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Formula Saloons - Round 2

CSCC Group 2 - Round 2

Saturday 17 May, 1997 - Oulton Park - Full Circuit

When the car goes, it goes very well indeed...

One day, I'm going to arrive at the circuit, the car will qualify without anything breaking, jamming or stopping, I won't hit anything, or have odd vibrations, I'll qualify well and I'll be in the right frame of mind to start the race after which the car will be returned to the trailer without needing any remedial work. I'm not an unreasonable person, I'd just like to experience this once in my life.

Instead of this nirvana, the day started off badly and got progressively worse, yet it was still one of the most enjoyable races of my life, if very frustrating. I say it, because I had to withdraw from one of the two races I was scheduled to run, but more of that later.

The Autosport Guide to Oulton Park begins "Many drivers have a love-hate relationship with this scenic venue. Its beautiful scenery is matched by the spectacular and demanding nature of the track." It was only my second visit to this track despite it being one of the three circuits which are all roughly the same distance away from home - roughly 90 minutes by car. I like Oulton, but have always struggled a bit there - largely because of the two fussy chicanes which have been inserted over the years. I just can't seem to get the right degree of aggression.

Come race day, we set off early having left the car there the night before for the 'pit crew' to look after overnight - or so I thought. Their car broke down on the way - complete loss of compression on No 1 cylinder - so I was on my own for race day.

Just over half way there I suddenly realised that I had forgotten my race licence, so I had to double back in some haste. All this put us over two ours behind schedule, but somehow still managed to get to the track in time to have the car scrutineered and make the tail end of the Formula Saloons qualifying session. So something was salvaged. Unfortunately, the car had developed a HUGE vibration which felt like axle tramp that was making the car undrivable under deceleration - even on just a trailing throttle. It was so bad it actually pitched me off the track at one of the chicanes on the out lap.

Feeling that discretion was called for I returned immediately to the pits and began looking for the cause.

One thing that has to be said for the CSCC is that it is truly a club with all that implies. Fellow Group 2 competitors and others from other CSCC championships all lent a hand in trying to diagnose the problem, but none of us could find anything. In the end, more in hope and desperation than anything else, I replaced the front wheels with the same set I had used last time out as it was the only change made since I last ran the car. The good news was instant cure of the new vibration for the Group 2 qualifying session. The bad news was that although I had also replaced a suspect half shaft wheel bearing the week leading up to the race, the transmission noise and harshness remained - so the session was spent more trying to identify the source of that problem than get a good grid position. Still, I was not unhappy to see myself third on the time sheets confident I could go much quicker.

What I am still baffled by is just how a front wheel induced vibration can feel like it is coming from the back and only on deceleration. Any ideas will be warmly welcomed as I am not usually so wrong with my diagnoses.

Anyway, deciding that the car probably wouldn't stand two races, I elected t withdraw from the Formula Saloons race - for which I hadn't qualified as I'd only done one lap and would have had to start from the back of the grid anyway.

This as it turns out was not a good idea as I will explain later.

Come the Group 2 race, we lined up and at the lights I made a good start which meant we were three abreast into the first corner, getting squeezed onto the grass and back to third for my troubles on the way out.

A tense battle for the lead meant a lot of action and tyre smoke.

The three of us battled for first with usually never more than a couple of feet between us - except when I had encountered selection problems out of the Knickerbrook chicane. This was both good and bad. Obviously it was a further problem, but the upside was that it confirmed that I had a significant performance advantage as I was able to claw back as much as 8 or so car lengths in less than half a lap and the 'drive around' was not a significant problem.

A short while later we were three abreast into the fast Island bend - again getting squeezed onto the grass for my trouble, again finding myself back in third, but with a new race leader. Within a lap I had taken second as was ready to launch a serious bit for first.

Diving down the outside for the Shell Hairpin looking to take the long way round the banked corner and defend an inside line into the following chicane - a move I am still sure would have succeeded - I found myself without any brakes to speak of.

Somehow, I managed to half spin the excess speed away and keep it all together, but my race was run. The remain few laps was all about limping to the end to be classified as a finisher.

The rear end view that Chris would like to show more of!

The following morning, the cause of the brake loss was all too apparent and took all of one second to fix. A bleed nipple had worked loose. I am certain that I could have one the race and made it two group 2 wins in 2 starts, and set a new lap record in the process, so had I run in the Formula Saloons race I might have identified and fixed the problem in time. Still, second fastest time while dicing wasn't too bad and the potential is clear - and the racing while it lasted was some of the most enjoyable I have ever had.

The next round is two months away, so I will have time to get to the bottom of whatever the transmission problems are.

But maybe, the next race meeting will be that Utopian state I talked about at the start.

Chris Hermann

Photography by David Coveney

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