Tyre choice; that was the crucial decision for the delayed Roadsports round at Donington. It was great to be back out in the MR2 after a resurgence of covid meant the race had to be postponed from its original scheduled date in November. However, the weather was far from kind to us with cold, wet and very greasy conditions out on track. Still, we had a great refuge in our centrally heated team lorry and the catering was as great as ever thanks to my wife’s culinary skills.
Having previously raced in the MR2 Championship I had been used to the tyre choice being made for me; the Toyo 888r was the control tyre and that was that. However, Roadsports affords competitors free choice from a list of MSA approved tyres. At the previous round at Snetterton I had asked around the paddock and gleaned that the Nankang AR1 was better suited to a longer race in dry/damp conditions and that the Uniroyal Rainsport was an excellent wet tyre so I invested in a set of each having worn out the Toyos. Dave spent an hour fitting and balancing the tyres prior to the race which was a great help. Unfortunately there was no opportunity to scrub them in although I did go out on the Friday before the race on two test sessions with my Race Instructor which helped. We decided to use the AR1s for these sessions even though the track was wet since there wasn’t any standing water but in hindsight the Rainsports would have been far better. The track was greasy and being cold I couldn’t get any heat into the tyres so it was like driving on cooking oil.
Dave managed to come down on Friday afternoon to provide support for the race the following day and it was great to have his company as well as mechanical expertise to hand. Qualifying was again a damp/greasy/cold track but I stuck with the AR1s. Wrong choice! The car was a handful and totally unpredictable, not conducive to a fast lap time. One minute it was oversteering and the next locking up under braking with no steering input. I didn’t spin but did have an off on the entrance to Coppice when the car just kept going in a straight line as the cover photograph so graphically depicts. Fortunately I managed to keep it going through the gravel and made it back onto the circuit with nothing worse than dented confidence.
I qualified 30th out of a total of 39 cars, 11th out of 14 Class C competitors; a number of Class D cars even beat me which was very disappointing and has not happened before. However, a Class C car qualified 2nd overall which is an amazing feat given the fact that the car was 120bhp/tonne less powerful than the Class A cars and went to show that driver skill was everything in the challenging conditions (as well as tyre choice!). Roadsports has attracted a very high standard of driver in Class C this year and there is at least one professional driver in our midst which puts this year’s mediocre results into perspective.
After qualifying Dave and I had a long discussion about the car’s set up, given the handling problems. We decided to put the Rainsports on the rear of the car and leave the AR1s on the front as an experiment. I did not want an oversteering car which is why I preferred to try it that way rather than fit the Rainsports all round. A rear wheel drive, mid-engine configuration is a handful in slippery conditions compared to front wheel, front engine cars so I was already at a disadvantage. It was a gamble since the pit stop was not long enough to change tyres therefore we discussed what settings Dave could safely change in the 1 minute 30 second pit stop in the event the car’s handling was wildly out. The problem was that the Rainsports had never been used and still had the manufacturer’s lubricant on them that stops the tyre from sticking to the mould. I took the car to an empty part of the paddock and tried to scrub them in as best as I could. Much to my delight there was far more grip on the rear but to the point where the car was understeering badly. Back to the garage and more head scratching in the little time we had left before the race. What should have been a quick change to the front roll bar setting to soften the front suspension turned into rather more work than expected when a wheel stud snapped off on the front nearside hub assembly. Fortunately there was enough left to accept the wheel nut after we had cleaned the thread up with a tap so we made it to the assembly area in time for the race.
It was a rolling start after the green flag lap and I managed to maintain my position for almost all the first lap. Unfortunately I was too eager to get on the power coming out of Coppice and span through a full 360°. At least I kept on the track and no one hit me but I rejoined 3rd from last. I’d been here before and learnt that at times like this I just have to put disappointment to one side and get on with the race. After all it’s not over until the chequered flag has been passed and a great deal can happen in a 45 minute race. It was actually an enjoyable time fighting my way through the tail end of the grid and valuable experience was gained overtaking in the slippery conditions. My MR2 is not fitted with ABS which meant extra care had to be taken in the braking zones. The front wheels were constantly locking up despite having the brake bias selected to the maximum efficiency at the rear resulting in the car being reluctant (to say the least!) to turn into the corner. That, combined with the understeer proved to be very challenging and I had to adapt my driving style to accommodate for it. Despite being cautious I spun coming out of the Old Hairpin, again due to being slightly too quick on the throttle, but the car remained on the circuit so no damage done. Such were the conditions and the car set up that I literally could not go any quicker without risking a big off.
To add more drama to an already challenging race, just before the pit stop the dashboard lit up with a couple of warning lights, exactly as had happened at Silverstone earlier in the year: the alternator belt had snapped leaving me running on battery power. There was nothing that could be done in the time we had during the stop so I elected to continue with the race and hope the battery would last. Given the proximity of cars entering and leaving the pit lane, Dave was very brave to make a change to the front suspension to try and dial out some of the understeer.
Fortunately the battery lasted and the car made it to the end of the race. Two Class C competitors had come off at Coppice, the same corner I had been through the gravel/spun at, ending their race. I had also managed to pass a Class C car which elevated me from 11th to 8th in Class, 23rd overall out of 39 starters; not my best but given everything we had faced it was not too disgraceful. Having said this, I had been totally outclassed by the front running Class C cars, being lapped by several of them. A BMW M3 Class A car had crossed the finishing line first but was given a time penalty for speeding in the pit lane resulting in the overall race win going to a Honda Civic Type R Class C car. This was an incredible achievement and highlighted the standard of competition; indeed, three other Class C cars finished in the top ten.
So that is the end of this season. 2021 was a lean year for VR2U Racing compared to last year in which we had 5 podium finishes out of 6 races. Ironically I beat my PB at every track this season but for whatever reason the results didn’t materialise. Without doubt I need to work on a wet set up as well as choose the correct tyre for the conditions. However, what was most encouraging was after the Donington round, my Race Instructor said, I quote, “Having been in the car with you Friday and I hope it came across to you also you were driving very well given what you had to work with. Yes in hindsight I think the Rainsports would have been better, maybe a lot better but your somewhat disappointing lap times/position were more down to the package you had than to you as a driver (i.e. you still got it!).
Live and learn. 2021, here we come!