There are early starts and there are early starts, for me making Oulton Park this year meant leaving home a 3.30 am to take on the long drive northwest for the final rounds of the 2010 Dunlop TVR European Challenge.
It was still dark when I arrived at the circuit at about 6.30 and already those hardy souls who had stayed there overnight were shivering into action, with sign on and scrutineering to be done before qualifying started at 8.30 there wasn’t exactly a lot of time for a leisurely breakfast. To add to the fun and frolics the noise controls prohibit engines being started until 8.15 and this meant that 20 cars had to be pushed to the scrutineering bays.
This late in the season the pre race safety checks should be pretty straightforward but we had three new cars out. Kevan Gore is a veteran at this now, but Oulton Park last year was not a happy place for him as he had a spectacular off, that however wasn’t even in his mind as his prime concern was getting the Tasmin of young son Alex through scrutineering. For Alex this was only his second race and still a teenager Dad thinks he needs supervision and in the tradition of families everywhere Alex doesn’t agree.
Andy Race is also a veteran and he was back out for the first time this year in car #89 but the car wasn’t the Monster Griffith he campaigned for the 2009 season but instead a 1989 car used by Henley Heritage, and fully rebuilt by Strebber Motorsport for Phil Reygate in 1999. It has been converted to 2 seater and endurance specification. Jamie Campbell-Walters and Ian Flux both used the car for testing and promotional events, posting highly competitive times against the races of the day. More recently it was used for a few trackdays then stored for 5 years.
Also out for the first time literally just weeks after passing his ARDS test was Dan Birch. Dan has been around the series for a few years so it does seem at times that he is an old hand. In 2009 he looked after Andy Race and the Monster Griff and every time we saw him this year he seemed to be hunched over a car helping out one or other of the drivers, a genuine nice guy it was great to see him in what will for the last time ever be referred to as Andy Race’s old Monster Griff. The reason for this is twofold, for one, the car now sporting #66 will be on a winter diet from its current road legal form so it will be back next year as quite a different beastie and more importantly because Dan showed he can peddle in his own right. As mentioned scrutineering can be a breeze but for Dan it was stress all the way, the lights just refused to work and it was blowing fuses like birthday candles. It took some inventive wiring to by pass the problem and get one rear light to work but work it did and Dan was running to the drivers briefing conveniently timed at 8.15 with qualifying starting at 8.30.
We also had a few guests out with us, not scoring points for the championship but very welcome all the same. We had Mike Saunders making his second appearance in the yellow GT Cup Specification Cerbera #99 and a bit of an Oulton Park specialist over the last few years, Darren Smith out in a Class A Tuscan #58. Darren is promising a full season with us next year. We also had 2002 and 2003 Tuscan Champion Steve Guglielmi in a 5.1 litre Rover V8 running in Class B. It’s a good job he was running as a guest as his web site shows the car is For Sale with an impressive 365 bhp.
Oulton Park at 8.30 am in October and it shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that despite the morning sunshine the track for qualifying was as slippery as a greasy weasel and all the drivers took it fairly cautiously. A few of the guys took to the grass and a lot were bothered by misting up screens. The net result was as with Mallory Park last year the lower powered Tasmin cars were easier to handle and the grid for race one was a bit of a mixed arrangement with a few of the Class b and C cars ahead of class A cars. Tim Davis was again suffering after a mad dash to fix the brake lights he started qualifying with a massive banging noise from behind his seat when on or of power, his first thoughts were that the propshaft was coming through the floor so he limited himself to three slow laps to qualify and came in to investigate. This revealed the diff mount bushes were crumbling, with no replacements or time they were just tightened as best they could and Tim was to start from row 10 alongside Alex Gore in #26. Row 9 had two Tasmins with Leigh Jones #40 alongsidePeter Hunter #98. Next along was class B Griffith #69 Richard Hewitt sharing row 8 with the #44 Tuscan of Gary Lancashire. On row 7 Billy Thompson had some esteemed company in the shape of Jamie Golby in Tuscan #23, I suspect Jamie was being a bit circumspect given the overall class A championship situation. Row 6 had the two very different Tuscans of Perry Waddams class A car alongside the Class B car #88 of Keith Vaughan-Williams. Keith had a chance to take the overall championship if Dave Chant didn’t finish and just finishing race 1 would secure the class b title so in his words he certainly wasn’t going to bin it before we went out to race proper. Row 5 had #3 Hugh Marshall with #55 Kevan Gore and row 4 had Dan Birch #66 with Dave Chant #24 good showings for both drivers given their very different circumstances. Row 3 had #20 Dean Cook alongside #89 Andy Race. Row 2 saw #58 Darren Smith with car #8 Neil Sampson. Neil hasn’t been out much this season and is suffering a real batch of bad luck and mechanical issues. Front row had #99 Mike Saunders giving up pole position to #6 Steve Guglielmi.
