Kutuka Motorsport NORTH





Unusually, for 2011 I get to write a “From the Pitlane,” because I wasn’t racing, yet was involved looking after a car or two.


Technically not yet an official Kutukan, we’ve put a lot of time into sorting out the Comer car, and we’re here to see what he does with it in anger. It’s a question of having supplied the tools, but now being curious to see how they are used.


It’s a very odd thing. I’m used to showing up with two or three cars, being joined by Stewert,  the mechanical geniuses, and off we collectively troop to fight for class and race wins. At this track, this year, it would be expected for Bear to win the race, Stew might be able to use his new grip to win G, and I would want to finish 30 seconds clear of the 2nd placed F class.


What we actually have is the Comer machine, and Matt Jefferys in tow. The red E class is aboard, as a spare in case Webster blows his up in testing, but we’re not racing.

A mad rush to finish the paint on Comer’s machine has us late arriving, and into the Webster van for midnight beers, and up early to strap on the front anti roll bar to the Comer car. It turns out to be more involved than it should be, to the point that he’s strapped in to go out just as the first session ends, and so begins my experience of trying to look after another driver. I’ve had this happen before myself, missing a piece of the test day just sometimes happens to you, and you get phlegmatic about it because testing is about testing, not doing a million miles.















































Different when someone else misses a piece of testing that is technically your fault. If I’d got up half an hour earlier, or we’d had time to fit it a day earlier, or if wishes were horses.


Still, the car appears to be ready, and that new paint seems to stand out pretty well, the car is distinctive. The delay allows a quick polish to get rid of filler dust, overspray, fingerprints etc, and a few stickers and pinstripes do rapidly tidy this into quite a presentable machine. The higher quality Mercedes paint on this paid dividends, in fact we’re a bit puzzled how the car managed to look quite so crap beforehand, the stuff is great to work with.


Philip rolls out to test in session 2, interrupted by a lot of red flags and frustratingly patchy running. Again, I’m used to it as a driver, but it’s subtly different from up on the pitwall, something I’ve had before when only the Bear is testing, those last few seconds of the lap before your driver comes into view do seem to elongate into increasing worry and panic, a slow lap in traffic that delays the flash of XJS paint by two seconds is actually about an hour.


The desire to rip the driver out of the car and do it yourself is also palpable. I know I can drive the thing, I know what I want to know about the handling, this would be much simpler if I did it myself. Which I strongly suspect is what Dermott and David have been thinking about me and Bear for three years.














































We are timing, and checking pressures, but he’s deliberately being left on old rubber for now. We will heat cycle the tyres in the afternoon. Before then I order him to go out and throw it far too fast at a corner with plenty of run off, to see how the car behaves. The problem we have is that Philip doesn’t normally test, so he’s having a race day, there are all manner of funny little coloured cars of varying shapes, and he gets to race them all for the whole day. Great fun, but what I want to know is handling.


The engine is using oil, and to me it sounds a bit flat. I know it’s not a great unit, it has poor compression, and he’s giving away a lot to a lot of cars, but we’ve made the car corner, and it should be plenty to overcome that deficiency, we’ve proven before that you can win the class even with a blown head gasket.


A lunchtime check of various fluids and nuts is a relaxed affair. So far nobody is having major trouble. A loaned wheelnut to a man who seems intent on racing his XJS with only 4 nuts holding the wheel on is my good deed for the day. I couldn’t see his lobotomy scars.

It is difficult getting feedback from someone learning a new track, and the extra 1.2 miles is taking some learning, really what we needed was somewhere familiar for Philip to report on the car. My chance to drive it comes in the last session of the day. Brand new tyres to heat cycle, my chance to lean on them, learn the track, and suss this car out a bit.














































It goes well. Verdict is a good car for high speed corners, less effective in very slow hairpins. A mid-corner understeerer, correctable by lifting or planting the foot equally, the lift-off oversteer is surprising, but it’s very mild, it seems a very forgiving car for the panic-lifter, I think. Hard to say, because my own videos confirm I’m an oversteer blip of power type, which I didn’t realise I was doing. I certainly found this car familiar enough, though a clonk that seems to be from the rear worries me. She has a lot of Helen’s traits, but she is lacking torque, corners I’d assume are 4th gear are not quite as eager as my own car would want to show.


End of the day, and he’s setting 2.28s, which is about what we thought. Take a track I do 1.25s at, add Brands Hatch to it, you get a track I’d want to do 2.25s at, though the extra track here is more twiddly. Knock a bit off for the power deficit and the less loony approach, 2.28 we reckon is class F winning pace, though a better powered F class could threaten that there are no cars out there with the poke and the handling.













































Back to camp. Tyres are ready for morning. Car is fuelled, topped off with oil, and a spanner check to find that clonk. Gearbox is missing its nut. That’ll explain it then. The “what noise” from the test dummy didn’t inspire confidence, and again I find myself in Dermott territory. Truth is though, you don’t hear those little sounds inside the car with an engine running and a helmet on. Your pit crew hear more of them than you do, so in defence of pilots everywhere, sometimes we just can’t hear it, OK?


