The winter months would see a frenzy of activity around both of Niks cars, the MGB in particular requiring a lot of upgrading and refreshing work to get it ready for the 2015 campaign.
The most exciting news over the winter was the formation of a new series, the Jaguar Heritage Challenge. Run by the HSCC it would overlap with the Historic Roadsports series so, in many events both cars could be raced over a weekend. The itinerary for the series was a big draw, as it would visit Donington Park, Silverstone, Brands Hatch, Nurburgring and Oulton Park, all as part of wider classic racing festivals.
The amount of work would take well in to May and June to complete, on the list of jobs were a full MG engine rebuild, bodywork modifications to the wheel arches, pretty much a full front end steering and suspension rebuild, new starter motors and fuel pumps for both cars and the list goes on. The first shake down of the Jaguar didn’t happen until May at Donington Park, which was handy, as Nik would be campaigning the E Type in the Heritage Challenge the following week where the pressure would really mount up.
Donington Historic Festival – May 2015
It started in an interesting way; with the paddock being close to overflowing with race cars from the 1950s to the 1980s being represented, space was definitely at a premium. What you don’t need in this pressure cooker of an atmosphere is to be parked up ready to unload only to be boxed in by another competitor who refused to move and quickly dropped his car forcing a frenzied move to the end of the paddock. Deep breaths all round were required as qualifying was due to start at 9.45. When the cars took to the track is was clear this was going to be a great looking and hugely competitive series with cars from Jaguar ranging from C, D and E types, it also included mark 1s and XK120s. The competition Nik would face were bought in from far and wide and read like a who’s who of classic car racing. Nik would be sharing the grid with the likes of Stretton, Nichol-Jones, Melling and Dodd. Not to mention Cleland and Andy Wallace, touring and Endurance racing legends. No pressure then.
30 cars thundered out of the paddock and it was clear that there was serious competition. Nik held his own and qualified in a credible 14th place so smack bang in the middle of the pack with a 1 min 27 sec against the pole times of 1 min 20 sec.
The race was later in the afternoon so after a bite of lunch it was all go for Andrew to prep the car ready for the race.
Nik got away well, taking a few places on the run down to Redgate, then proceeded to settle in for a 40-minute battle. The race was red flagged and stopped after 10 minutes due to an exploding Jaguar leaving oil over the chicane which required a good deal of cleaning up. On the restart Nik found himself battling with a (priceless and irreplaceable…) D Type Jaguar for the rest of the race and managed to keep ahead of him to finish in 10th place, which is exactly where he was aiming for. More importantly, for bragging rights he finished ahead of Matt Nichol Jones, Andy Wallace, John Cleland and Calum Lockie. Not a bad result really…
Racing can be a cruel mistress. Highly stressed race cars need constant fettling, especially the older ladies. But they do enjoy getting grabbed by the neck and given a good thrashing! Qualifying saw Nik in 15th place with a 2min 42 sec lap, the leaders were putting in very fast laps around the 2min 23 sec. To put it into perspective and to demonstrate what the F1 guys are paid to do, a certain Mr Hamilton, driving a Mercedes got round the same strip of tarmac in a frankly mind boggling 1 minute and 29 seconds. I would challenge anyone to say they are not worth every penny they are paid. That is an average lap speed of 147MPH.
Back to reality, when Nik came in from qualifying he had noticed a vibration, which later turned out to be the crank damper had come adrift so the engine was trying to escape through the beautifully crafted bonnet. Worse was to come though as after a good start and making up a couple of places the engine lost power on the fourth lap. Nik would coast to the pits to retire and score a DNF, which is only beaten by the initials DQ in racing speak. Turned out after Andrew had investigated, the culprit was the carburettor, which starved 2 of the 6 cylinders of the blood of racing, petrol. Hey ho. The saving grace is that there is a big gap between Silverstone and the next round which will take place at Brands Hatch.
Brands Hatch GP
My goodness, what a track. Not the short arse Indy circuit but the full blown, take no prisoner GP circuit. The circuit is massively under used due to inconsiderate house buyers buying houses near……. A race track.
Brands Hatch is an icon of a place, a glorious piece of tarmac ribbon winds its way though Paddock Hill Bend which drops at least 2 storeys in height. You hit the bottom (if you made it round) and the compression is immense, the car, if you are not on top of it will spit you into the famous gravel pits. Generally any marshal wants to work in one place, Paddock Hill Bend and they enjoy the cries of ‘….another customer…..!’ as another errant vehicle enters their lair like a spider waiting on its prey. The main draw of the track is when the track turns left, instead of right and harpoons off into the wood lined countryside. Here, no grandstands grace the track as you turn though iconic corners such as Hawthorns, Dingle Dell and Stirlings before re entering the Indy arena and Clearways.
