Thursday, July 9, 2015

Thunder 500

The last two rounds offered nothing exciting to talk about but Northampton proved something of an eye opener for me as to just how hard it is starting from further back on the grid. The cars I’m usually trying to run away from are starting with me and as well as trying to keep them behind me, I have to focus on catching and overtaking the ones in front as well!  As much as it wasn’t a high points scoring day I did manage to keep the car in one piece and score enough points to guarantee a place in the World Final. This took a lot of pressure off for the last round at Aldershot.  All I wanted to focus on was scoring enough points to keep a group 3 starting place for the big race.  Typically, the weather wasn’t going to be kind to us and after rain for the entire journey it looked pretty set in for the day.

The first heat, as expected, was wet but I did what needed to be done, which was keeping the car in one piece and pointing in the right direction.  After the race had finished the rain stopped but in the short time between races I didn’t think the track would have had much chance to dry out so decided to leave the car on wets.  How wrong I was and as soon as I drove on to the track I knew I’d made a terrible mistake . . . the track was absolutely bone dry!  The car was brilliant for the first two laps but after that it went off very quickly, leaving me to have a drive round at the back on my own!  With no more rain it was slicks for the final and it turned out to be my best race of the day and I finished 12th after 35 laps.

This was enough for me to finish the points in 12th place and give me the group 3 start I’d been hoping for in the World Final.  Perhaps it wasn’t the greatest meeting for me but it was pretty exciting with the battle for the points championship coming right down to the last race.   Well done to Kym Weaver on becoming English Points Champion - you deserve it after all the hours you and your team put in.

With the points over for another year it was time to turn our attention to the Thunder 500 and the news that some of the Touring Car guys would be using our cars in a race being heavily publicised by Motorsport News.  I had the Audi driver Rob Austin driving my car and although he had never driven on an oval before he took to it straight away.  Once again though the weather wasn’t going to be kind, with a shower just before their qualifying laps leaving the track in a horrible greasy state that would have been better suited to wets.  With Rob out second and still on slicks it left him at a bit of a disadvantage to the others but he did a great job and with no more rain until the race he was able to get stuck in on a drier track.  The last question he asked before heading out was if you’re allowed to use the bumper - something he did a couple of times on Rob Collard!

After the race we decided to chuck Rob in at the deep end and offer him the car for the rest of the meeting.  He agreed and with a middle of the pack start for the heat he was really straight into the action.  Now Rob is obviously a professional and very talented driver but oval racing is completely different to anything you will ever do and it was just a pleasure to watch him get in and be on the pace straight away.  Within the first few laps he was mixing it with the best of them and managed to move up a few places before the chequered flag.  He was going even better in the second heat but a tangle on the back straight with Rob Collard, who was out in Billy Wood’s spare car, saw him take a little spin onto the shale. He recovered and got straight back in amongst the action again though.

After the horrible incident in the F1’s it looked like the Hot Rod final would be cancelled, but at the last minute they called the drivers up and it was a mad panic to get him in the car and down onto the grid.  The 40 lap race was cut by a few laps due to the noise curfew at the stadium, but Rob had really got to grips with the car by this point and was flying, having some really good races and gaining a few places by the end.  It was great to have someone else’s opinion on the car and much to the delight of both my dad and Lee, Rob was able to give them useful feedback on what the car was doing . . . unlike my usual answer which amounts to either ‘it’s fine’ or ‘it’s crap’!

With the racing over we all headed up into the Spedeworth box for a beer.  This is when you realise just what an impressive stadium Foxhall is.  With the blue lights on at night it’s a great sight and really could rival any of the stadiums over the water.  As usual with me it’s never just one beer and after an invite from Rob and Motorsport News deputy editor Matt James to join them in Ipswich, I found myself in a bar wearing Deane Wood’s Spedeworth shirt!  Unfortunately my dad, Lee and Crystal had to head home and couldn’t join us.  As you would expect it was a pretty wild night.  I’m not sure I ever want to drink a Long Island Iced Tea ever again though.  When the bar decided to stop serving us we finally called it a night.  The unplanned ones are always the best, especially when you have this party animal reputation to live up to!

Overall, I think the entire event was well organised and a great success, a credit to both Spedeworth and Motorsport News.  It was a pleasure to meet Rob and have him drive my car and the lift home the next day was greatly appreciated too.  Hopefully you will see him back behind the wheel of the 27 car soon.  He’s kindly offered me a shakedown run in his Audi later in the year but more on that when I know what’s going on.

I’ll be back shortly with all the news from the World Final.  Thanks as ever for reading.