With the Fun Cup also running qualification for their 4 hour endurance race in the afternoon the timetable was very cramped and there was just enough time to boil a kettle before they lined up for Race 1.
There was clearly some confusion as to if there was a full green flag lap as a number of drivers weren’t prepared for the out of the assembly area, round once and then line up behind the lights approach they faced. That said Kevan Gore did entertain the crowd going into Cascades with a 2nd gear spin up to clean the rears he managed to put a paw on the grass and treated everyone to a 360 degree spin before the race even started. We’re not sure who laughed the most, Kev or the trackside Marshal’s.
The lack of a full warm up lap certainly caught out Hugh Marshall as there was a great big area of damp on his grid box. He intended to light up the tyres for the warm up lap to give him some grip and then realised they were going straight into a start. He had changed up to third gear before the car left the grid box.
For once Mike Saunders beat his perennial problem of poor starts and he got it all hooked up in the Cerbera and has the nose just in front of Steve Guglielmi as they turned into the Old Hall Bend for the first time, this set the pattern for the whole race with Darren Smith in third place keeping a tag on them both.
For last years champion it was a case of a dash from the back, ignoring the banging diff now knowing what it was. He must have taken 5 or 6 cars on the pit straight then spent the whole race charging down car after car. Once up to 11th place he had caught up with Andy Race, Andy is very experienced and he covered the line well, but he was suffering from a misfire and brake balance issues and it was down to Tim to pick his moment well. Following a dreadful season, a new larger radiator to solve the overheating problems and a different set up meant that the car now had massive traction out of the bends, Tim took Jamie next and set his sights on 7th place Perry Waddams. Tim managed several trips to the grass trying too hard to catch him but ran out of time and finished a very creditable 8th.
For Class B champion elect Keith Vaughan-Williams he had to keep telling himself that all he had to do was finish, this would also keep Dave Chant on his toes as he was in the same boat as he to secure Class C and the overall championship title.Keith could still have theoretically won the championship if Dave had a DNF as he was only 10 points adrift but we all know he honestly wouldn’t have wished that on him. On the quickly drying track, he ended up having a bit of a scrap with Dan Birch. Dan was pushing on and made several attempts to pass, particularly through the higher speed corners and onto the straights where the Griff’s aero really showed its worth. Keith was determined not to let him through though and managed to keep him honest with some defensive driving until the end of the race. Keith summed up the spirit of the championship ‘All credit to Danny as he made me work for it rather than just letting me drive around – and lets face it we’re here to race after all!’
Leigh Jones was also caught out not knowing if there was to be a green lap or not, but as soon as he saw the lights he knew it was all go, he managed to get past Peter Hunter on the start and get on the back of his nearest rival Richard Hewitt who was having a good battle with Billy Thompson, Richard got past, leaving Leigh needing to follow him to then attack Richard again, but Billy was not happy with being stuck in the middle so was doing his best to retake Richard. At Lodge they had a coming together and they both went off, Leigh backed of to not to make it a 3 car crash. He must have thought he was then safe in finishing in-front of Richard, but I think the crash forced Richard to really got for it, as a few laps later he was right behind Leigh who tried to hold him off but went off line a bit though Clay Hill and Richard got past.
