The Birkett was terrifying. A week of buildup to the race, but the plan to lighten the car never came about, she went racing in her usual trim.


Just as well, as it bounced down with rain, and we had the most difficult race I’ve ever been in.


Full-tread T1Rs, as there was standing water in places and I know in changeable conditions I make these work, if it dries out a bit they’ll hang on very well indeed, and if it gets any worse we’ll still be sorted, in theory we’re set.


Quali said there was no grip, but then with one tyre set at 25psi what do we expect, and we’re all telling similar tales. It also helps if I remember that this is the International circuit and don’t try to turn right at Becketts.


With the biggest tank and the heaviest car and the rain still falling, I’m designated to start for us. What a mess. So far down the back I can’t see the lights, you judge when to set off by everyone ahead, not ideal! No-one seems to know where on the grid I’m meant to be, I think by the time they get to car 40 it’s a case of "who cares by this point anyway?"


Copse is a wall of spray with little red lights floating around in it, Helen’s twitching at the rear at about 50mph, that’s how slow we’re going, and there are cars all over the road, sliding front ends, rears, cars shimmying about like a wet kitten.


Nudges and cars rotating, first contact along Tower straight, and with more traction in the deep water there down the outside to pop a couple of cars and into the braking zone, with no clue when to brake, the whole field back here amongst the dead men is taking it awfully easy.


Outbraking a little yellow Beemer at Bridge and find that one of those comedy single seat jobs that looks exactly like a wedge of cheese is spinning, I’ve got understeer by the bucketful, slither into the complex and there’s an actual traffic jam as two tiny fibreglass things have literally parked in each other and got stuck, dive round the pair and gain about 4 places in the process. OK fine, this we can do!


Round Luffield, carefully as the nose will simply not grip, and powering up to pop a little blue thing when the yellows come out. Everywhere. And lights, and an "SC" board. Reason seems to be a wingless Radical parked against the pitwall, backwards, the driver climbing up the concrete to get out of the way. Don’t blame you mate, there are 50 tons of cars heading towards you on a wet track round a fast corner!


30 years behind the safety car and finally released, pull out and nail whatever this car was at Copse, and go straight off the road, the front just says no, and the rear when provoked merely notifies me that it can also let go if I desire but it’s not going to communicate with the front even then, accept you’re going onto the run off. Actually as it turns out there’s way more grip out there anyway, should use it every lap.


An hour then of very difficult racing. With Gail’s saloon in my mirrors what I don’t get is why I can’t lose her. I’m on the right tyre, I quite like the wet, I’ve got the perfect car for this, so far as XJS goes, and I can’t get round any corner from just after Bridge all the way to Maggots, it just won’t turn in, and if it does the rear wants to go to play at the beach.


Window down as the rear glass has misted up despite my improved ventilation system, I can at least see what’s behind me, even if what’s ahead is still a big blur.


No more than 2 or 3 laps of this and Gail out-brakes me, and powers away on the exit as my tyres spin helplessly. Her front end is suffering the same washout I’m getting, but she’s able to put the power on the road, which I can’t do either. I’m baffled.


Vredesteins don’t let you do that. If she’s on T1Rs then what’s wrong with me? Slowly, lap by lap, she edges away. It’s not dramatic, but to make our handicap work I needed to lap her, not lose her. Shit.


I have her in sight for a long long time until she disappears, I assume she found a bit of speed and has gone, and I’m still sliding everywhere. The piece of track I tend to enjoy is the left-right-right of Maggots, in the dry I’m flat in 5th til the kerb on the first right, brake late, great fun. The same corner today spits me clean off the road in 4th when braking from the left hander, and I’m on the grass, swearing. Keep it straight and tidy, and bugger me if the car isn’t responding as well on the grass as the tarmac, I still make the right hander from the bloody green stuff, and the boys on the wall don’t even notice from the lap timer that anything happened.!


Copse is lethal, under and oversteer in 4th, the fastest way round was turn in slowly and don’t touch anything until you’re really really certain, and you judge the braking point by looking at the pitwall out of the side window, because you can’t see ahead of you.


Caterhams and Morgans everywhere, a small hatchback occasionally pops out of the murk, a nutter in an R32 actually gives me the squeeze, unaware that I’m already in power oversteer and have my eyes shut, there are cars off the road everywhere. The best I can say about my time out there is I didn’t hit anything and my car came home undamaged, which is really the first requirement for endurance racing, don’t break it!

An hour and a quarter I was out there total, the track started to give it up a little bit at the end, bit more grip, and there’s Gail’s saloon in sight again, I close it down very fast, and overtake it on my in-lap.


Only when I get in the pits do I find that was Chris Boon I was putting a lap on, they had an early changeover and when I hit the pits we’re actually nearly on target.

Lap times show a 2 minute 10 was my best. I look like a physical wreck, eyes still wide, very difficult indeed. I don’t know why the tyres wouldn’t grip, they were cutting through the water to the tarmac, but wouldn’t grip it when they found it.


I’m encouraged by the fact that Phil out in the faster red car on the very best rubber we have can’t hit my time, so it’s not the driver after all, the conditions are simply not coming to the T1R right now.


Finally the Gail mystery is solved. She greets me by turning and waving her arse at me, reminding me generously that this is the view I’m now used to. Her grip was from 888s. They’re not meant to work in these conditions, but today they do. It would seem that they were cutting down to tarmac just well enough, and they were biting it when they found it, whereas the T1R may as well have been oiled.


Whatever was going on out there, it wasn’t T1R friendly for that first 2 hours. A point proved by the release of a 888-shod Palmer, who after only 3 laps takes 2 seconds off my time, and consistently too.


Then releasing Stew on T1Rs as it rains again demonstrated our total lack of grip in those conditions, we just could not make them work for us. Our 888 cars were easily fastest, Darth Lock on the new R1R also fared better on a drying track, but Sam was by far our quickest as he took to the drying line and wrung its bloody neck at the end of the race.


Some friendly ribbing of Gail as it appears they’re on to win it, demanding to know if they’d set their declared times on a bicycle, but that’s just Birkett humour, nowhere else you get to eat pizza whilst sitting on an XJS bonnet shouting "cheat" with a smile, without fear you’re going to get your nose flattened.


And a big thank you to the lady who finished her stint and proceeded to have a lumpy yawn out the back of our garage, the range you got on that was impressive.


Conclusions from the tyre war are hard to reach. T1R v R1R v 888. Clearly today the 888 was easily the tyre to be on, fastest in all conditions. Chris Boon’s 888s were shot before he started so we can ignore that aberration.


T1R v R1R then. In the 1st half of the race the T1R was actually faster. If we pit Dave Bye’s saloon against my XJS on the same tyres in the dry at Silverstone, he should be faster. No question about it, those front running saloons have more poke than a class D XJS. In the wet the same should apply, probably more so, they’re softer cars with a more user-friendly wheelbase.


So Bye v Harrison/Woods in the rain at Silverstone, how does he fare? 2-3 seconds slower. He has R1Rs, we had T1Rs. Which to me says no, the R1R is not the wet weather hero everyone thinks.


That’s my early analysis. We’ll see. There must be something in that tyre in the dry, or we wouldn't be moving to them. I just wish I knew what it was.


Season end.






























































Picture ruthlessly stolen from www.motorsport-specialists.co.uk

BMW eats Midget, safety car number, erm, 5, 6?


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