Until next time


Wednesday, May 27, 2015

A change of luck

Sorry you haven’t heard from me recently but things are still pretty chaotic here and finding time for anything other than work proves to be a challenge!

After the first meeting I was filled with excitement to be back racing again but that quickly changed after a terrible day at Northampton on Good Friday.  It poured with rain and even though the car felt brilliant in practice, things went downhill rapidly when the racing started.  I’ve always struggled with visibility in the wet and today was going to be no exception - my glasses and visor ended up in such a mess I was just following brake lights and hoping for the best!  This isn’t a safe way to race and resulted in a couple of DNF’s and no points.

With this terrible meeting over it was time to enjoy the bank holiday and make the most of having John and Kylie staying down with us for a few days.  I spend a lot of time with them in Scotland so it was great to see them venture south.  It was a full weekend of racing though, and after my car was finished on the Saturday it was off to Coventry to watch the BriSCA F1s.  It turns out my directions aren’t that great after a few beers however, leaving Kylie to guess her way home for most of the return journey!  The next morning it was off to Brands Hatch to watch the Touring Cars - and in true Sibbald and Godfrey style we were running late and managed to miss the first race completely!  We watched the rest of the racing and had a good day out but I can’t really get into circuit racing - give me a packed grid of Hot Rods or Stock Cars any day!

The next day it was time to say farewell to John and Kylie as we headed off to Ipswich for our first Easter Monday meeting for a few years and they began their long trek back to Scotland.  Now on paper it wasn’t a bad meeting with us picking up a good few points and a third place in one of the heats.  It was a hateful meeting though with damage, chaos and falling out seemingly on every lap.  Everyone had left their brain at home that day I think!  Although we left with a straight car I was really down about the whole thing, and even considered what my future with racing would be for a few days after that.

For several reasons we had already decided not to race the European at Lochgelly but not liking to miss out on a good time me and my friend Joe “super ginge“ Palmer decided to fly up and take advantage of John’s wonderful hospitality.  I’m sure I could have given you a great report on the racing if the big man himself Ronnie McMillan hadn’t given me a bottle of vodka for safe keeping. Unfortunately it wasn’t very safe, and that about concludes my European Championship report!  I did enjoy the Speedway the night before though, so thanks to John and everyone for organising that for us.

Back home we decided, with the help of Matt Stroud, to make a couple of small changes to the car, nothing drastic, but enough to shake things up a bit.  We were totally unsure what it would be like and headed off to Hednesford with an open mind.

From the first lap in practice I loved it, but never in my wildest dreams could I have predicted what happened next!  I think during the first few laps of the day luck was on my side because just after I had overtaken Stuart McLaird all hell broke loose behind me as his engine blew up taking several cars into the wall and causing one of the biggest crashes I have ever seen during my time racing a Hot Rod.  I was clear and safe of all the carnage but the same couldn’t be said for some of the guys behind me.  Some seriously damaged cars were dragged off the track and hats off to everyone who managed to repair their cars and get back out again for the next meeting.

After the restart I managed to get into the lead and hold on to it until the end.  Shane Bland had other ideas though and was right there on me at the end and one little mistake on my part would quickly have seen me relegated to second!  It was great to get a win though.  The last time I was on a pace car at Hednesford was dressed as a girl with Jason Kew after a charity bike race.

If it wasn’t good enough to win the first one, I managed to repeat it in the second race.  Thankfully I managed to pull out enough of a lead to give myself some much needed breathing space, as I did make a few mistakes and miss the brakes a couple of times towards the end of the race.

To win two races is brilliant but to win all three is just a dream come true.  I’ll never be quite sure how it happened but luck played a huge part in it all and I somehow managed to get to the front and hold on to the lead in the final as well. Another lap and I think it would have been a different story as once again Shane Bland was all over me.  I managed to hold on though, making it the first 1 - 2 for the Duratech engine in a Hot Rod final - Graham Brown correct me if I’m wrong?

I’m sure that winning three races in a row will never happen to me again but what a great feeling it is.  I spent the following week just taking it in and telling anyone who would listen all about it!  Thanks to everyone for all the calls and messages and also thanks to John Duff at Wash ‘n’ Dash for the new tyre.  I certainly won’t be quitting anytime soon now!

Before I sign off I want to congratulate John and Kylie on the birth of their little daughter Iona - who entered the world seven weeks early!  You certainly gave us all a scare but I’m happy to say that although she will be in hospital for a while everything is going well and I can’t wait to head up and meet her.    No more wild partying now John boy!

