After an unavoidable 9 month hiatus from racing, the weekend of the 12th and 13th of June 2021 saw the OUMF team finally make its long awaited return to the track; with a bustling, atmospheric and extremely warm Thruxton circuit being the venue, with two HRDC races as part of the Thruxton Historic Race meeting....
With competitive motorsport slowly opening back up, preparation for the event was done as part of a wider multi-faceted effort by the team, with our eyes also on meeting deadlines to take part in the Historic Ypres Rally with the Rally Riley in late June, as well as finishing off the final pieces to the puzzle on OUMF’s newest creation, the Sebring Sprite. This meant that for those attending in the final couple of weeks, it was ‘all hands on deck’ to prepare the Riley Racer and optimise the numerous changes and improvements made to it over the winter, including its newly-fitted Bilstein rear dampers, Owen rear springs, and IMS propshaft. Everyone was very impressed by the quality and thought behind the newly introduced Lifeline harnesses, generously donated by Jim Morris, who also re-certified our Lifeline fire extinguishers at the 11th hour. Unfortunately, despite the best efforts of the team and its many supporters, the Sebring Sprite was not at a suitable stage of completion by the Friday afternoon, and the reluctant but sensible decision was made to defer its unveiling and aim for an HRDC event later in the season to be the stage for its debut outing, rather than compromising our standards and rushing what will be a great source of pride for the team once complete.
The weekend started off with a very busy Friday of packing and loading in Oxford, followed by the arrival at the circuit of Ding and the rest of the advance party. Initially, there was a speedy securing of our OUMF area, unloading of the kit, and erecting the gazebos, banners and logos of our many OUMF sponsors so that we could reach the local pub for the evening, the excellent Poplar Farm, to meet our reservation time. Once there, plans were discussed and stories told over a very good meal and a few beers - and a rather noteworthy lime and mint soda, which according to Ding was “the best I’ve ever had!”
Ding also surprised us all with his announcement during the meal that the OUMF team have received an official invitation from the Duke of Richmond to race the OUMF Riley in the St Mary’s Trophy at this year’s Goodwood Revival in September – which was very good news and lifted everyone’s spirits!
The fun and games continued until late when we got back to our paddock base at the circuit, but the hard work and heat of a long day saw the team overtaken by the need for sleep by soon after midnight.
Saturday 12th June – The Jack Sears Trophy
After a solid night’s sleep in the paddock, the team awoke to another day of brilliant sunshine and was quick into action going through the necessary spanner checks and setup to prepare the Riley. Although most members (and probably most of the paddock) were very much out of practice and a little rusty from the lack of recent racing, the cobwebs were soon swept away as the muscle memory kicked in, and the car was quickly looking in great shape and given the thumbs up, ready to hit the tarmac for qualifying.
Qualifying was largely uneventful, apart from a large amount of coolant venting to atmosphere due to a slightly miss-seated radiator cap in combination with the soaring track temperatures. The car ran well, qualifying second in class with a best ever lap time for the Riley, and we were content that we had put last year’s disaster at Thruxton behind us. Also Tony Hall arrived to both cheer us up, and to cheer us on, just three days after a major eye operation, and it was great to see him after so many months (...and for him to be able to see us!)
The Jack Sears Trophy was in the early afternoon, and the cars lined up on the grid on what was clearly the hottest day of 2021 so far. The Riley made up several places off the start, and hopes were high as the grid disappeared around the first corner and into the tight turns of the Complex. However, to our dismay, it seemed the ‘Thruxton curse’ had followed us, as the Riley failing to return to the pit straight after the 1st lap, having pulled off after the infamous Church corner, and so adding a third Thruxton DNF in a row. After the car’s recovery to the paddock, the team’s investigation into what had occurred went into full swing. Careful review of the in-car footage indicated that whilst navigating the very long fast series of right hand bends leading into Church corner, a ‘questionable’ downshift was made immediately preceding an alarming shriek, however Ding insisted that this gear change was a reaction to a bang like broken half shaft and momentary loss of drive, and he immediately coasted to a halt, off track. So, some more investigation was required.