Nik was first up in the Jaguar Heritage Challenge. Qualifying was a dry track and he managed a 10th position starting position against strong opposition from the usual heavy duty grid. Paul Hollywood, the baking king qualified in a creditable 17th and Andy Wallace in a Mk1 started in 14th. Unfortunately, a bad start off the line and subsequent avoiding action of other cars meant a drop of 5 places. Nik battled well through the field up to 5th place before the distributor drive broke and Nik limped into the pits to retire.
The Historic Roadsport race was eventful, and not in a good way. Qualifying 30th out of 36 cars and 8th in class the race was one of the last of the day. A red flag accident meant a restart and delay in resetting the grid meant the MG was getting very hot, until steam was clearly visible from the grandstands. After a lengthy delay the race was restarted but a colossal multi car pile up resulting in an entire engine being catapulted across the track bought an end to the race, with only 2 laps completed. Probably one of Niks shortest races to date.
The Gold Cup at Oulton is a real festival of motorsport. The tight track lends itself to a more nimble car to negotiate and overtake other cars. The Historic Roadsport racers were the first out on track for the weekend Nik started from 18 and finished in 12th place. The MGB is starting to show the pace it can achieve with the developments over the last 2 years.
The Jaguar Challenge was a slightly smaller grid, with 21 cars starting. Nik qualified in 12th place. A high rate of attrition in the field meant 5 cars did not finish but Nik came through in 5th overall. His solid drive also caught the eyes of the Jaguar officials who awarded him with the honorary driver of the day award.
A cold January saw Matt and Nik out on track for the first time in 2014. The upgraded Caterham to Roadsport specifications meant that the lap times at Brands Hatch were a good couple of seconds faster than the 2013 car, mainly down to the new Avon CR500 control tyres and a rear anti roll bar to keep the back end more firmly planted. A new addition to the racing family is Andrew Smith, a Mercedes F1 engineer with a passion for historic motorsports. His attention to detail is, as you can imagine, is incredible and his work is immaculate.
The MGB saw a massive revamp over the off season; the whole rear end now rides much lower, stickier Yokohama tyres and lots of other racing modifications has turned the MGB into a thoroughly sorted race car. The Jaguar E Type had had a mild refresh and a thorough nut and bolt check to ensure she was ready for the season ahead.
We were also delighted HL Barnes and Smart Solutions had decided to sponsor the cars, with all three cars carrying their logos.
Matt would start the season at Snetterton in April whilst Nik would be at Thruxton on the same weekend. It’s a quirk of racing that we would not be able to watch each other until much later in the season due to clashing race dates.
The weather could only be described as ‘changeable’ at Snetterton and Thruxton over the weekend. Matt struggled with set up in the wet, as most of the adjustments were new, tyre pressures, front and rear anti roll bar and brake bias were all new toys to play with. A grid of 40 cars meant every lap was busy, not helped by an over ambitious manoeuvre which ended up with his wrist straps tied into a knot. A mid grid result of 20th and 22nd was the result.
Nik meanwhile at Thruxton with limited testing in the E Type started in 18th and finished in 10th, with a 2nd in class meant the first trophy honours!
The MGB race on the Sunday was an altogether different affair as monsoon like conditions descended on the race track. Starting 21st Nik incredibly got up to 4th before the inevitable red flags came out due to the poor conditions. On the restart on a drying track Nik managed to come home in 10th, and another 2nd in class trophy to add to the cabinet.
May saw the championships move to Donington for Matt and Silverstone for Nik. At Donington Matt was running well until an errant Caterham put him on the grass at 70mph and to the back of the grid on lap 3. Pushing back through the field he was also hit from behind which meant a trip to the Caterham tent for a new wing and light cluster. Fortunately there was no other damage and a final position of 24th. Race 2 started in drizzle and Mat ended up in 19th and pleased with the result.
Nik at Silverstone was really getting to grips with the MGB. A simply massive grid of 57 cars saw Nik qualify in 32nd against a whole range of cars. Nik would finish in 24th. The event took a sombre turn on the fatal accident of Dennis Welch, a devastating reminder that motorsport is dangerous, and we participate at our own risk, but a sport that we love nonetheless.
