MalloryPark – Classic Touring Car debut


It’s only a few short months shy of 2 years since Helen and I were last out together in anger. We’ve slipped in a couple of trackdays since then, and I’ve tested Vanessa in the meantime, but it’s 16 months since I last sat in this seat, and she isn’t entirely the same as I left her. A 6 month on-and-off rebuild slipped in there.


We tested the car last week at Castle Combe, and she went well. We were unconvinced by the front brakes, and there was a suspicion of understeer, but it went well, it was quick. It knocked some of the rust off the crash test dummy in the seat, but it did tell us that he has much to relearn.


















































For Mallory a few of the car’s details were finished off to fix the snag list, and to be sure we changed the front brake callipers, one was clearly dragging when hot. A pair of Bear-recon-ned brakes puts that straight. He does nice work these days, blasting and plating the old callipers before new seals and pistons, and it’s far cheaper than buying them in.


So to Mallory, but with low expectations. This year we’re racing with the Classic Touring Car Racing Club. I can’t quite work out the politics, but I think, and the big shield sticker we have to wear seems to confirm, that this is part of the BARC. The club operates its own race meeting, like the CSCC, so this weekend there are only CTCRC races organised. The meeting features really old stuff all the way through to Classic Thunder.
















































The list of entrants is massive. Really busy. Part of this might be the fact that we’re going to be appearing on the one-eyed god, Motors TV have their cameras everywhere. To be wholly honest, it’s the only reason I’m here too, I really don’t like this place, but the chance to hold up placards and moon the cameras is too much to resist.


The other reason is that I just need to get back into action. There comes a point at which you have to say the car is finished and just use it, no matter how unfinished you think it is. As this is our first meeting, and because we’ve read the rules so strictly, we’ve entered Helen into the pre-93 race.


The many series being run here today are essentially grouped by age and level of modification. At the bottom end is the really old stuff. The off-beat rasp of a couple of dozen Minis wearing decent paint and a patina of campaigns past seems to form the mainstay of that series, but there’s a fair mix of entries there, nowhere else have I ever before seen competition-prepped Moggie Minors, and I secretly want one. Up from that, if I’m following this, there are the post-historic touring cars, and up from there are either the pre-74s, or the pre-83 Group 1 grid. Some familiar faces here, cars I know, this is the main stomping ground of that XJ12 that keeps handing the Jags their collective ass in the JEC races.
















































Helen, ultimately, wants to get into pre-83 race, but we want to be so sure we nailed the regs we’ve put her in the pre-93s. The pre-93 race is easier to get the 6-pot Jag into, because the spec on the car can be, dur, anything pre-93. In addition, the newer the cars, the more mods are allowed, so fibreglass panels, Perspex etc, are all allowed here. We don’t have any of those, but we’re not yet sure how the bodykit fits into the rules, did anyone ever market a Jag with the skirts on before 1/1/83? Until we know, pre-93 for us. This means we’ve built a car to do one series, I’ve assembled a car for Group 1, but we will put her out in the more modified category until we’re certain. We just needed to get here and ask questions.


The entry list for the pre-93s reads like a German’s wet dream. M3s everywhere, in all shapes and sizes. Lots of them. If it’s not an M3, it’s probably still a BMW. Some of the faster VWs, a Golf VR6 or two. More Cossies than I can shake a lightweight racing stick at. And in the middle of this lot, the lone Jag. Oh dear.


















































Not only am I the only British car on the grid, I’m the only one in class A – class is determined by engine capacity. The fastest M3s are still able to get into the lower class, only the 4 litre Jag is big enough for class A. Ironic, given our power to weight ratio here sits rather uncomfortably far from the Beemers. Still, a fair chance we can win the class, I’ll put money on myself to win a class of one.


Overall, having looked at the laptimes, I’ve concluded we’re a mid pack car. Trouble is, it’s a 32 car grid, mid pack means 16th or worse. Jesus. I’ve not been so far down a grid since 2007. Even starting dead last at Anglesey in 2010 didn’t make me 16th, the Jag grid wasn’t big enough for anyone to come 16th, and here I am now hoping to get as high as that just to come midfield!  We’re wearing our stoic, defeated faces before we even leave for the track.


The final instructions were clear. Don’t get here before 6pm. Get here after 6, sign on and you can scrutineer the night before, which is very welcome. Everyone should do this, everywhere, ever. We get to Mallory a shade before 7pm. The paddock is full. In that one hour, 80% of the cars have arrived, unloaded, and are heading for scrutineering. It is a completely different atmosphere, instantly, to the meetings we’re used to. There is an energy to it, a buzz of activity.


















































Signed on, unloaded, and swiftly whistled up to join the queue for scrote, it is clear there is no order to this, first come first served. Where else will you see a Morris Minor in a pushing race against a mostly-fibreglass Skyline in a bid to overtake each other en route to scrutineering? Idle conversation with an Escort pilot, and the sight of a woman with haunches like a deer pushing a vomit-inducing paintscheme draped over – what else – an M3, passes the time. They close scrutineering 2 cars ahead of us. Come back in the morning. The first fly lands in the ointment. Bear is beaten round the head for driving too slowly.


