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Racer's Diary - Formula Saloons - Round 1 Mallory Park April 27 - Leicestershire, England

Chris Hermann, smiling too much for my liking... (Ed)

After my last minute decision to enter my Mazda RX-7 in the fledgling Historic Group 2 series this year back at the start of March, I was rewarded with a win first time out in my (new to me) car. The much more important Formula Saloons championship was always going to be an altogether more challenging prospect.

The weeks leading up to the race weekend have been cold, but dry. International readers may not be award that Britain is already facing what it calls drought conditions in much of the country, but sure enough the weekend started off with heavy rain.

It is an odd situation, but in all the years I have been racing, on and off since 1977 in fact but more off than on due to a lack of money, I had never yet had a wet race, so I was half looking forward to it and half fearful.

Certainly, on the plus side a wet race would have given me more of a fighting chance with my 320bhp Rotary engined Mazda. On the negative side, the short Mallory park circuit with its relatively narrow track, 120-130 mph approach to the 30 mph (no run off) Shaw's hairpin and 'killer corners' such as the very fast 190 degree Gerrards Bend and aptly named off camber flat out Devil's Elbow might have be a bit iffy for the Brutish Formula Saloons - some of which now have well over 600 bhp.

Qualifying started on a slightly damp track, and I immediately found that I had a reoccurrence of the brake problems which left me languishing in 17th in the Group 2 race in March, but completed enough laps to qualify and 17th again was not too disheartening under the circumstances.

Of much more concern was the incident which red flagged the session. Simon Dickinson, who had only recently obtained his 1994 Mallock prepared ex South African Super Touring Car Vauxhall Cavalier put the car onto its roof at the hairpin. Because I had returned to the pits with my brake problems, the first I knew of it was when an official told me the session was red flagged. Shortly afterwards I saw his father and crew chief (himself a former British Saloon Car Champion) and his mother and brother looking very worried some time after the session had stopped.

As I write this on Monday afternoon, it now looks like Simon is very bruised and has stretched tendons, but is otherwise OK and is expected home tonight, good news as up until quite late on Sunday afternoon there was real concern that he had broken his back and neck. It was only after 6pm that he was removed from the braceboard.

Simon remembers the incident well. Apparently his throttle stuck open as he went into the braking area for Shaw's. I was told by Simon's mother this morning that he says he had lots of time to prepare for the impact, switch off the engine and relax for the impact and that he recalls rolling at least three times.

None of this did much for my peace of mind as I contemplated whether to race, knowing the brakes to be 'iffy' or to just call it a day.

In the end, the lure was too great. I suspect that anyone who actually races does so as much as anything because of the need to challenge and push themselves and I am no different. The start money was an added temptation, but one the lights changed all thoughts of simply circulating went out the window.

When you're hot, you're hot as they say - and I definitely was not on a roll this weekend.

On lap two of the 15 lap race I picked up a driveline vibration - itself a reoccurrence of the events of the Silverstone Group 2 race. Unlike that occasion, I was not to win, but I had worked my way up to third in class - which I held in sufficient comfort to make way for the much faster Class A cars dicing for outright victory as they came through.

Similarly, when the third and forth placed cars came through, I again made way, only this time they were a little slower than I expected, forcing me to run wide onto the marbles on the exit to Gerrards. As I said at the start, this is a very fast, long corner and even being off line and going slower than usual I was still on the high side of 110 mph and heading straight for the tyre wall. Damp grass and slicks are not good bed fellows, but somehow I managed to hold it all together although having avoided the tyre wall I then thought for a moment I was going to career off to the other side as the back came round wildly. When it was all over and I rejoined the track forth in class Paul Lawrence had drawn up along side and had the inside line for the esses. As he had been taking two to three car lengths out of me in every braking area all through the race I was powerless to do anything, and as it was the last lap, fourth in class was where I finished.

Given that some people are spending more on their tyres than I am for my whole season doing two series - including the purchase cost of the car - and the brake problems I have been having, I am not too unhappy with my result. Even the 3.3 seconds adrift in lap times to the fastest time in class is not too bad - at least 1 second of that will come just from fixing the brakes, another 0.5 seconds I believe at least is easily there in my driving and the slicks I was using have now had a full four seasons use and they were Michelin's hardest compound to start with - they were barely tepid after the race. The consensus of opinion is that new tyres would find me at least 2 seconds and maybe as much as 3 seconds a lap, so I think the car - despite its venerable age - can be modestly competitive with a bit of TLC and money which is more than I dared hope for when I set out to do the series.

Even more encouraging, despite all the brake and drive line problems, I still recorded a time just 0.03 seconds slower than the car's previous owner who won class championships with it, so I must be doing something right.

The next Formula Saloon round is at Oulton Park in Cheshire on May 17 which will also see me doing round two of the Historic Group 2/5 Classic Thunder series where I know the car is competitive having won Round 1.

Chris Hermann

Photography by Tim Biller

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