But after only three laps of this delightful, small, and complex circuit, the team was witness to a sobering crash on track. Julian Crossley from Thermex Coolers had chosen Lydden as the venue for his son Edward to experience his first real race experience since passing his ARDS test. Sadly Edward lost control when he put a front wheel on the grass exiting the very fast final corner in Julian’s immaculate 1959 Swiftune-engined Mini Cooper, and Edward collided hard with the Armco barriers on the inside of the track. Very fortunately he suffered no injury, but the Mini was extensively damaged in the crash, and this caused the practice session to be put on hold for some time while the car was retrieved.
When the session was restarted, our Riley was straight back out, and we undertook various minor changes to increase its performance to suit this tight and undulating track. All was going well until the car came in with a faint knocking from the rear axle, and subsequent investigation soon revealed that both the crown wheel and the pinion in the differential had lost a tooth – which meant the team needed to install the spare rear axle. We all worked through the rest of the evening and late into the night to replace the axle and set up the car ready for the four hours of qualifying and racing planned for the next day. Julian and Edward had decided that they would take the very bent Mini home again, and so Ding was kindly donated the nearby hotel room they had booked and could not cancel. He was very grateful to be spared a night in the back of the van!
The team rose early on the Monday so as to be ready for the free practice before qualifying to iron out any problems in the rear suspension arising from the late night swopping out of the car’s rear axle. After a successful practice the team prepared the car for the first ‘Touring Greats’ qualifying session. With The team’s confidence in the new diff was high, and the Riley stormed round the track to qualify in 4th place on the grid for the race. The time between the sessions was extremely tight, especially as we had entered 4 of the total of 5 races altogether, i.e. every race except one for Alfa’s only! So, finishing the first qualifying session early, Ding arrived back at the pits for refuelling and didn’t even have time to get out of the car before the Riley was out again on track to qualify for the ‘Coys 100 Trophy’.
Even up against supposedly much faster cars, the OUMF Riley was still able to qualify 6th on the grid. Again, the team had no time to do anything bar a quick fuel top up before the penultimate qualifying session, and then the Riley was out again and qualified 7th on the grid for the ‘Allstars’ race. With track temperatures rising in the hot sun, coupled with Lydden’s notoriously abrasive track surface, the Riley’s ‘dry’ (i.e. treadbare!) tyres were really cooked and the car was struggling for grip all around the track. So the team made the decision to put on all new tyres for ‘The Stars of Lydden Hill’ qualifying session. This was an allcomers race for any cars up to 1980, so we all thought the Riley wouldn't stand a chance against the likes of a Mini Miglia, 2 litre Alfa Romeo GTV’s on semi slicks, a works MG Midget, etc.,. However, after only two laps, the session was red flagged due to the Mini Miglia having a substantial crash into the Armco barriers at the tricky Devil’s Elbow corner. When the session was restarted, Ding’s pace in the Riley on the new tyres soon proved the team wrong, and we watched it work its way through the field to qualify 2nd – meaning it would start on the front row of the grid alongside professional driver Ben Colburn in the works MG Midget.
The team didn't have much time until the start of the first race, but our hopes were high after the multiple successes in qualifying. The cars lined up on the grid, with the Jordan’s A’GT’40, James Dolin’s A40, the Westbourne’s A40, and then, right behind them, the OUMF Riley. The lights went green and the Riley shot past James Colburn’s A40, but while the Dorlin and Jordan A40’s shot round the track just too fast for the OUMF Riley to keep up, it wasn’t giving an inch to James Colburn. As the race reached its midpoint, and the team reluctantly headed back to the pits to make ready for a lightening quick service of the car before the second race, a backward glance saw the Riley suddenly pull across to the inside of the track and come to a halt well off the tarmac, on the gravel rally cross track on the infield. It was clearly out of the race! With the team oblivious to what had gone wrong, and with Ding clearly sitting alongside the car on the grass in the middle of the track – enjoying the great view of rest of the race (and a Camel!) - all that could be done was wait until it made it back to the pit. The team wondered if it could be another axle failure? Surely not?! But if it was, we were thankful that our one remaining spare crown wheel and pinion had been rushed down from Oxford with Dom Norman and Vlad Ardeleanu earlier that morning just in case, and this was quickly prepared while we waited for the Riley’s eventual return.
When the car was at last pushed back into the paddock at the end of the race, it was as we had feared – another diff had gone - and the team rushed to replace the axle. Remarkably, the team were able to replace the rear axle in only 40 minutes, with just enough time to get the car back out for the final race - ‘The Stars of Lydden’ - with Ding on the front row.
This was the icing on the cake of the OUMF team’s 2019 season so far, at a fantastic race meeting. It was all the more memorable for the fact that none of us had ever even been to the circuit before, let alone raced there. We are so grateful to Paul Phillips for the all- important tyres, and all our many other sponsors, but especially Julius Thurgood for his support and for introducing us to this absolute gem of a track. It is so friendly and relaxed, promotes terrific close quarters racing action, and has the best viewing we have ever experienced anywhere for spectators too.
So, a historic event in a multitude of ways and on so many levels, and we can’t wait to go back. If Julius manages to pull off organising another HRDC meeting at Lydden Hill in the future, we cannot recommend it highly enough…You must simply drop everything else to be there!!!
Motorsport Engineering, Oxford Brookes