Second race meeting of the year, and some significant changes to the car since her last outing. 20kg off the nose from loss of the bumper and a fibreglass bonnet. A horsepower increase by way of the smaller 3.6 engine. The car is now essentially in the trim that the Bear was running back in 2010, but doing things in a different way.


First, the weight has been achieved without cutting steel, in fact we still have the steel bootlid fitted. I can find another 40kg if we choose. The power is made by revving the smaller engine in a way that I consider to be like a maniac.


We’ve not fitted any handling upgrades. Basically it’s whether a lighter, more powerful car is any quicker. It should be, if we still have handling. How many people have screwed up the handling by taking out the weight? I know I’ve been guilty of that before, but has it now evened out again?

Lack of track time has dulled whatever edge I had, No question of that. Change after change to the car, and no real time in combat with it, we’re not exactly on familiar terms, as Silverstone proved. I’ve developed no proper understanding of the tyres yet either, how best to make the 888 behave and to last. We got her running nicely at the Birkett last year, that was a fast car, but I’ve lopped 100kg off her since then, and the last time out I complained of no grip round a circuit that involved most of the same corners. Time in the chair is needed to discover if I can regain some of what I’ve lost.


To Cadwell to find out, with my first race in the pre-83 series, with an added joyride out with the 93 boys for fun. Cadwell is not a forgiving place. To really sling a Jaguar here does require brains, and bottle. It’s the latter that I’m worried I might be missing. As the weekend would prove, I needed more of both.

Despite being prepped for this meeting, we made some daft mistakes. No tyre pressure gauge. How the hell does anyone not have one of those! A front wheel bearing, previously identified as possibly deficient, would collapse on us. The engine would have oil leaks we didn’t know about. It’s why you test, but you also prefer not to have it happen.


Testing was a mixed bag. Glorious weather, amazing circuit, and a good car, it ought to be heaven. I’d live here if they left the security hut unlocked. Bugger of a commute though. But straight away we seemed to be struggling. In testing in 2012 I got the heavier, less potent car to a 1.44. The hot pace that year was a mid 1.42. Take out 100kg, add more power, surely I can find a second, even on the same (now bald) rubber? Well, no. Best run of the morning was a low 1.44. The odd bonnet pin came loose, but such things are but minor problems. We knew the screwed tyres would give us reduced grip, but they also gave both the black and white, and black flags for track limits, merely because I threw a few bollards about.


In fact we were nearly thrown out of testing, the final warning I was on was about to expire when I shot up the exit road off the track before they gave me the flag again. That wasn’t on purpose, it’s that the Cossie I was chasing went up the exit road and I’d committed hard to the left hander, only to discover the road wasn’t going to be clear for the right, put on the anchors and followed him off the track.

Oil pressure fluctuations were concerning. We seemed to have surge issues and oil leaks. Surge was only addressed by a massive overfill of oil. Leaks were left to the end of the day. A change for better tyres with tread on after lunch, and a mosey about to try them out suggested a better feel. A proper effort dropped to a 1.43. A drop to third gear had improved turn in through a critical corner, and instead of my old approach to Cadwell, third gear was now held from Park all the way through Chris, down the gooseneck, out of Mansfield, and almost to the mountain. I think I could have held it all the way, but some panicky voice insisted that I give her a go at 4thgear at least briefly.


To do that, the engine was getting some rev. I hate revving an engine high. I’m sure it breaks it. The howl coming from the car round Chris when I lifted for the gooseneck was horrible, and I was certain pieces of engine were going to come out of the back at any moment. Some thought the timing chains were noisy. I could feel the transmission shunting. Whatever, something to me didn’t feel all that well, but there are smarter people than me here, telling me to rev the nuts off it. You trust people or you don’t, and they’ve not let me down yet.


Winding up for a proper go at it, certain I could do better, when the car felt as if it lurched going up turn 1, a grating sound and a feeling of increased friction made me initially think the gearbox had broken, but that lurch had seemed like front end.


A wheel bearing failure to the front left was swiftly diagnosed. With that and the leaks we called it a day. Officer David spent some time telling me how shit I am as we repaired the bearing with another hub and new bearing, the old hub having died during the failure. I was just happy that I had actually noticed a car failure before something fell off. The Bear and a Dermott did something to the engine that stopped the oil leaks, and as later afternoon allowed the heat to soften and the grass to stop crying about it, we’re back in action. Fuelled for quali, we’re ready to go.


