NSSCC Race Report Croft 25/26th September 2004

Car - 911 2.7RS

Practice

No, that's not a typing mistake, the race car for the weekend was the 2.7RS. The 944 had been rolling roaded and declared fit to race, so the problem at the previous meeting was indeed the fuel pump regulator - though I never really got to find out in the race.

During the first afternoon session the car seemed to be going well and no hoses popped off so I was looking forward to doing some serious testing during the second session. On the first lap I exited Sunny and as the boost came in I suddenly felt a loss of power. Suspecting another hose popping off I returned to the pits. Nothing was obviously amiss so I returned to the paddock for a more in depth investigation. I called Strasse & described the symptoms to Trevor "Enzo"Jumeaux. I had a sinking feeling when he asked if the turbo shaft had sheared, as I realised that he was probably right. Within 10 minutes I knew he was right. That was it, I didn't have a spare and in any case it would be the best part of a days job to swap it out. Game over ?

Well, no, not wishing to risk the GT with the upcoming Castle Combe / Spa rounds I decided to take the 944 back to Strasse and collect the 2.7RS. The RS hadn't turned a wheel since the end of 2002 and I didn't even know if it would start, let alone be prepared for a race.

Never fear, I turned the battery cut off switch and she fired on the first turn of the key. Magic ! - Now it was just a question of loading the car onto the trailer & finding some wheels to use. The car was dropped off at Croft & I went to bed early, knowing Saturday morning would see me at the circuit almost as soon as it was light to do some pre-race checks.......i.e make sure the brakes, pull cables and lights were working.

I just had enough time to load the car up with 911 spares before it started to rain, but I had no choice but to get on with the job in the pouring rain. The car went through scrutineering without a hitch and by 10:30 we were out qualifying on a damp track. Conscious that the handling of the car would be different to the 944 / 924GT I intended to take it steady for the first few laps but somehow I seemed to be catching and overtaking almost everyone. Better than that in the damp conditions the car was beautifully balanced and had tons of grip. I felt invincible and thoroughly enjoyed the drive. I was disappointed to discover that I was set to take the grid in 11th place having got involved in a bit of a battle with Terry Wright, Darren Flounders & David Cox. I had just got past Coxy coming out of the hairpin but the brakes were not working too efficiently so I needed to brake early & he took the inside line at Clervaux. Realising that had messed that lap up I dropped back over 30 yards but by the time the lap was finished I had caught them up again, just in time for the chequered flag. David realised what he had done & apologised to me after practice. I know I was a bit miffed at the time but willingly accepted his apology, we have raced close & often over the years but always fairly & without contact. The next 4 places were covered by less than a tenth of a second, what could I do at the start ?

Race 1

By the time of the race the rain had subsided and the track had dried. After a phone call to Porsche competitor John Williams I decided to run the RS on Michelin tyres, rather than the Pirelli's I had used in practice. This was to be my first experience of a 911 on the Michelin tyres and to be honest I was a little concerned as I found the breakaway on them far less progressive than the Pirelli P Zeros. I tested them on the warm up lap and they felt good enough, so it was soon to be lights, camera. action.

The red lights went out and the RS proved that my reaction time was as good as ever. Terry Wright on the row in front also got a good start but the traction of the 911 took me past Mick Starkey, Terry and Darren Flounders as I tucked up behind John Parton while Paul Luti rounded Clervaux just ahead of me. I was first through the chicane, but Luti carried more speed through and was on the outside of me all round Hawthorn. Two into one does not go at the second chicane so I conceded the place, for the moment.

I think Paul thought he was clear of me as I powered up towards Tower and took the inside defensive line. This gave me the place back and I was back up to seventh place. Meanwhile Ray Pollock, who had not qualified well, was storming through the field and I knew he was behind me by the sound of his engine and the shrill of his turbo. I intended to get through Jim Clark Esses, which would allow him to power past before Barcroft. Ray was not one for waiting and he came alongside after the first part of the Esses. I had miscalculated, he had the inside line, my exit speed was compromised and as he pulled away into the distance a long train of cars drove through separated only be mere feet. By the end of the lap I was down to 13th, losing six places.