New belts. He’s had these a while, about a month, but I’ve refused to let him have them. He gets good stuff for race day, I wouldn’t let him risk them on trackdays etc. The car demands re-drilling for one of the lap belts, the different OMP design has the adjustment buckle interfere with the seat opening, and that’s a scrutineering fail if the scrute is on his game. That done, we’re ready.













































A wandering Slater, head gasket blown, is seeking a replacement. Bear proffers one of our many spares. It is nice to be able to assist, and a complete gasket and bolt set off the shelf must be a godsend to those in need. Our good deeds must surely now be earning us a sainthood.


The major work here is now done. This car is ready to race. There is literally nothing to do now. I’m out of action as a driver, I’m now 100% someone’s mechanic. It’s a very hard thing to do. More than once this weekend I’ve asked David how the hell he does it. All that work, the preparation, the time, the attention, care, thought, and it all comes down to the reaction times and decisions of a middle-aged bloke who grows horns and a tail as soon as he gets into your perfectly-crafted creation.


An electrical issue with the Webster car is swiftly fixed by David. There are few folk I know who are competent to interfere with ECU wiring and make it work, it all just sounds too complex for my poor brain.


Quali goes according to plan. It should do, we sent him to assembly about an hour early, Webster, Comer, and the sidling-closer-to-team-Kutuka Cologne-Brookes are first three out. Whereas usually I’d be sitting on a bonnet here in fireproofs, waiting to be let loose to try and have my outlap set class pole, today they simply go without me, leaving me standing impotently in assembly. The dreadful knowledge suddenly is that I’m not racing, and someone else is going to win class F today.


The pitwall is no place to be when racing is going on. It’s so frustrating. You are totally dependant on hand signals that the driver might not understand, and the stopwatch/lap time readout. When the times don’t match your expectations, what can you do? We’re not on a deliberate go slow for championship points like last year.















































Of course, drivers differ, and Philip plays in more slowly than I do, so the times get better. At the end he’s on test pace, which means job done.


Tyre pressures again, fuel, oil, breakfast. Time sheets say he took class pole by a nice 3 seconds, which is getting on for what we’d expect of one of ours.


This is the time of day that things break. We’ve seen a queue of smoking, failing, leaking Jaguars in quali, and this is when the requests for help begin. Usually I’m looking after my own car, but we’re known for having bits, and being able to fit them. We supplied a head gasket and bolts to Slater yesterday, Jefferys has a water leak now, Nicholls has lost the clutch, BCB has no trailer electrics, and on and on it goes, those are just the people within 50 feet of us.


The Nicholls clutch is the big issue, we can’t get it to work. It’s quickly diagnosed as a master cylinder. We don’t have a spare, it's on the bench at home, because we're not racing. Bleeding doesn’t work. Pressure bleeding doesn’t work. Removing the clutch damper and replacing with a pipe we made earlier doesn’t work. Removal of the cylinder, that lovely upside down in the footwell job, and dismantly shows probably a screwed bore. Reassembly doesn’t work. Not a shock, but worth a go. Truth then is that we just can’t fix it without the parts. I don’t like failure, but there are limits.


To quote the tank mechanic from Kelly’s Heroes, I can’t fix it without the parts, no matter how positively I think. Now I think of it, that beard, and the “I just drive ‘em man, I don’t know what makes ‘em go” might suggest Philip to be Oddball.














































The Jeffery’s leak is remedied by Dave Bye, with a copper mallet and silicone gun. I think both were for the car, rather than the driver.


To the race, and this is the tough bit. I find it hard to watch. “My” car is out there in combat, and what if something goes wrong with it that’s my fault? This fella has put his trust in my abilities and now he’s going to play wheel to wheel at 130mph. A mechanical failure for a component I have touched becomes my fault. There is also the frustration of not being able to control what the driver does with the car. It makes the race impossible to really enjoy.


Early gains off the rolling start are eventually lost. Damage appears along the driver’s side, and the car seems slower than we expect to see, it’s around 14th or 15th place. I would expect him to be up with Doyle in the coupe, but it’s off that pace. I don’t know if it’s power that‘s the issue, or a snoozing driver, or damage.













































He wins the class by a lot, 24 seconds, but the position is lower than I want, and the time is off. Perfect points, but I want more. Good start, but more speed to come. Again, I understand the McGiven position. Less than expected is not good enough, no matter what the result.