The positives, however, were that no other driver we spoke to had hit his previous pace, they were all complaining about having lost a second somewhere. That was encouraging. The downside was that, as usual, this track highlights deficiencies. I need better support in the seat, I don’t seem to be held laterally as well as I’d like, no matter how tight the belts go. We are at the point of considering a proper seat fitting. I might need to decide what shape I’d like to be first.

The other downside was that the gearbox was definitely getting more noisy. That box was very tired, it’s done 7 years with me, 7 before that, and about 20 before that as a road car. It could cope with 300bhp but clearly what we now have is pushing its ancient bearings. We’re not doing a therapeutic gearbox swap, so it’ll do what it will.


Gazebos and barbeques failed to make the day seem later than it really was, the weight of the day’s heat was lifted and swiftly discarded by a thick mist that rolled in from a horror film in order to send Mr Palmer’s helicopter scurrying for bluer skies.


A sun-dappled assembly area, getting beaten to death by what we call summer.


It's what you might call an eclectic mix. The Moggie is a pre-66 car just out for an extra cheap race.


Well, open it then.


Need oxygen, the atmosphere up here is a bit thin.


Seem to be leaving half the tyres behind here in my chase. And we wonder why we get through rubber.


The shot somewhat emphasises the long, low shape of the Jag.


I'm not saying I've been here often or anything, but a marshall sent me this.


Parc ferme. But what I don't understand is that he must have been on the floor to take this, so how did I not notice?


Trophy of the day, bonnet stickered in charity of the week, tyres swapped for first new 888s ever.


The brakes died at the end, but this was great fun. Frustrating, but fun.


Rolled in, parked up, and the cartoon-like double-takes begin. Being last is curiously liberating.


Lap 1 of the pre-93s, and Helen makes her long blue prescence felt. Busy, but clean. Again.


Check the mirrors bitches, the Jag in p9 can now see 6th place.


Looks like Chris curve to me, but what do I know.


Oops. Big Al parked his big car in the big tyre wall at Barn out.


A gentle cruise from the back was good sport.


I can't explain how we did this, just that we did. Look at that rear sit down and bite.


Looks like I've got it, but the wide line in and the tight line out will leave me with no momentum up the hill, he's done me.


Made a nonsense of the gear selection, and there goes the lead. But, can't say he didn't deserve it.


Despite my whining, the laptime was lower and it's a hell of a circuit.


Rolling into the Mountain. She'd be faster if the wheels had their black centres, that's really the problem.

Morning dawned hot, but lazy. Late sign on with the easy lists of the efficient BARC squad, who absorbed my late addition to the pre-93 grid for the Sunday with customary calm. I don’t know about every other series, but all I did was brandish £50 at them, said I wanted to do the pre-93 race on Sunday only, starting last without qualifying, and she took my money, and gave me a ticket. Simple as that. Where else can you buy a race for £50? Moreover, they were also hosting an all-comers race for charity last thing on Sunday, £30 per car, all proceeds to charity. Not to the club, to charity. 15 minutes of Cadwell, for £30, and for a good cause. Take note, other clubs.


Scrutineering was the usual swift and leisurely affair. We know there’s nothing wrong with her from a scrote’s perspective, and it doesn’t take long to confirm that. That Officer David started helping by pulling on cables that weren’t even being checked was a new phenomenon.

Nose stickered with charity of the week, off to qualifying, and we had a choice. David and Dermott favoured chasing a faster car, Howard’s XJ12 or Primett’s Escort. I favoured just going for it by myself without the distraction of other cars, so annexed the first spot in assembly, wadded up towel on seat to get me higher into the straps, which are then cinched viciously tight. It does help.


Went for it. Simple as that, out of the box, set times. First lap a bit ginger, but faster thereafter. As I came down the gooseneck I could see Howard belting up the back straight, and each lap he was appearing later, meaning we were gaining ground. This was encouraging. Temperature climbed above 90 and gave me a tiny spray of water on screen as the coolant found its level. A cooldown lap after passing a pair of backmarkers, just coasting ahead of them, a reset of the organic ecu, and another lap would set my quali time, putting us second on the pre-83 grid.


Pole to that pesky Escort again, by ¾ of a second. We’re not going to catch that. 2 seconds clear of Howard. He goes faster in race trim, but I might be able to hang on to second, and that’d be a nice result. A look down the timesheets says that in class B, which is where I’d be had I entered in class instead of in the invitation category, the next competitor is 3 seconds adrift. It’s helpful data.

