That old black tarmac:
Mallory Park is another one of those tracks where I never seem to have any luck. Every visit in the past had been plagued with problems and in one case the near destruction of my car. I was determined to finish the race this time and make sure that none of those old problems were recurrent.
I turned up the night before on the basis that I really did not want to be locked out of the paddock (never happened to me yet but I've seen it happen aplenty at Mallory) and the thought of a long drive right before the race did not appeal. The Punto was in remarkably good shape after Brands. It turned out the old ECU had genuinely fried some of its internals - the ignition map was pretty much wiped and it was unlikely it would ever work properly again. Rather than waste time and money on a replacement I had donated the DTA Pro8 from my Dallara to the cause and while there was no major gain in peak power (compared with what the old ECU had shown before dying) on the rollers there was a massive improvement in torque throughout the first half of the rev range. Once again thank-you to Ian for the new wiring (the entire car) and to Steve for his mapping expertise.
Qualifying was a trying experience - I don't really like Mallory and to be honest I'm rather worried about some of the tarmac surface which has definitely seen better days. The Punto was running on road legal Yokohamas this time instead of slicks (that hadn't worked well at Brands) and it was going to take a while to get used to the car again. By the end of the 15 minutes I could only get within 0.7 seconds of Tim and his Golf (now rather rejuvenated as well) and so the back of the grid was all mine.
A checkover in the paddock showed some of the problem. The tyre pressures were all over the place and I had barely broken the new rubber in. Fixing the tyre pressures was easy but I would have to trust that the rubber would be a bit stickier now.
The race was off to an immediate bad start - the minis had been racing before us and one of them had dumped most of its oil around Gerrards, the one place on the track I really, really didn't need to have to worry about such things. The start was much better than Brands had been and it was immediately apparent that the correct tyre pressures were going to make it possible to fight evenly with Tim. It only took a few laps to catch up and then pass him but once again traffic coming past was going to be a problem. I could pull out a good lead but in the end I would lose it again as my lines and braking were compromised. An incident with Simon Taylor along the pit straight didn't help with confidence as he tried to pass on the outside while I was being pushed in the same direction by traffic on the other side.
It seemed the race was going to be about swapping places with Tim over and over as it turned into something of a battle royale with both cars rarely more than a second apart and usually much closer. Thankfully the Punto is a dream around the hairpin and I could easily block Tim there and remove any chance he had of passing throughout the rest of the lap assuming that traffic did not upset the equilibrium (which it frequently did). Sadly it all went wrong with 2 laps to go, Tim crept past with the aid of traffic as we tackled Gerrards and I was left chasing him as hard as I could. On the next pass I had regained momentum and was set up to pass him on the outside but fell foul of traffic again as Tim was pushed outwards this time and it was me that ended up on the grass. All I could do was press on but Gerrards was becoming a problem with the engine misfiring at full throttle, thankfully it seems Tim had a similar problem and I was able to close the gap on the final lap. Still too far behind though - until Tim pushed too hard into the hairpin and lost all momentum as the car slid sideways to the outside. The punto showed its abilities off around the hairpin again and I even had a fractional lead as we entered Devil's Elbow but with Tim on the inside line there was no way I could hold that lead and I had to watch in dismay as my lead of a few feet turned into a loss of an entire car length just as we crossed the line.
A meagre fourth this time (of six) but a place well earned and probably the best fight I've had in two years. Congratulations to Tim for wining the fight, I know he had to really work hard for it and nothing to apologise for.