Rockingham, 12th April 2003
I'd never driven Rockingham before so this day's testing was as much for me to learn the track as to set the car up. It mostly went to plan - the first session was a little damp which meant slower laps whilst I learned my way round, then the next two sessions I started to set some times.
I was losing power towards the ends of the sessions, we put this down to the fuel tank pressurising. Removing the seal in the filler cap seemed to do the trick. The last session was a bit hectic with lots of extremely quick aggressively driven Porsches out there as well as a rather erratic Rover SD1 that kept getting in the way.
I got out early - just behind Stacy Vickers - and immediately put in a relatively quick lap to get on the grid. Since testing on used Pagid road pads I'd swapped to expensive Mintex 1155's for the competitive stuff - only to lose most of the braking on lap 2 and out brake myself at turn 2. Could they really have glazed over in 2 laps?
Anyway spent the rest of the session trying to find some space, when I finally did the red flags came out and my time didn't count. Anyway - my first flying lap was good enough for class pole by about 1 1/2 secs.
Well everything seemed ready. We'd tested with few problems all day Friday and sorted out the brakes (thanks to Will McAteer) for the race. I was looking forward to this, the lap record was easily within grasp.
So the lights go green and I seem to make a reasonable start, no bangs or noises. But then everyone just starts driving past me. Eh, what the hell is happening? I hold my place for the twisty road section then exiting the hairpin onto the banked section again I notice smoke billowing out the back of my car. I just don't believe it - has the engine gone again?!?!
I consider heading for the pits but oil pressure looks OK so I decide to limp on. The car is strange - seems to have no power and is smoking terribly - but is still lapping in the 1.55's or so - only 4 secs slower than race pace.
So I keep at it, struggling to keep cars behind me as my lack of pace sends me back down the field. The smoke gets worse and I think I might get black flagged but somehow each lap passes and the car keeps going. I pray for the chequered flag to come out and finally the race finishes.
After all the testing and preparation beforehand I'm devastated. Yet another mechanical problem has ruined yet another race. The car gets a good kicking which makes me feel better, then Will, Andrew Guy and a few others come over to help diagnose the problem. They all seem to think the smoke is gearbox oil not engine - and a quick drain confirms this - there's only 500ml left in the 'box. So maybe my engine is OK after all?
Steve and I take the gearbox out the next day and find a hole in the bellhousing - the CWP has lost a tooth and its gone through the casing. So more money, more repairs and more time in the garage.