Fuel and a cuppa is all the car and pilot appear to require, the long wait for the 5pm race passes in a hot, lazy blur, such that the sweltering heat of 19 cars in the assembly area comes as a surprise. The usual gentle ribbing of the front runners. Primett and Howard have diced many times, I’m the interloper. But I’m here, and there’s no rule against winding everyone up and alluding to secret deals struck with fellow Jaguar drivers to harass Fords.

Not too much, these are actually nice people we’re playing with. One Capri driver comes equipped with something that calls herself the pit tart.


Always a degree of apprehension before a race, not helped by being on the front row, or the fact that I am somehow expected to go well here. I know I like the place, but if I ever speak to anyone about anything that happened at Cadwell it’s immediately explained by “yes, but you go well at Cadwell.” It’s like someone is accusing me of having a secret deal with the circuit. I don’t, the dancing in the woods at night smeared in rabbit blood is just for fun.

To the grid, and time to practice a race start. I don’t know why I find this so hard. One minute board, 2500rpm. 30 second board, 2500rpm. Green flag raised, 3500rpm, no, shit, 2000, no, 4000, ahh dammit. Flag drops, I use some rpm somewhere between none and 7000, and get some wheelspin. Whatever that number was, less next time. Warming tyres and brakes, weaving like I mean it. The Escort believes in power oversteer through corners, I believe in cornering to get the heat in, which can make it tricky not to drive into him.

In the mirror, the gap to Howard is surprisingly enough that he won’t threaten into Park, and Helen roars up to Primett, to find he’s blocked the road perfectly. Helen’s bumper is alongside his rear wing, flat in 4th and heading for 120mph, but his rear wing and my bumper are not the widest points on the cars, there isn’t actually a full Jag’s width between him and the grass. Clever boy. Do I put two wheels on the grass and risk death, or wait for another go? I might not get another go. We’ll give it another go later, I’d rather not die today.


Unexpectedly then, as we go into Park, Howard is not on my bootlid, and I’m glued to the leader. This turned into a greater surprise as we howled round Chris curve and I stayed with him, because I thought that would be it. And then through the rest of the lap. And then the race. By lap 3 Howard had given up the chase, making the brave decision that today was not his day and to hold position. That left it a 2-horse race for the win, and I was astonished that we were one of those horses. Test day hadn’t suggested we were going to be in the fight.

A brilliant, 7 lap fight for the win. I made a couple of grassy cock-ups, one late in lap 2, distracted by sideways Escort I got on the power for Barn corner too early and understeered into a short run with 2 wheels off, but caught that straight back up again, which I hadn’t expected. The back straight was my best chance, but every time he put that car there beautifully to block the road. Another foot of tarmac and Helen would have passed him.


Strangely, we could also brake about as late as he could, and we were trying the outside braking move with a cutback into Chris, but I don’t have the pull to make that work. Errors at the gooseneck put me on his tail for the run to the mountain twice, but he stole the inside and we ran in together but with no way for me to get up the hill til he allowed it. It was nicely done, and I felt educated. This is what we came for, to be schooled by those who can.

Breathless, frantic entertainment that kept the crowd and the commentator happy. And clean. I swear I could feel the cars just touching as we headed down the back straight, and we both did walk around of our cars after the race, but there wasn’t so much as a paint scuff on either car. As lap 7 ended, so did my brakes. The pedal went funny and the car snapped sideways at the gooseneck. Caught it, but she clearly wasn’t happy, and the chase ended as the lap did, cruised it in for the final lap to come second by 3 seconds.


It is fair to say that had you offered me this result before we left home, I’d have taken it. Very pleased indeed, possibly the best race I’ve ever had, and totally unexpected. Also unexpected, back in parc ferme, was the TV crew. Motors TV had signed up to televise it at the last minute, and there I am blabbering away to a TV presenter because I was on the podium, spewing some fatuous sounds about how wonderful Cadwell Park is, and accusing him of calling Helen fat.


Gracious as ever, congratulations from Dave Howard, though he did caution that I was hanging it, and that he’d anticipated a collision to hand him the victory because there were a lot of wobbling marker boards and tiny plumes of dust at most corners. Well, that is true. I did think I’d binned it three times in that race. I’d find him a few sherbets into his thoughts in the bar later, when he was most complimentary but seemed dismayed at my knees.

