20 October 2014

Algarve Classic Festival 2014 - Historic Touring Car Challenge

He's not a racing driver, he's a very naughty boy.  Paraphrasing Monty Python's Life of Brian at least helped me get over losing a class win after incurring a drive through penalty for crossing the pit exit blend line in the first of my two races at the Algarve Classic.

Picture by Antonio Gomez Grados
I was racing my ex works Rover in the Group 1 class of the Motor Racing Legends Historic Touring Car Challenge, which was combined with the Portuguese series, thus I had 23 other competitors in my class.  For the first race I qualified 7th overall behind Richard Postin's Group A Rover, three Group 2 cars and two invited Porsches.  One of those Group 2 cars was the Vince Woodman Escort RS1600 driven by Dan Cox.  Vince was with us all weekend which was great to see and I have to say that sharing a garage with Vince, Dan and the team was a pleasure.

This was my first visit to this very interesting, not to say daunting circuit.  None of the corners have the direction arrows we have at places like Silverstone or Spa, just  a 100m and 50m distance board.  Then there's the blind brows leading to most of the bends.  I was glad I booked the Thursday test sessions because I certainly couldn't have learned the track in 30mins free practice on the Friday. My mates Mike Bell and Iain Rowley (Delta Motorsport), explained the track to me but not knowing it, their descriptions meant little,  but their encouragement was a major boost to my weekend so thanks chaps.  Of course after a few laps I knew what they were talking about so things became more clear.

Then on race morning, it rained.  

It was more like heavy drizzle but it certainly changed the track surface. After two rolling start laps we set off and I got away well, leaving the lead Portuguese Escort RS2000 to chase me.  I was pulling away quite well so when I came in for my mandatory 45secs pit stop I was just enjoying the track, which at that time, was drying.  I came out from my stop and found the Escort ahead by some margin because they changed drivers in 20secs, then I saw my pit board calling me in, I had no idea why, but my team, including Iain Rowley appeared quite agitated so I came in for a drive through penalty for crossing that blend line. I took the penalty with 8 seconds to spare and completed my last lap in 10th place. So, a loss of a win or at least second in class. My fault entirely. Congratulations to Dan Cox for winning the race and to Richard Postins for 2nd overall followed by the Group 2 Jaguar of Paul Pochiol.

I was determined to put right my error in race 2 on Sunday.  It was a gloriously sunny day, and therefore hot.  I was behind a Jaguar XJS and three RS2000 Escorts who clearly saw me as a threat because as we accelerated from the rolling start, they formed a wall across the track, while the fastest Escort scampered off!  After two laps, however it was just me and the Jaguar, having seen off the other Escorts.  We swapped places around twice each lap but he had the edge on sheer straight line grunt.  Then a piece of luck because the quickest Escort was stopped at the side of the track, so I was second in class behind that extremely wide Jaguar. It was seriously hot and I was trying too hard so I backed away from the Jaguar for a lap to relax, then I got him coming out of the last bend.  Having done so he pulled in for his stop,  I stopped on the next lap, having gone a couple of seconds faster.  I came out in P2 some 13 seconds behind the now leading, RS2000. I closed that gap down and came through on the following lap 4 seconds in front.  I stretched that to 8 seconds and then stroked the car home at a reduced pace to finish 5th overall and first in class.  Unfortunately Dan Cox had to stop the Escort, which left Paul and Tom Pochiol to finish First and Third, with an invited Porsche in second.  Richard Postins was 4th and I was 5th.

So, a brilliant end to the season; although I've only done four races this year, they've been at two fantastic events, Goodwood and Portimao.  The car hasn't missed a beat and will now be ready for next year, thanks to Ken Clarke for the preparation and Tim Clarke for the spannering, Pat for team management and the pit wall timing and lap charts.

I spoke to both Duncan Wiltshire and Louis Quinou about tyres.  I can't find slicks of the correct size for my car, and I'm not alone, the same applies to Dolomites and Capris, so I hope they can get some consensus to run on Yokohamas, or Toyos etc. otherwise I'm afraid these grids may remain severely reduced.

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