The next few laps were uneventful, I kept pace with the cars in front as I discovered just how nice it was to drive the RS and how well it handled the kerbs. The brakes however were a different story and they just did not seem to be working as efficiently as I remembered. I adapted my driving to suit with the result that Coxy got past and I had a couple of laps with Nigel Vaulkhard right on my tail. Eventually it was becoming clear that I just shouldn't be pushing the car this hard and allowed him through at Hawthorn.

The lap times showed my pace dropping off until with 5 laps to go I went into the braking for Sunny and found I had no brakes. Very rapid pumping of the pedal gave some fluid pressure and allowed me to take the corner, albeit slightly off line. With the 944 mechanically broken, the last think I needed was another damaged car so I adjusted my style even more so that the brake pedal came back to me. Not wanting to get involved in the class D battle between Simon Baker and Andy Wilson I lifted on the old straight and allowed them past. By now I was just looking for a finish. What I hadn't realised was that tucked behind them was Chris Springall in a Morgan. For two laps I tried to keep him behind me, but he had a significant straight line speed advantage, and unusually better brakes than me so I had to accept another two points slipping away.

While this was going on Andrew Morrison had pulled off the track with a suspected engine failure, and unbelievably Steven Ferguson was similarly stranded on the exit of Tower with steam pouring from his car. I was about to be lapped by Tony Caig who was leading the race, and Dave Pearson in his new Escort Cosworth WRC, but crossed the finish line before them. They passed me well before Clervaux but although their race was over, mine wasn't. Tony and Dave were coasting up the old straight when I caught them. Knowing neither would be aware that I was still racing I had to go off circuit onto the spare tarmac before Clervaux Lawn to pass them. I'm sure taking a deep breath helped, but I got through and was surprised that due to reliability issues I had managed to finish 3rd in class. Quite a result for the Blue Lagoon !

Race 2

I was starting further down the order for Sundays' race and had spent some time bleeding the brakes, changing pads and fluid. Hopefully brakes would not be a problem this time. Steven Ferguson had gone home with a terminal engine failure. Before the race I had worked out that we were equal third on points, so provided I finished today I would pull ahead of him.

I was cautious at the start and Les Coburn managed to get his Vauxhall powered 924 into the gap in front of me. Andrew Morrison followed him through so I settled in position behind them all the way round Hawthorn. Chris Springall had made a poor start and I outbraked him into Tower very much wanting to get in front of him for another two points. Good the brakes were working now.

I got the place initially, but his car simply drove away from me on the run to The Esses. He got past Les Cowburn, but I didn't and ended up following him for another couple of laps before eventually passing him on the exit of the Hawthorn. Les stayed with me, but Chris Springall was long gone. I pressed on, closing in on Terry Wright as was Paul Moss behind me. I let Paul past so he could have his class battle with Terry. By now I had resigned myself to finishing 4th in class, well down the order. Then I saw Andrew Morrisons car parked up on the tarmac to the left of the Esses. I couldn't believe it, now it became even more important to finish and bag the points. I'm afraid I started to treat the race just like a gentle trackday, not wanting to place any more stress on the car than was absolutely necessary and risking mechanical failure. I similarly didn't want to chuck it off the track either.

When the race was over a couple of people asked me what was wrong with the car, I had to tell them "nothing, just the driver". It certainly was not one of the best drives of my life, and provided very little excitement for the crowd, but I did what I needed to do. I feel a bit guilty about that, but the result was good enough to lift me to second place in class, with just one more round to go.

The final round takes place at Croft on 24th October when the 944 Turbo will be back in action. I'm also at Donington on 23/24th October in the GT. Anyone have a helicopter for hire ?

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