OULTON PARK 2012.
From the Pitlane
JAGUAR XJS RACING
Back to Oulton, again. We were here only a fortnight ago with the Classic Touring Cars, throwing Vanessa at this track as summer gave us one last taste of sunshine, and the club gave us trophies for showing up.
Nessie is back this time, with a guest driver, Jay Olson, a man hailing from one of the colonies, some place called America, and preparing to strap himself into a race-prepped Jag for the first time. Historically, Kutuka's history suggests we don’t have a great history with hire drivers, historically.
The first one ever, Dave Eyles, got punted by Ray Hill and stoved in the rear quarter. The next, John Gregory, wrote the car off at Mallory. Whilst that car was replaced with the splendidly-fast Christine, that car was always far too fast for a hire car, and we built Vanessa, who turned our fortunes around a little.
Vanessa took XJS pole and won her class here a year ago when I brought her out for the first time, we made a few changes and Matt Skelton then took her to overall victory at Cadwell shortly afterwards. She has been out a couple of times this year already. She 2-drivered Stewert and a Formula Ford pilot at Brands, where she found the gravel on lap 1, almost murdered a clutch of
It’s fair to say that we’ve a chequered history therefore with hire cars and drivers, but here we go again. Jay checks out on paper, some race experience in the
Last place on the grid would not be unexpected, but he appears to be realistic about his goals and ambitions, he’s not arriving thinking he’s the next undiscovered world champion, he wants track time in combat with like minded foes, and wants only to go home again without making a fool of himself. We can get behind that sort of customer, we’re on board with that.
With Comer’s car a wreck that is still dripping vital fluids, we’re joined only by Matt Jeffery in the big blue tank. That car suddenly developed a thirst for oil at the end of Donington meeting, and there is a suspicion that the excrement is heading for the forced ventilation system.
Testing for both is necessary and welcome. A full day for the blue yacht, half a day for the man from the land of the supersized. And initially it went very well. The Jeffery supertanker was getting wound up to speed and in competition with our resident Beard, and for once they were driving each other on ever faster, it was the first time that we finally achieved that spirit of competition between the drivers in testing.
The need for this was starkly proven by Webster’s lap times. He was immediately 2 seconds faster as soon as he could see Matt, than when circulating by himself. Again, we’ve always known this, but to have the actual proof, and by his own admission, was what we call a breakthrough. Just a pity that it’s his last race with the XJS before we got there.
Both of them grind the times down to near identical mid-2.05s, which is getting on for the very sharp end of this grid, that’s probably a second-row qualifying time, which would be superb.
There is a sting in the tale coming though, as Jeffery reappears with only an hour left in the day reporting loss of power, a heinous rattle, and fumes in the cockpit. Bottom end has let go, and the decision is to stop the car rather than detonate the engine, which would be both more expensive, but unfair to other competitors. You cannot risk a red flag, or oil leaks, bits of engine on the track etc, you accept that you’re done. There is no plan B, there is no spare engine under the side of the truck now, he’s done.
Our transatlantic pilot arrives mid morning, and the usual service for a rookie driver resumes. Fit him to the car, belts, seat etc. Explain the controls, and more importantly, procedures. You forget so easily that someone new knows nothing at all, like where to get on the track, which way it goes, the fact that you only use 2 gears here, it takes a while to remember everything you need to tell him. Fortunately, from what we can glean from things he says, this guy used to be some sort of gun-toting commando who leapt out of planes, and that means he absorbs information easily.
Strapping him in reminds him of his combat parachute harness. Residual deafness from weapons testing makes us wonder if we should mention that firearms are not permitted on track. His race kit is in a military-style kit bag. We do the traditional British trick of working it all out without asking anything direct, but yes, he used to be Rambo. Better be nice to him.
