Clay Pigeon; Round 9 MSA BEKC September 19th 2003
Finishing position: 7th
There's no doubt that really we had been hoping for a wet day this time. It was going to be the longest race of the season, Clay is very hard work and once again there were only two of us as Richard had to stand down because of personal commitments.
So we were happy that all the forecasts were for rain up until the day before and even then it seemed possible that Clay would produce one of its storms for us.
But arriving on Friday it was dry - though overcast - and it looked as if we were going to be in for a tough time.
Practice had been scheduled for only half an hour but Ted negotiated with the marshals to stay on longer, so getting an extra hour for pre race testing. All very nice, and we appreciated it, except that we were worried that we had enough to do just getting through the race.
Thomas went out first for a quick shakedown and then James took over the driving for the rest of the testing. We made some good progress, making changes to the set up and then being able to see those changes reflected in the lap times. We were trying the kart with a more upright seating position, which both drivers seemed to think was better, but we were a bit off the pace until we found that higher tyre pressures paid dividends, reduced our lap times by over a second and got us well below the 2002 Promax lap record.
Thomas took over for qualifying with a new set of tyres and put in a few fast laps before coming in for final adjustments. With a grid of this size, qualifying position was not that important to us but we got 11th in a time of 37.995 which was fine.
James started the race making up a few places and staying in front of Special Racing Projects just for a change. In front, Misfits were rapidly disappearing - they had qualified really well - but re-appeared stationary at the side of the track some time later.
Meanwhile James came up behind Titan who were struggling a bit for one reason or another. Momentarily put off by the thought of overtaking the British Champions he let Club 100 though. They had no inhibitions, and went past Titan, followed by James a few laps later.
James caught Club 100 again but couldn't find enough speed to get past and then at about 20 minutes put in some slow laps and lost them.
We were afraid that with running the higher pressures, the tyres would go off after about half an hour. James had to decide now whether he was going slower because of the tyres - in which case he was to come in and take out some air - or simply because he had lost the plot.
He prodded himself awake again, managed to put in some fast laps satisfactorily below the 38sec mark, decided the kart and tyres were OK and gave Tom the thumbs up at the half hour mark to show that he was going to continue.
At 52 minutes he came in for a re-fuel and change to Thomas.
The fuel stops always muddy the leader board a bit, so that before our stop we were running about sixth and afterwards we were back in 10th with Titan ahead of us again.
Thomas was going well and enjoying the driving getting a very fast and consistent average lap time for his stint. On lap 141 he got his best time of 37.601, overtaking Titan once again and moving us slowly up the leader board.
A change over to James in another 53 minutes went OK and on lap 233 he got our fastest lap of the race at 36.517secs.
But towards the end of his session he was beginning to tire significantly. He hadn't realised that the time shown on the kart was ahead of the time on the pit board, so he was out for a couple of laps longer than he had paced himself for and was feeling pretty dodgy by the end of it.
In fact Thomas brought him in bang on time and jumped into the driving seat to takeover, only for the engine to die as he accelerated away from the fuel bay. And then it wouldn't restart. Much fiddling and flapping went on until the Rotax felt sufficiently pampered and rewarded to co-operate once again. We only lost 20 seconds but it felt like an age.
James was now definitely not feeling at all well, but he had a bit under an hour in which to recover. Thomas was still going fast despite the problems with his neck and despite being punted off by an over enthusiastic member of the opposition about half way though the session. He achieved a good average lap time with his actual lap times hardly slowing at all at the end of his session.
After 53 minutes of Thomas' driving we were around 8th or 9th and had built up a very satisfactory cushion of laps over the nearest team behind us.
James' lap time were now markedly down by a second or more, but Thomas had realised during his session that the seat was coming loose so after getting the relevant tools together he brought James back into the pits (much to his - short-lived - relief). Some quick spanner work had the seat tightened up again - though not as upright as it had been and James was off again.
Unfortunately, only a few laps later he had stopped at the side of the track in order to be sick - not yet having mastered the art of driving and being sick at the same time.
After that he was only circulating at 40 seconds or worse a lap, slowing significantly again whenever nausea overcame him.
Fortunately we were onto shorter stints now and after half an hour swapped to Thomas.
Thomas was now beginning to feel his neck under serious strain but was still able to keep up in the 37s and 38s.
He was followed after almost 40 minutes by another unedifying display of driving and vomiting by James who handed back to Thomas with some relief for the what he hoped was the final session.
But he was having real problems with his neck now. So much so that Barry Prosser asked James if Tom was going to be OK. James replied that he was sure he would be sensible and stop if necessary, but as a precaution got ready to go out again.
This is where pit to driver radio would have been really useful so that between them Thomas and James could have decided who was feeling worse, or at least Thomas would have known for certain that James was standing by to takeover if necessary. As it was communication was via messages left for each other in the pits.
With ten minutes to go Neil Hicks managed to get the message across to an only half compos mentis James that Thomas had been black flagged for his own safety. Just in time James got his helmet on as Thomas arrived in the pits, and even managed to remember to put on the weights before driving out for the last few laps.
He did try hard to give him his dues and managed some half decent laps overtaking Extreme Racing in the process.
At last the chequered flag came out which Capital Racing took from Cobra in the last few minutes.
As for Red Stripe, we had sat on the margin we had built up in the first 2 or 3 hours and had managed to stay ahead of our pursuers to come 7th overall.
A good result for the end of the Championship. But very sad that there will not be a British Championship for Promax next year. Our thanks to Ted and Sue Poole for running it, to Barry Prosser (who after black flagging us, decided to retire from motor racing), to Kelvin Nichols for scrutineering, to Jane Noyce for timing us, to George Robinson for considerable Rotax technical help, to Tony Ball as Race Director and Barry's backup, and to all the other workers in the fuel bay and round the track who made the whole thing possible.
We came 10th in this year's Championship just a few points (Oh! OK!! It was 5 points...satisfied?) behind SRP. We would have like to have done better, of course, but really that's a pretty good result. And we just hope we get anything like as much fun out of next year's racing as we have out of this year's.
R e d S t r i p e R a c i n g
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