Finding Out The Hard Way:
Brands Hatch #3 - The first race of 2005 (for me) is a double header and thus far my luck with double headers has been abysmally poor - then again the same could be said for races at Brands Hatch so this was doubly tempting fate!
The shakedown at Llandow a month earlier had highlighted a few issues - like the cam timing was out and there was a nasty knocking noise coming from one of the wheel bearings (and the tyres were totally, completely and utterly trashed). With these fixed it seemed we would likely have a good chance of at least finishing and maybe more.
Qualifying was relatively painless and I even managed to qualify off the bottom of the grid which was no mean feat given the handicaps the car has by comparison with everything else in the championship. I had expected to be in with some of the old road saloons guys but even many of them were way ahead, a bit depressing but to be honest I was more interested in just getting out there and racing than worrying over minor details like actually beating anyone.
The race itself started well and I immediately put some air between myself and the main contender for my position, Tim, and set about catching Alan ahead of me. Things were going well for a couple of laps and got even better as Alan pitted unexpectedly leaving me with some clear track. Next target was Simon in his Nova but he seemed to be long gone. The little Punto was handling well but really struggling to climb the hill out of Paddock. It was going to be a fairly quiet race it seemed but then things went badly wrong. Dodging traffic coming from behind on lap 8 I turned in late to Paddock and suddenly the car switched end - no warning and strangely no control. I aimed the car backwards to slip along the edge of the track but it had other thoughts on the matter and aimed itself for the marshalls post on the other side of the gravel trap. When the dust cleared the engine had stopped and a couple of quick resets to the electronics revealed the problem - the ECU had switched off and wouldn't restart. It certainly explained the car spinning as Paddock is a fairly nasty off camber turn that requires a heavy right foot to keep the car pointing in the right direction.
I spent most of the race admiring the cars screaming past and occasionally having a few moments and putting up with sarcastic comments from the marshalls (the last time the car had been run properly before Llandow was at Brands the year before and it had fallen off in exactly the same place and of course it had been the same marshalls too).
Back in the pits after the race it was obvious that the ECU was badly cooked. Even after standing with power off for 15 minutes the box was almost too hot to touch. Another 30 minutes later though and the car was running again (if only briefly). Richard and his crew went off to the main paddock to hunt for a cooling solution and eventually came back with a big fan and some ducting. In the end the fan was abandoned and the ducting plumbed in to spray the ECU casing with relatively cool air. There was some hope then that we might actually start the second race and possibly even finish it.
Brands Hatch #4 - Race 2 had me starting further forward as I was not the first to fall off in the first race and it seems all but 1 car had recovered enough to continue competing but the advantage was to prove meaningless. Being so far back I couldn't see the lights at the start line and was dependent instead on the marshalls post at the entry to the pitlane. As we rounded the corner I could hear the lead cars fire off into the distance but the marshall suddenly started waving a yellow flag instead of the expected green flag. I backed off immediately assuming that someone had messed up mid-pack - the cars behind me flew past and it quickly became obvious that I had been duped and lost 5 places before I even crossed the line. Hardly a great start....
Thankfully it didn't take long to catch Tim and even quicker to pass him as his Golf seemed to be a little poorly but then so was my Punto. The climb up Hailwood hill was almost impossible now and I was taking it easy around Paddock to avoid a recurrence of the earlier problem (just in case it wasn't just overheating). The second half of the circuit was definitely playing into the Punto's abilities and good progress was made. With Tim passed I was working on catching Alan but traffic was becoming a problem, I could take a sizeable chunk out of his lead with each lap but the faster cars coming past typically cost me dearly and I never managed to get closer than a second behind throughout the 14 laps that I chased him.
On the last lap though it became apparent that Simon Jackson's Nova was very sick indeed and travelling much slower than normal. I picked up the scent coming out of Graham Hill Bend and pushed as hard as the poorly Punto would go only to finish alongside the Nova, beaten by just 0.06 of a second. Simon was convinced I'd beaten him but it was not to be.
The Punto had finished the race though and better still wasn't last, in fact it had come very close to beating two other cars and had almost caught another on the line. It may have the smallest engine in the championship and was giving away so much to the opposition it almost defies belief but it definitely has potential!
Looking at the final places the Punto had also garnered a true reward - a piece of silverware for taking 2nd place in class D which gone to Richard as more than anything it was his time and efforts that put it there.
A big thank-you to Richard and Ian of Wolf Direct Racing then and to Concours Mobile Valeting for sponsoring the car (and me).