From the Pitlane 



Kutuka North brought 3 cars. We took home 3 intact cars. For Cadwell, that's a win....


And this fella Skelton won the race in my old road car. That's a very odd thing for me to be able to say.




This was a very difficult one indeed. To go out, test a car, tweak the setup to make it faster, and then hand it over to someone else, that’s just rude.














































We have tweaked the car a little since Oulton Park, some changes to make the rear end a little less lively, and it was immediately apparent that we’d got this sorted, the rear end was well planted out of the box.


Same rubber as we ran at Oulton, same brake pads, but new front discs. Yes, we splashed out on a drilled set, supplied as ever by Power4Peanuts, but a navigation error meant that there would be no new front pads til late in the day.













































Not that she seemed to mind. She was immediately tangibly faster than Helen. It wasn’t so much an improvement in outright grip in the fast stuff, which to be fair Helen has always excelled at, it was lower speed corners like the hairpin. Vanessa simply has less mass, she stops later, picks up faster, but she carries more speed in lower speed corners. The hairpin is probably the most extreme example of this, longer on the power on the way in, later on the brake, and she slings round the corner on the line you want without the engine labouring. In an F class car, it’s a bit touch and go in 3rdgear, you’ve enough torque to make it, but it’s a bit sluggish in the pickup.













































Three laps in and there’s a bang in the car, but what that was I can’t feel, nothing seems to be broken, it steers, brakes, goes alright. I assume that something on the car has bottomed out maybe, but what that is on the start/finish straight I can’t for the life of me think.


Only when we return to the paddock does a marshall point out that the rear window snapped in half and came off. Polycarbonate should not do that.


High speed handling showed she now has a tendancy towards understeer, but the skinny rubber on the rear made her a bit twitchy on the exit too, I did have to calm my right foot down a bit. Which is a good thing, Helen’s massive rear grip and low power has made me very lazy on the throttle, it’s either on or off. Vanessa needs a bit more finesse, which is good for me.













































The exit of Mansfield is such a great corner in this car though, you can really lay into the power and get that launch. The gooseneck is a bit scary though, the car is light and floaty there, it really is a question of picking a place to land as you crest that brow, but you can carry a lot more speed than it first appears. The Mountain too, there’s the bit more pull, the laptime is set without flattening any marker bollards at all, I kissed a pair of them on one run, but barely a mark on the paint. Why? Well, because I have to hand over a pristine car to Matt to photograph later.


Being cautious for turn 1, needing a dab on the brake because I daren’t give it the full throw, the restraint of needing to give this car to someone else intact later on made this a bit frustrating, I really wanted to wring its neck in the search for a seriously hot lap.














































I can’t go late enough on the brakes at Park, it stops too well, I’m coasting in, far too easy on the pedal. I might have to consider this brake combination for Helen.


Tyre pressure tweaks erased much of the understeer, and she plugged in a laptime in the 1.46s, which pleased me rather. Lap record here is last year’s high 1.45, and this is nothing like the power output of the machinery that set that. There was clearly much more left in the car to find, but we’re out of time to try, because the last session is here and all I’m doing here is bedding in new consumables ready for the afternoon, my time in Vanessa is restricted to about a dozen hot laps.















































New rear pads, new front tyres, the old fronts with plenty of tread were moved to the rear, and the car is essentially now on fresh rubber all round. This last session of the morning then to bed in the pads and heat cycle the tyres. The car is a bit crap on the new rubber until it’s cycled and worn to the camber, but a few laps of this place solve both issues, and we hand over a fully-sorted, ready-to-race, fuelled, tyred car to an eager Matt Skelton, now bobbing around the paddock like a small boy who knows he’s getting a shiny fire engine for Christmas but has to wait til his parents get up.


Which is where my seat time stops, and I have to don my support crew hat. And shorts.














































Sterling work by the Bear and Officer David yesterday have installed the seat with runners, so the Skeletor can be moved closer to the controls. He had brought various cushions and lumbar supports with him to make the seat just right, and he never complained once that the seat has no base cushion at all. What we hadn’t banked on were his tiny feet. Unlike my size 11 trainers, his dainty tootsies in race boots don’t cover brake and throttle without pedal covers.


