The Long Way Around:
Snetterton #1 - Having never raced at Snetterton I was never going to be on the ball right away. To make things more interesting it started raining as we drove out of the assembly area to the circuit for qualifying. At first the rain was light and the slippery Snetterton surface no worse than usual (from what I've read) but it quickly degraded to very slippery, followed by fairly lethal. With the luxury of road tyres on the Punto the conditions were actually quite favourable and only the occasional lock-up under braking belied the conditions. A trip to the pit lane to remove some pressure from the tyres helped but in the end the rain made the circuit too slippery for everyone and the pit lane ended up rather full. I had qualified ahead of Tim which was the important point of the day although it seems he had trials of his own as the brakes failed after 4 laps.
The race itself proved to be dry and was quite promising - unfortunately the rolling start was not well managed. The back of the grid nearly turning into a huge pileup as the lights were held and the lead cars forced to slow. Alan Duly failed to see the lights change right ahead of me while Tim flew past leaving me fuming at the back. It only took a lap though to recatch Tim and then pass him and with the gap between us widening at a satisfying rate it looked like the race was going to be a relatively easy affair although Alan had pulled away and I didn't seem to have sufficient grunt to catch the bigger engined Fiesta. With the track dry it only took a couple of laps for the much, much faster super tourers to catch and lap me and the next few laps were consumed with dodging faster cars. Nothing dangerous (unlike Mallory) but frustrating while I tried to keep my pace up.
The problems began on lap 6 when the gear knob popped off in my hand as I tried to downshift under the bridge, a moments panic and a bit of luck saw me around the first corner of the Esses and the knob forced back onto the gear lever. No access to fifth gear though which was going to hurt my lap times!
Another lap passed and then it all went wrong in a rather big way. As I raced into Russell bend I had Simon Jackson closing up quickly behind in pongo (the dalmation nova) but he seemed consumed with indecision and despite my efforts to stay out of the way he pulled alongside just as I had to turn in leaving me nowhere to go but straight over the kerb. A few very nasty clonks later, a big slide and frantic pulling on the steering and I had the car pointing the right way along the track but the steering had other ideas. The car was now pulling very heavily to the left and wasn't very keen on accelerating. With an eye to simply finishing the race I just slowed my pace and concentrated on keeping the car going in the right direction. A couple of corners later and another clonk from the steering had whatever dislocation that had occured pretty much righted but rather than risk the car and the finish I kept things slow and watched everyone fly past (including Tim) over the remaining laps.
In the paddock it became very obvious what had happened. The front camber is controlled by camber bolts which had been stretched by the heavy impact with the kerb, the tracking had been pulled as well resulting in rather disasterous toe-in and active camber (ie free floating) on both front wheels. A big thank-you then to Lee Melling (the previous pilot) and Adrian Miller (AMR) of the Fiat Racing Challenge (who just happened to be racing the same day) who provided us with tools and suggested settings. Simon was very apologetic for the mistake and all is forgiven there.
The engine wasn't happy either - the timing belt was stretched to the limit of what the tensioner could support and had jumped a tooth on the cam timing. Quickly fixed by Richard and sounding much happier in the paddock when restarted. The gear selection from fifth was quite apparent too - the bracket holding the upper cable linkage was flexing badly making it hopelessly inaccurate but nothing that could be fixed on the day. All set then for race #2.
Snetterton #2 - While we had been blessed with rather nice weather for most of the morning, the afternoon quickly clouded over and just 30 minutes before we were due out again the rain came down. The tyre pressures were reset to accomodate for the expected loss of grip and we waited out the remaining time before running off to the assembly area. The downpour was thankfully short lived and the VW racers out before us did a good job of drying the track.
Sat on the grid again I had the renault clio behind me this time and Tim's golf alongside once more. The rolling start was handled far better but it quickly became apparent that I had a huge problem. Instead of pulling past Tim as expected I found him romping off into the distance. The clio was long gone by the time I even made the first corner...
Something was very, very wrong. Then I remembered about the tyre pressures - the tyres were much too soft but surely not enough to create this much power loss. After ten minutes the tyres had warmed to the point that I had limpet-like grip through the corners, far better than the earlier race and the lap times were coming down but nothing could get me close to the times of the first race (although I was circulating faster than I had finished the first race).
Just to make things more interesting the gear knob flew off again after a couple of laps and i was left using the gear level more like a kitchen spoon stirring
Most galling moment though came when a gaggle of the faster cars barged past me on the entry to Russells and once again I was forced to go cross-country, thankfully I pre-empted it slightly and aimed for grass instead of kerbs. I'm sure Richard is happy that I didn't just drive into the other cars but I'm not so sure I made the right choice.
Once again the Punto came home third in class - so at least two more pieces of silverware for the Beaty collection had been achieved but a very, very frustrating race. Not so much as a hint of an apology from the drivers who ran me off this time but the nature of the situation meant I couldn't even tell who they were - probably just as well as I wouldn't have been so forgiving compared with the first incident.
Next outing is Rockingham in a week's time for a non-championship double header followed by a second trip to Rockingham the weekend after for the grand LMA Eurosaloons finalle.
A big thank-you again to Richard, Rob and Ian of Wolf Direct Racing, Tony from TBP salvage (hope you enjoyed the spectable Tony!) and to Concours Mobile Valeting for sponsoring the car (and me).