Mallory Park – A Satisfying Weekend

The aim of the weekend again was to finish with no damage and no damaged reputation, but also to really try and progress. Where Lydden was a “get through it” weekend, Mallory would be more a case of trying to keep in touch with everyone and steadily improve.

This is a circuit I had driven previously when I had the privelege of driving an ’89 Tyrrell F1 car for my 30th birthday. That day, there was a mixture of machinery to build up to the F1 car, starting with reccy laps as a passenger in a Scooby, a few laps in a Porsche Cayman, Formula Ford and a Formula Lotus Renault single seaters.

Single seaters are great because they’re so raw and you can see the ground rush by next to you. You really do feel alone and left in control. The fastest I went that day was in the Lotus, because the wings on that car really gave confidence and grip. However, it was all just a build up to the Tyrrell.

The power, violence and raw acceleration of the Tyrrell was incredible. As I recall, it was a Ford V8 DFV with Avon tyres, but by the time you’d applied full power and got some sensible revs on, you were at the end of the straight, or catching slower traffic. We had been under strict instructions to overtake on the straights between two specific points only. It was great fun and a great experience, just over too quick and probably never to be repeated…

Anyway, I digress from the main aim of this post – an update on my first rallycross event at Mallory Park.

Other than the aerodrome I drove on my tuition day with Pete, I’d only driven Maud around Lydden Hill. Well, excluding a few brake-drying runs up the drive. I was looking forward to the challenge of a new track to learn with none of the physchological clutter than Lydden had given me.

I’d slept like crap the night before at the Travelodge down the road. A combination of nerves, “adult” noises and revellers meant that after the previous long day preparing the trailer and car, travelling, drop off at the circuit and about 5 hours sleep I could have felt better.

But I was in a positive frame of mind, and pulling my overalls on in the hotel room felt somewhat surreal and reminded me of the trailer for the weekend’s F1 I’d seen on Top Gear’s site… YouTube Video: The Start (F1)

I couldn’t eat anything for breakfast, and my mug of tea made a reappearance. Clearly nervousness was at play!

Once at the circuit, I got all my tools out of the spares lorry where they’d been secured overnight, and spare wheels and other stuff out of Maud. Have I not mentioned I don’t have a “support vehicle”? It’s more a case of cramming everything into Maud and the Beemer and off we go!

I hooked up with some of the other drivers for a quick catch up on their memories of Mallory last year; tricky sections, gear selection, tyre pressures. Graham Rodemark was his usual chirpy, helpful self, and I made the most of being parked up next to him in the paddock by firing questions at him all day.

SONY DSC

After scrutineering, the drivers briefing, and a rapidly affixed transponder (for lap times) we embarked on a 3 lap practice. I followed Graham out, who made it clear he was checking the level of grip on the first gravel section. Of course, as winner of the first race at Lydden, I copied him…!

Second lap, first corner, I believe it was the “new boy” ahead of us who dropped his Mini into the chicane onto the loose stuff, and the session was red-flagged. A heated exchange on return to the pits between Graham and the pitlane controller resulted in all the Swift drivers marching to the control tower to object that our session had been cut short. For me, this was particularly an issue, as I’d only done one very tentative lap, and there was the real possibility that would be it.

However, the race controller succumbed to a combination of sweet talk, compelling argument and a cheeky peck from Johny Bean, and we returned to our cars. Back out on track, I started to push a bit harder on the tarmac where I was feeling more comfortable, and getting into the flow of the numerous chicanes between straights and gravel. I was really enjoying the new challenge!

Between heats and ongoing discussions with Graham and Kris Fruru, I worked on what worked for me. During the 3 heats, I got progressively quicker, more confident, more relaxed, and felt I was doing the right kind of thing when things got away from me a bit and Maud started to slew.

Much of Pete’s tuition started to make real sense – keeping the power on, jabbing the brakes for extra front end grip, patience when all the car wants to do is go straight on. Once you feel the grip is back, you can apply full power and pull your way out of trouble.

Where I was losing most time was, I believe, in the fast first corner. Later in the day, Graham told me he was taking it flat in 4th, but I simply didn’t have the commitment to do that, scrubbing off speed and losing time hand over fist throughout the rest of the corner as I accelerated round. Slow in, slow out in this instance…

But I was pleased that my times were going the right way, and when I got it slightly wrong and lost time as a result I put it down as another experience gained.

In the heats, I kept the other cars much more in view – so much so that I couldn’t see the back of Kris who was running a couple of seconds ahead of me in one of the heats. I really did feel like I was keeping in touch much better.

The back gravel section is simply one long gravel straight of waves. I kept it on full power while riding over the top, with grip coming and going as the car bounced it’s way down the track. Off line was slippery with deeper gravel, but on line keeping your foot in was certainly order of the day. That was very satisfying.

Because Johny’s engine had gone again (“Big end’s gone” was Graham’s aural diagnosis), we all signed up for a 9-car A final. Clearly I was the beneficiary, and very much appreciate the desire to get as many cars as possible onto the grid.

So at about 4pm, we lined up on the dummy grid for the A-final. Maybe the sunshine that day had made everyone go a bit doo-lally, but as the clouds came over and rain looked distinctly likely, things seemed to start going wrong.

First one of the Minis caught fire on its way back into the paddock after their final. Apparently the driver had “smelt petrol, but was leading”, so got to the end of the race when clearly the puddle of fuel got hot enough to go up. As we were down the other end of the paddock in our cars, I still don’t know how much damaged ensued.

Onto the RX150s – the buggy final before ours. Three of them decided to have a coming together on the start of the second lap, with the race being red flagged and all 3 returning on a flat bed with various levels of damage.

In total, our race was probably delayed by 20 minutes, but finally we got onto the grid. Sitting at the back of a 9 car grid is an amazing feeling. Even with little hot hatches like the Swifts, the anticipation, noise and vibration in those couple of seconds before the lights come on is intoxicating.

Everyone got a good start and I followed them all round the first turn, expecting things to get a bit busy at the first chicane. I was right. As a spectator I had a great view as 8 cars braked and slewed into the chicane with lockups and jostling left, right and centre.

The loser was Graham, who although leading, got a punt up the back at just the wrong angle. Up and over he went, rolling right over, dislodging the tyre barrier, and landing back on his wheels. Several panels, the roof and that great paint job will take some tidying up…

In the scrabble around rolling tyres, I managed to nip past Kris. My first overtake!! Most of us then hesitated, believing the race would be red-flagged, and down the back gravel section we were all off the power.

It then became clear the race wasn’t going to be stopped, so we all got back up to speed. The pack was already strung out – certainly the group of Phil Sherwood, me and Kris had lost touch with the leaders.

On the second lap, I let Kris get a run on me into the first chicane so he could make the most of his race and I could learn the most by trying to keep up – rather than defending a low placing. However, I think the “get it home” mentality struck, and the real possibility of clobbering a stray tyre in that first chicane lost me bundles of time as I cautiously navigated it each lap.

A few tank slappers, and doing quarter of a lap in 4th rather than 2nd also didn’t help – with me thinking I’d simply lost momentum. Kris was gone – I was last, but what a great day! The final was a bit of an anti-climax for several people, but Pat Doran and stunt driver Terry Grant finishing first and third respectively is a great credit to the Swift championship.

This weekend I’ve learnt so much more and I’m already relishing the prospect of the next round at Knockhill, Scotland. Even if it was on the other side of the world I’d still want to do it! It is a bloomin’ long way though…

Make sure you keep an eye out for British Rallycross on Motors TV next week!

Onboard

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