Neil Sampson luck or lack of it continued to be his downfall as he retired with a broken clutch after just three laps. At the other end of the scale was the Gore family, young Alex kept his concentration and completed just his second race without anyone complaining about poor lines or dodgy braking. Dad kept a good tussle going with Perry Waddams until the penultimate lap saw the tyre degradation get the better of him and allowed Perry through. I saw the front tyres after the race and there was a flat patch of around 8 inches through to the canvas and metal. He was lucky the tyre didn’t blow out.
|Results Race 1 – Championship Registered|
|Class Pos’n||Driver||Car||Overall Pos’n|
|Fastest Lap||Dean Cook||1:53.606|
|1||Keith Vaughan-Williams||Tuscan RV8|
|3||Leigh Jones||Tasmin V8|
|Fastest Lap||Keith Vaughan-Williams||1:59.543|
|Fastest Lap||Dave Chant||2:07.682|
|Results Race 1 – Guest/Invitation|
|Fastest Lap||Michael Saunders||1:47.571|
|1||Steve Guglielmi||Tuscan RV8||2nd|
|2||Andy Race||Tuscan RV8|
|3||Dan Birch||Griffith 500|
|Fastest Lap||Steve Guglielmi||1:48.642|
|Neil Sampson||Lap 3|
With the Class B title secured Keith Vaughan-Williams was determined to have some fun in Race 2 but alas it wasn’t to be. On the opening lap and after a reasonable start, he locked up the cold rear tyres under braking into turn 2 and spun across the track in front of several cars. Plenty of smoke, anguish and annoyance saw him just into the gravel trap. Meanwhile his Team Happy Endings colleague Tim Davis was moving from 8th on the grid up to fifth by the second bend where a shifting diff as the bracket had now broken the combination of a spinning #88 Tuscan and cold tyres took him on a repeat performance of last year through the gravel trap and luckily out the other side. He spent some time spinning round and round on the grass until the ambulance had nearly passed him. They both managed to continue but Tim only for a couple of laps where the drive shafts were rubbing on the chassis that his race was over on lap 3.
At this point I’ll change the narrative and let Keith talk you through his version of the race.
‘One moment to savour and worth sharing was on one particular lap approaching Knickerbrook where I noticed Chanty ahead of me in his red Tasmin. As I quickly caught him up through the chicane his hand came out of the window and he was frantically waving me by as I sat behind him for a short while. I was tempted to stay up his chuff for a couple of laps after that to put the wind up him but couldn’t bring myself to do it! He and I both finished the race with the cars intact and him winning Class C and the overall championship – well done Dave! I had to be content with the Class B title and championship runner-up but I was also ruing whether my decision not to go out at Cadwell, in the first two races of the season was the right one; it may have seen a different outcome altogether.’
Hugh Marshall had a better but not a good start but at least he could get with the front boys and he latched on to the back of Dean Cooke lapping at almost identical times. An early scrimmage between Dean and Darren Smith on the pit straight brought Hugh a little closer and Darren pulled up with a broken gearbox, Hugh and Dean continued with the tussle they have had all season.
Andy Race’s first time out in the Tuscan had him slower than he wanted to be at as the car had a brake balance issue, a miss-fire and he couldn’t reach the pedals, but all in all not a bad result as it must be a bit of a culture shock for him with no power brakes, no power steering or aero in a car that’s had just 2 hours running in the last 6 years. Welcome The Monster Tuscan!
Up front Mike Saunders was behind Steve Guglielmi for a couple a laps before making a pass in the Cerbera and stayed in front for the rest of the race. Disaster nearly struck on the last lap though when the seat mounting snapped and pitched Mike into the door, held in but nearly strangled by the harness he had no choice but to release it and finish the race leaning against the roll bar. Both of us remembered that seat weld being a quick job to get through scrutineering at Cadwell in 2009 and it has been one of those jobs he and Tony just hadn’t got round to with all the other problems they have had this season. These two wins coupled with a good finish at Spa in the GT Cup were just the tonic for the pair of them.
With Jamie Golby trying to keep out of trouble to secure the class A title, the scrabble was left to Perry Waddams and Kevan Gore with the position changing almost every lap until one lap from the end a slightly too wide a line into Old Hall saw Kevan put a rear wheel on the grass and spin the Tuscan into the tyre wall rear end first. The damage was no where near as bad as last year but it was a very disheartened Kev that put the car back in the truck. His son Alex repeated the events of race 1 and also managed to cheer Dad up for the end of season party so well done Alex.