July saw Nik at Brands Hatch on the incredible GP circuit and a track suited to the performance of the E Type. Unfortunately in qualifying the cabin filled with smoke, this cut short the session. Andrew worked his magic and removed the top of the gearbox and two hours later the car was fit for racing. Nik finished 3rd in class in the Jaguar which could have been second after a pit stop error.
In the MGB a solid qualifying session saw Nik start in 13th and finish in 12th, 2nd in class behind championship elect John Shaw in his 911.
Matt would be next at Rockingham in August and still the weather would be changeable with a dry race on the Saturday and a wet race on the Sunday.
A split grid after qualifying in 21st saw him start in 11th and after a great race finished in 9th. For the second race it was wet, and with a non-existent brake pedal Matt came home in 14th place.
With wet racing seeming to be on every race weekend it was no surprise that when Nik got to Oulton Park for the Gold Cup meeting it was…….raining. Nik had his best qualifying of the year in the MGB with a fantastic 7th place start. The race though was on the Sunday and it was dry. Where, in the wet the MGB could hold its own against far more powerful cars, in the dry Nik had no chance as they fired pass. Niks wet lap for 7th was a 2 min 33 second lap, in the dry it was a full 20 seconds faster!
In the Guards GT race Nik started in 26th place and finished in a credible 16th place with Matt Nichol Jones taking a fantastic win in the MC Wilkinson E Type.
A very long trip to Croft Circuit in September would be Matts last race, having missed out on 3 of the rounds through the year. The trip was worth it though as it is a fantastic circuit, fast and technical and suited to Caterham racing.
Testing was in the dry on the Friday so everyone had an idea of the layout. Then, as per the theme this season it was raining for qualifying on Saturday. Matt qualified in 18th but as the lights went out in race one, second gear seemed to have been moved. As the rest of the field thundered by eventually second gear was located and a few places were made up on the way to finishing 21st. the first race result sets the second race grid so starting on 21st Matt gained a few places to finish in 17th after a race long battle.
The lucky racers in the HSCC had a golden opportunity to visit Spa in Belgium for a non-championship round in September and the circuit certainly lived up to the hype. Eau Rouge is a sight to behold and the TV cameras never do the corner and steepness justice. Nik described the lap as ‘terrifying’ after he had qualified in 47th out of 55 cars. Race one saw a fair bit of time under the safety car until the gear knob came off in his hand on one of the later laps, luckily he was classified in 41st place. Not bad for a first outing! Andrew went about fixing the recalcitrant gear lever with a new bracket from another racer in the paddock.
The second race wasn’t just wet, it was a river so bad that quite a few drivers pulled out before the start. Undaunted Niks aim was to keep the car and himself in one piece, which he managed and came home unscathed in 34th place.
The final HSCC meeting of the year took place at Silverstone on the National Circuit. The weekend didn’t start that well with the Range Rover tow car detonating its engine on the way. After recovery Nik finally made to the paddock on the Saturday morning to get the MGB ready for race 1. Racecars are pampered pets, but at the end of the season they can need more attention after being soundly thrashed all year. As Nik went out to qualify, the MGB started making expensive sounding noises. Nik pitted to preserve what was left of the engine but the MGB would take no further part in the weekend.
The Guards Trophy was later on in the day, but alas, qualifying was in the wet in the morning. Wet racing will always favour smaller, lighter cars and therefore Nik would start his final race of the year in 23rd. The weather brightened up in the afternoon however and Nik had a storming race to finish in 15th place. During the race though Nik noticed he was lacking in power and a misfire meant that he had been running on 5 cylinders, another rebuild beckons over the cold winter months.
Between us we had visited the most iconic tracks in the UK, and now also ventured into Europe. Words cannot describe the feeling of racing a car at its limit around corners that you have only ever seen on TV. Paddock Hill, Craner Curves, Eau Rouge, Blanchimont and Luffield are just a few of the corners we have been lucky enough to race around. Ok, so the results haven’t been spectacular and it would be nicer to be near the front, but wherever you are in the race you will always be racing against someone and having an absolute ball. The pit lane camaraderie is also something special, as you need to trust those racing around you strong bonds are formed that will last a lifetime. Not many people get the chance to race cars and we will never forget how fortunate we are.
Lets see what 2015 brings.
