Fooling around in the dark with Helen, and it turns out it sends you blind.







Check out the hat!










Donington was a real laugh. Essentially a new car, no clue how it was going to respond to the weight loss, new brake pad compound in the front, and a track I’ve never seen before, ever. Bear had done some sneaky practice with a video game, but I really had no clue in what order the corners were coming til quali.











































Concerns over the superlight bonnet and its resilience would be addressed in quali, if it exploded off the car it was wrong, if not it was fine. The lighting applied to both cars attracted attention, the unearthly red and blue glow of both machines in the dark caused much hilarity, but in a much more positive way than I had expected.


Qualifying was most amusing. I had attended the new driver briefing, and after about ten seconds realised that this was a briefing for new drivers, not drivers new to the track, so I might have ducked out of that early, leaving me actually lost trying to find assembly. It is an odd thing, really, to line up on a spare bit of race track as the assembly area.


Immediately besieged by saloonatics, demanding to know why the car was clad in plastic panels. News that she had dropped 200kg did raise eyebrows.










































Waved off, and it was hard to tell at what point the lap actually started, with cars crawling round and green flags popping out at unexpected places, and it was a slow-motion gaggle along the start/finish straight. Quickly growing bored of this I passed the 120 and El Beardo, and set off down the Kraner Curves without knowing what was coming next. Stew in the mirrors, I wanted to follow him round here as he’s been before, and recently too, but first car past is Bear. He comes steaming past in the braking zone to a corner I don’t even know the name of, slotting up my inside and clearly totally lost, you can see his little Bear head turning this way and that to figure out where the road goes.


That fearsome last chicane the first time through is tentative, but immediately clear that actually it’s very quick and can be monstered. Stew finally oozes past down the straight, and I have my Lezzer to pursue. In fact it takes very little time to work out where the corners are, but did I hell as like work the proper lines out in that session! Tagging onto Stew is one thing, but our lines and approach to the corners is different, and Helen in her current form has about 4 times as much grip as he’s got, it’s quickly clear that the weight has changed her completely.











































She feels much lighter, the roll is different, the balance has changed too, she’s a smidge more oversteery, but in general much, much better, very agile. This is still on D suspension and power and tyres, just lighter, but acceleration is better, braking is later, and her apex speed up a little. Not as much as you’d expect, oddly she also understeers a bit more, but it’s only a hint. Within a lap I stop the gap to Stewert from expanding, and then haul him back in, inexorably, to the point that he’s now in the way. As we steam through in formation there are saloons, but none that I can’t make it stick on, and I’m closing down cars I never expected to, like Pete Dorlin. That is a shock.


Stew is ever-wilder, until a long slither at Redgate lets me slip through, and we are running from him immediately. Released onto my first hot lap proper and the chuckability of this car is now clear, the old hairpin, admittedly by accident, is a full drift, turned in too early and applied a bootful, the most glorious assault on a corner I’ve had all year, real hooligan stuff, very funny. Closed on Pete Dorlin just in time to run out of fuel, doh! Having pumped the car dry I hadn’t replenished the “extra” couple of litres she needed, so I was a lap short. Enormous fun though, immediately in love with the track.







































The timesheets put me under 2 seconds slower than Bear, we’re first and second XJS, 4th and 5th. I’ll take that gap, frankly. New track, 2 decent straights, lots of power-dependant parts to it like that long drag up the hill, I haven’t mastered the corners yet so it’s a smidge more point and squirt than normal, and he has much more squirt to point, I’ll get faster yet. Amazed to be so far in front of Stewert, but the way that car was behaving it’s not such a surprise, not really. He is a glum bunny though, no question, blown away by two track virgins, it only serves to underline Eleanor’s fall.


To the race, and it’s a rolling start, a new phenomenon. 2 by 2 behind the safety car, then nail it when the red lights go out, it’s a weird one. But simple enough, and I have the inside line on Morrant, keep it tight, save my place against the greater grunt of the saloon. The weight loss has almost equalised the power of the “standard” XJ6 cars like his and Pete, it’s nearly there. I reckon if we breathed on a head for her she’d be bang on.


