Great 924 Race at Donington

I signed up to the special 924s-only race celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Porsche Racing Drivers’ Association (PDA) almost on the day Philip Waters suggested it and on Saturday was one of 18 drivers assembling at a slightly drizzly Donington. After leaving Rockingham very depressed and considering leaving racing with the PDA completely, and now being at probably my favourite circuit, I was determined to make a better show.

Having skipped the optional warm-up session earlier in the morning, a dry line was starting to appear as all 18 of us headed out for qualifying. Clive, chief mechanic for Moluto Motorsport, had fitted new front brake pads, so I was careful to bed them in properly. Some of the guest drivers hadn’t even sat in a race car for a number of years, so I reckoned I should be further from the back than I usually end up and I posted a best lap of 1:37.98 putting me in P15, just a quarter second slower than my new PDA rival (and 924 Owners’ Club chair) Andy Pritchard, who is showing improvement race-by-race this year.

The rain had cleared and the first of two races was going to be on a completely dry track, meaning I had no excuse not to push my car to its limits. AJK TV had very kindly donated their time to record footage of the event and I was one of the cars chosen to carry an in-car camera.

A poor start was one of the reasons for my poor results from Rockingham and I made a far better start this time, by Craners making up a couple of places to closely chase Andy and Jason Wood (in Gavin Johnson’s car) for a few laps, with Rick Matthews stuck to my tail. Team mate Philip Waters went wide into the gravel at the exit of Coppice and wasn’t able to rejoin.

I out-braked Jason into Redgate and being careful to avoid contact, grabbed another place, leaving me to chase down Andy and long-time PDA member and Toyo tyre man Tony Mekwinski. Rick overtook me at the Roberts chicane and later he got past Andy at exactly the same spot. This slowed Andy enough to put me right on his tail for the run down to Redgate and he over-cooked it on the turn-in, spinning off harmlessly to the right.

This left me to try to chase down Rick and in the distance Tony, and my lap times were getting quicker and quicker. With no ABS, a good threshold braking technique becomes even more vital and I was closing up to Rick through several corners, where he was slightly quicker on the exit.

Closer to the front, past champions Steve Potts and Alastair Kirkham had collided on the exit to Redgate and with body panels flapping in the wind, Alastair was losing ground. Rick and I caught up with him at McLeans and although his engine was fine, his front-right suspension certainly wasn’t and he was dropping back. I think he had held up Tony to a degree as his car was now only a few car lengths in front of Rick as the last lap board came out.

Determined to catch and pass them spurred me on further still and my final lap was my quickest. Ascending the hill through Schwantz Curves, ahead of us a big puff of smoke signalled the demise of Steve Potts, whose engine was later shown to have gained an inspection port and lost a con rod. Although I’d closed with Rick and Tony, the drop of the flag ended any chance of me catching and overtaking them and I finished in 10th. My quickening pace left me with a better fastest lap time than Rick, Tony, and even past-champion Linda Warren who was piloting her red #42 car that was coming into view in front of Tony on the last lap.

Race 2 didn’t last very long for me because it was obvious I had a brake problem even just driving from the assembly area to the grid. During the green flag lap, for most corners I had no brakes at all and I made the quick decision to come into the pits rather than take my place on Row 5 of the grid. With the bonnet removed, Clive and I could see brake fluid on a cross-member, which explained the pedal going to the floor! Game over before the lights even went out, but this was my first and only 924 race missed due to car problems this entire season.

Even with this disappointment, I came home feeling relieved that I’d got my racing mojo back. I’ve only got one scheduled race left this season – the Birkett relay at Silverstone at the end of October – but maybe I need to re-think my plans for next season. Perhaps a return to 924s in the PDA might be on the cards…

I have to take this opportunity to thank the many people who made this event possible. Firstly Philip Waters for pretty much the whole idea and for doing a great job of recruiting so many drivers; the drivers themselves (some of whom – like Karl Rossin – had worked so hard to get their cars ready in time); Andy Holley for clerking; John Broadley for coordinating; 750MC for hosting us; AJK TV for recording the video footage and interviews; and as always the gang of officials and marshals who look after us time and time again.

Disappointing 924 Weekend at Rockingham

Rockingham isn’t a track I particularly like racing at, but it was one of the few BRSCC Toyo Porsche Championship rounds I could actually compete in this season, due mostly to clashes and other committments. I again hired a 924 from Moluto Motorsport and turned up in plenty of time on the Saturday morning for qualifying, joining a quite respectable grid of 22 cars.

I had a best time to aim for but that was from my Boxster days and by today’s standards, it would have put me among the 924s. I posted a fastest lap around 9 seconds shy of that, putting me P10 on the grid for Race 1 – second from last and around 0.2 seconds quicker than Andy Pritchard who happens to be chair of the 924 Owners’ Club.

Race 1 turned out to be quite a lot of fun: I made a poor start and Andy, Bernie and the two Class B Boxsters (who grid up behind us) were quickly passed, but I hung on to their tails and got past Andy which led to an almost race-long battle between as has he fought to get past. Eventually he did and was on the verge of beating me when the heavens opened and the circuit got very slippery, very quickly – catching Andy out on the long left-hander after PiffPaff where he span out left onto the wet grass. I sailed through to finish P7 in class but afterwards in parc ferme we were both grinning from ear to ear having thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.

