Photograph courtesy of Jonathan Elsey Motorsport Photography
If 2020 was a strange year due to Covid-19 and a reduced schedule, for me, 2021 was even stranger. Plot spoiler, I won the championship, my 6th, with a race to spare at Mallory Park, so it was easy? Er, no, it wasn’t. Here’s why……
Last year, the car felt pretty good everywhere, except that on corner entry to slow corners, after heavy braking, the rear was a bit floaty…… I know what you’re saying, “man up and deal with it” but it affected my confidence level on corner entry and made it difficult to really push. I like a car that is well balanced enough so that, on the limit, all four wheels drift or there is just the slightest push, but the car is controllable. I had a car that was overly sensitive to being thrown into corners and was even more sensitive to adjusting the throttle mid-corner which meant, inevitably, that my corner entry speed was compromised.
Up stepped Graham Templeman to the rescue. He burned the midnight oil using Danny Nowlem’s Chassis Sim product to work out where I might be having a problem and what the solution might be. I also found that one of my rear dampers was leaking and didn’t really have much oil left – but I was fairly sure that this was not the entire source of the issue.
I chose to adopt Graham’s long researched damper ideas and reached out to Cornering Force at Harrogate for a new set of dampers. Sadly, the delivery date was to far out, but I was able to obtain a second hand (and rebuilt/revalved) set. Due to delivery constraints there was no time to test before Silverstone, so I went there with a completely changed and untested setup. I was happy to qualify 2nd and decided to make some minor adjustments to get rid of a little high speed understeer. Well, that went badly and, with every change I made, the car felt worse. And that is how the year continued until, at Brands Hatch, it was pretty undriveable through Druids and Clearways. Clearly, something was broken.
Following the drubbing at Brands I took all the dampers off, checked everything to find the broken component, but found nothing. I checked the gas pressure in the dampers, which was fine, each morning I woke up with a new theory each of which proved to be a false dawn (pardon the pun). Graham and Rod decided that they were coming down to check for themselves, but despite corner weight scales and inducing roll in the car, we couldn’t find anything, although we did discover some strange phenomenon.
It was, therefore, with some trepidation that I went to Mallory Park for the final two races, level on points with Mr Gough, with Mr Harris closely behind. I was relieved to see P1 on the board throughout the session and the car felt the best it had felt all year. Come race 1, my plan was to get a good start and use my extra pace to disappear into the distance. Well, the first part went well, albeit, Chris and I spent the best part of the first lap side by side. The second part didn’t allow for Mr Cowley finding additional pace. I tucked in behind Bill, not needing to beat him, just wanting to stay ahead of a fairly intense battle between Chris and Mick, but Bill gradually slowed and it allowed Chris to close up and then get alongside, wow, it was stressful. In the end, I managed to finish second which was enough to clinch the Championship, but what a battle!
Congratulations must go to Bill who, without the problems at Anglesey, would probably have won the Championship, and to Chris and Mick whose pace has brought them both right into contention. Commiserations go to Mark, who was plagued with engine problems all year, as was Martin Kemp, to the PRS team whose season was disrupted with the off at Cadwell and to my good friend Rod who had a litany of problems all year.
Thanks go to Ant Denham for an engine which was last rebuilt in 2016 and which will be going back for a strip and rebuild, Bernie “Gearboxman” Brayden for the gearbox care, Ian Turner for an excellent Polestar, Jon Lee for engine and chassis setup work, Cornering Force for damper advice and guidance, Rod Hill for constant support, Graham Templeman for hours of help, assistance, data analysis and endless encouragement and, finally, Jayne for letting me do what I love and putting up with me when I (frequently) get grumpy!
I’ve been very impressed with our new Rep, so thanks Steve Boother and, of course, to all the marshals, Bob and his team of Scrutes, Simon and the race rescue team, Terry the timekeeper, the clerks and the club for what I think was a great schedule.
So, this year is done and dusted, we’re all back to zero points, roll on 2022!
Photograph courtesy of Jonathan Elsey Motorsport Photography
Well, I was really pleased at the beginning of March that at last the 2021 season had arrived and I was all ready for the season start on the 3rd & 4th April and a practice day in March at Silverstone. However once again Covid put pay to those plans. Actually I was quite happy about the delay because having started to prepare for the 2021 session in Nov 2020 I was still not quite ready – I had decided at the end of the first week of March at short notice to strip the gearbox to replace the 3rd and 4th gears/syncro rings as I had found a supplier who was considerably less expensive than the original parts from Fiat. Anyway, I was ready for the revised practice day on Saturday the 3rd April. I had a good day and was very pleased that the newly fitted gears/syncro rings had worked: no more grinding noises or crunching from the gearbox, what a difference! I had a much better day than Dave Hodkin who unfortunately managed to blow an engine quite comprehensively.