Fortunately, there is much to be nice about. He has the tail out on lap 1. We send him out on 888s to begin with, which is counter-intuitive, but we have limited time and we need him to gain confidence in the car’s abilities quickly. He won’t press the limits of the 888, but he’ll be very safe on them. Only late in the day will be swap to the R1R, betting that they will be more than up to the job of the pace he was doing on the 888s, but we’ll have put him further into the zone of their potential ability to begin with. It’s a bit of a gamble, and my logic may be backwards, but it seems to work.
We have a rear brake imbalance, which is addressed with the customary angle grinder technique. The car wears big front brakes at present because we do use Nessie as our test mule, she is so neutral and consistent that any change you make makes a predictable change to her behaviour, you’re not fighting two issues at once. But the big brakes have affected the rear, predictably, and we have to allow for this. Long term it’s no issue because she’ll get stock XJS equipment back and resolve the problem, but she has been hired in the middle of a test phase, and as it worked for me last time out, we trust it'll work this time too.
By the time we take the 888s off he’s fallen off the road a couple of times, which means he’s trying, and he’s down to a 2.12 lap. For a novice, that’s swift. Onto the R1Rs, and we let him have 2 20-min sprints on these. Not a big fan of these after the other tyre, he is necessarily slower, but has it under control, and a late spin is merely exuberance. We’re encouraged, in that he’s trying, he’s learning, and he’s not done anything mental. We can’t ask more than that.
There are other cars lurking out there in testing, the Drage machine wearing big wheels and 888s is gearing up for another race entirely, the Pizzala car is out, and Ramm is hoping his Donington oil pressure issues are fixed. His initial reports suggested otherwise. The Barclay car(d) is whistling round out there for what we hear is the second time this week, the pilot not happy he’s cracked this place yet. But then six years I’ve been coming here, not once have I ever been totally happy with one single lap. These kids today.
As testing ends, Kutuka have a tale of mixed fortunes. Matt is fast but broke it and is skulking around like a dumped teenager. Jay is slower but getting quicker, and in love with Vanessa, the track, Jag racing, the world at large. Such are the fortunes offered by the track gods.
It is at this stage that a plan forms. Matt may have broken his car, but he could rent Vanessa for the other race, the Sports v Saloons. Vanessa’s purpose is, after all, to be rented out, if necessary at short notice. She tends to live in the back of the truck, ready to go, and we’ve offered her to people before in similar situations, this is merely the first time anyone has taken up the offer. We have to clear it with Jay of course, he owns this car this weekend, and Matt has to accept the financial risk in that if he bins it he’s picking up the other driver’s tab, but so long as he’s sensible about things there is no reason it can’t work out.
This means that come Saturday morning we have Vanessa being double-teamed. Sign on and scrute are early, 7.10am. Regulations say no engines before 8.30, which is crackers. Half the grid push their cars to assembly. The other half drive. Uphill on the way back, everybody says knickers to the rules and fires up to get back home. Scrutineering is swift and easy, Nessa passed here 2 weeks ago and she has only get better since, so passing was never in doubt.
With Jay briefed, off to a wet qualifying. It rained last night, but it’s dry now, save for early morning mist, which is so clinging that the entire paddock seems to be permanently squeegee-ing and towelling all their windows. Doors are opened to let windows catch the feeble October sun, cars fired up for demisters to work, weather like this is bizarre in that there’s no weather at all, but nobody can see and everything is wet.
Including the track. It looks lethal out there. Our guest pilot has only tested in the dry, so this will be a real eye-opener.
The Kutuka way is to get to quali first to get clear air, but that’s not the plan today. Jay needs to find his own pace, not worry about a dozen Jags and the same number of Teutonic nutters from the Deutsche Marque series who have been bundled in with us all blowing past him on lap 1. So we leave him to go out close to the back, only for there to be a right old cock up at noise test. Nobody thought that 25+ cars might take up some room, they are lined up in assembly all over the place, such that the last dozen cars can’t get in, or noise tested. The session has started as the last few cars get in, leaving the drivers frantically strapping in and helmeting up. It does afford Jay clear track, which is a small mercy, but it was not a stellar display by the organisers.