After the Bear, and it’s odd, but I’m quicker in some areas, it’s on for a real battle, until we get to the straights and he gets his gap, but lap one teaches me my lesson, I might be able to pass him early in a race whilst still in range, he is vulnerable, and the bit he’s forgotten is we’re the same class today, we’re racing.










































As Bear edges away I watch the saloon battle in the mirrors, because what I expect to see is a white XJ6 bursting through and coming after me, the one I fear here is Rich Dorlin. I can hold off all the other cars, but that extra poke he has will let him overtake if he gets in range.


The gap to the Bear stabilises, and I’m unsure if that’s him or me, but about this moment the saloon a few hundred yards back turns white, and starts to close. Hell. It eats me up down the straights, and he’s soon on my tail, but it gets a bit harder from here, Helen’s faster in the bends, just, but weaker on power and brakes, I’m locking fronts much more easily than usual, the new pads at work, and that makes me cautious.


It takes a while, but eventually it does steam past down the pit straight, and I have a tail chase, which is good, it takes me a few corners, but I stabilise the gap even as we both start to eat into a Bear’s lead, and I’m getting my head down to chase it back when the smoking D type and Pete’s beached saloon bring out the safety car.


Cars recovered and the race goes live, but I have a fast Bye astern now, when I had a huge gap before, and he has the grunt to turn 1, I know it. I hold the inside, and take a tight line in, but know I’m now weak on the exit, and he is wily enough to go for the cutback, leaving us drag racing to the Kraners, and worse, the gaggle of the pack that had gathered astern of the safety car are ahead. I’m steaming down the back of MacVicar, with Dave on the outside as hit the left hander, and I’m about to be scraped off on this back marker when Dave simply disappears, I do a double-take, can’t see him anywhere. Gratefully pop out to pass MacVicar as we head into the old hairpin, no clue what happened to Dave.


Now there’s Stew astern, and we’re late in the race, right in the power zone of the track up the hill, I only just hold off the V12 snort, get a little gap in the two corners, and heading down to the chicane with Seath ahead and that bloody V12 just coming on song a hundred yards back. I know Seath is a girl on the brakes, and I have faith in the lighter weight now, a late late dive puts me up his inside and a car between me and Stew, that’s all I needed, I can now get clear again. No need, that’s the flag, I finish 5th, where I started. 2nd in class, 2nd XJS. 2nd? They give me a whisky tumbler at prize giving, with a number “2” on it. I don’t really understand this idea, what’s a “2?” I haven’t had a “2” on my glassware since the first race of 2008.


Into the night, and other than fuel and a little oil, Helen’s main addition is tape. It is going properly dark. Not dusk, night. Headlights are going to be an issue. Tape turns the rear window into blinds, instruments get taped to reduce glare, ironically the only important instruments like the oil pressure are unlit and I can’t see them anyway.









































Out into quali and it’s another world. I have Enola Gay ahead, and Bear, Stew astern. Likely to be the top 4 cars. There’s a maniac in an XK120 on original headlights who can’t see anything, Comer running XJS stock lamps and effectively blind, and Seath with periscope spots on his bonnet, it’s the flaming Wacky Races.


Bear is lit in red, the car looks like it’s aflame, and that first lap out was surreal. The track is the same, but not, there are no reference points at all, it’s driven on the memory. You couldn’t do it cold, if you’d not seen the track before you’d have no hope. Even corners that you know are there are sometimes invisible. Old hairpin for example, hidden in a well of shadow. The left at Kraner curves, it’s over a brow, and in the dark that’s just a horizon of tarmac with no warning that you need to be heading left when you get to it. Turn one is fine, and that’s quickly up to normal pace, there is lighting on the pit straight, there has to be, and there’s enough to partially light this corner, but the flare of flashbulbs as you get to this corner dazzles you. Half an hour this quali, I was out for all of it, not one lap did I get without somebody let loose a billion watts of flash right into my eyes.










































