HELEN FROM THE DRIVER'S SEAT
Injury of the week – bruised ego and dented pride.
Random helper of the week – Dermott and David, how could it be otherwise? David now holds a commanding lead in the HOTW category.
Most played in the garage – How I Met Your Mother series 1.
Well, that was a godawful weekend. Helen spat her dummy out after 4 laps of testing. I was bedding in new pads and discs, touring round slowly in the fog when the cockpit got all smoky and the engine started rattling like hell. I initially thought I’d done the gearbox, because it seemed to be touring in quietly, and the power was still there, just noisy. A quick rev up in the paddock though and it was clearly the bottom end. Sadly this means that the oil gauge hadn’t been lying at Cadwell, it was accurate, the Cadwell trackday was on borrowed time. Bugger.
Obviously this left the classic Kutuka rescue, engine swap time. We carry a spare engine under the truck, it’s the bottom end of the AJ6 engine I overheated at
Using the truck tail-lift and winch as an engine crane Dermott and David worked their collective souls out, and at 5pm the spare engine was in the car. That’s about a 5 hour transplant, including the time spent to transfer the components from one engine to the other, the inlet manifold and oil senders, exhausts etc all need to be changed, the head torqued down etc.
Starting the new engine and there’s a problem, less than 6 cylinders and a lot of mechanical noise. Not good. Lengthy diagnosis finds number 6 has the valves stuck open.
That meant a head transplant from the engine we just took out, a quick examination showed it to be viable, but we’ve just used the last spare head gasket and the stretch bolts will now need to be used for a third time. The new engine also has a leaking water pump, so that is changed, and by 8pm the newly-assembled hybrid engine is running, not bad for something built in the paddock. The skimmed head shows that it’s simply not been done correctly, 4 bent valves just the tip of the iceberg. That’ll teach me to stray from the Power4Peanuts fold and go somewhere local.
It doesn’t help that for the last 4 hours the CSCC have been demanding that we move the encampment, we’ve 30 tons of equipment set up and there are Jaguar bits everywhere, we really can’t shift, it was a layer of hassle we really didn’t need.
So to qualifying with an unknown car. I’ve messed with the balance pretty dramatically since Cadwell, and I’ve lost the test day with the engine change, and I don’t even know if the new engine is any good. The car immediately shows herself to be quick enough, we blow past Drage before turn 2, but Alex and Stewert blast past like bullets down Revitt, G and E cars have such an advantage here with the power and I’m urging the car forward, jigging in the seat to make it go faster. I’m encouraged that a committed scream into Coram actually drags me a little ground back, though the car is a bit tail happy.
By lap 4 though we’re catching traffic, and no more hot laps for me, the mixed session has saloons everywhere at every corner, and the XJS clearly have a pace advantage, presumably the tyre difference at work, we’ve much more grip. But it means every hot lap thereafter is baulked by a slow car in a critical corner.
Distressed to only qualify 6th on the grid then, Alex out-qualifies me for the first time, and I’m aggrieved because I still think my car is capable of being right up there, the lap times across the board are not impressive and I was far faster at the end of the session as I learned how to sell this car into a corner, don’t feel as if I’ve served the car well.
One thing the slow cars did teach me though was that I’ve got much more oversteer than ever before, inherent corner entry and lift-off oversteer. Not good, I've never had this before.
To the race and the usual problem, I’ve out-qualified class D by 3 seconds, they’re not a factor in my race, but with Palmer’s E class alongside, Loz Ball’s E up my inside just astern, I’ve got problems.
A good start, Stewert all over the road and cars everywhere, Palmer flies past with that low diff, but I hold 6th into turn 1. Loz is all over me though, and down Revitt he’s creeping up til I have to grab 5th and he is alongside, it’s a braking contest into Sear, and I just can’t stop like that, how we didn’t tangle I don’t know, but he’s through.
I needed to be into this chicane in front of him, because I could have then escaped, but now I’m up his boot and needing to overtake. I don’t need to overtake, Drage heads the rest of class D and they’re already a mile back, but I want to show what this car can do and I’ll not do that stuck behind a slow E car. Lap 2 and I know my opportunity, float it through the Bomb Hole and up the inside at Coram. Or the outside will do, I don’t much care.
Carried a huge amount of extra speed through the Bomb Hole, the car’s sliding nicely but I catch him much too soon and have to get out of the throttle, and Helen bites hard, tail comes round. No big deal, on the power, opposite lock, but it’s with some alarm I note that for once it’s not working, I’m having a spin, which is very embarrassing. I swear this spin took 4 days to complete, I could've written a short novel before the car finished its 360.
Stirred the box for second and floored it to try and not stall the car, she’s always stalled with a spin unless you drop it in gear and re-bump her before she can stop moving, but she splutters to a stop facing the right way just on the grass at entry of Coram, and I look down the track to see where Drage is as I hit the starter, it’s not over yet. She won’t go, I watch all of the field stream past.
Still not over yet, I can still get class win from many, many seconds back with the pace advantage we have, that’ll be brilliant fun, but she just won’t start. I’ve got a huge battery so keep trying, but when the leaders come past and I’m a lap down it’s over, I can’t rescue that. Climb out of the car and dejectedly wander to the Armco. Not the start to the year I had in mind at all.
Towed back to the paddock, where she changes her mind and starts contentedly. The problem with very pretty ladies is they can be a bit temperamental. High maintenance.
Sadly then the tinkering with the car’s balance hasn’t worked. With the engine blow in testing I lost the test day that would have told me about this handling trait, I’ve had to discover it in the race. A race car with vicious lift-off oversteer is not a very good race car, because if I can’t lift-off to miss someone without retiring myself from the race I’m not going to do very well, how often in race conditions do you have to back out of it?
The cure is simple, reset the balance as it was, it’ll be less theoretically perfect but might give me a more raceable machine. My pre-season testing will therefore be at
In reality you could ask why I was trying to pass a class E car, if I’m a D and well in front why not race for the class win, potter round and take the points? Not really the point, I came to race, not collect glassware. I could have won the class in my sleep, but that’s not what I came for. I may need to assess what I’m still doing in D, I suppose I could leave the car as a D but put “E” on the door instead if I want to race faster cars with inferior equipment.
If I do say so myself, that's not a bad engine bay.