The rotten sod is over 30kg lighter than I am too.


A basic lecture on the controls, a tiny adjust on the belts, and off we send him anyway. He clearly likes the thing straight out of the box, the laptimes are good right off. First session sees a 1.50, which is generally considered good enough here for 2nd row of the grid.
















































Interrogating him for detailed feedback, and the same tweak on the tyres as we did on the last set, again to erase the understeer, but issues with overbraking the rear take a little more to correct. The rear pads are a different grade to our usual set, we use cheap road pads in the rear usually, but this set were a different manufacturer as they come from yet another type of small hatchback – your Jag’s rear brakes go in the front of many Japanese boxes.


Out come the pads and the grinder, and with a pedal cover fitted to the throttle, he’s a happier camper again, the times fall to 1.48s. More pressure changes, and down the times go again.














































Skeletor doesn’t usually get the benefit of a full team. I’ve watched him test here before, having to dive out of his car with pressure gauge in hand, but you really can’t do as much by yourself, it’s the interrogation by another driver or a Dermott as to the car’s exact behaviour that really focuses your mind to give feedback. The last session is sadly curtailed due to a TVR getting smushed, but the shakedown is done, testing complete.


Ramm is testing, bad back and all, and eager for views he sells me a lovely dummy. He announces that he’s heard I pulled a 1.46 here and can we talk gears. Having set that time, my immediate reaction is to ask which big gob told him that. Nobody, he pulled a random number out of the air, and I’ve just confirmed it. Clever. We’ll not fall for that again.













































So who was faster in the car, me or Matt? We’re not telling, it doesn’t matter. No points on test day!


His report on the car, however, helpfully matches mine, the rear is now planted, the front washes out in turn 2, but other than that she’s bolted down.


What did we take from each other? Well, Matt stole some of my gearchanges and we did the usual exchange of views about lines and approaches to corners. From him I took braking. I’ve been a girl on the brakes for 3 years now, and it was clear that he was laying into them way harder and later than I did. If I could combine his braking into the rest of what I do, I’d be faster. Something to work on there then.













































The Skelton lurks longer, watching with bemusement as the team fall upon the various cars. Vanessa is refuelled, rearmed, the window refitted, and the pull cable serviced as a scrutineering check shows it to have gone bandy in the last few minutes, the cheaper cables are a bit rubbish really, they get caught on themselves.


Whilst David is sorting Vanessa, Dermott is swapping Eleanor’s front discs, and I attack Helen’s, plus fit her with all new pads all round. The problem with new drivers is you have to send them on good stuff because they’re not you, so I daren’t risk Dean on skinny rear pads, and cracked front discs. New discs mean new pads. After a thoroughly successful day then, it must look a bit odd that we pull apart three cars.


A tour round the paddock for ten minutes beds in Helen’s brakes, saves Dean having to do it in quali.












































But Sunday will be a busy day. We have three cars plus Philip in action. All 4 are now, in theory, ready to go, they all have fuel, oil, water, tyres and brakes, everything is torqued and set. Only if it rains do we need do anything more. Beer o’clock then. West Riding took this to a new level, they do beer o’clock to the point that I’m not sure they’ll recognise a car in the morning.


Sewell arrives limping, giving me hope that I will yet be racing, but sadly he’s fine. Try him in the car and explain the various knobs, dials and switches, the button for the nitrous, how to avoid the turbo lag, work the E-diff, the sequential gearbox, the procedure for getting the most out of the illegal tyre softener we use etc, and then he hobbles off to bed.















































An overnight downpour means they’ll be dealing with a new track again, but the sun comes out and sears the tarmac in moments, going to be a hot one.


With drivers hustled to sign on early, the scrutineering of the cars can be done by us, and being a rude and impatient sort I quite blatantly jumped the queue with Helen. Well, they were all messing about. There is a curious freedom to not racing, but this is where it started to get very difficult, because I tested yesterday, and now I’m scrutineering my own car, my beloved Helen, but I won’t be driving today.













































Nobody else has ever raced her but me. No-one. Bear did a few laps at Anglesey once, and broke her, but no other pilot has ever been in the seat, and yet here today someone else will take my favourite car out at my favourite track. It’s not easy. She passes scrote with flying colours, of course.