The race day had moved to 23rd April on the Silverstone National Circuit. It went quite well, and I was pleased with a slight increase in pace since my last visit at the beginning of April and happy to be able to take Stow Corner flat again for the first time since my large accident on this corner in the 2017 Birkett. I was also lucky not to get caught up with any contact when Chris Gough had a spin at Becketts on the first lap in the second race.
Onto the race at Donnington Park National Circuit: I had no damage or repairs in between the races just the normal check over and preparation. Once again I was pleased with how this race weekend went with also a modest increase in pace since I last visited. I had an off in practice at Coppice into the gravel: it is amazing how much damage the gravel there can do – the diffuser needed repair and the left-hand rear wheel needed replacement. Still, I was happy with a good result.
For the third race it was off to Cadwell Park. I decided to travel from home early Saturday morning, 0500am to be precise, which turned out not to be my best decision of the day. All went well on the way up and I arrived at 0840am, not a bad travel time. I set up my area and got the car ready. At some point close to the practice session, I sat down and suddenly realised how tired I was, as the day went on I was quite disappointed that this did negatively impact my driving performance. I am not as young as I sometimes think I am and I will not be doing that again. In some respects it was lucky that we had the long safety car in the first race. After practice I had a drama in that the engine undertray was full of oil and on further investigation I found that the oil cooler had a bad leak. After fitting my spare cooler I found that this also had a leak for reasons unknown. I then managed to fit a tube (yes I had in my box of bits a 3” tube with ½ BSP thread on each end) between the hose ends to allow me to take part in the races. Thanks to Alex Bagnell for all his help, he came from nowhere and was a great help.
The next race was at Anglesey. All went well with the journey up there and we stayed in a friends accommodation in Conway, all good. We had our first proper scrutineering in Anglesey and that went well too. I have to say in practice the car felt great, it actually did what I asked it to do and I was really pleased and hopeful for two good race results. Then came Lap 2 of Race 1: I will not go on too much with this as everyone knows what happened. All I can say is that I have never been so disappointed and annoyed with a race result and I also knew then that this would have ongoing consequences for the championship. With my tail between my legs we went home on the Saturday evening after spending a couple of hours trying to do something with the car for Race 2. I must also say at this point my misses was most supportive and helpful during this process but also very disappointed.
For the Brands Hatch race I had quite a lot of work to do to repair the left hand front suspension that was damaged in Anglesey but managed to complete this work thanks to Andrew Kemp and his magic welder. Brands Hatch is a couple of hours drive from home, we arrived at the circuit on the Saturday evening and parked up the trailer and then off to the Hotel. In contrary to Anglesey this was a much better result for me with two qualifying times for 6th on the grid. I had two good solid races and once again the car felt great. I was battling with a few people at the front for a change: the highlight was that I managed to overtake Peter Bove on the last corner of the last lap! Who would have thought that: thanks Peter!
The last race was at Mallory Park and once again we arrived at the circuit on the Saturday evening and parked up the trailer and then off to the Hotel. I was a bit disappointed with my qualifying result for this race, two 9th placed starting positions. Up to this point I knew I had a good chance of winning the Class B Championship from my previous results and provided I had a reasonable couple of race results all would be fine. Race one and the red lights turn off and away we go, all felt good, and I think I was in about 6th or 7th when I came out of the hairpin on lap 10 and went to change from 2nd to 3rd to find the front end of my gear change linkage disconnected and unable to change gear. I tried to relocate the linkage but realised that there was actually something broken at the gearbox end. I managed to leave the circuit at the marshal’s post on the Stebbe Straight and to drive straight back to my truck. On investigation the fault was found to be a broken £3.50 ¼ Rod End. I was devastated as I suddenly realised that I was now 3 points in arrears to Matt Urwin for the Class B Championship. I now also thought of the lost opportunity I had at Anglesey. To cut a long story short the gearbox linkage on my car is quite difficult to set up and although I managed to find a ¼ rod end of an incorrect thread length in my box of bits I could not fully set the gearbox linkage. I compromised with not being able to select 2nd gear which I needed for the start and the hairpin. For the start I used 1st and straight to 3rd and left the car in 3rd for the hairpin which sort of worked.
I won the Class B Championship in the end after all the points had been counted by just 3 points, Matt on 223 points and myself on 226 points. This was too close for comfort and I would like to congratulate Matt on a great first year in the 750 Formula and wish him the same success next year and a Class B Championship win.
Could I please also add my thanks to the 750MC management team for a great year in difficult circumstances, all the Marshals, Scrutineers, Medical Staff and the other people who make all this happen. I would also like to thank Steve Boother for a great job as the latest 750 Formula representative: He has worked hard to motivate drivers to take part and increase the competitor numbers at each venue. Last but by no means least my partner Angie for putting up with me and the endless time it takes to prepare and take part in this activity. If you sat down and worked out the time spent and the cost in monitory terms this activity makes absolutely no sense at all - but it is like a drug you can’t leave alone.
I look forward to seeing you all next year.
or was that, Ray.
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Photographs Courtesy of Jonathan Elsey