We watch quali from behind our hands. First time in the wet is not easy, and being lightweight and broad of tyre, Vanessa is not the easiest lady to handle, this is a day for fat, soft and heavy cars to shine. It has always been this way. Modesty prevents me reminding anyone that I won the race here in 2008 with a roadgoing class XJS on a wet track. Oh dear, did I just mention that?
And other than Ramadamadingdong storming along in his E class, going very well, so does it appear to be today. The ex-Mike Cann XJ40 in the hands of Dyson looks fast, but so does the class A Xj40 of his son, the appearance from the pit wall is that that the latter car is outpacing the V12 XJS of the big boys here. The Beard as ever looks completely ill at ease in the wet as if he’d rather be anywhere else, but the surprise is Lil’s XJ40 which we’d expect to be hunting pole in these conditions. Instead she is nowhere.
And in a small moment of joy, watching the brake lights, we can confirm that last of the late brakers into Old Hall was Bob Beecham. Nobody hit the pedal there as late as he did. We want there to be some sort of award for that.
Timesheets confirm a topsy turvy grid. Dyson and Ramm on the front row, Gail way back alongside big Bob a row from the back, the order thoroughly jumbled in between. Our man Jay is last, but not by much, and our expectation is that from there he ought to be in for a decent race of it. One of his stated goals was to get some experience in traffic, so we could really do with a car or two for him to fight with, and looks like we got it.
Wandering back to base we discover the Connew car ready to mount our trailer. It wrecked a gearbox yesterday, Doyle fetched one up last night, and it needs fitting. Whilst Guy and his merry men can do the work, the bit they are stuck on is getting it into the hole. We have been nominated to do just that. Which means working fast, because we need to re-scrutineer Vanessa with Matt in about ten minutes.
Bear attaches winch to car and pulls it up the trailer ramps to afford a working height that is just that little too little to be comfortable. Using Northern ingenuity, which means picking it up with your hands, gearbox moves from Transit to floor, dragged beneath the car, and our patented 2-man technique hoists it into the hole. Bear from above with load strap, me beneath lifting, between us pull it into position, where willing hands appear to thread bolts.
There was a moment, waiting for bolts to tighten, at which I turned to Guy Connew, who had wriggled beneath to assist, and solemnly informed him that I was holding this gearbox aloft with my nipple. Watching his face dissolve into helpless and stress-breaking laughter almost made the whole thing worthwhile. Two men lying in a 2-foot high space, a dripping Jag above, wet tarmac beneath, muscles aching and trying not to drop a gearbox on your own face, now desperately trying not to laugh and drop that gearbox on your own face.
Box in, and Connew’s Merry Men say that they can do the rest, which is as well as we now have to get back on duty, young Matt he can’t cope with scrutineering this alien car, he doesn’t know it well enough. Fortunately common sense prevails, and scrutineering a car which has been done an hour ago doesn’t take much doing.
With 2 races, the day is shortened, there is more to do. And with Matt being experienced, normal service resumes, we put him out first in quali. His brief is simple. Do his 3 laps, take no risks, give it 90% only, he must bring it back in one piece. His father, dancing with nerves, agrees, he ends up with a lot of bills if Matt crunches this before Jay gets his race, he isn’t taking just a normal risk here, he’s got the risks of 2 people.
Matt is issued with a dire warning about the rear brakes locking under very hard braking. Forewarned is forearmed. Watching him try to steer a car without power assistance is simply funny. He keeps telling us that he goes to the gym, but he has the upper body strength of a dying hamster, and suddenly his demand that we take the power assist off his saloon is reversed.
Once in motion, quali goes well. The track is slightly damp, but mostly dry for 90%, so speed is up. Watching Nessie sail into Old Hall trying to outbrake a D type replica suggests Matt finds the confidence in this car swiftly, because that was on lap 1.