Quali is difficult. We get our cars there early, so early that we went without the drivers, poor old He-Man gets his suit on and wanders over to Kutuka HQ to find there’s no car to drive, in fact if he’d been much longer I’d have to have gone to find my pyjamas and taken her out myself. Different approach, Kutukans go out first and run away from the field, Deano expects to saunter down mid-pack and make the best of it. No, if you drive as one of us you must go and live in assembly as soon as you awake.














































Round they drone, and we have no fewer than 6 stopwatches running to keep track of the 4 cars we’re running, plus two of interest. Watching David try to keep track as two of these cars come past us side by side and he strives to recall which button is for who was most amusing.


Our indications suggest Stew is just shading Skeletor, but that next car is going to be Gay Lil, albeit a decent chunk of time behind. Already brains are computing the likely race result on the basis of expected startline performance and errors. You have to do something to pass the time.


Dean brings Helen in intact, and he’s much more enthused now than he expected, if he smiles much more broadly we’ll be able to see his spine, the myth of the XJS as a difficult animal is busted














































He’s doubled up on races, so in short order he’s out again for quali 2, and this is less successful. First a Morgan tries to kill him at Hall Bends, then late in the session there is a fearsome pop as he crests the Mountain, and he retires the car. Hearts sink, blown engine.


We retreat to the paddock to wait, but stories from the café suggest it’s actually a puncture, not engine. Much better news.


The transporter brings us a car with a very flat left front. Surely Cadwell hasn’t eaten a tyre in 2 qualis? No, the entire wheel wobbles wildly. Buzzing the wheel off shows the back of it to be a mangled mess, eaten away, machined on the trackrod end. Odd. The wobbling hub reveals a massacred wheel bearing. Most peculiar. The discs were swapped only last night, this has been off only 30 race minutes ago, it was well lubricated, didn’t wobble, span freely, yet it has smashed itself to pieces, there are bits everywhere, the casing itself is in 4 bits.


All hands to it, we have spare bearings, but the inner is welded to the stub axle, and the hub itself has been machined well oversize, this thing has done a couple of laps like this. Everything is stinking hot, the sound of skin sizzling as a bare arm catches the edge of a disc suggests pain later.













































A full tour of the paddock, and nobody carries a spare hub. As David tickles the remnants of bearing off the spindle with an angle grinder, a small crowd gathers. It’s hot, sweaty work, the car is stranded in the middle of an access road where it was dropped by the transporter, and it is tempting to beat one of the bystanders to death with a torque wrench.


With no spares and nobody in range to get a hub here in time, the avaricious eyes of the Kutukans focus on a rather nice facelift XJS parked in the paddock. It would be rude to jack that up and nick the hub, wouldn’t it? Well, it would, but that belongs to Terry Dye. By the time Bear has got only the third bamboo splinter under his toenails, he’s agreed to loan us a front hub. To be fair, when we asked, I didn’t really expect him to agree, but faced with one of his racers not making the grid, and with the assurance that we’d make sure he got home, I was most impressed that he agreed to this.


I was less impressed with the state of his brake disc when we started to dismantle the car, but that’s another story.


With Helen back in action, off to race.


Racing is more nerve-wracking than testing, or quali, or anything, this is THE moment. No second go at the race, it’s all about this 15 minutes.














































Lights out and Stew gets a bad start, Skeletor gets a flier, and he takes turn 1 in p1. That’s all I needed to see, at that he wins the race in my book, because Stew only had 3/10 on him, his pace yesterday was quicker than in quali, I reckon they’re a dead match, and you need a lot of advantage to pass cleanly here. Stew won’t make a dive on someone, especially not his team-mate, so if Matt leaves it clean and middle of the road he’s got this.


As he comes into view again at the Mountain there’s a healthy lead back to Ramm in p2, and Stew is working to pass him, but the delay works for Skelton, a lap passes and Stew gets the position, but the gap has extended, and the race is a quarter run already.