Barbie, and the mandatory paddock walk. Good to get a sense of what we’re getting into. No beer for me, a novelty for a race meeting, but no sense having climbed on the ancient and broken bike in a desperate attempt to improve stamina, only to ruin everything with a fogged mind occluded by alcohol.


Interesting cars litter the paddock. I had expected variation, but this is very varied. It’s so busy. We like busy, but this more than I had expected to see. Everyone is here, on site. A CSCC meeting turns into a wasteland as soon as the racing ceases, but this place is heaving with people deep into the night. Much more like the way we like it.


















































Bed, alarm, scrutineering. Bang on 7.30, right on the money for the window allocated, and I’m about 20 cars back, everyone else from every race has done the same trick. First scrutineering after a rebuild is always a worry, and a familiar face here is most welcome, he’s the first guy here I actually recognise so far. Helen sails through without a hitch, and just like that we’re set to go racing once again.


Sitting in assembly for this quali was not kind on the nerves. I knew this was coming. The lack of combat, the rusty driver, the largely-untried car, this circuit that I so loathe, the new cars around me, the unknown format, pretty much the entire thing is designed to test my resolve. I am prone to asking myself, for that brief moment each race, what the hell I’m doing here. This time that brief moment was more like five minutes.


The cars around me are looking awfully quick. Details catch the eye. The enormous carbon fibre gurney flap on the vomit-draped Beemer suggests I need to re-read their rules. That Group 1 SD1 is lightning quick, and out with us just for fun. Is the bonnet on that Fiesta really made of carbon, or is he, like me, a fan of the magic carbon wrap? The world’s most enthusiastic marshall diverts attention. Whether it’s for the cameras or he needed his meds I don’t know, but the upside was we certainly knew what was going on. Ten minutes before we went out the guy is giving everyone detailed briefings, delivered with jazz hands and a musical number.


















































But last week I witnessed Castle Combe go from dead silence to blown whistle in quali with zero warning, half the drivers not in their cars and certainly not ready. No chance of that here. This is a better way.


Hit the button, off we go.


Quali was a blur of disappointment. They were all dead slow on the outlap, and I don’t know the tyre well enough to know better, I have to follow to be sure. It takes a lap until we engage the loud pedal and space out. It feels like we’re doing about exactly what we expected. Can’t live with the fast stuff, but faster than a good number. It’s clear that I don’t yet understand the tyre, it can give so much more.


The brakes feel most odd. They work, but it doesn’t feel right. The car doesn’t seem to stop as well as it did, that feeling of driving into a wall just isn’t there, and that makes you early on the brakes. My head is all muddled on this, lose confidence in the brakes because of the grip afforded by the tyre, and start braking early, but I have this wrong. Merely because there is more grip does not mean that I have to brake earlier than if there is less grip. There are stupid people operating my arms and legs at this point.







































The front end is not behaving itself. Combe doesn’t have quite the same corners as this, and I have understeer at Gerrards, and again at the essess. I can’t seem to make the hairpin with any speed on, what used to be third gear with a T1R today demands second to get her to pull, I’m not swinging through the hairpin with any velocity, the front is not happy. I had expected this, and now I’ve found it. There is a small spark of my old reason and understanding still alive in the old noodle, and I recall the advice of Officer David, which is that sometimes to make it work you just have to drive faster. In the absence of a better plan, we’ll try that.


That does appear to work better at Gerards. Not so well at the essess and the hairpin, but he’s right, Gerards is faster with more attack, the understeer doesn’t worsen. In my head that says we’re too stiff on the front end, but then that’s because I expect to find that, I can’t trust my own feedback. Never mind that for now, I can probably get a bit quicker. Which is the moment that the brakes start to fade badly. Cooked, presumably. Two slow laps to try and cool them, and ready to try again, but the flag’s out. Bugger. Didn’t really acquit myself very well there then.







































Straight in to parc ferme, and everyone is to be weighed. Good. I like to see that. A beaming man in a Beemer saunters over. His opinion is that I’m insane to race a car this big, and that I must have arms like Popeye. He is at least partially correct. The old girl comes in at 1467 on the scales. Still got 25 litres of fuel aboard at that, whoops! Watching them weigh her was funny. They move a small slider for the finer adjustments, and for each car ahead it’s a fraction this way or the other. The Jag absorbs all their fine tuning before they look up and clock what they’re dealing with. The pin comes out, and the big slider they use for trucks and oil tankers advances about halfway along the scale. This fish is in a very different pond.


