Porsche Club Race Report Donington Park 23/24th October 2004
Car - 924 Carrera GT
Testing took place on the Tuesday, and I was hoping for a good test day rather than a repeat of last year when I spent most of the day fixing an oil pipe failure. The weather forecast was not good but at least we managed to bag a garage for the day.
With a compressed end of season timetable Strasse had just one week to fix the car following the Spa race where I finished on three wheels. I took to the track for the first time just to evaluate that everything was pointing in the right direction. Signs were good as the car was absolutely fabulous down Craner Curves, but seemed to be reluctant to turn in at McLeans / Coppice. After a return to the pits & change to camber settings I tried again but with little change. More investigation was needed. Eventually I discovered that a rear trailing arm was bent. Nothing for it but to find one, and get it fitted. I'm coming to believe that testing at Donington simply means lots of money for a garage with little track time. By about 3:30 the car was almost repaired when I came across a problem I could not solve in the time remaining and had to pack up for the day. This changed my plans for the rest of the week, and I decided that I would test the 944 at Croft on the Friday morning and trek back to Donington for the Porsche Club track day in the afternoon. I put the car on the trailer.....on three wheels AGAIN !
Friday came & the the car was back to normal with one wheel at each corner, and more importantly they were all pointing in the right direction. The track day went well and we were helped by Chris Sargeant who had agreed to assist in testing the car. We tried lots of suspension settings and established a really good dry setup. I did notice that the car had lost some straightline speed towards the end of the day, but knew that this time it was not a fuelling problem. It didn't take long to discover a poor connection to a spark plug which was an easy fix and I left the circuit pleased and maybe even a little confident for the next day.
Qualifying took place in damp conditions the next day. I found the track to be very greasy, with little feedback through the chassis about the levels of grip that were available. Talking to Pete Morris after qualifying he made a similar comment and we both agreed that in these conditions a 911 was easier to drive due to the tremendous amount of feedback that they give. Pete qualified on pole. I didn't, and after coming into the pits to see where I was on the grid & a couple of checks I set off to start posting a better time on a drying track and was directed to parc ferme as the session was brought to a close, somewhat earlier than expected.
I qualified 4th in class down in 13th, but Adam Egar and Rob Williams were only two rows in front. Currently second in class before dropped scores I knew that with his joker still to be played I had to beat Adam at some point over the weekend to be sure of getting an overall third in class in the Championship. I had my work cut out !
The damp conditions had gone for the race. It began to rain about 30 minutes before the race and by the time we were out on track the circuit was drenched and visibility was going to be quite poor because of the spray. With the change in conditions we were given two green flag laps. I took full advantage of those laps to orientate myself to the conditions and prepared to start the race with what felt like a car that was properly set up for the conditions.
As the red lights extinguished I allowed the revs to rise and the clutch be released. With a near perfect synchronisation between the two the car pulled away smoothly, allowing me to not only stay with Ian Oliver on the row in front but to move forwards so for that Adam Egar was blocking my path. It wasn't going to be possible to go around him, and by now the spray meant that it was all you could do to avoid hitting the car in front. It was almost a racing certainty that there would be contact at Redgate but everyone was well behaved and we all came out the other side facing in the right direction. I stayed tight and got on the power early. The drew me past Oliver and alongside Mike Clapham at Hollywood. This time there were to be no delays at Clapham Junction (see the race report from 2002), and we duelled side by side all the way through Hollywood and down to Craner Curves. I was on the outside, would I be brave or sensible. Brave it was as I breathed in & simply drove round the outside of him. This line gave me so much speed that I now saw an opportunity to dive down the inside at the Old Hairpin and take Egar. I'm not sure if he saw me, certainly in his position I would not have been looking in my mirrors, perhaps he saw an opportunity to pass Marcus Holden, but as I was just about to start passing him he moved right and blocked my path. I tucked in behind and took the position from Marcus. I was starting to feel quite confident in the car.