|Results Race 2 – Championship Registered|
|Class Pos’n||Driver||Car||Overall Pos’n|
|Fastest Lap||Dean Cook||1:48.819|
|1||Keith Vaughan-Williams||Tuscan RV8|
|2||Leigh Jones||Tasmin V8|
|Fastest Lap||Keith Vaughan-Williams||1:55.778|
|Fastest Lap||Dave Chant||2:04.867|
|Results Race 2 – Guest/Invitation|
|Fastest Lap||Michael Saunders||1:45.218|
|1||Steve Guglielmi||Tuscan RV8||2nd|
|2||Andy Race||Tuscan RV8|
|Fastest Lap||Steve Guglielmi||1:47.905|
|Dan Birch||Lap 1|
|Darren Smith||Lap 2|
|Tim Davis||Lap 3|
|Kevan Gore||Lap 11|
Finally a few words from the Champion himself:
Although Saturday morning was bright and sunny, the dew point was very low and I think everybody was having trouble clearing the moisture from their windows. Even though the car had been covered all night, as soon as the cover was removed condensation appeared all over the car, inside and out! We just managed to clear it all just before going into the assembly area prior to qualifying.
Due to the noise regulations, the car was pushed to scrutineering early (7.00 am) in readiness. When they were ready for us, it was pushed into the bay and opened up. As the scrutineer examined it I had all my fingers crossed hoping and praying that everything would be OK as there wasn’t much time to rectify any problems. Nothing was amiss so as he signed my ticket I breathed a big sigh of relief.
We trundled off to the assembly area for qualification and waited for the green light. I used the time to work out, for the umpteenth time, what I had to do to secure the Championship. Assuming Keith took both Class B wins and both class fastest laps I would need a minimum of a class 2nd and a class 3rd to stay in front. Above everything else I had to finish though!
The green lights came on and we were away. Some of the track was drying out but the majority of it was very damp and even wet in places. I took it very slowly for the first 3 laps and then decided to pick up the pace a bit. On the fourth lap, coming through deer leap, I took a tight line resulting in the rear end stepping out at full chat. Luckily this error was easily corrected and I carried on unscathed. It did, however, remind me that I needed the car in one piece so I complete only 2 more laps and came in.
To my surprise I had qualified in 8th place which is where I definitely did not want to be! We lined up on the grid for the first race and I was surrounded by Tuscans. The lights went out, I dropped the clutch, but the cars in front were struggling for traction. From memory I think I gained a couple of places going into the first turn due to being able to get usable power through the tyres. Not feeling comfortable where I was and mindful that I would be holding up the faster cars I backed off a little and moved over. The Tuscans behind me thundered past. As soon as I spotted Billy Thompson behind me I stuck my foot down and tried to follow the pack in front. Eventually they disappeared into the distance leaving me in the middle of nowhere. With nothing in my mirrors I settled into a steady rhythm. On the 4th or 5th lap, going into cascades, the track looked a little dryer on the outside, which is my preferred line, so I kept on the power into my usual braking zone. Mistake! A massive 4 wheel lockup resulted; smoke everywhere, car going sideways and rectum twitching. Somehow I gathered it all back up and kept it on the black stuff. The rest of the race was fairly uneventful although I do remember frantically waving by all the cars that came up to lap me. I made sure that I wasn’t going to get in any ones way!
So, with race 1 over, a class win, and a fastest lap, the pressure was off a little. I just needed to finish race 2. As we lined up on the grid I was happy being sat behind the Tuscans this time. When the red lights went out I got a good start and followed the pack through Old Hall. Coming into cascades I noticed Tim and Keith getting all out of shape. Not knowing where Keith was going to end up I slowed right down to make sure I could avoid him if needed. Phew……so far so good. Again I settled into a steady rhythm. I looked in my mirror and noticed Keith approaching fast following his little off. There was no way I was getting involved with Keithy. At first he seemed to want to sit behind me andhave a play. No way I thought, so I backed off and waved him through. I could see the mischievous grin on his chops as he went by. Nothing much happened after that except when I had a lock up going into the Knickerbrookchicane. This flat spotted my tyres which made the car vibrate for the rest of the race. It was quite difficult to focus at times. The laps went by and I just wanted that chequered flag to come out. Eventually it did and I had an overwhelming urge to shout and scream whilst violently punching the air as I crossed the line. Job done! What a feeling.
It was great to see my family and friends all excited as I entered the paddock. I felt that I owed it to them as they have followed the Challenge to every race track for the past couple of seasons. It made it all worth while!
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