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Donington 15/16 September 2012



Good fun in many ways, disastrous in others. For those who forget, "From the pitlane" is the view of the race from the pitlane, so all you get here is what we actually know about. If we didn't see it, it didn't happen. Bear that in mind this time out, because we saw almost nothing!


We like Donington, and not just because it is the shortest journey time of any track we visit. Seriously, by the time you’ve stowed your kit and eaten your butty, you’ve barely time to brush the crumbs off before you’re leaping out again.




Not that we left early. The bitter irony to this meeting is we had just done a fair bit of work to Comer’s car, and we had it looking the best it has for many moons. Straightening and strengthening the front end removed that twisted snarl it wore. A new driver’s door erased the damage from the mysterious collision at Castle Combe, and in the process got shut of all the minor damage the door had before. The collision damage also led to the rear wing and rear bumper being resprayed, and we were actually happy with the way she turned out.





Whilst on the subject of the collision, it is odd to note that nobody claims to have done it. Someone clobbered their way down the driver’s side sufficient to stove in the door, and nobody admits to it being them. The commentator said it was Drage. Drage says it wasn’t. Fair enough, why would he deny it if it were. Palmer had damage to a white-painted front wing, but neither he nor Philip recall them colliding, and there was no white paint to be found, only green.





At this point all it is fair to say is that there was a collision and either the other driver didn’t even notice, or they are denying it for reasons unknown. Frankly I think that every collision should be investigated and concluded, there should never be an unknown assailant, and I don’t see how it can be left without closure. But perhaps the ostrich approach to collision damage is the new policy, and I suppose given the events of race 2 this weekend nobody is ever going to care who drove into Comer at Castle Combe. But I don’t like mysteries.







We arrive at Donington just minutes after the cut off for engines, meaning we are not allowed to start the cars up to unload, they must be pushed. Strangely, however, despite Hugo having laid down the law in no uncertain terms, we appeared to be the only ones obeying that rule, and nobody appeared to have told the airport about it. How there can be a noise limit with 747s overhead I don’t know. The one car we can drive is our road car. Bear is going out tomorrow night, and given the truck does the same mpg with 3 cars as with 2, we hooked up the trailer and brought him a little runaround to use. It’s like the campers you see towing a Smart car. We just happen to use an XJS.








No testing, straight to quali. And this is where it turned into an odd meeting. We barely saw any of the racing at all. The cars line up on the old piece of track, and only once our two heroes Comer and Jeffery are started up and moving successfully, can we head for the pitlane. We daren’t not go to assembly in case there is a problem, Philip has a habit of trying to start her up without turning on the ignition, and you just don’t know what might not work and who on this grid is going to need a bump start.









And right at the very back, Cliff Ryan hasn’t got moving, meaning we run down to assist, to find he can’t work out how to clip his Hans device in, and can’t set off. Hasty pullings on his neck and clamping various straps to him seemed to solve that. Another car back in action. It's something and nothing, but had we not been there...


Now we can head for the pitlane, and as we get there discover Comer had a loose bonnet pin and had been in and out again, cost him a lap. Oops. But there is young Tom Butterfield in his garage, a marshall brings us to him to try and help. Throttle not shutting off on the Daimler. Bear runs for our spare throttle pedal and retrieves the spring off it, hastily bodged onto the car to double up, we get him back into the fray with just enough time to get his laps in to qualify, only for the session to be red-flagged for Hill’s broken rear hub just as he pushes the start button. We saw none of that session at all.










As the last session of the day, there is no way for Butterfield to qualify now. So they send him out behind the course car, an MG ZT estate. News that the course car fell off on one of those three laps as the Daimler saunters along behind it did cause some hilarity. Tom was unclear if he was supposed to duplicate every move the pace car made...


Without having tested, and because he builds up lap by lap, Comer has not qualified as well as he’d like. Class F are line astern on the grid, but the gap is a second, which is more than we’d predict. One of Comer’s insanely good starts should make it a good duel though, and we’re not that bothered about who wins so long as we get to see a good race. Daft as it sounds, that is all we’re looking for, two cars scrapping it out.


We have all the spares needed for Gail's repair aboard, but instead they trailer it back to Covcats. Fair enough, we don't force our help on anyone.