The distressed faces back at camp say that I wasn’t going well. I know this. My report regarding the brakes suggests we look at the rears. We know the pads are thin, maybe it simply overheated them, it could happen. Wheels off, swap the rear pads, all done swiftly. Nothing leaking, broken or hanging off, conclusion is we’ll be good to go again, and the pilot just wants his brain disengaging. It’s true, I need a good boot up the rear end.


The timesheets say I could have hit that time as the old class F car, puts me 17th on the grid. Well, we said mid-pack. You can’t get more mid pack than 17th from 32. Sadly this puts me on the inside for Gerards, and I did want to try our signature move on the outside.







































A busy timetable today, this is a double-header, ie 2 races, all happening on one day. Like a proper touring car meeting. I like it, it suits this event. I wouldn’t like it at every circuit, but for this short-range quickie of a race meeting, this is perfect. So we’re on track again to race at 12. We’ll be back at 2.30. Not a lot of time for breakages.


The race is here before we can even feed our faces. Ranks swollen by the lesser-spotted Lezzer, and a couple of guests in the form of potential Kutuka customers, nothing like adding to the pressure of the cameras. Sitting on the grid, peering down Helen’s long bonnet, there aren’t a lot of options ahead. Either we get away well, and find a hole, or not. Nothing clever here, it’s luck of the draw. No green flag lap to practice the start, it’s grid and go today. Weaving like a madman, riding the brakes, trying to get some rubber hot on the way to the grid, and bed in those new rear pads.


A race start, if you’ve not had one in a long time, comes on quickly. The minute board turns into red lights before you can balance the revs at just right. For 888s, on which I’ve never made a race start before, ever, we’ll try 2000rpm. Lights out, and that does work, she sits down and grips. Right up the back of a slow-starting Starion, nowhere to go, lift off and wait. Two cars stream past on the left.


Join the queue into Gerards. An excitable Fiesta tries to make room, and scares the vomit-painted M3 off the track on the outside, then weaves back in to make me dab the brakes to miss it. It’s slow back here, well off the power, boxed in and waiting to see what we make of it on the exit.







































A hole that is big enough for a Jag appears on the inside, and we effect one of those brutal, unsophisticated overtakes you can never be proud of, simply pull to the inside, hit the pedal earlier than the other guy, and slide past before he can shut the door. We have the torque advantage, and the other thing I discovered in quali, that new exhaust means no need for 5th gear here, so she revs out in 4th to the essess, I think we overtook about three in the process as they squabbled on the outside.


Into the hairpin, and that Starion is again slow ahead. There’s a group of fighting cars, a yellow Tomcat, a very yellow Renault 5 Turbo, this Starion, and they trip over each other to the point that there’s nowhere for Helen’s long length to go, just join the traffic jam. That feisty Fiesta wobbles down the outside, so close I swear he touches my front corner, but a big Jag in second gear is tough to out-torque in a Fiesta, Helen takes me down the outside of the Devil’s elbow into a re-pass. The outside of the Devil’s elbow is an overtake to be a little more proud of.


Exiting Gerards we pass a dying Cosworth, but that’s about all the racing it looks like we’re going to get. The cars in the mirror shrink fast as soon as I have clear air. The cars ahead are a mite too fast right now, but give me a minute to sort out the voices in my head and we’ll have a go.


The brake pedal disagrees with me. Lap 4, into the essess, there is a distinct bang heard, and the pedal goes funny. My immediate conclusion is a front pad has disintegrated, but I can drive round that, probably. Into the hairpin, and a tentative early press on the pedal says my assessment is wrong, the pedal goes to the floor. The car is slowing, slowly, but we clearly just lost at least one braking circuit. Oh dear.








































In a distracted state, trying to work out what best to do, and there are a number of factors at play. There’s no car near me that is going to crash into me or me to crash into if I can’t stop. We’re on TV, and I don’t want to retire on lap 5 of the first race, I’d have to start race 2 dead last. The brakes might have merely overheated, perhaps they’ll come back, Mintex pads do go off initially and come back a lap later if cooled.


According to the timesheets, on this lap as I tried to cool the brakes I actually set my fastest lap. Which really shows only that I must have been a real girl when the brakes were working.


Anyway, decision made, finish the race. It’s only ten laps at 80-odd miles per hour with no brakes, what can possibly go wrong? And, to be fair, we seem to be holding on to the Tomcat. It would be funny to catch him.


