26 04 2019

Win as a Team, Lose as a Team.

Just weeks before the Goodwood 77th Members’ Meeting, Robert Brooks bought a Rover SD1 which had an entry to the Gerry Marshall Trophy, and I was asked to drive it. Marino Franchitti, a great friend and co-driver of the Triumph Dolomite Sprint in 2018, would drive the Dolomite again but this time sharing with Charlie March (Lord March). 

Robert, former Chairman of the BRDC, is an old friend of Charlie’s father, the Duke of Richmond, and even gave the Duke his first race nearly thirty years ago.

Wayne Loveland is team manager for Robert, and this was a very tough event for him as his wife Gill had died in February.  Gill had helped run the team as well as their transport business for decades and would be sorely missed but as we are all good friends we were determined to have a great weekend.

Neel Jani, who was coming to the Members’ Meeting with the Porsche Museum to drive a 917, would drive with me. Neel is a great driver who won Le Mans 24h with Porsche in 2016, having set pole position. He also set the fastest time ever at the Nürburgring Nordschleife in the Porsche 919, lapping in 5’19”, and lapped Spa Francorchamps faster than Lewis Hamilton in the Mercedes F1 car, so there was no question of his speed but how would he get on with a 1981 Rover with a manual gearbox and no downforce?  There is a first time for everything!

I had discussed the car and circuit with Neel on the phone and found a suitable test day at Goodwood, as suggested by our mutual friend Tom Kristensen.  Given my experience in historic cars and Goodwood, Neel had an open mind to learn and he already understood the importance of not overdriving the car. I started by sending in-car footage and data and Neel had already started to familiarise himself with the circuit via Google maps and YouTube.  A good start.  We had a bright, clear day at Goodwood and having talked through the circuit, references and gears I did a few laps before sending Neel out.  It made quite an impression.  The size of the car, sitting on the right and having a manual gearbox were all new experiences to get used to.  The brown vinyl and velour Unexceptional interior made it even more alien but cool, as is the Duckhams livery.

Building up speed and comparing observations, we discussed some car issues with Dan Setford and team and worked out how to drive around things for the meantime.  There are few instant solutions with old saloon cars and Neel saw that there was more to driving these cars than people think, particularly as we had the potential to be very competitive. My reference laptimes surprised him, even after several sessions. The gap was closing but the last nine-tenths were getting tough but I assured Neel that he would get there.

In one afternoon session I pointed out that the Ford Escort in front in the pitlane queue was being driven by Jordan King (who had flown back from the F2 race in Bahrain overnight) and that we should be quicker so this gave a reference on track. Neel passed him. Mental tick.  Discussions on car and circuit matters continued over the next days to help Neel find the final tenths.  We were set to be a well-matched pairing and being the same height, the driver change was also set to be quick.

The front dampers were found to have serious problems, explaining our feedback and experience in the car.  Fortunately, after much persuasion, they were rebuilt in a day and were ready for the race meeting. The brakes also needed adjustment, having discs on the front and drums on the rear, and replacement pads and linings were not easy to come by.  The clutch also needed adjustment or replacing as gear selection was getting harder throughout the test day. Wayne assured Robert that all would be in order and the team worked non-stop to get the car ready.

The Gerry Marshall Trophy Race

As I was faster in the Rover I was tasked with qualifying and the majority of the race.  Neel was certain of this and I did not disagree.  We were a team and there to race so we would do what was quickest.  After all, Neel didn’t mind where we finished as long as it was in the middle of the podium!

New tyres, brakes and clutch meant a gentle few laps before looking to set a time. The plan was interrupted when, just as I was starting a quick lap, a Camaro blew up, meaning yellow flags and a huge amount of oil through the fastest section of circuit. It would take several laps for this to be cleared so I pitted to hand over to Neel for him to do his qualifying laps.  We were second fastest at this point but dropped to fifth in the closing minutes of the session, once the circuit cleared.

The front of the car still did not seem to work properly, still understeering mid-corner but softer now the dampers worked! We suspected the differential might have been pushing-on but there was nothing we could do about that before the race.

The results of qualifying were however revised following post-qualifying scrutineering, meaning that we were elevated to third on the grid.  A few more driver change practices and a demo each in other cars and we were getting ready for the race into dusk.

Neel started brilliantly from the outside of the front row to lead to the first corner but then ran wide, overestimating the grip available on an old saloon without downforce.  He re-joined in sixth and made it back to fourth before pitting after as soon as the pit lane was open (after fifteen minutes).

After a good driver change, I set about catching the others as the sun was setting.  We had been struggling with front-end grip all weekend and it was getting worse, understeering in corners and snatching the front right tyre under braking. 

This meant I had to extend my braking off the circuit at one point in order to release the locked brake and turn through Woodcote corner - the approach is 130mph. I used the extra tarmac, dropped to third gear and rejoined having lost two seconds.  Frustrating.  I continued the chase but had to reduce the speed by up to a second a lap, leaving extra margin when passing cars.  I caught and passed the Castrol Escort entering St. Mary’s (known as NoName corner), much to the excitement of the team, so then I just had to stay ahead of the third place Camaro.

