Snetterton, 3/4 July 2004
My season's racing had been delayed by a working trip to Hong Kong (fantastic place!). I arrived back in the UK in early June to a VW Golf race car kit - the car had no engine or gearbox and a list of things to do a mile long.
It was always going to be a rush to get things ready but the prospect of a BBC Top Gear camera car in the Sunday Group One race made me determined to be there.
The engine was duly fitted and the car taken to Snetterton for a track day on the Wednesday to run it in and test things out. It didn't go well. I had no power down the straights a few checks revealed that the ignition timing was miles out - the intermediate shaft hadn't been lined up so all the marks on the distributor had become irrelevant. We took the car to Andrew Guy's workshop (Bury Accident Repair Centre) who kindly lent us a timing gun to sort this out. Everything seemed OK on a quick run up the A12 but within 2 laps of arriving back at Snetterton I suffered head gasket failure. Thanks to Steve Barber for helping out on the day (and yet again getting no time in the car). Urgent investigations were required before the weekend.
It turned out that the ignition had been too advanced and the head and valves had suffered detonation damage. This was fixed by Vulcan Engineering at very short notice and the head was refitted to the car, Paul and I finishing at 04:00 on Friday morning. Urrgh.
So everything was set for the race - until I did a compression test. 9-6-6-9 bar was the result, something was definitely wrong. The car started and ran fine so I made the decision to head for Snetterton and see what happens.
I arrived late at the circuit so qualified at a slow pace with the post historics. There was no drama but the car was way down on power and after 3 laps was starting to sound very sick. It had lost at least a whole catch tank of oil in those three laps. Bugger.
Various checks were done including re-torquing the head bolts, compression was now lower in all four cylinders. But the thing was still going so I wasn't going to give up....
Well I wasn't going to win, that was for sure. But since I'd paid the entry fee I thought I may as well make the start. I was so far down the grid I could hardly see the green lights but I must have had a better view than those around me because nobody moved? I made a great start, passing about 5 cars before turn 1 - Riches. Down the main straight several passed me again but I out breaked an SD1 and the Wallace Sunbeam to retain a respectable place going through the Bomb Hole and around Coram into the chicane.
My lack of power started to show and after dicing with the Sunbeam for another lap or so I decided to pull in and save the car for the televised race on Sunday. Just as I pulled in the red flags were brought out for a spinning Capri so I was able to watch the rest of the race from banking by Russell. Yet again I was a spectator for my own race.
And things go from bad to worse. I get half way round my attempt at a quick lap and the car dies through the Esses. I assume the engine has expired and watch all the fun from yet another marshall's post. Back in the paddock it seems the engine is still low on compression - but should run? A few checks reveal no fuel - what the f**k. Something ELSE has gone wrong. A manic period of trying to work out what is wrong sets in, in the end we have to wire the fuel pump directly to the power switch and head for the collection area.
This was certainly the ropiest car I'd ever tried to make a race start in. I was losing a catch tank of oil every three laps, had low compression in all four cylinders and a fuel system wired up to the battery. We didn't even bother checking the brake pads or tyre pressures, the car clearly wasn't going to last long enough for those to matter.
I lined up behind Richard Hammond in the Top Gear camera car and despite all the problems everything seemed fine. Until the lights went green that is - when the hateful Golf stuttered up the start finish straight with an electrical problem and I pulled off the track to yet another dismal failure. Hmmph.
The fuelling problems were later diagnosed to be faulty coil connections but the engine is out and back with Vulcan. Its looking doubtful whether I'll race again this year, maybe I should have stayed in Hong Kong. 15HKD to get pretty much anywhere in a taxi and Chapter 3, Gecko and Vodka Bar all seemed a lot more fun than Group One Touring Cars.
|The SPN tow car and trailer.
At least the tow car works.
|Escort, Sunbeam and
Golf in Parc Ferme
|The Golf still LOOKS
|After Saturdays race||Don Hughes and Ian Wallace
discuss the race