The plan was to go easy off the start, indeed the Bear wanted me to wait 2 seconds before I launched, but the green flag start suggested there was hay to make. It was still wet under the trees into 1, have to be cautious there. On the grid, and the lights are only just visible because the XJS is lower than the roofline of the cars ahead, and I’m a long way back. Out they go, off we go. A gap big enough to slide through appears to the inside and we cautiously take it, then slide past another bunch of cars all going to the outside, including Al Weyman’s Camaro, who I’d suggested was my target car, all before turn one.


Up the hill on Sheraton’s BMW boot, cut inside at 3 and powered past. I think we did 7 cars on lap 1. Another three on lap 2, again on lap 3, just the one on lap 4 because he was a bit more defensive, a bit quicker, and the yellow flags for the Camaro stuck in the tyre barrier at Barn rather spoiled it. Only the pass on the Renault 5 was at all dicey, he narrowed the track but we used it anyway to sneak the place into the Mountain. We did have to back out of another move into Coppice, but that’s fair enough, you don’t get them by right.


Mostly it was a question of undercutting a car out of the corner onto a straight and using the power to take them, this wasn't about taking risks. One chap in a Beemer remarked on the blue rocket that went past him, and then swiftly demolished the next two cars ahead as well. Helen has some go now. The howl from the gearbox, apparent from the test day, and worse yesterday, is now somewhat piercing. The noise on lift-off is like a jet taking off. It’s not happy.

Parc ferme rules applied, and every car was weighed. Celebrations at Kamp Kutuka. David threatened to applaud. No time to rest yet, all 4 wheels off the find the brake problem. Well, it was simple, all the pads had turned to glass, which had to be removed and the glaze busted. To find an edge, we threw four new tyres at her, the first complete set of new 888s we’ve ever had. Sadly we could see Howard doing the same. Damn.


No mist tonight, the air heavy and humid, the barbeque lasted for hours and there was a peculiar argument over potatoes, but I blame that on the gallon of Pimms the Bear ladled out. I had to fight to get a sniff of that, he made a small paddling pool of it and he and Dermott climbed in, reminding me that I had to drive in the morning. It’s a fair cop. I really don’t miss the post-race booze up, the clarity the following morning is worth the small percentage loss to social convention.


Rain in the night sadly dried out, and at 10am as some members of Kamp Kutuka settled into monster hangovers I’m rolling for the pre 93 assembly area, the big blue bulk of XJS lining up in last place causing a mass swivelling of heads, a line of helmets from the lower order runners all turned to peer in dismay. I forgot that they might have watched the race with Primett yesterday because they weren’t in it, and of course as a late addition we’re not on the list, indeed the commentator apparently had no idea I was there until he looked out of his window at the grid. 26 cars on the entry list, I made a bet I could get into the top 10. Andy Johnson, in his formidable guise as organiser and enforcer, suggested I might want to be gentle. It’s a fair suggestion.


None of these passes really worked the new rubber, there were no heroics here at all, just sort of cruising round waiting for gaps to appear and mashing the throttle to go through them, very leisurely. As the traffic cleared and I was to set off really hunting, out came the flags. Gutted, as I could see the red and yellow Cossie of Wise, whose scalp I wanted badly. Two years ago here he was the third car in the Renault 5 fight I had, and I did wonder how we’d do if we got a better car to fight with.


The yellow flags became safety car, which sadly picked up anyone at all, not the leaders, and the race was called after 2 laps of this. Confusingly the safety car waved us past and we nailed the throttle to see chequered flags, the car ahead of me going for it, which somewhat confused me. Chequered flag is race end, but when the car in front is racing and passes 2 cars, you race after it. Yellow flags still out as I cleared turn 2 said this was incorrect, race is over. 4 racing laps for £50 is still a good price, and Helen went from 24th to 9th in that time. Not bad for an old boat. Kept the commentator happy. Had the race gone on, we might have done quite well.




With so little time elapsed, Helen had basically heat-cycled the new rubber, a bit. I’d barely leaned on them, not pushed braking or cornering, but they ought to now be set for the main event this afternoon.


Camp packed, ice creams eaten, alcohol-related siestas completed by those who needed them, small wandering children relating to charity of the week posed for photos with their cars, it’s time for the second pre-83 race. As we roll to the grid, the noise from my drivetrain is something else. It’s very, very unhappy, and there’s a smell of ATF. This is the last race this box is doing, no matter what.