The damage is mostly cosmetic, the tyre scuffs from Merrett’s car wipe off, leaving just some missing filler to the rear wing. Not been on there 2 days…


The Ramm car is broken, the clutch has truly eaten itself. We can fiz a clutch, but he comes looking for help at 6pm, and it’s about 2 hours too late, we’re out of time. Some other engineer’s creation, so we’d have to be a little careful tearing it apart, and we’re about to lose the daylight. It’s a real pity, but the answer has to be a no, we just can’t do it in time, we need a clutch and we’d be faced with the car in bits, getting the new pieces about 10am tomorrow morning, with about 2 hours to reassemble clutch, box, prop, exhaust, rear subframe brace frame etc, and it’s just not quite on.














































The best we can do is offer him the red car. If he can square this with the CSCC and Terry, we’ll lend him our monster E class and he can start last in class I, at least get his race. No go, the rulemakers veto it. Small minded and bloody stupid in my opinion, but rules are rules. You have a guy who’s paid his money and is losing his race, but there’s a car available. Let him qualify out of session, start last, scoring no points, but at least get his race. There is, after all, a V12 entered for today’s race only. Starting last, qualifying out of session. Ramm has paid more money, why not treat him as the same deal, a Sunday-only entrant. The reasoning “what if you have a crash” is interesting. I hadn’t realised that you can’t crash unless there is an irregularity in your paperwork. I know there are reasons and explanations, but it seems a little bit mean. It’s all about fun, and offering a show, right?













































Nicholls’ clutch continues to frustrate. Merrett has brought him a spare all the way from Brighton overnight. This too is screwed, but we build two into one and get some fluid moving a bit. It’s just enough to get a gear. He’s not convinced about racing it, but by demonstrating that double-declutching solves the problem we do at least get someone back into action.


Race 2, and we’re again in that “can’t watch” phase. Our hero has BCB with him on the start, and we know Bruce has more power by probably 30bhp. Sure enough he does indeed lose to him on lap 1. We watch him close in, the overtake seems certain, he has the cornering to do it. BCB disappears before it can happen though. Puncture, as it turns out.

Comer is slow, he appears to get hold of it and start to push on only after Baby Coppock catches him. That was not the plan at all. Coppock hunts him, but he then disappears too. Massive damage to Comer’s passenger side door appears. I don’t need much intuition to figure that one out. Very irksome to watch this happening and not be able to do anything. If I could reach into that cockpit...













































Last lap, and he’s caught the Askham X300 in the latter phases, all over it, but lacking its power can do nothing. Mentally willing him to leave it be because we don't need him to pass it, but round Palmer the last time, and he has too much speed on, the tail comes out. Why I don’t know. Lift off or power on? The tail slides nicely, a gentle angle, nice drift. And then it suddenly grips, flicks the car the other way, and he catches that briefly until the tank slapper takes full hold and he spins onto the infield in a great plume of dust.

The Jag regains the tarmac, a roostertail of grass seed in his wake, and I note he’s still way clear of next in class. At least he still gets the win, though he is now driving it slowly as he recovers he’ll easily take the flag, it’s the last lap. Disappointing he wasn’t that awake a bit earlier, but good enough.













































Back to camp, and where is he? Nicholls goes by, pushed by 4 men. The clutch died as he crossed the line, close or what? But where’s our man?


He drives in five minutes later, having retired the car with a shimmy in the steering. He didn’t know it was the last lap, and retired half a mile from home. Crossley wins the class, and leads the class F championship!














































I’m used to the highs and lows of a championship fight, and I’ve given David a few moments of utter dismay as damage robbed us of the overall title, but to lose a class win that close to home... The car now has 4 damaged panels, and didn’t classify as a finisher. Tits.


So endeth my first weekend in the pitlane. I think it’s harder than being the driver. In this case even more so, I have the body damage to fix.


Lessons to be learned all round. I can do this better. I can help more people. And we need to be able to communicate with the driver, I need to man the pitwall to give an indication of what we need from him, to inform and educate. And we need to train the pilot to drag the car home on his own back if he has to. This wasn’t really what I had in mind when we collected this car those months ago, but the mission has changed.












































3 years with a top-flight car it took me to win the title. I can’t grumble that this opening weekend wasn’t perfect. We do need to find him some more power though. An AJ16 seems to be on the cards.


Very difficult this pitlane thing.

































Resplendant in Mercedes silver and Helen blue. It's barely dry...

Testing underway. No, don't drive it, it's finished.

This is the view of the paddock you get as someone's support crew. No, really, a lot of time it looks like this. On the upside, it's shelter from the sun.

Sometimes, if you're lucky, you get someone join you for a lovely chat. Don't try to steal his gloves.

Look, that's Gail's car. Although I think this one is falling on me. Oh dear.

Shiny shoes. Still under here. Underneath is where all the bits hide.

Our crash test dummy takes a look at the strange pieces underneath that we've been mentioning.

Philip isn't that tall really. He is also up on axle stands.

Katrina lines up for battle. 20 minutes now in which no-one can possibly ask for any help. Shame they spoil it with a race really.

Bastard's nicked my trophy.

Drunk people having a barbeque.

Steal his carbs, use them as throttle bodies on an AJ16, might need to rob another car too....whatever Mr David is looking at doesn't bode well for this car.

Off you go, go fetch us a nice bagful of points.

Nah, leave him, there are only two minutes to go, and you're leading the class by half a minute. Job done, time to go home.

At least it's the side we didn't do a lot of bodywork on. Now I get the chance. Hurrah.


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