After a brief discussion and feedback of the events leading up to the retirement, the team worked together and methodically checked the drive train from rear to front, starting with the diff, then gearbox looking for any tell-tale signs of a major failure. The engine internals were thoroughly checked by the more experienced members of the team, and when all was said and done, to our relief there seemed to be no signs of any damage. The car was ran up to temperature, and tested under low load around the paddock with no indications of impending doom reported back. The conclusion was that what had occurred, despite being alarming, may have just been a momentary occurrence and together with the subsequent noise, Ding had chosen to err on the side of caution rather than potentially causing more damage, which everyone agreed was the correct thing to do. After many hours of investigation, the car seemed ok and what happened largely remained a mystery.
Hours passed by, and after a physically and mentally demanding afternoon of fault-finding under the hot sun, the team once again enjoyed a very fun and relaxed evening at the Poplar Farm pub over a few beers.
Sunday 13th June – The HRDC Allstars
Sunday morning saw the team once again rise early, to give the car a thorough going over and have it ready in advance of the timings to be at the collection area for Sunday’s Allstars qualifying session at 9am. The car seemed to be running well, and at the commencement of qualifying Ding put in some promising lap times indicating our troubles may be over, however after around 3 laps he came into the pits declaring that the hesitation and slight loss of drive was still present, and was also occurring exclusively at the exact same part of the track – Church corner. The car was given a brief check in the pits and sent back out for the remainder of the session, where it again qualified P2 in Class despite the intermittent issues.
Once back in the paddock, some more in depth investigation was required at short notice given that the strange behaviour of the car was still present. The symptoms described by Ding were broadly similar to the previous day, and at the exact location which was deemed too much of a coincidence, corroborating Ding’s insistence that there was a problem prior to the apparent mis-shift, and that it was not the shift itself that was the source of the problem. The team had already established as best we could the previous afternoon that the elusive issue was not mechanical drive train related. After some in-depth discussion of potential sources and ruling out the most obvious possibilities, the logical conclusion arrived upon was that due to the sustained high speed nature of the corner, with ‘Church’ being the fastest corner in the UK, that fuel starvation could be the only remaining potential cause of the issues.
With this line of investigation the fuel flow was tested after the last point of restriction and whilst the average volume flow rate was suitable, peak flow was deemed to be marginal for the requirements of the track. Some careful adjustment to elevate the fuel pressure gave a sizeable increase in flow and thus fuel availability in the carb, allowing for more fuel to be available to the engine at all times, especially so at the high fuel demand sections of the track where the issues had plagued us. It was invaluable to have older members of OUMF in the team as their knowledge of the Riley’s performance at the track in past years came in very useful in finding a solution. Also, I am certain I am not alone in feeling very grateful for how much I learned, and the confidence I gained as a result of their long experience and familiarity with the car, its history, its development and the many fascinating technical discussions had over the weekend. In retrospect it is very easy to see that our visit to Thruxton might have ended very differently had the OUMF team not got such sound foundations.
At lunchtime Robin Vincent and his wife Sally turned up to support us - and they shared our disappointment that in spite of his very kind help, we had been unable to finish the Sebring in time, or to a standard appropriate for its planned reveal at Thruxton.