It’s fair to say that I’m not exactly calm about this race.  1/4 of the grid came with us, we have 4 of the cars out there, and I have a huge involvement with 3 of them. Vanessa and Helen are my babies, anything goes wrong on either of them and there’s a strong chance I’m to blame. Now that one of them is leading the race I can barely watch. One bolt, that’s all it takes.


Lap 3, and the gap closes a little, I reckon Stew has gained 50 yards, but at this closure rate it’s still Skelton’s race, and he doesn’t look at all ruffled, the car seems to be barely trying. Matt is smooth, but I’ve seen him drifting his own car, none of that here. He’s either much more within himself or this car is much better than his regular steed.















































As they pass the café, Stewert’s car is slow. David calls fuel even before he coasts to a halt on the pit straight.


At that the race is done, Matt cruises in slowly, extending his lead lap by lap until the next car is 10 seconds adrift, and the next XJS comes into the Mountain as he crosses the start/finish line, comfortably clear. Every lap that he passes I mutter to David that this is all his fault. We were meant to build a pretty average car to hire out, we constructed a rough and tumble, survivable, useable machine, and the frelling thing has been out twice and made a right fuss at the front of the grid, all of which I am now blaming him for. Bear, watching the race with Terry, asks just one question, once. “What the hell have we done?” Hard to argue with that.


The calm at the front allows us to watch the Comer/Drage battle, and to note that Philip’s driving is much better, he’s not worried or untidy despite the lairy slide of the battered Drage barge close astern, ol’ Drago and his co-pilot smacked this car about pretty well in various qualifyings this morning and she looks a bit sadd. Philip is well within the car and not cracking or falling for the feints. He’s clearly at a power disadvantage, but making it work. We approve.















































Further back, and it’s Helen’s progress that we’re interested in. Having made a bad start Deano ended up last, but he quickly passes the ex-Dangerous Brian barge and the laptimes start to tumble. Soon the Chris Boon car is ahead of him by about 2/3 of the main straight, and that gap starts to close, it shrinks at an exponential rate because each lap is faster than the last by a good lump, he’s pulling him in hand over fist and it’s going to be an absolute slaughter when he gets to him, Helen is travelling far faster than the X300.


It’s my first time ever watching my car from the outside. She sounds lovely. I had no idea that a class F could sound so fruity.


The race is a lap short, they screwed us again. Cadwell can be nearly a 19 minute race, so they trimmed a lap off it. Probably good news for Matt, who, if my own experience applies, will have been hearing noises in the car for the last ten minutes and muttering “please don’t break” over and over.















































Bad news for Dean though, who ends the race within striking distance of Boon, one more lap and he’d have nailed him, Boon reports afterwards seeing the car homing in at a ferocious rate and knowing he’d have no defence against it.


Skeletor is a happy camper. Maiden win. Dean is a happy chap, besotted with the XJS and stunned at the grip he keeps finding in it. Comer is a happy man, fastest lap extends his points lead. Only Stew, glumly delivered back to base on a tow rope, is a small cloud of gloom. That the problem turns out to be the fuel filter that’s been an issue for over a year only adds to his funk.


We still haven’t managed to ever get all the Kutuka cars to the end of the Sunday race here, ever.


Dean has one more to go, and the heavens open as the Powered By boys hit the track. I mean, it really rained. Proper stair-rods. Perfect for Helen, she loves this stuff. We watch with amusement as Helen closes down and sits off the back of the powered-by pack, but we’re a bit stumped why he doesn’t turn on the wipers. Dean falls back, and then closes right up again, he’s clearly the fastest Jag out there, and we’re a bit confused.


Again, the race is shortened, for safety reasons. We’ve seen Lil nudge the Xj40 into the barriers, Lentham spin the MkII, there’s a damaged D type, and there’s a crocodile of 4 cars, with Helen, lights ablaze, firmly attached to the rear of it, still with no wipers. After all the work I did repairing the broken wiper panel, fitting the new silicone blades etc, he could at least have used them.









































Dean’s return to the paddock reveals they weren’t working. He spent three laps looking for the demister, worked out the lights, but the wipers refused to move. Oops. His assessment is “she grips like a bitch.” He claims he could have taken the lot of them if he could have seen. Hard to argue with that. He is stunned by the grip in the rain, properly impressed. We like that.