The brakes soon put paid to that idea, it really isn’t on like this. Still nursing the idea that it was heat-related, rolling off the power seemed like the plan, coast into Gerards and there might be some pedal at the essess, which there sort of is if you pump the pedal, but then the same trick at the hairpin wasn’t really working, the issue must be hydraulic, lifting very early was the only answer, and there are some pretty wide eyes in this cockpit trying to make this all work. Second gear on the exit, however, allowed me to wag the tail at the big camera sitting there, if you can’t win at least be entertaining, and the odd waggle of the rear end might just make it off the cutting room floor.







































So it was to the end. Never shouted at race control before to tell them to put the flag out, but I was in real trouble, and it was a relief to see the end. Parc ferme again. Random post-race checks. Again, good to see. News of my 2/3 race distance without stoppers came as no surprise to my friendly official, his vantage point at Gerards informed him that I was on the pedal 300 yards early, without it appearing to do anything much. It’s nice to know that some people outside the car can tell you have an issue.


Team Kutuka had also reached the same diagnosis. Immediately into action. What the hell went wrong? All pads intact. Nothing leaking. Fluid still in the system. It must be a bleeding issue. We did get some air out of the system after Combe. There has to be more in there. Bleeding the brakes all round, however, merely demonstrated that there was insufficient fluid shifting about the place. Master cylinder has died. No reason for it, and it is the first time one of the Bear’s resealed cylinders has failed. He suddenly looks uncertain as to whether he actually did this one.


We have a spare, but we’re about to get screwed here. We had a brand new one in stock, which we lent to another driver last year. They did replace it, temporarily, with a working second hand item, until they could get us a new replacement. We still have the secondhand unit, not had the new one yet, and despite the swift, sweating best efforts of people who really know what they are doing, you can’t fix a problem with a defective part. The secondhand master cylinder is no better than the one that has failed. Game over.






















































David Howard has a spare, but we’re out of time. That tight timetable is just too tight. Our efforts have left us with only minutes until the race is to be called, we simply cannot swap it again and bleed the brakes in time. A quick wrestle with my conscience, and collecting a timesheet, says I daren’t take the race start for race 2.


Why? Well, because I apparently came 10th in race 1. You cannot start a race with 22 cars astern of you, unable to stop. Different had I been last, but one problem ahead off the line, and I go sailing into the accident, and 22 people collect us. Sensible head says pack up and go home. We’ve never quit before, but you just can’t do that.


Hunting for a crumb of comfort, the timesheet offers some. We came 10th. As suspected, reliability amongst the fast stuff is poor, they are really pushing the limits of their engineering, whilst we don’t. 5 cars with better laptimes than me retired. Top 10 on a 32 car grid, with no brakes, isn’t awful. A man appears to give me a large and shiny trophy. What the hell is that for? Class win. I was the only one in it. Yes, they know, but this is the CTCRC, you win the class you get a pot. Who am I to argue?


More amusing still, lap 5 of the race was my quickest. And it was enough to take 3/10 of a second off the class lap record set by Howard’s XJ12. It wasn’t a fast time by any standards, but it was fast enough. First meeting, new lap record. Fair enough.


And yes, the CTCRC keep records of the lap records. There’s even a point on offer for breaking it.


Mixed bag of feelings then. Had you offered me 10th place and the lap record before we came, I’d have bitten your hand off so enthusiastically that I’d have armpit hair in my teeth. But having got here and got started, I’m now disappointed, because we can do so much more.


Can we find a home with this series? Oh yes.




Mallory 2012


Obvious sharepiece

Post-Combe improvements primarily consisted of new front brakes and a shiny catch tank.


Also  the magic scales came out.


She came in a mite heavier than planned, but still lost 150kg during the rebuild...


A completely-random assortment of cars await scrutineering.


Clearly Helen is the prettiest.


You're racing that?


Look who's talking, Essex boy.


Always insult people you just met.






First time that the rest of Kutuka have seen Helen in her finished state.


We even polished her in anticipation.






First quali for Helen and I in just under 2 years.


The butterflies are wearing size nines.






No need for fifth gear here any longer. Despite the higher exit speed from corners, more rpm from that exhaust is enough to cope.






Busy all the way back here.


And I'm halfway back. Imagine you qualified it in p32, how do you see the lights?






Hooked up the start, straight into the back of this slow-starting Starion.


And then sat and waited. Damn.






The gap on the inside is just wide enough for a Jag.


So we put a Jag in it. No finesse to this, pulled to the inside and out-dragged him.






Busy at the hairpin.


About to get stuck in the traffic jam. Behind that Starion. Again.






12mph in the queue.


I hope nobody spots that the outside has loads of space to overtake us all...






Fiesta, again.


Never mind, the outside at Devil's Elbow has loads of grip. That's what Stew said. Or did he say there was none? Only one way to find out....






Enthusiastic repairs, but we can't fix it without the parts, no matter how positively I think.


Game over, even we won't start a race with no brakes.