I will fill you all in on the Northampton meeting next time and all the exciting news on the Thunder 500 as well.  I can’t believe we’ve only got one round left before the madness is over for another year.

Thanks as ever for reading.

Until next time


Wednesday, April 1, 2015

The action begins again

Sorry it’s been so long since you last heard from me.  So far this year things haven’t really been going to plan.  It’s with great sadness that I must say my grandfather passed away at the beginning of March.  It was unexpected and came as a complete shock to us.  Obviously losing someone who I saw everyday and have worked closely with my entire adult life has had a big impact on me and left a huge hole in the entire family’s lives.

Although he never raced a Hot Rod himself he used to watch the likes of Barry Lee and George Polley at Wimbledon back when it was shale.  He also raced Stock Cars back in the ‘50s when they were big V8 American cars ironed up.  Although never particularly successful he had plenty of stories from the old Stock Car days - long before things like health and safety were thought of!

His real love in life was rallying though and he enjoyed success both driving himself and building cars for other people.  Through the ‘70s and ‘80s they had a successful business running alongside the scrap yard building and maintaining customers’ cars.  When the mark 3 Escort first came out they converted them to rear wheel drive and built them into rally cars, selling them all over the UK and Ireland.  The first one they ever built was driven by my Dad and still sits under a sheet locked away in the yard.  One day, when time allows, we are going to get it out and restore it back to its former glory.

Although he never managed to get to watch me in a National, a meeting never passed without a phone call to see how I was getting on, and back when I raced Minis it would be very rare for both him and my Nan to miss a meeting.  Looking back I’m probably glad he didn’t watch me in the Hot Rod as there would have been many times that I’d have been on the receiving end of a stern word!

I’m going to miss him but he would be the first person to tell us to get on with it . . . so it’s business as usual at work and racing.  For the first meeting we decided - as a tribute to him - to sticker the car up like the rally cars he used to build; although it didn’t appear to bring me any extra luck!

We are disorganised at the best of times and with all this going on it looked very unlikely we would make the first meeting but thanks to ‘Team Kew’ and Mork (a family friend for as long as I can remember) we all got stuck in on a Sunday and got the car back together.  I can’t thank you guys enough because without you we certainly wouldn’t have made the first meeting.  I also want to thank Brendon from Smith Race Fabrications for all his work and ideas on the car over the winter.  I’m looking forward to working closely with Brendon over the next few months but more on that another time.

With just enough time to spare I borrowed a car off my aunt, then Lee and I running two hours late as usual, headed off to Birmingham to put a few laps under it.  Straight out of the box the car felt brilliant so it was worth all the effort getting it put back together again.

The Friday night after the funeral turned into a pretty drunken affair (something my gramp would have insisted on) with myself, John Sibbald, Jason Kew and his wife Kerry, and several other friends heading from the pub to sample the delights Witney had to offer.  This however led to a very hung-over Saturday morning at work and an even worse Saturday afternoon getting John’s and my own car ready for Hednesford the next day.

I must admit it felt great to be back racing again.  I haven’t missed the politics and the moaning at all but let’s face it, National Hot Rods on a dry day at Hednesford are pretty amazing!  The first race could easily have turned into a disaster as I exited turn two to find a parked car looking at me.  I managed to avoid it but some others weren’t so lucky.  Just a racing incident and I think everyone managed to get sorted and back out again.  I was allowed to restart the race from the back and although I finished outside the points the car was feeling pretty good.

The second heat got off to a better start but due to several silly mistakes on my part I fell back down the grid a fair way and just managed to scrape into the points with a 14th place.  Once again the car felt really good.

The final was a much better race and although I didn’t perform any miracles I managed to stay pointing the right way, avoid any damage and cross the line after 35 laps in 7th place, not as high up as I’d have liked but with a straight car and some points I can’t moan too much.  I must just say a big well done to Kym for his win in the final - a cracking drive and most deserved!

Going off topic a bit I would like to mention the truly epic night we had up in Scotland for George Macmillan’s gold roof party.  It was a couple of days’ hard work getting everything set up but what a brilliant night.  George is a great friend, a great racer and a great F2 world champion.  I would like to wish him all the best for this year, both in retaining the gold and in his chase for the national points title.  After a great start to the year he is currently leading so hopefully come the end of the year he can add the silver roof to his already impressive list of titles!

I would just like to thank everyone for their help and support the last few weeks, not just with the car but in life generally - it’s great to know I’m lucky enough to have such good friends.  I think in honour of my gramp I should hit this season hard and see what happens . . .  so Tony, this year is for you!

Thanks as ever for reading.

Until next time