2 April 2014

Goodwood 72nd Members' Meeting

The phone call at 11pm on Friday 28 March went something like this: "Hi Ken, it's Peter, how are things going?"  "Struggling but we'll be there by 7am tomorrow." said Ken.  "Good stuff says I, um, how many gears have we got?"  Ken replied "five".  That demonstrates the level of knowledge I'd been able to soak up about a car I'd never driven. 

As you can see it is somewhat difficult to know where exactly to start with this.  In January last year, as reported elsewhere, we procured the Rover.  The term "in a sorry state" goes nowhere close to describing its actual condition.  What we had was an identifiable piece of British Touring Car Racing history.  But, it took a leap of faith to think that we could turn it into a going concern in less than a year, so we looked at getting it ready for May 2014 and the Donington Classic.

For the plan to work, we needed a new roll cage, the bodywork complete and suspension installed by March 2014.  Then we received an invitation to the Goodwood 72nd Members' Meeting which was to be held on the weekend of 29 and 30 March 2014!  A small but significant acceleration to our plans. 

Ken Clarke Motorsport pulled out just about every stop they could find and on Friday 28 March I arrived to help bolt the car together.  My input involved trim and a few other parts.  Although we should have been scrutineered on the Friday, the car wouldn't set off for Goodwood until 5pm that evening!  Furthermore it still hadn't driven under its own power!

As is now well known Tiff Needell was to be our "VIP" driver.  It is fair to say that we had hoped Jeff Allam could fulfil that duty but he was to be found at Brands Hatch honouring his BTCC contract commitments.  Tiff, as it turned out was brilliant.  He came to find us when we arrived at the circuit, found the necessary people to allow us in and to offload the car, then he asked a question.  "How many gears has it got?"  A question that threw me somewhat, and led to the query I posed at the top of this report.

Although it was a bit of a rush, I signed on; the CoC was very understanding and issued me the notes from the compulsory briefing delivered the previous evening; I think we were stuck on the Coventry ring road at the time; and, I went back to the car where for the first time, I sat in the seat and started it! What a glorious noise.  Unsilenced and thus very loud!

I don't recall being as apprehensive, the word seems to me totally inadequate, as I was that Saturday morning.  The car had not turned a wheel under its own power since 1982, added to which, I had not driven the circuit since 1992!  This was a real walk on the wild side.  Would we actually qualify and more to the point, would our VIP driver actually get to drive?  At this point it is worth noting that Tiff was as eager as me (possibly more so) to get out and play.  Anyway we started the engine and warmed it up.  The Tachometer was showing some odd results, it would eventually stop working altogether, so we would be relying on sound.  (One thing that is going back).

The car turned a wheel under its own power, for the first time in all those years, as I took it to the assembly area that morning.  The plan was for me to do 12 minutes and at least get my three laps plus a bit of circuit experience, then allow Tiff to; a) get us a grid position; and, b) find out the car's shortcomings.  He performed both tasks exceptionally well.  We qualified in tenth only two seconds away from the pole time and significantly, we were running post historic tyres rather than the stickier and thus quicker, D84 tyres.

I think we found that after qualifying, my times were somewhat slower than Tiff's, only by about twenty seconds!  And furthermore Tiff had another important appointment so couldn't watch the race which was a 15 minute sprint for owners.  In the race I found at least another 10 seconds so finished 16th, only 6 places behind where Tiff had qualified.  Hey ho.  The race was interesting for a few points; first, I was just turning into St Mary's early on, when I looked in my mirrors and saw an out of control BMW 530 steaming down my inside.  I pulled out of the turn and watched him sail into the boonies, which was lucky because he would have taken my front off!  Then I got on my way.  I was overtaken by one of the Mazdas but soon got that back.

I found myself in a train  of cars, all of similar pace and spent a long time trying to get past the AML Capri.  It's fair to say that my driving contained far too much braking and "after you Claude".  Both Mazdas had passed me and I passed both Mazdas, on the final lap I was somewhat quicker out of Lavant than the Capri so made my move to pass, under what I thought were waved blues for me.  Sadly there was a small bump and I saw the Nick Swift Mini which had been in my blind spot.  He was of course lapping me.  Because of that I finished 16th instead of 15th.  However, apart from wayward BMWs and over inflated egos, I enjoyed the race immensely.

The car?  It ran well, although we had low fuel pressure, no fuel pressure gauge and no tachometer.  Before the race Jeff Allam's sister introduced herself with her husband (Jim Bracey), who it transpired, was a partner with Dave Price and originally built my car.  He took many pictures of the car and I hope he can shed a bit more light on its origins.  In fact the method of obtaining shells as he described is particularly interesting if not entirely printable.

Come the main race on Sunday, I asked Tiff to take the start, and what a start he made! From 16th to 6th in two laps and by the stops we were second.  This of course wouldn't last but at the end of the race, we finished 9th.  For what was an untested car, this was a magnificent result.

Next up for the car and me is testing, but before that we need to replace the gearbox, which not only leaked, hence the vapour trail, but felt like we were stirring polycell.  However, significantly the car is clearly capable of being right at the front, because thanks to Tiff, our fastest time was no more than two seconds away from the fastest time of the PMS Rover.

We have already booked our hotel for next year.
Picture provided by Goodwood

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