Loaded aboard, and then we have the joy again of removing the hot front brakes etc to get Terry his hub back. Now that we have had his car apart though, this is much easier, his road car is back together before he can finish the trophies, and we’re even confident that we did it correctly.


Day over, sorted.


So, what’s the assessmenr? Well, Vanessa went out and blew them away, gave a man his first ever race win. Not bad for a hire car. Comer took full points on a day no other contender did, he now leads the XJS championship and is only half a point off the lead of both XJS and saloons alike. Dean had two unexpected mechanical woes but got two full races in and came away with a big happy. Terry gets to tell the war story of the day his car was robbed for racing parts, and Team Kutuka all retired to an Italian restaurant for the most civilised end to a race weekend ever. There is something to this support lark.























Vanessa gets a few last minute tweaks before we cart her ass to Cadwell for a serious spanking.


Pimped windows are extra.









Hey, Bear, I can see you straight through his ear...


Kutuka North pose for the world's worst boyband album cover.





All day long she's been spanked and thrashed, and once again she has a little cry after we stop?


Vanessa has shed the number 1, but Helen is hanging onto hers til the morning.





Early evening at Kutuka, the barbie is fired up, and we'll burn Ken next.


Dermott tackles the cookery, Bear assaults a beer.








Vanessa might be the young upstart, but I'd still rather be at the wheel of my faithful steed. Sadly Dean dodged all the traps we laid that would have lightly maimed him.








We didn't know it when we took this, but this time tomorrow this man will be leading the XJS championship....

















We do hate the fact that this bloody man looks more like a pro driver than anyone else on the grid.


Small, light, smooth on the controls. Hate him.


Vanessa lines up for quali with her latest bitch.









Stewert plays with his helmet.


But Mr David is just enabling him. Who's the real pervert here?


Roger, on the other hand, might be asleep.








The odd wheels are because we're running very used rubber on the rear, rather than an aesthetic choice.



It is a little difficult to believe that this is the rotting V12 I used to thrash to work.











Come on baby, show them how it's done.


We do, however, need a driver. We renamed Deano as He-Man for this meeting.


What you can't see is that at this moment he's wandering the upper paddock trying to find his car....










Stew is so casual about wins these days that we found his laurels from the last race stuffed in the car.


After your first twenty or so wins you do get a bit nonchalant.


There's a tiny man in that hut taking pictures... 









Dave Bye, bragging again.... 








Terry Dye's XJS gets a quick service.


The poor, crazy man couldn't watch us do this. If I had his drive home, I couldn't watch it either.


All hail the blue Dye. 







All three back in action.


To say we're a team, we've not managed to get a consistent livery going yet! Vanessa has it right, Helen has it as we used to run it, and Eleanor still bears no championship logos whatsoever.... 






OK, let's see how good you are. Name every driver in shot, and work out which car belongs to who...


I'll help you out. Far left is the Bear. 





Contending for the prize of prettiest XJS, she's giving away at least 60 horse on that orange-snouted car alongside. But one finished half a minute clear of the other.... 




OK, we'll tell you. Cars: Bye furthest, then Ryan, Palmer, Comer, Drago, Boon.


People: left to right, some actor prong, Bye, Wade, Boon, He-Man, Terry, man with invisible gun, chap in baggy shorts. 



Roger claimed to have qualified here on the grid just so that his car would be parked in the shade.


We offer no further comment on that.


Current XJS trend follows the Roger template though, no rear spoiler. 


Go baby go!


Helen looks after Deano, but she is secretly hankering after a chance to flatten all three of those bollards...


In control and making them all look daft.


I used to flatten road cones in this. It's all David's fault.


Victory is thine!


We do like those stickers.


5th car in a row that Kutuka have built that went on to win races...


Bloody hell, stair rods or what?


Still she grips like a bitch, apparently.


Hard to watch, but she looks the part. Deano coulda won this one, really!

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