The plan here is simple. Use the grip of the new rubber to seize the lead, then make the car wide, ruin his corners and use the power to escape on the straights. The exact opposite of every other race I’ve ever been in.


Lights out, a great start, and we stole the lead. Blimey. Three abreast behind me, XJ12, Escort, and a Triumph? Their problem, I’m off, see you later. Unmolested by that fight, off we cleared, at the end of the back straight I have an actual lead. As we cleared the Hall Bends I made my critical error. I told myself we’d got this. Mistake. Every time I do something like this, and I do have some history here, I piss it away immediately.



Chasing the Escort but I’m not as close to it as yesterday, and in my head it’s the tyres at fault, I just don’t trust them, especially at turn one. That led me to carry less speed, and to start trying the Escort’s line, taking kerb and even a bit of dirt on entry to that corner. I’ve never done that before, not in 7 years, so why start now? Brain melt. Howard has not dropped off like yesterday, he’s about 2 seconds behind me, is my guess, but holding there. As I lose my grip on the Eskie, the tyres I don’t trust really do now melt. The grip I believed I did have disappeared, and the car slides more.


That makes me less confident, more ragged, and racing on the mirror, but I can hold him off, my attack on turns 2 and 3 defeat his better run at 1. Mistake number 2. Told myself we’d got him covered. You never have Howard covered when he’s that close.




And I did. Not trusting my new rubber, and already mentally settling into a defensive battle against the rapidly-closing Escort, I was slow. Not braking as late, or cornering as hard, and my power advantage was nullified as a result. Yes, she eases away on the straights, but he got me under braking.


Coming into the mountain, I checked where he was. No way you pass from there, so I took my normal line, saw he was having a look, and in a panic over the impending collision braked too early, and too gently. That let him up the inside, and now we’re going up that left hander side by side. I have a right hander to take, back now on the inside, but not wanting to knock his little car into next week, take it tight and slow, I’m still in third, game over. Found second, but he’s got me. Bloody hell. Of all the places for Helen to be overtaken, it’s the section of track that I would have otherwise said she was invincible. There goes my pride.



A back-marker in a Morris Minor closed the gap slightly, and my stone hurling turn one antics did for an XJ12 screen, but we’d still got it covered. Until, 2 laps from home, 2 more backmarkers just as we enter Hall Bends. You know what comes next. Passed both as soon as I could, basically off the track to do so, but that monster is on my bootlid and sidles past down the pit straight, simply pulled out and pressed the throttle to slide past. I had a cheeky look going up the hill but it was never on. Third.  Which is where I stayed.


Flag drops, and Helen takes third overall. We’d have been happy with that, except for the fact that I’d led the damned race. Should have left the old tyres on. That said, fastest lap was faster than yesterday, but everyone was. Howard felt new rubber had helped him. I thought it had hurt me. The difference in experience on sticky tyres, and car setup, clear. One-all in the Jaguar pride contest. But, as he enthused, close and clean, no contact. None, anywhere. 19 cars at Cadwell, not a single dent.



We’re all happy enough at that. It has been a superb weekend. My father declares himself disgusted, and went home. The racing fraternity is a little more enthused. Loaded, trophies collected, home for pizza. Cracking weekend, better results than I could have hoped, XJS reputation enhanced. As Bear remarked on the rumble home, stuck behind a convoy of tractors, they’ve probably now forgotten about the red one that was at Donington.


Amazing circuit, stunning weather, good racing, good people, no damage, good fun. It’s what you pay the money for.



Helen will be straight back in the workshop for further development. Wheel bearing, gearbox, and the removal of a lot of low-speed understeer. Brands in September suddenly sounds like fun.



My starts are improving. That's the first time I've led an '83 race.


More moving portraits.


To the grid, red lights out, go. Better start, into the lead. That XJ12 launches large into my mirror, I know he expected to follow me in the hope of getting the jump on the Escort and then crushing me, but I’m not that much quicker than the Escort. Grab second and the Ford is alongside. Third, he noses ahead, but not by much, turn one and I have to yield, he slices across to take it. We go up the hill a foot apart, he’s slower through 2 which gives me the run into three, and Helen gets through the corner with some oversteer but the drive onto the back straight.

Helen and the Escort

Taking them from behind.

Helen and the Escort 2


Assembly for race 2 looked a lot like race 1. We're all a bit wiser though, race 2 always has a different feel.