now...

Photo: BHP

Moving pictures that more or less reflect the above text.

Aloha! Helen rejoins the party at the sharp end. Last year this was as far as she got.

Photo: Rebecca Gibbs

In an attempt to diversify, this was my first time into this gravel trap.. This was not entirely planned.

Photo: Rebecca Gibbs

Graham Hill exit, lap 2. Helen now lies 7th. I could not, at the time, tell you how that happened.

Photo: Rebecca Gibbs

Remarkably, the very moment of direction change that set up the move for the lead.

Photo: Rebecca Gibbs

Worse, Primett has sped up. I didn’t know this at the time, but he would tell me on the podium that he copied my lines, found the secret grip on the outside, and instantly dropped his laptime, so I’m not scampering clear easily. But I’m in front, so back it off a bit, watch the mirror, hold the gap. It looked like he closed a bit, so I edged the pace up a bit to match it. I had a little time in hand, but by being cautious I was less sideways in key corners, no more wild angles at Graham Hill or Clearways, a bit safer with it.


Then the panic, a Capri ahead. I thought I passed the Esso car earlier, but if I didn’t and that’s him in front I’m only p2 and Primett wasn’t the leader. Shit. But we closed it down and passed it fast, it’s a different car, panic over. But where’s the flag please? Can we have the flag? Where’s the flag? Surely it’s time for the flag? Will this race never end? Onto the pit straight, finally there’s the “last lap” board, but as I get to it it turns into a chequered flag, and out comes that blessed piece of tablecloth. Victory is ours!


26th to 1st ,for a new Kutuka record. It is fair to say I was pleased. Dribbled onto the microphone for the interview, had a natter with Primo and Howard, both very complimentary, and very observant, Primett’s checking what tyre I’m on, he learned the wider line from me in one single lap and then applied it to threaten. Howard made a risk analysis at Paddock and determined his victory would be best served by letting the nutter chase the Escort, there are agile minds at work. But I had the more agile car.

It is fair to say the faces at camp were also somewhat different today. The Bear was caught being chipper. David fell on the camera like a gannet, running off with the precious footage. A passing North Sea trawlerman turned out to be 90% coat, and underneath it was actually our new resident camerawoman, hopping about snapping pictures in thirty layers of oilskin. People I don’t know offer congratulations. Which doubting Thomas said I wouldn’t make top 5? Oh yes, that was me.


It is our second race win of the year. The last one, Silverstone, was another win from the back in the rain, and at this point even I am starting to wonder what the magic recipe is that lets us do this. But the secret to this was simple. It rained in testing, it rained today. For the first time we adapted the car to the conditions and that made it faster. After that I don’t honestly think it was as difficult as they all think, all I had to do was not drive like a total muppet. Victory was assured as we stood under that awning on Friday night getting soaked, the work had been done at that point, we just didn't know it yet. It is what having this loyal team of dedicated lunatics is all about, reality is you could post any idiot in this car and get this result, they are the ones who engineer the win.


The truck rumbles to life, back North to civilisation, job done. I’m sure I’m forgetting something we usually say at this point. Oh yes.


Brands baby!


Dead last to dead chuffed

Hurrah to bollocks in 7 minutes.

The now-traditional charge from the back of the grid. Now with added winning.

Ever-so modestly waving in victory. There may have been air-punching involved. Well, I was pleased, OK?

Photo: Rebecca Gibbs