It’s the Kraner/hairpin complex I can’t quite suss. Kraners, yes, eventually back up to daylight pace, the blind right hander in the dark, then the blind left, flat in 5th, a bit ballsy but not a problem. It’s that hairpin, just invisible, and judged by inventing a turn-in point from the kerb you can see on the left, and hoping you hit the apex on the right. How many times did I go too early, or too late. Up the hill, the first left is fine, the second sucks you in early, it’s a real effort of will to stay out late. Too early at the next pair of rights merely gives you a bit much kerb, but it doesn’t matter, it’s dry. The last chicane, great stuff. The marker boards on the right tell you it’s coming, but you brake for it without really being able to see it til the last instant, and if you miss the markers it’s interesting work.


Bear is a joy to chase, the strings of red lights under his car make him a brilliantly-lit target, a pool of fire-glow with a dark shape inside it, the brilliant white of the boot lid number light a shocking contrast out there in the blackness, the orientation of the car visible from a quarter mile away. Doyle is picked out by spits of shocking flame from the side exhausts popping and flaring in the gloom. Marshalls posts tiny, invisible points of light that briefly flicker, the Halloween setting could not be more appropriate, the hint of mist adds a sense of the supernatural to this bizarre spectacle.


Eventually we ground down the times, but the fun is playing with the other cars. Doyle is using me and Bear as his own headlights to set a lap, he lets one or other go, then chases, but at least I get to chase him too, it’s a team game and we’re all sort of working together. What is surprising is just how fast Stewert disappeared from the mirrors, after that first lap he was gone, I assume he just can’t see.







































Occasionally out of the darkness another car looms, sometimes it’s a parked car’s reflectors, but sometimes it’s an XK120. In a single, glorious lap I murder Seath, a flash of acid green reflected back at me as I hare after the red neon of the Bear 200 yards ahead, then in the blackness the quad lights rotate and dazzle me at the chicane as he spins it to face the oncoming Helen.


Not content with this, at the very end of quali as he catches me up, he pulls out to overtake, thinks better of it and pulls in, giving me a mirror full of 400W of lamp, blinding me in the braking zone, and the next thing I see is the gravel pit ahead, which Helen gently drives across in 3rd gear like a snowplough. The mesh keeps out much of the grit, fortunately.


I did the full 30 minutes, out of sheer fascination, it was too much fun to come in. Cars are coming into and out of the pits for pressures and headlight adjustments, but Helen feels good, she’s working nicely, no need to come in and I don’t want to waste a moment of this experience. By the end of the session I’m hitting the shift light in 4th down the pit straight, raising a hand to shield my eyes from it as Helen gives it the top end of 5800rpm, it’s just, just better than grabbing 5th. In D form I’d never see that light, that’s the change here.


In the dark the timesheets see me close in on Bear, I’m now only a second adrift. It’s still a lot, but it’s better.


Doyle from Bear from me, Stew 4th and a fair whack back too, his HID lighting is effective, but pointing wildly, not lighting up the full road, and if you can’t see you’re frelled.


The race is very soon, no time to do anything other than refuel, there is but one quali and then we’re out again, very slick. The bad news is no camera, no time to recharge it. The good news is the pimp lights have met with the COC approval, we’re racing in neon.













































Another rolling start, and with Eleanor alongside I am screwed, no question. Helen’s new acceleration can’t match that engine, and as the lights go out, late, she screams past. Bear’s car takes a hint longer to wind up, but Doyle is already on song, it’s Stew challenging Bear into turn 1, and I’m roughly in range still to get back inside. I swear the pair of them touch as Bear takes the corner, Stew has a wobble and I’m back up the inside, it’s a drag to the top of the Kraners, but I’m on the Dave Bye line and wondering what happens next. The answer, fortunately, is that Stew doesn’t trust the grip to go two abreast at the right, and backs out of it.


