Having never been to Oulton Park, I'd walked the track the night before. However after leaving London rather later than scheduled, the track walk was done mostly by moonlight with bats flying overhead, so I didn't see quite as much as I'd hoped....
For the first few laps of the practice session, I cruised around trying to get to know the place. There were two corners where I wasn't happy at all - the kink before Cascades and the kink at the Water Tower. I knew I should be taking these flat out but the Golf felt very unsettled in both places and I think I bottled one or both corners on most of the early laps.
There was a full grid of 30 cars qualifying, so the track was busy and it was difficult to get a good run. I tried to get some space and managed a 1.51.96, before catching up the RX7's who were playing games with each other then getting stuck behind an RKP Rover emerging from the pits.
I was fairly satisfied with the time until I saw the rest of the results - I was way down in 25th place (out of 31 qualifiers) with usual competitors Andrew Guy and Rick Kerry way ahead of me. Andrew in particular was a full 2.5 seconds quicker, an eternity in racing terms. Gulp.
I knew I needed to get quicker, so I spent the first few laps of the Classic Thunder trying to work out where I was losing time. One place was the exit of the hairpin, where my inside front wheel was lifting and spinning away merrily as I exited the corner. This was before a steep uphill drag and was difficult to control so I was losing out badly here. And it was the same Cascades and Water Tower kinks that were also slowing me, the Golf just felt horrible through them and it took some time to get the confidence to take them flat.
In the middle of all this another car dumped oil at Lodge corner and any hope of a better time was out of the window. I came back in with a little improved 1.51.51, 15th out of 17 starters and just ahead of the RKP Rover of Richard Lukins - the other Rover (Steve Barber) had managed a 1.51.50 - bugger!.
I had nothing to lose as I lined up near the back of the grid, but I'd forgotten that I'd had a new clutch fitted before the race. As the lights went green I got the bite point wrong and got far too much wheel spin (a practice start or two might have been an idea). By the first corner I had the Fiesta of Mark Aistrup up the inside and a Mk3 Cortina round the outside for good measure. I was losing even more places - disaster.
At Lodge on the first lap Andrew Guy had spun his Sunbeam, so I gained one place back, then I spent the next lap or two getting past the Cortina. I managed to get past the Celica exiting the hairpin (despite the wheel spin problem - I can't have been the only one) then I was behind the Mini of Clive Tonge, he proved a more difficult proposition as the cars I really wanted to be racing with - Rick Kerry, Andy Cope et al - disappeared into the distance.
I eventually scraped past the Mini and started attempting to close the gap to the XR2 of Cope ahead of me - but its no good. For the first time this season I'm driving round on my own, leaving the cars behind me but losing the cars in front of me - this is not good. Lap 7 and I notice Andrew's Sunbeam starting to close again, he passes the Mini but then backs off (he's flat spotted a tyre) so I finish in a very lonely 16th place (out of 24).
I'm fairly relaxed as the lights go green, determined to try and set a better time and maybe even have a bit of fun too. The Mini and Rover behind both get the edge on me (the Mini has slicks and the Rover twice the power of me) so its almost a Golf sandwich as they pass by on both sides at the first corner. I push as hard as I can to catch them and outbrake the Mini on the approach to the hairpin on lap two. I can't get near enough to the Rover of Richard Lukins to attack at Knickerbrook chicane, and then the Mini gets a better exit from the hairpin and passes by me again on the way up the hill. I try my best to get near him again, only to spin at Lodge - urrgh. Now I'm last and a LONG way behind. So I have about 7 laps to try and do something. With a little determination I catch the Rover of Lukins (who's been passed by the Mini) within a couple of laps then set about trying to take the place. He's much quicker on the straights but brakes way earlier than me and is slow through the corners. He blocks every move I make, but I eventually sneak past under braking for the hairpin. Unfortunately he just powers past me on the drag up to Knickerbrook, holding me up through the chicane and Druids.
Again I attack at the hairpin, the Rover takes a very defensive inside line and leaves his braking too late, I take the usual racing line and get by on the inside as we exit the corner. But again the Rover powers past and holds me up through Knickerbrook. I try and try but with some defensive driving by Mr Lukins I end up taking the chequered flag in 11th and last place - my first ever last place finish. :-(. But on the positive side I am the only finisher in class G2, so I get a trophy and an interview by the commentator! :-) And I had a great race with the Rover.
So all in all a great days racing, but its disappointing to be off the pace of my usual rivals - maybe I'm over driving, maybe I'm not driving hard enough - or has the exhaust manifold I've had fitted somehow reduced the cars power? I still only managed a 1.50.24 in the Classic Thunder race, but I was held up by the Rover so maybe I could have got into the 1.49's with a clear run. A test session at Oulton Park may be on order before another visit here.
Photographs courtesy of Finian O-Boyle - http://www.o-boyle.com
Next race - Spa Francorchamps, Belgium - 8-10 September.