Second place at the chequered flag was upgraded to first after the Boss Mustang failed post-race scrutineering (technical checks) although we didn’t know this until the following lunchtime.  We had qualified faster than the Mustang and were a closely matched pairing so hoped to finish ahead anyhow.  Nothing in motor racing is straightforward and cannot complain – as they say, “a win is a win”.

We may not have stood on the top step of the podium but at least we had had a small glass of champagne with Robert Brooks after the post-race interviews.  A great result experience for Neel too.

The Sprint

Sunday's fifteen-minute sprint race is always action packed, with a reversed grid used to mix up the racing.

This meant we had to start at the back and would have a lot of work to do, particularly passing a block of cars that were of similar speed before being able to get to the slower cars. It promised to be hairy but good fun, and hopefully would show our real pace.

It should have been good viewing as ITV had a camera in the car and Neel and I had given an interview by the car just minutes before the race.  Neel described me his “Goodwood lexicon” as I knew everything on and off track, helping him get the most out of the experience. 

The second race did not however go our way.

New tyres didn't seem to scrub well and felt very slippery although the biggest concern was torque steer.  My heart sank. It was simply evil, pulling the car to the left dramatically on throttle and also pulled left on the brakes.  Was it just the new tyres or was there a bigger problem with the car? 

To add to considerations, we were held on the start line for much longer than usual and the water temperature was getting critical. A warning light came on even though the gauge only showed 80c; I tapped the gauge and it jumped to 102c. The delay was because the race was being aired live on television.  Remembering that I had an ITV television camera in the car, all I gave a little wave, pretending all was fine and relaxed!

Enthusiastic driving throughout the field left few or no gaps to overtake, some already using the grass on the inside of corners, so it was a matter or having some patience.  This started to pay off and, having passed five or six cars on the second lap, I had some clear track ahead to catch the pack ahead, but the car had other ideas.  The brakes locked at the end of the Lavant straight even though I was still not at our full pace and I had to extend the braking off the circuit to cadence brake and make Woodcote corner. Meanwhile, five cars went passed. 

I set about repassing them I lost drive mid-corner at St. Mary’s. I could select gears and the engine was fine but just not connected to the rear wheels, so I pulled off in a safe place.

The differential had failed and been the cause of the strange handling characteristics. It has been pushing on and left in corners, culminating in the horrendous torque-steer before giving up all together. It was disappointing but it is always better to know the cause.  Further, we were extremely lucky that we had got the car to the end of the main race – and won.

Days of Thunder

On top of this, I was privileged to drive a NASCAR in the high-speed demonstrations, representing the Louwman Museum.  It is the #56 Toyota Camry which won at Sonoma in 2013, driven by Martin Truex Jr. for Michael Waltrip Racing. Being a road course car, it handles very well for a big car, with precise turn-in and balance and nearly 900bhp.  The sound is incredible and being amongst a pack of them was brilliant; something certainly never previously seen in West Sussex. 

As these cars have no doors, the drivers get in and out through the window, reminiscent of the Dukes of Hazard, now dubbed by Dan Setford as the ‘Dukes of Richmond style’.

The Saturday session was at lunchtime so that there was a Grid Walk, giving everybody at the meeting a chance to come onto the start line and see the cars together, up close.  This is very visitor-friendly and always popular.  Despite permit regulations requiring the sessions to be run behind a Safety Car, there was ample opportunity for the cars to be seen and heard together at speed and fantastic to be behind the wheel.

Huge thanks to the ‘boys from North Carolina’, Will Spencer and Danny Lawrence of RCR and helped

by Ric Wood and team (UK) who helped run the Camry, as well as of course the Louwman Museum. 

The meeting seemed to be a great success, without the snow and biting winds of 2018 and the standard of driving was generally much better.  This was likely no coincidence as all competitors had received a letter in advance from the Duke of Richmond addressing driving standards, naming people who had been cautioned or excluded from Goodwood and this was restated during the Drivers’ Briefing on the Friday evening.  Safety of the drivers is crucial, apart from fair racing and not exposing beautiful, often historic, cars to unnecessary damage.

Bonhams’ Riley – end of an era.

The Riley One-Point-Five which I had raced several times at the Goodwood Revival and various HRDC races was sold by Bonhams at their 77MM auction.  I have great memories of sharing the car with Bonhams’ Mark Gold, coaching him and collecting trophies, as well as with Derek Hill.  The end of one chapter but the beginning of another.  Hopefully the new owner will have at least as much fun and success.

Finally, apart from all those mentioned above, we must say a huge thank you to the Duke of Richmond and his team at Goodwood as well as the BARC and the marshals, without whom we would not be able to race.

Read our 77MM Race Report elsewhere in this edition.

Join the Discussion

0 reader comments