Keeping it on the blackstuff
The decision to go racing was made in 2012 when both the MGB and the Caterham were ordered. Nik had a hankering for the HSCC and Masters classic race series so the MGB was a perfect starter car, whilst Matt had signed up for the famed Caterham Academy series where every year, 58 novice drivers start their motorsport careers in a tightly regulated one make series.
Testing started in earnest at the beginning of 2013, unfortunately the weather played havoc with a few of the dates for Nik with snow at Oulton Park postponing his first competitive event.
Its Not ARD
The ARDs test was the first challenge as this was the licence we needed in order to go racing. Both passed and, with licences in our hands we were (almost) ready.
After test and track days at Castle Combe, Oulton Park, Donington, Brands Hatch and Mallory Park were completed April arrived and we would start our competitive events. Matt had a gentle introduction by starting with three sprint events at Aintree, Blyton and Snetterton. Nik, on the other hand would be thrown into the deep end, racing against 30 odd other cars on the full Silverstone Grand Prix circuit. Nik completed the race with flying colours and he was out of the starting blocks, getting his first 2 signatures on his upgrade card. We both needed 5 signatures in order to remove the novice cross so we could call ourselves racing car drivers and this was our main aim for the season.
Now we are racing!
Matt meanwhile, had his first race at Donington Park, an absolute legend of a racetrack in July. The race was extremely competitive and Matt finished in a pleasing 9th place after qualifying in 11th.
Nik would then visit Brands Hatch and managed to finish both of his races, getting more competitive and gaining confidence with every lap. He would finish in 21st overall out of 35 starters in the 60s Roadsport races.
Matt would visit Brands Hatch next, albeit on the smaller Indy circuit for a scorching weekend in August. A good qualifying session meant he would start in 11th and an even better start leapfrogged him up to finish in 6th place. Another lifetime ambition realised as Matt made the results page of Autosport magazine.
The historic racing circus then moved to Oulton Park in Cheshire, an absolute beauty of a racetrack for the famous Gold Cup weekend. Nik qualified in 18th overall and third in class G. Nik had a mighty race but a spin in the early laps put him out of position and he ended up in 22nd place in a mixed field of 911s, Lotus Elans and Camaros. The Guards Trophy Race was next with an even wider range of race cars on track at the same time. Nik would find himself sharing the same tarmac with iconic cars such as Jaguar E Types, TVRs, AC Cobras, Porsche 911s and MGBs. Nik would qualify in 31st place with 35 cars starting. Nik would finish in 22nd place after hugely close racing with other MGBs and TR4s.
With this finish it meant Nik could now call himself a racing driver as he had gained enough signatures to upgrade his licence and the Novice cross was duly removed.
In September Matt would visit Rockingham, a tailor made motorsport venue in Northamptonshire. The previous test day had uncovered a braking issue, which resulted in the Caterham Team replacing a brake calliper between qualifying and the race. Effectively qualifying was ran with three brakes, which meant a grid spot of 14th. A close race ensued though and Matt battled up to finish 9th, another top 10 spot.
October meant the last races of the season for both Nik and Matt, and it was the first time they would be at the same venue on the same weekend. Nik was racing on the National Circuit at Silverstone whilst Matt was tackling the International Circuit at the same time. Nik would qualify in 21th Place in the first race and 3rd in class and go on to finish in 20th place out of 33 starters and 1/10th of a second in front of a Lotus Elan who he had battled with all race.
Niks second race, the Guards Trophy, was a much wider mix of cars ranging from classic GT40s and Chevrons to MGBs and Morgans. Nik would qualify in 39th place even though he was far quicker than in his previous race. The results were what counted though and Nik would be classified in 33rd place.
Matts qualifying on Saturday was a disappointing 17th, the wet and damp track a new experience for him. Sunday brought dry weather again though for the start and he fought his way to 11th place, before the heavens opened on the penultimate lap. With limited wet running experience and the total inability to see anything beyond the bonnet Matt dropped 2 places on the last lap, finishing in 13th. Matts would finish the Academy championship season in 10h place overall and more importantly; the novice cross could be thrown away.
The year started with both drivers having to find their feet in the most competitive of environments, motorsport. From Scrutineering, signing on, learning new racetracks, testing and getting instruction to completing their first season, every event was a new experience. The goals set at the start of the season were completed, to finish the races, remove our novice crosses and to bring the cars home in one piece. Both Nik and Matt would now start to concentrate on 2014 where Nik would now start to compete in his newly purchased E Type and Matt would move up a level into the ultra competitive Caterham Roadsport Series.