Whilst we wait, mooching about the garages we’ve been afforded, random requests to borrow tools come thick and fast as cars from other series come in during races in need of attention. We could operate a tool loan service at this point. At least one small and expensive little monster is pressed back into service after a wield of a Kutukan spanner


Time for a race. If you wait six hours. In fact it’s such a late race that there is extra duct tape going on windscreens to prevent glare from the low autumn sun at 7pm, these cars are going to come in as dusk falls. In fact it gets worse, because the Special Saloons have a lovely crash, Baby Bertha smites Ronchetti’s Sunbeam, and they spend half an hour dragging it out of the gravel, because they are taking a degree of care that ordinary folk cannot expect. Bear has already put his shiniest shoes on and gone out, this race is so late that restaurants are serving evening meals, he won’t see the race.











By the time the cars depart, clouds have obscured the sun, and we are clearly heading for dusk. Webster in his tinted glasses is heading out for a night race. To make it from assembly to Redgate in time to watch this race, a degree of undignified sprinting has to take place. The race itself, for the spectators, was a little underwhelming save for one fight. Coppock ran off, baby Doyle couldn’t hold him. Palmer languished in an unchallenged 3rd. Lewis held off a first lap assault from Hill, who went for a trip through the gravel after another dive on the brakes went awry. That dropped her down the order and gave us the entertainment we craved.


For behind Webster was a train of cars who were having a good go. If you’ve got a 300+bhp lightweight XJS you can hold off a good few cars, and Roger is well practised at defence. Behind him Cliff Ryan, Matt Jeffery, Gail Hill, and Tom Barclay frothed with frustrated ambition, and created a great race of it.












Many were the rumours of the Barclay car being too fast for its specification. I don’t subscribe to them. We have some experience of people jealously casting aspersions about lower class cars appearing to go too quickly. The guy was here on Monday and put in a hundred laps, and anyone who can be bothered to watch will see him cleaning up his tyres with a heat gun of an evening. If he's prepared to put that sort of time into the car prep, and testing, what do you think is going to happen? There is a reason some people are quick. Shut up and get some practice in, cretins.


That rant aside, a great 4-way fight to watch. For us, Jeffery vs Hill was the fun bit of this. Two heavyweight XJ40s, roughly equal power, we think, albeit his car is heavier by over 100kg, and we have experienced campaigner against small boy child, but they had a proper race, and if nothing else it taught our small boy pilot a lot about racecraft.













Our other loon, Comer, went for the big slide through the gravel trap early on whilst sniffing Drage’s exhausts, but recovered and hurtled past at least 4 cars in his recovery drive to finish behind Drage again ready for tomorrow’s race, and setting fastest lap in class in the process. Like Castle Combe, this circuit’s use of actual corners plays to the strengths in the Comer car.


One thing we did notice with some irritation was a lazy commentator. When you have Dean Sewell reeling in Drage in the latter stages of the race, don’t call the result before the line, because they did not finish in the order the commentator called it. He called as fact a predicted finishing order, and I’m not sure that’s quite how you’re supposed to play that.













The number of cars out of action, however, is surprising. Ramm would notice poor oil pressure and bottom end noises that had him pack up and go home. Doyle ran the car without coolant until it seized. Connew had such a misfire that he retired it on lap 1. Pizzala retired with no brakes. When 20% of the grid suffer such failures you know you’re in the tail end of the season. The two Coppocks were only booked in for the one day, so they too have now gone home, 24 cars are now 18.


Day 2, and with Bear back at the track now he’s looking forward to seeing a race, he’s seen zero track action so far. A check round our charges’ cars includes an offside wheel off Comer’s car to verify pad levels, it’s going to be a close chase with Drage today and running out of pad would be a problem! But other than a joint appetite for oil, worryingly pronounced suddenly in the XJ40, and petrol, neither car needs work doing, and it is another long day to mooch about wasting. We’re packed and ready to go hours before there is any chance of racing. Interrogating the man from Yokohama about the relative merits of the 888 vs the A048 does at least garner me useful data for my own racing series, so it’s not a dead loss.













Finally the race gets underway. We make it nearly to Redgate as the cars start the race, Bear doesn’t do running. The grid sweep through, and before we can move position for a better view the tannoy announces big damage at the Old Hairpin, and a wheel off a car. You get this cold feeling before he even says the names, you just know. Pearce’s MkII has spun in front of the pack and been collected. By Philip Comer. The commentator makes it understood that they are both very bent cars, and the red flags confirm.


We turn around and walk back to the paddock. Bear will not see a single racing lap this weekend. News of a wheel off worries me. I had the nearside front wheel off earlier, and though I joked about the EBT setting (extra bloody tight) as I did up the nuts, did I do up the nuts? This is the moment that looking after someone’s car really isn’t worth it at all, because what if I didn’t? Imagine if something I did caused a wheel to come off and two cars then collide. It sends a shiver of horror down you. Why volunteer for such stress?













