(Photos by Neil Lock)
This was the first time I had competed at the Silverstone Stowe circuit. I had low expectations of the track itself, as I had raced on the full Formula One circuit in the past, the Stowe circuit sits inside the main track. I imagined it to be little more than a go-kart track, however, it is based on the main runways of the second world war airfield and so is actually the track that was used for the very first Formula One race in 1950. This lead me to dream of the great drivers of the era – Farina and Fangio racing at the same location I was now facing. However, the field I was up against looked much more competitive than me.
Appropriately for such a historic venue, scrutineering was carried out the old fashioned continental way, the night before the event, so I drove there direct from the Abingdon sprint (which I had left early thinking it was a disaster but found out later that I had actually scored quite a few points). When I got there I had to sit in a very long and slow scrutineering queue, where the engine had cooled down and so failed the noise test at 108dB, double the 105dB limit! The scrutineer was very helpful and suggested that I drove around the circuit perimeter track to warm up the exhaust. I took the opportunity to thrash the engine at high revs, sliding around the roundabouts and having a great time. Fortunately this did the track and I passed the test to race the next day.
The started on a low note as I passed fellow competitor Nick Attridge on the motorway who had broken down in his supercharged Aston Martin DB7. I stopped to help but he was happy to have the RAC recover him home and so wouldn’t be competing. As well as being a good friend, Nick was the only car in my class that I had beaten in the past, so I was going to have a much tougher event.
My biggest problem was that my tyres had completely worn out at Abingdon the day before, I have rarely had so little grip and so with 573BHP the car was really quite scary. To make things worse the day started cold and damp, so I had to drive around on tiptoe. Despite that, the car was all over the place, I couldn’t put the power down, corner fast or brake hard into corners. You can watch the mustang sliding around Silverstone more like a ballet dance at blacksunracing.co.uk or at facebook.com/BlackSunRacing/
Amazingly, despite my grip problems and cautious driving, I was fastest in first practice as both Gordon Peters in his Nissan 350Z and Brian Winstone in his Porsche 911 GT3 RS lost it at the chicane as they were perhaps pushing too hard in the damp conditions.
For my final timed lap, the track had dried considerably, but my tyres had gone completely, so it was like driving on ice. I accelerated along the start straight trying to keep wheelspin under control and went delicately through the long Hamilton chicane until I could see the exit, however, with the ever-present worries about the gearbox I had avoided changing and lost revs, so that I was way out of the power band on the exit. Learning the lesson from this, on the long entry to Damon’s hairpin I feathered the throttle a couple of times as I could feel the back stepping out, trying to balance grip against letting the revs drop too much in third gear. If I changed down to second, I would be right on the redline and forced to change up again straight away on the exit, with the very big risk of missing the change completely. Passing the middle of the hairpin, I allowed the car to go into a four wheel drift with the tail rotating faster than the nose so that it was pointing down the straight before I had even reached the end of the corner, enabling me to get the power down early. I was very proud of this particular masterpiece of driving – although much of the rest of the lap was less successful!
I powered through the Mansell chicane which had been set up so that it could be taken flat and hit the redline in third as I approached the Hunt chicane. If had a better gearbox, again I would have changed to fourth but instead held it before braking hard. This chicane was made of tyre bundles and barrels which would do a lot of damage if I hit them. The exit of the chicane was much tighter than the entry requiring even more braking. Fortunately I stayed in the power band in third as I pulled away from the chicane and was gentle on the throttle guiding the car round the Stewart curve. However, coming into the Surtees esses, the car fishtailed wildly as I had absolutely no grip, this section of the track being much worse! I used all of the kerbs trying to give the car as much space as possible up the connecting straight to the Clark curve, but it was all I could do to keep the car on the track as I crossed the finish line, frustrated that i couldn’t use the power of the Mustang.
With all of the difficulties I had with the Mustang with worn tyres, gearbox jams and unresponsive throttle, I sometimes dream of my old TVR Chimaera which was so much easier to drive. However, looking at the large number of TVRs competing in a separate class on the same day, my time would have put me just below the middle of their class. I think that with new tyres and the throttle issue fixed I could probably have been much nearer the front so I should persevere with the Mustang.
Overall it was a fairly poor result finishing at the back of the class, several seconds adrift. However, amazingly despite a series of fairly consistent if unspectacular results, I was amazed to find that ta the mid-season point I was leading the sprint championship! However, I would definitely have to improve my performance to carry this position on to the end of the season and win!
Admiring the TVRs – I used to have a Chimaera