Pembrey, 31st Aug/1st Sep
As I stood on the tyre wall at the Pembrey hairpin watching the Group One race unfold, I reflected that it was probably a good thing that I don't smoke. This wasn't for the sake of my health. Its just that if I smoked, I would probably have had access to a naked flame. And if I'd had access to a naked flame I would have almost certainly set fire to the beleaguered VW Golf parked beneath me on the grass verge.
The weekend hadn't started so badly. Steve Barber had joined me for the long journey from London and he was to race the car in the Classic Thunder race on Saturday afternoon.
Group One qualifying was a little on the damp side, and it took a long time for me to get back into the swing of driving the Golf. Honda Curve was especially slippy and the car felt somewhat sluggish - it was also difficult to get a clear run with a relatively full grid trying to put their lap times in.
I settled for a 1.13.6, not comparable to last year because of the damp conditions. That put me 12th, but more importantly behind the other two class D Golfs of Will and Don. I'd have to get away well to stand a chance of getting the class win.
Steve then took the car out to qualify for Classic Thunder and I was relieved to see him come back in one piece, with a 1.14 first time out in the car to boot.
With a lack of race practice this year and the memories of my backwards start at the previous round at Silverstone fresh in my mind, the nerves were jangling as we cruised round on the green flag lap. I was ready for the green lights this time and made as good a start as I could, but immediately got swallowed up by two class B Capri's who I'd out qualified - they came either side of me and cut in front before braking far earlier than I wanted for the hairpin - I was stuck behind them. Doh.
Things went from bad to worse through Spitfire bend when I managed to find 5th gear instead of third, I started to lose Don in the second Golf. Lap 2 and again I select 5th gear at Spitfire (I have NEVER got 5th gear by mistake ever before) and Steve Keating comes past in the yellow Rover SD1, before getting a big tank slapper through Dibeni and holding me up even more. I try to spend the next few laps consolidating my position (its an 18 lap race after all). Unfortunately the car just seems completely flat - it won't accelerate up the straights and now in have Marcus in the Sunbeam right behind me.
On lap 6 I realise why the car feels so slow - the throttle jams open through Dibeni and throws me across the grass - it hasn't been opening fully and now I've jammed it by pressing the pedal too hard.
I try to continue but almost go off again through Honda Curve so sensibly come into the pit lane. Steve and I investigate under the bonnet and a few pushes and pulls seems to free everything up - so I go back out again. Plan was to set a quick lap time but the throttle jams again though Honda curve on the very next lap. I decide to try and see the race out in fourth gear but approaching the hairpin it becomes obvious that my race is run - the brakes can't slow the car down enough and to avoid disaster I have to take the car out of gear.
Thats when I remember I haven't fixed the rev limiter properly since the reshell, and the rev counter immediately hits 8K+ on the brand new engine. Bollocks - it takes a few seconds for me to hit the power cut off and cruise across the grass to a halt, at which point the cockpit fills with smoke. Another blown engine? I get out of the car and stand on the tyres as the Group Race finishes thinking the worst. At which point pyromania becomes a distinct possibility.
As it turns out a quick check over back in the paddock reveals that the engine seems to have survived - and indeed with the help of Don Hughes Steve manages to get out in the Classic Thunder race and actually achieve a finish.
The fact that my new engine is not destroyed cheers me up somewhat, but my dismal season is over. We're expecting our first child in early October so I won't be attending Cadwell or Oulton Park - it would be tempting fate this year anyway, my luck has been that bad.
So roll on 2003 - with better car preparation, a better car (complete with rev limiter) - and maybe a bit of good luck for a change?
As a final note, I promised to mention the B&B we stayed at just down the road from the circuit. Superb place, friendly staff and superb beer in the bar - details are;