Sunday was even hotter than Saturday, and with sizzling track temperatures the cars lined up on the grid for the race at 2.30pm, with the OUMF Riley saloon standing out among the surrounding Lister Jaguars, Lotus Elans, MGB’s and over 40 other shimmering sports cars. As the lights went out on the gantry, the moment of truth arrived and the Riley catapulted off the start line. Again it gained a few places, despite its Dunlops, kindly donated by Phillips Tyres, getting very low on tread due to this notoriously abrasive track. Lap after lap the car returned back around, to the relief of the team members on the pit wall, and the car was performing well, putting in solid lap times and maintaining 2nd place to the very powerful Mk2 Jaguar driven by ex-Le Mans winner Ross Hyatt ahead. Then, around 4 laps from the end of the race, the Jag unexpectedly entered the pits with evident overheating issues which forced it to retire - and the OUMF Riley was now leading the class. The Riley powered on reliably to take the class win as the chequered flag fell, to the delight of the OUMF team, and adding a glorious final twist to what was a challenging but rewarding weekend. A huge amount was learned, all of which served to remind all members of the importance and reward that comes from methodical and well thought-out fault finding procedures based on thorough analysis of driver feedback and circumstances.
Once the race was over, the team were treated to some spectacular battles between the varied grids racing during the rest of the sunny afternoon – a fantastic array of high powered sports cars and single seaters from the 1950s to the 1980s – before the HRDC Prizegiving and the presentation of the ‘Golden Oscar’ trophy to the OUMF team for their first win of the season. We in turn thanked our HRDC patron Julius Thurgood for sponsoring us with the entry fees for our two races over the weekend, and presented him with what was by then a super-heated bottle of champagne in appreciation!
Now it’s all to play for at the exclusively HRDC race meeting at the glorious Lydden Hill circuit on July 4th - in under 3 weeks time – where the OUMF team has enjoyed such great success at the two previous events on this jewel of a race track!
Race Report by Tash Lewis
Team Members – Ding Boston, Dom Norman, James Martin, Ahron Becquart, Aidan Challis, Ben Scothern, Tash Lewis, Bobby Bragg, Tom Grant, Arran Mcluskie, Jalal Mehdizada, Eric Harris, David Sellars, Isaac Jarmarkier, Niall Geoghegan, Andy Doyle.
ADDENDUM, by Ding
...as the story wasn’t quite finished at the prize-giving…!
More unexpected drama was to follow for the OUMF Sprinter race van and Riley-laden trailer, as within a few short miles of leaving Thruxton, the coolant level warning light came on as we pulled into a garage for diesel. Ahron, Ding, and Ben found the header tank empty and a lot of water dripping out under the van. There was no way of getting to whatever was leaking without removing much of the wiring loom and possibly the inlet manifold, and as Ding’s phone had run out of battery, we had no access to many possible lifeline numbers. However Ahron found Stretch Talbot’s number on his phone – but he also discovered he was in Wales on holiday!
So, faced with the catastrophic cost of getting the vast OUMF rig recovered to Oxford, or attempting to somehow get back unaided under our own steam, we of course chose the latter. We filled every container we could find with water (about 100 litres), topped up the radiator, added a bottle of Radweld from the garage into the Sprinter for good measure – and set off into the unknown…
To our surprise the Radweld seemed to help initially, but eventually even adding second back up bottle of it had little effect in staunching the torrent coming out underneath. After reaching the A303, the coolant warning light began to come on every 2 miles or so – which is fortunate only because we discovered that the lay by’s on the A303 and A34 dual carriageways are roughly 2 miles apart! We lost count of the number of times we stopped to refill, but when we finally arrived back at the HQ with approximately 60 miles behind us, we reckoned we had visited virtually every lay by between Andover and Oxford and had emptied about 70 litres of water into the van’s expansion tank to feed its insatiable thirst – so feel free to do the maths. By this means we not only returned, but did so without ever over-heating the engine – which was a magnificent and heroic achievement. Congratulations to Ben and Ahron for all their water-pouring efforts, and to the rest of the OUMF team too, with many thanks for their solid team spirit in waiting patiently at the HQ for the late arrival of the stricken van. It was a huge relief to get back at all, and great to have everyone’s help to unload the Riley and all the gear so quickly when we did so. Needless to say, we then all left the HQ for an extremely well deserved night’s sleep...with another great episode for the OUMF storybook under our belts - and a very sick Sprinter to fix very quickly if we are to get to HRDC Lydden!