So for Race 2 we would again be close on the grid, with me on the row in front. Unfortunately I made an even worse start and everyone disappeared into the distance, leading to a race that wasn’t remotely enjoyable – so bad in fact that I decided to call it a day and not even enter Race 3. Perhaps that was a prophetic decision since there was a very bad crash among the 924s on the banking soon after the start, leading to severe damage to three cars, including that of Class C champion contender Pip Hammond and another local friend Karl Rossin who has been competing in a new-build car this season.

I’ll miss the final round of the 2017 season due to being at Oulton Park with Britcar in October; I’m currently 10th in the championship table but expect to get bumped down a few spots in the final races at Brands.

My thanks go to Clive and Philip of Moluto for looking after the car; AMPS Ltd for their continuing sponsorship; and the BRSCC marshals and volunteers for making our crazy sport possible.

 

Last-minute Boxster Race at Silverstone

On Sunday I was invited at the last minute to co-drive a Porsche Boxster in the 750 Motor Club‘s Cartek 2 hour endurance race at Silverstone. I had planned to attend the races anyway, to watch PDC Racing mechanic Esther Quaintmere make her debut in their Stock Hatch championship, but I got a call from Jonathan Evans, who I’ve known through the Porsche Club Championship and 24 hour races for some years. He’d signed up to take part in Sunday’s race and the original plan was to drive his new-build Cayman. With that car not ready, he instead rented a 987 Boxster S from one-time BRSCC Porsche Championship team Taylors Foundary.

I’d raced in the 987 variant of Porsche’s mid-engined roadster before, sharing Canadian Farees Ali’s car for a season in Britcar, but this car was new to me – and to Johnathan, who had only ever raced 986s. He and his team SE Motorsport had spent a lot of Friday testing the car and trying to get it set up correctly. As well as its stability management system – which sometimes decided to lock the wheels under breaking – they’d struggled with tyres with no one on site able to provide a suitable set in the right size. A call to local BRSCC Porsche driver Richard Avery resulted in the loan of a set of part-worn Toyo R888Rs on suitable wheels and we had these swapped onto the car for the race.

Johnathan qualified first and had posted a best time of 1:18.99 – which I was unable to better – and that put us in the middle of the 42-car grid.

He also took the first stint and with lap times down to 1:18.66 had got the car up to 2nd in class B with a significant gap to the next car, also a Porsche, in the same class. He came in after 60 minutes, but unfortunately a problem with the refuelling jugs meant a very long pit stop and despite my best efforts, I could only finish P4 in class.

My thanks to Jonathan for the unexpected chance of another race, his sponsors ESRG Group, S.E. Motorsport, Auto Fuel Fix and Treacle Media, plus BRSCC Porsche drivers Richard Avery for the tyre loan and Jamie Callender, who helped out on the pit wall.

BMW M Driving Experience at Bedford

I recently took up an invitation from BMW to join them for M range driving experience, held at MSV’s Bedford Autordrome circuit and in association with Shell V-Power, who provided their fuel for all of the cars on the day.

Apparently there were a total of £4M of cars for us to play with on the day, the most expensive of which were examples of the i8 hybrid supercar.

BMW celebrated their centenary last year and are now one of only three makes still taking part in the struggling DTM championship.

There were a few familiar figures from the world of motorsport there: ITV’s BTCC pitlane commentator Alan Hyde was master of ceremonies and the hot laps were provided by BTCC driver Andrew Jordan and Alexander Sims who races BMWs in the US. Photography was being done by Jakob Ebrey, who has until recently also raced a Porsche 924, albeit in a different series from myself.

The day started, for our group of 12, with a chance to drive all of the M range of saloons, namely the M2, M4, M6 and i8. I started with the M6, which really felt the accomplished GT car it is, then moved into the i8, which was being demonstrated by UK GT race driver Abbey Eaton; this particular car was a little flat so the petrol engine was doing a lot of the work. I then tried the M4, but couldn’t push this car too much as one of the other guests had nearly binned it earlier in the morning. Last up was the little M2, which actually proved the most fun. This part of the day was concluded by hot laps in a race M235i, driven by either Andrew or Alex. I shared the car with Alex and he really pushed it on its racing slicks, despite the track still being wet in places.

The second group experience was driving the M3 on a wet handling course, with the driver aids turned off, around cones including doughnuts, against the clock. Driving beyond the limit of grip isn’t something I’ve done a lot of but I did surprisingly well, only once losing control completely. I never did find out how well I’d done against the other drivers though.

The final – and for me most exciting – part of the experience was to drive one of the MSV Palmersport race-prepared M4s around Bedford’s South circuit, again against the clock, with a race instructor encouraging all drivers to improve on each lap. These cars are about 150kg heavier than the Boxster I started my racing in but at the same time have around 100 extra HP. My driving got a bit ragged in the second session but I did knock another second off my best lap. The instructor’s best lap on the day was 1:05.33; Martin Brundle does this circuit in 1:05; my best was 1:07.81.

My thanks to BMW UK for the invite, and the BMW and MSV instructors and staff for providing such a brilliant experience.