Adam got good drive out of the Old Hairpin and we both rapidly caught Richard Harrison. Adam tried to go round the outside at Schwantz Curve, going onto the grass in the process and tagging Richard as they were side by side. I remember thinking that this could end in tears but Adam gave way and simply took a tight line through McLeans to give him the inside line for Coppice. Now it was my turn. The spray was terrible and when I got to the end of the straight Adam had also passed Robin Titterington in his 2.7RS. I didn't even know he was there !
Richard had the defensive line and so i had to follow him all the way round to Craner. As on the first lap I went round the outside and then slipped down the inside at Old Hairpin. The car was handling superbly and by the time I was at McLeans I was all over Titterington who was defending strongly, but i got a good exit and took the inside line for Coppice. Adam had managed to pull out about 100 yards in that lap, time to get motoring.
For the next three laps I simply got the hammer down. The car was smooth,controllable, had fabulous brakes and plenty of grip. Can all races be wet ?. What was a clear track then started to fill with cars again. First up was Tony Brown, and importantly just in front of him was Rob Williams. The three of us chased round for a couple of laps and it was clear to see that Tony had better acceleration but my car was handling much better. It wasn't yet possible to make a move past Tony and I decided to sit back and let him have a go at Rob without being distracted by me. This worked and Tony took the inside line at Redgate on lap 8 to pass him. I closed up and yet again carried more speed through Craner to pass Rob under braking for the old hairpin. Tony had already pulled out about 50 yards as I set about catching him again.
By now I was up to 6th overall as we started lapping cars, Ian Oliver being the first we came across. I followed Tony through at Schwantz and for the next two laps relentlessly harried him. I got right behind him through The Esses but his RS really pulled away from me. What happened next is probably the darkest moment of the 2004 season. As I went into the braking area the car started to misfire and I lost power. By the time I was round Redgate Williams was past and other cars came through. All my hard work had come to naught when the car finally expired at Schwantz Curve. I pulled off circuit and was a spectator for the rest of the race.
Richard Lambert & John Williams seemed to be having a good battle for second & third. Some way adrift of them was Ian White and the next to finish was Tony Brown, Adam Egar having had a couple of off-circuit diversions. Post race Tony, conscious of the class battles, commented that he was about to let me through as I was quicker than him To start 13th and finish 5th overall, second in class would have been a tremendous result and cemented the championship position for me. Instead, I would only be able to finish 4th unless Adam failed to finish in race 2.
It continued to rain for the rest of the day while I worked on the car trying to find the problem. What was it ? - A broken rotor arm. Not an item that you would ever expect to fail.
Motor racing can be so cruel. We retired to the hotel to dry out before being picked up for an evening meal in the local hostelry by John Williams & Anna Louise. They knew I needed a drink or three.
The weather had improved for Sundays race, but as the only non finisher in race 1 I would be starting from the back of the field. At least I couldn't go backwards, could I.
Some of the guys from Strasse had also arrived, partly for fun but also because they had suggested that they take the 924GT back from Donington while I was up in Croft racing in my second race of the afternoon in the NSSCC. The original plan had been to go by helicopter (which did generate a bit of gossip in the paddock), but with my nearest rival experiencing problems I cancelled the helicopter I decided to take the risk of potentially not making it in time by driving there.
Anyway, back to sunny Donington Park and its now dry track. Having found a set of magic settings for the wet I changed back to some of the settings we used on Friday. Would they give me half a change of progressing towards the front of the field again ?
At the start the 911s gained their usual amount of ground on me, but on the run to Redgate I managed to recover some ground as everyone except Steven Morris moved to the right leaving me to take the risky outside line around Redgate. Using the full width of the track I managed to take three places and hassled Ian Oliver into the Old Hairpin. He was making his car very wide, quite honestly that was just silly and all it did was hold up both up. I took a different line through McLeans and took the inside line at Coppice to get ahead, just as Fraser Robertson came back on circuit from the left. He must have decided not to go shopping in Derby after all !