Down the curves, and I know I’m faster here than Bear, coming out of the hairpin I’ve dropped Stew far enough, and close right on Bear’s boot. We’re heading up the hill and it’s flat in 4th, in the dark, with a glowing red XJS perched right on the bonnet, and Doyle is right there, he’s only yards away. Into the braking zone, I look left then dive right, up the Bear’s inside, and through, I just took P2, he forgot we’re racing today! And then out comes the tail, cold tyres, big lairy slide, a minor follow-up tank slapper, and just kept enough momentum that though Bear escapes, Stew is still just out of range, that last corner just enough to have me still ahead at the chicane, and that was the last I saw of him. I knew if I made it there I would be OK, quali taught me I carried more speed and brake later, so we’re safe.


Incredibly the Bear is right on Enola’s tail, and they’re slowing each other down, I catch up just as Bear makes the overtake. Now that I didn’t expect. That puts me third with the big black rear end just ahead, exhausts still flaming like a drag queen.


Bear is staving off the assault, but slowing them both down, and with my tyres up to pressure Helen gets offensive, I go for a repeat of the dive I had earlier, but unlike Bear the Doyle sees that coming and has it covered. A moment of “oh no, not another V12” as the brakes puff the front tyres, but evasive action works, and I live to try again. Three laps I watch Doyle offer the nose inside the Bear into that critical right hander, and the dope falls for it, running wider lap after lap until inevitably he runs off the road into the grit, promoting me to second.


As lead Kutukan it is now my responsibility to attack for the lead, and for the first time I do give it some thought. A class D car that’s been on a diet, vs Enola Gay. I’ve had a look already, as it was being held up, but I really don’t have the machinery for this. It is rare that I doubt myself or the car, but there is a moment of pause here, this might not be sensible. Screw it, time to show them something special, I’ll just corner faster, everywhere.










































Nice idea, genius. Three corners later and she’s on the lock stops into the old hairpin, lost the tail under braking, and the black monster is easing clear. Never mind, try that again, I can hold off the Bear, I can see his lights but I’m not scared, catch this you young upstart.


Nice idea, genius. I totally miss the hairpin next lap, missed the apex by twenty feet, and lose 4 seconds as I learn some rallycross. Not actually dramatic, kept it straight, laughing like a loon, but time gone off the tarmac and now there’s a Bear behind. Never mind, we allow the odd mistake, you’ve still got to live with me in the corners, catch this.


Nice idea, genius. Old hairpin, missed the apex by ten feet, again, and that means a minor wobble on the exit, and now the quad lights are metres away. Suicide through the next pair of corners has me clear, but there’s this pesky straight bit now, and the snarl of intake noise to the left after 200 yards throws a red-lit pimpmobile all the way past and in front into the braking zone, that’s me third. Again. Chased it, but it did flick through my head that just class E weight does not make a class E car, I’m hanging on for the sake of pride and entertainment, not in hope or expectation! But could she have done this in class D form? No, no way.


And that’s how it ended. Doyle managed the gap, I chased the Bear, and we all finished exactly where we started. But what a laugh. Truly, what great fun. Non-championship races against weird competition, it’s a throwback to that 2007 Victor Meldrew race. An interview to have now, my first for a long time, the last time I had to dribble on the mic was Castle Combe in 2008, all the podiums since have been miserable circuits who don’t want to hear from the pilots. The sense of fun is palpable, Doyle is smiling like a dinosaur that’s just had lunch, Bear has clearly just caught a full salmon, and the interviewer is struggling to get in amongst the piss-taking to do his interviews.


Great way to end the season, and the follow-up party did its part to end our livers… They give me another tumbler with a “3” on it. I am completely bewildered by these odd trophies, what’s with these funny numbers?


That’s 2010 over, the cars are retired for the year. What next? Wait and see.











Black bonnet, blue neon. Chav central.



Look in here, an engine!


An engine you say? Revolutionary.




Back to From the Driver's Seat. HERE







Ted helps change the pads.


So defensive that we're eating soil. In about fifteen seconds the Bye is going to find the grass.


Not pretty maybe, but check out the rear window. Glare shmare.

but check out this one. Following this down the curves in the night is sheer genius.



Rolling thunder. Admittedly Helen is less thunderous and more a mild breeze.



2011 pilot?



We survived. Check the glow-in-the-dark Dermott.



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