The distraction of the Connew/Morrant driver swap affords brief entertainment. Their changeover was so slow it must have cost them a lap. Nul points from the Kutuka judges.
Surviving quali reveals that Vanessa and her pilot got on well, he is high on the grid with a laptime that defeats all other Jags but for Patricia’s big V12. He is ahead of Enola Gay, and massively faster than the other cars in his class. More importantly, she is not bent. Matt raves about the handling, and his father swiftly twigs that were you to insert that potent XJ40 engine into that car you’d be dealing with the front of the grid overnight. Matt opines that the car doesn’t need it. He is such a power junkie usually that this statement knocks most of us flat on our back.
And so does the day wear on, until time to go racing. Our pet American has seen a few things in his time, but there are still a couple of small butterflies apparent, which there should be. That tiny tingle of fear and anticipation is part of what you pay for. Racing is all about sensation, if you’re not feeling anything then why are you bothering?
Lights out, and into action at last. It looks as if Jay got a better start, but on the outside into Old Hall is not a place to go mad, and he slots in behind Bob, which is the race we expected to watch. We sort of hoped for it too, because Bob is a clean driver, we’re not going to see long stripes of rubber circles down the doors and two missing bumpers at the end of the race.
At the sharp end, Ramm out-starts Dyson handily, he has a shocker, and is swamped. Patricia appears in second place, and to be wholly honest it instantly looks to us like Ramm is going to be a victim to that V12 at some point, it’s when, rather than if. Oulton does reward some degree of horsepower, and the V12 has more if he can just get one clean exit.
Which he does. Steals the lead, and runs. Ramm chases, and comes unstuck. Backmarkers, of all things. Tried to go round the outside of Bob at full tilt, touched a wheel on the lethal wet grass, and when the world stopped spinning the car was out of action. Oulton is a scary place to have a fast accident, and it was no surprise to see Ramm’s usually-cheery face have that slight look about it afterwards, there was a moment of pensive reflection that suggested he’ll not be forgetting that one in a hurry. Been off at Druids myself, backwards into the grit in testing last year, and it doesn’t half happen quickly here. I think it’s the proximity of barriers and trees that makes it feel that bit quicker. Whichever way you slice it, one slightly secondhand XJS retired on the spot.
And that pretty much ended the battle for the lead, but there was a lot going on elsewhere despite the incredibly sparse grid. Longest track of the year, smallest entry list. Of course we’re watching the Olson/Beecham battle, and it looks like an inevitability, we’re just not sure if the pass is going to come early, or left late. At half distance we’re starting to wonder if it might be a last-lap last-straight drag race, you can’t tell from the sandy bank of Cascades what a driver’s thinking. In the end, it was a better drive from Lodge and the slightly-brave outside move down the pit straight, through a gap that looked a bit narrow on video, but there is clearly a decision made that this was it, a mental cog changed every bit as definitively as that unfamiliar stick – our colonial warrior does of course have to “shift” his “transmission” in person.
The rest of the race is a little backwards, as usual when wet quali becomes dry race. Potent cars powering up the order, slower ones tumbling down it faster than an acrobat on speed, the midfield the only bit that’s in proper conflict as once again Webster and Barclay do battle. Once the Beard’s rhythm is broken by that rainy qualifying, it never quite comes back. The commentator, calling this fight, cannot help but refer over and over to the Barclay car. It’s as if he cannot hear himself. We watch with a sense of despair as the lighter, more powerful, wider-tyred XJS is fended off. One slap for Roger when he gets back to base, all yesterday’s pace has gone missing.
Mind you, he enjoys it, and if it were your last race driving an XJS, and the car going up for sale, would you be risking the car? Probably not. I almost wish I had the money to buy it, actually, the specification on that machine is huge when you consider the asking price vs build cost. But then we all know that every time we set about building a car.
