Dom Norman stripped and rebuilt the engine in the three weeks before Brands, and established that there were further shim pieces that had come from the valve spring shims used in the head, and replaced the missing parts. Owslebury Crankshaft Services (OCS) ground the crank nose down and laser welded a ‘Speedy sleeve’ onto it, as well as refinishing the bore of the front pulley to give the tight fit needed to locate the pulley appropriately. With the engine finished on Thursday evening, the team installed the engine on Friday, with Dom and Vlad working late into Saturday morning to get the engine started for the first time since its rebuild.
With the van packed, the OUMF team of 11 set off for Brands Hatch, and we all enjoyed the now traditional trip to the ‘Rising Sun’ pub in Fawkham Green after initial setup in the paddock. After a good night’s sleep, the team was in good spirits and the sun was shining; all good but nothing compared to what was to come. Initial inspections and scrutineering inspired confidence, and Ding set off for the ‘Allstars’ qualifying session, posting a time of 1:01.983, putting the car 12th on the grid and 1st in class. However it had been difficult to find a clean lap, due to the grid of 27 being out on the tight circuit.
‘Touring Greats’ qualifying was similarly successful, with Ding putting the car 6th on the grid and again 1st in class, with a time of 1:01.815. The ‘Touring Greats’ grid was even larger at 30, but due to the pace of the cars being a lot closer, traffic was less of an issue. During the Touring Greats qualifying, an oil temperature of 130 degrees was reported by Ding, causing some worry about the state of the engine, which was on its first outing in very warm conditions. Dom wound the advance down a little, since it was suspected that this may have caused the high oil temperature, and this seemed to help somewhat.
The famous start finish straight, cambered towards the pits, causes great excitement as it is one of the few tracks where the teams can actually watch the start from, due to bans on mechanics being on the pit wall during race starts. Ding made a good start, although only 8 laps into the race, there was an oil flag with double waving yellows, and shortly after, barely 10 minutes into the 30 minute race, there was a red flag, and the race was halted due to the amount of oil on most of the track from the Daimler Dart of Piers Townsend. This left the OUMF Riley with its 4th Class win of the season, and 8th overall - a good result on paper, but it is always anti-climactic to end the race on red flags waving.
If the start of the ‘Allstars’ was entertaining, the start of the ‘Touring Greats’ was outrageous! Ding made an excellent start, immediately overtaking the Goodwood ‘St Marys Trophy’ winning Austin Westminster in front. A late braking A35 then made contact with the rear of the Riley, leading to a heart stopping moment where the team watched as the Riley faced the outside wall as it entered the precipitous Paddock Hill bend, while sideways in an enormous group of cars. Fortunately Ding held it together, and climbed another position by the time the cars came back round. The Safety Car was deployed just before the ‘driver change’ pit window opened which led to some confusion, and Ding immediately taking a drive through the pit lane only added to it - for both the team and race commentator. Thankfully, shortly after the restart, another Safety Car period (and the earlier drive through “penalty”) meant Ding was in the perfect position to take full advantage of the pit window opening.
New member of the OUMF ‘driver change’ team Bobby Bragg and myself performed a controlled and fast stop, leading to applause from a nearby marshal, and sending Ding out into 4th position by the time the race restarted, and with one car in front still needing to stop. This left Ding chasing Gavin Watson in his Alfa Romeo Giulietta Ti with around 20 minutes left to go. Ding’s pace was almost a second faster than Gavin’s, leading to a full on position battle for what would be OUMF’s second best ever result. With 15 minutes left to race, Ding was all over the back end of the Alfa, with most members of the team running back and forth through the pit garages, between the pit wall and the rear of the circuit, to enable them to keep the cars in view for the entire lap. This continued for what felt like forever, and with Gavin Watson not making any mistakes, Ding decided to try the long way round down through Paddock Hill bend, much to the amazement of the team. With Gavin defending furiously, Ding was still on the outside going into the Druids hairpin, and having cut back inside, was then still going round the outside at Graham Hill bend! He finally completed the pass on Cooper Straight, right in front of the amazed team, who celebrated with much gusto.
The closing stages of the race were also tense, as it became clear Ding was unlikely to catch the A40 of James Colburn, but that he may in fact be caught by engine legend Neil Brown’s hairy A35 Speedwell, which was lapping a second quicker than the Riley. However any chance of such an upset was removed when Neil’s pursuit ended in a big spin, and the Riley romped home unchallenged, finishing 2nd Overall, and 1st in Class. With the extra pit stop and Safety Car, it was clear Ding had no idea what he had done, and looked very confused to see the team, wild with excitement, waiting in the pits as he was directed to the 2nd step of the Brands Hatch winners podium.
Thanks go, as always, to Julius Thurgood for sponsoring our entries, as well as Owlesbury Crankshaft Services, for their expert repair of the racer’s crankshaft and continuing support of the team. Thanks at this time also go to Matt Potter of Think Automotive for his relentless support and providing the rally cars fuel system, as well as KA sensors, enabling us to monitor the car in greater and greater depth, and Fuchs for their generous supply of the excellent TITAN race oils that can clearly take the punishment of racing.