As it would transpire, however, that was not the case. The collision was heavy and the offside front was torn off in the impact. We arrive back at base shortly before the cars do. Flapjack purveyor Pam, or Philip’s better half, saw the whole thing at a range that suggests she might force him to hang up his helmet. The two drivers are in the medical centre but we know they are walking. Derek’s car comes in first, and the damage appears to be heavy, the offside rear quarter is flattened up to the axle, which appears deranged.


Comer’s car next, and one look tells me it’s RIP for this shell. The impact has been corner to corner, fortunately, not head on. The energy has been expended in deforming metal, not a solid neck-snapping thump. But that deforming metal goes a long way through the shell. The XJS has won the fight, but it isn’t going to survive it. The wheel has been ripped clean off the stub axle, with hub and bearings and disc. A piece of disc is still resolutely gripped in the calliper. The rack is broken, and there’s a hole in the sump I could put my foot in. The leaning door says the A pillar has gone, the floorpan is done for, and the chassis has bent. Under the bonnet the bulkhead shows lots of damage. End of story.














A wandering Pearce hoves into view, looking less chirpy than usual. Holds his hands up to it though, the man does have class. Dropped it, span, got collected. But all are OK. Bruised pride and bank balances, but no worse than that.


We have to deal with this wreck, and a swift plan forms. Lucky we brought a trailer, no need to struggle to drag the wreckage into the truck later. I challenge the recovery driver’s skill, and he responds by dropping the car beautifully straight off his truck onto the trailer with pinpoint Hiab precision. He might have done it before. Bear can then drop the trailer and lower his ramps to receive Jeffery when he comes back in. We can hear engines as the race proceeds. It is as if they don’t need us watching in order to have it. Weird.


We’re done with this as the race ends. Jeffery had a good race, he says. We don’t know, we didn’t see it. We don’t even know who won. Our race 2 was spent in the paddock, with wreckage. Sometimes that’s how it is.













Loaded, and a final check that Philip is not going to fall over from adrenaline shock, but he seems quite calm. We nonetheless brief Pam. Driving yourself home after a big crash is not always sensible, and we recruit her into our post-accident care plan. She is going to need several cups of tea on the way home, isn’t she? Daft, it might sound, but the after effects of a collision can take time to manifest themselves.


With the Lister stashed aboard the truck and the trailer recoupled, we’re ready for home. I can drive the road car back like a posh tart as the Bear pilots the transport. As we are readied for away the scale of the meeting’s toll on the grid becomes clear. 24 started yesterday. 14 finished today. That’s a heavy rate of attrition.














As we turn for home the Bear glumly remarks that he’s been to a race meeting and seen no racing. The trog home sees me follow the truck for many miles, occasional showers of blue and silver paint peel off the wreck and shower onto the road. It seems sensible to me to ride shotgun. If anyone is going to get hit by flying cuttlefish it really ought to be us.


Home, and a further assessment says that this car is dead. No question. That is season over for one driver. One round left for the other, and a possible hire driver for Vanessa. We’re now readying ourselves for Oulton Park next weekend because I'm racing with the CTCRC next week as Kutuka enter the busy end of the season. Cadwell last week, Donington this week, Oulton next, Oulton again a fornight later. Four different cars, four drivers. Kutuka's northern division is rather busier than the parent team.















Bear applies the finishing touches.


Hindsight is a bitch.


This is the third Porker we've seen catch fire this year.


Just saying.




Bertha gets a slight remodel.


Everything can be fixed.


The big blue barge gets on with it.


Photo was completely stolen off flickr, and I have no idea who from.


Moments like this might explain why it was that Coppock cleared off so compehensively.


Bad Patrick. No biscuits.


Deano hustles the XJ6. Must be race 1, because he wasn't in race 2.


Flickr theft again. God bless the internet.


Beardy blocks the road to create a great race.


Though in this shot it's Gail that is the road block, this crocodile was its own handicap.


According to the commentator, these cars are actually running the other way round.


Should've gone to Specsavers.


Comer just fails to miss the static Pearce.


Big on internet theft this week, we stole this from Derek and Christine Landers.


I can't escape the conclusion that somehow this is going to end in me doing a lot of welding and losing my temper with inanimate objects.


Short wheelbase MkII.


That looks a bit expensive. Someone with a lot of welding to do.


What you lookin' at?



How did the wheel end up with the car? Marshalls move fast.




It's worse than it looks.


Rust In Pieces.


For anyone who wonders what happened to Baby Bertha.



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