As the flag falls though, Jay becomes one of a very small group of people who have hired a car from us and not smashed it into tiny pieces. We’ll call that a good day out. That’s it, season over.
Save for one small further matter, which is the sports v saloons race. Hanging around the extra 3 hours means a late, low sun, but Matt is raring to go, and indeed as the cars assemble we can’t ignore the fact that Vanessa sits between the two Doyles, looking awfully vulnerable. Matt is calm, his father pacing nervously as ever. I swear he does 9 laps of the assembly area every time he goes anywhere near it. He does lose points this week, however, for not polishing Vanessa. We’re appalled.
We always watch the start at turn 1, then walk along to Cascades for the later laps, so the opening lap of the race causes some mirth as Matt appears to edge Enola Gay out wide and power back ahead going into Cascades, we hadn’t really expected that. For the second meeting in a row though, the tannoy announces a slightly garbled announcement of an incident at the corner just out of our sight, and that cold feeling settles once again, you just know it’s your car involved.
But, sounds as if he merely had a quick trip off the road, bit of gravel, and rejoined, no real harm done, that’s fine, get back into the fray and go get them. We think he’s done just that, and only as we see the white car slowly drive down towards Hizzys do we realise that he’s touring, that’s it, game over. We’re confused, because Vanessa is built to take an awful lot of rough treatment, you can throw other cars and barriers and gravel traps at her all day long and she’ll survive. Maybe a puncture or something, gravel in the bead of the tyre?
We turn back, head for camp, and meet Matt coming the other way as we reach the paddock. He rushes to assure us that there’s no damage. Why the retirement then? Gravel in the car. Our spirits sink further as we take in the news that someone retired a fast car from a race because of a few small stones. Reality says he quit. We never quit. We don’t understand those who do, tenacity has won us more than our fair share of results, and we’ve dragged home cars with blown head gaskets, no brake pads left, broken diffs, driveshafts vibrating like harp strings, bodywork chattering along the tarmac, we don’t understand giving up. To quit because of gravel defeats our limited reasoning, we just can’t grasp it. But then we don’t have to. We didn’t pay the entry fee. Do what you like with your own money.
Season over, we load the cars and head for that last take-out pizza of the year. Our first season since 2007 without a Kutuka car winning a JEC championship. Admittedly the first since 2007 without a Kutuka car in the JEC championship, and we did win one with the touring car boys, but the season has not ended well. Comer’s car in ruins, Jefferys with no engine. And with no published regs for the JEC for 2013 we can’t even begin to tackle these two broke girls.
Plans for 2013? Full Kutuka assault on the Classic Touring Cars, probably
Nessie gets repairs to the lighting to ensure she sails through scrutineering.
Ready for trial by her transatlantic test pilot. The Jag, not the Teutonic barge.
Bear gets busy.
I could tell you what he's doing, but where's the fun in that? Guess.
Moments later Matt suffered two broken legs, and an unusual procedure called a recto-splenectomy. Never taunt a Bear.
Rookie pilots need a few things pointing out. Later we got the driver to wear the helmet, and things went better!
A few trillion tons of super-heated exploding hydrogen manages to look feeble, and slightly damp.
More Germans required for this job. Because many Hans make light work. Thank you, I'm here all week.
Tim Morrant shares his secret love for Jaguar undersides.
In fairness, Connew drove a blinder to repay his helpers.
Jeffery and his "borrowed" ride, courtesy of Jay Olson.
How to make friends in a hurry!
What do you mean there's no power steering?
Our American pilot is so keen to go racing that he even dressed as a giant fire extinguisher.
The wet quali made for a very mixed grid order.
Which means a good race.
Success - hire driver brings car home intact.
And having had fun. Mission accomplished.
Oops. This place can bite pretty hard.
Fortunately the pilot was intact.
I'm not saying he had a good time, but this was taken 14 hours later....
In fairness, Vanessa is outmatched here. Two insanely potent V12s vs stock 6 pot. Oh dear!