Blydenstein Vauxhall outings at Castle Combe and Dijon

| 20 Feb 2017

Castle Combe 1 October 2016

For my last race of the season in the Vauxhall it was back to Castle Combe for their very popular Autumn Classic Meeting.  I had last been at Combe in July and I hoped for a better finish this time.

We travelled down the night before and woke to a nasty damp cold morning with an early visit to the scrutineer.  Annoyingly it is that no race engines could be started before 9am but with scrutineering at 8am! It did stop raining for quali but the track was damp in many parts but with a dry line appearing during the 25 minutes.

Even at this time in the season 33 cars were entered with 21 different models of car which is one of the attractions of the racing with HRDC.  There was more muscle in this race than normal with touring cars from 1958 – 1966 including Ford Falcon Sprints and Mustangs.  The pace was quick even in the damp conditions and I qualified 30th out of 33.

The race started in the most diabolical conditions (no F1 Pace Car for us!)  Heavy driving rain and low visibility, even before any car moved.  Once on the move with poor windscreen wipers, no demister, spray, pools of water and rivers across the circuit progress was not quick and survival was the order of the day.  I really don’t remember the car being straight at any time even on the straight bits as running water would create aquaplaning where you are a complete passenger!  Two thirds revs, a higher gear than usual and steer it on the throttle was my philosophy which others may not have applied as there were 10 non-finishers – most of them spinning off.

I had some great dices, the old car behaving remarkably well and finishing 19th out of 22 finishers. I was thrilled to get a Second in Class behind Andy Wallace, Jaguar Works Driver and I picked up another gong.

I was also elated to finish with no bumps or bruises, no engine problems but with a gearbox with no synchromesh meaning a winter rebuild.  Vauxhall Heritage and Classic and Sports Car Magazine have both been great supporters of the VX.4/90 again this year and I thank them sincerely.

Dijon 7th – 9th October 2016

My last race of the season was not in the Vauxhall but in a 1965 Sunbeam Tiger.  It is owned by Neil Merry and it was my third race as the guest driver in the car during 2016.  It is an FIA homologated car the only one currently racing in the UK.  It is beautifully built and a well prepared car with around 300 bhp from its V8 engine in what is a quite short narrow chassis and it runs on L section Dunlop Racing tyres.

The car is entered in the GT and Sports Car Cup against some very quick machinery some of it the fastest in the land – AC Cobras, E-Types, Corvettes, TVR Griffiths, Lotus Elans etc. as well as MGBs and TRs.  The pace is hot and as the Tiger is not a front running car use of the mirrors is vital!  

Going abroad to race is very special but at a new track to me especially so.  Dijon Prenois in the Burgundy area of France is situated some 10 miles northwest of Dijon in the hills.  It was purpose built with Formula 1 and Formula 2 races there in the past.

This was a meeting with lots of track time including a 40 minute free practice, 40 minute qualifying and a 2 hour race in which the owner has to do over an hour.

The weekend was dry but unseasonably cold.  I hadn’t been in the car for some 3 months and quite a lot of work had been done to it including extra venting to the front brakes (to overcome the brake fade I had at Brands) resolving a gear linkage problem, moving and fitting a larger fuel tank and some minor engine changes. So I was keen to try it. What a circuit! It reminded me of Portimao in Portugal.  3.8KM of circuit with long straights – 6500 rpm in top gear, 140 mph+, some slow sweeping bends, blind rises, dips and long 90 mph bends.  It all blends together and quite quickly I got into a rhythm with the car going really well and quickly until on my 4th qualifying lap it started to run rather rough.  I returned to the pits.  The problem was diagnosed as a broken rocker which we had welded up (!) overnight allowing us to start the race.  Neil qualified the car in 22nd place of 28 on a 1.44.5 with the fastest Cobra on a 1.33.3.

We decided to split the race with Neil doing an initial 30 minute stint, me doing 50 minutes and Neil doing 40 minutes at the end.

I loved it, the car is quick and out of bends 3rd and 4th gear is all that is required with the huge torque punching it out of the bends.  But this is a long race and you simply can’t drive at 100% as in a sprint race as the brakes and tyres need looking after.  Fuel can also be a problem as we won’t carry any more than necessary.  Managing the car becomes very important and working together with your co-driver is essential or you simply won’t finish.  Even being conscientious we wore out the near side rear tyre before the last stint and the brakes were losing their edge as well.

After a great race we finished 17th of the 28 finishers with a fastest lap of 1.44.9 with the winning Cobra doing a 1.33.4.  We were really pleased with our result.

With a bit more work over the winter the car should be even better next year and I just hope I will be invited to drive it.

Paul Clayson

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