After a clean first lap I was up to 14th from 20th and the black class 1 RS of Robin Titterington was me next target about 20 yards down the road. I pulled up to him through Craner and stayed glued to his tail round to Coppice where I held it tight to get a better exit and had the inside line for the long straight where the exit speed would count. Coming through The Esses I could see a gaggle of about 5 cars halfway down the start / finish straight. I was really pushing the car and had caught Colin Ingram within one lap at Coppice. I had carried a little extra speed down the straight and took to the inside where I was a little braver on the brakes and took the place. By now the tyres were up to temperature and on almost every corner and braking zone they were screeching at the torment I was putting through them.
The further you get to the front the more difficult it becomes to make places up. It took two laps for me to catch the next car of Marcus Holden. We kept station for another lap until I decide to become braver through Craner Curves. This brought me within ten yards of Marcus but the opportunity to pass was taken away by the intervention of the pace car due to Craig Rapp going off at the Old Hairpin.
The recovery crew must have worked very quickly because by the time we completed the lap the green flag was showing and I had not stayed close enough to be able to attempt a pass at the restart. Ever so slightly annoyed with myself I set about recapturing the lost ground. The gearbox was now complaining almost as loudly as the tyres as each change was accompanied by a crunch.
Another couple of laps on and Marcus was on the tail of Adam Egar, and I was on them both within a couple of corners. Having being stuck behind the SC of Mike Clapham for long enough in 2002 I knew how difficult it can be to get past, but Marcus was in a 3.2 ! The next time through The Esses I was close on his tail and even though we are racing each other it's surprising how much thinking takes place on other matters. Marcus either missed a gear or gave a lift on the straight and I passed him in the braking area. I give Marcus the credit for being very aware that he was in between a very tight battle for class 2 honours. Well done mate.
Adam was now within my grasp as I relentlessly pursued him. Within one lap he was using the full width of the circuit and more at Redgate and as I closed on him at The Old Hairpin he missed his turn in point and ran wide. I took a tight inside line, slower than the racing line and got past him, but he maintained control of his own car and came back at me with greater speed carried through the bend. The kink at Starkey's causes the effective width of the track to compress and I could either try and force the issue by moving left and forcing him to brake or hit me, or grant him a little room and maybe lose the place. I made the sensible choice, and he got past again.
I got a better exit through Mcleans and carried more speed through a tight entry to Coppice. By the time he had run to the outside of the circuit and the gearbox yelled out in pain as I grabbed 4th I had both track position and the place. I needed to consolidate my position and kept pushing hard to try and catch Richard Harrison in his 3.2 (actually the ex Mike Clapham car) who was just a couple of seconds down the road. I was making inroads when I saw the recovering 3.2 of Ian White closing. I made room for him to pass, but misjudged it as I came round Coppice there were three cars all battling for position that I was going to lap. Ian White simply carried his speed through and was past, but I caught them in the braking zone for The Esses and they had very effectively covered the whole track.
This gave Adam all the excuse he needed to reel me back in and by the time I was on the exit of The Esses he was right on my tail. There was more hard work to be done. Again I pulled out on Adam and closer to Richard. I could feel that by now the car was hot and frustratingly I could just detect a slight drop off in power. When the racing is as competitive as this it can make all the difference and for the next 5 laps I simply had to drive my socks off to keep the lap times up and Adam behind me.
After the race the lap times showed how much I was suffering as my pace had dropped off by about two seconds. Nonetheless I kept Adam behind me, though there was just 0.2 seconds at the line, and had claimed third in class, eighth overall, starting from the back of the grid. Better than that my laptime was quicker than Rob Williams who had won Class 2, beating Richard Lambert in the process. I suspect that Richard simply wanted to stay out of trouble to be sure of getting the overall Championship title and a drive in next years Carrera Cup. Good job he has a GT3 to practice in !
I returned to the paddock, leapt out of the car and gave the keys to Chris Dyer from Strasse who was going to take the car back for me. Not only did he have to do that, but I also told him he had to go up and receive the trophy at the awards presentation. you can see his smiling face below.
..................Chris is the one without the beard !
Next job for me was a drive up the M1 & A1 to Croft to take part in the final NSSCC race of the year where i would be starting from the back of the grid. It's something I have done rather more of this season than I would have liked to. Carry on with the days events by clicking here.
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