We aimed high and chose to go for Garage 2 which was where the Bentley Owners Club had had their HQ for the race meeting on Saturday, displaying 5 historic and ex Le Mans race cars with a collective worth of £70 million! On setting up, Rob Dawson and then Andy Doyle arrived and we all enjoyed a good long dinner at The Green Man inn nearby.
ack to the circuit - in three cars and no tickets. 'The car behind has our tickets' somehow worked for all three!! We settled down for the night in the garage - with the Darryl Davis Motobuild team cars, and 3 of the 7 famous Bentleys sharing our pit lane dormitory! (When he arrived, Darryl very kindly donated two of his new polyurethane engine mountings to the Sebring Sprite project too.)
Early on the chilly Sunday morning (once race licence and drivers briefing issues were overcome!), Signing On and Scrutineering were swiftly done with, and at 9am the Riley was out on track for the first qualifying session - with Niall, Isaac, and Oli's new suspension mods in place. Engine builders Dom and Ben were pleased that the car went very well in a straight line, with the splendid Arrow Precision steel crank allowing (at long last!) the use of a vital extra 1000rpm in each gear. However, the handling in the corners was not all we had hoped. Despite Isaac, Niall, Bobby and the team making various adjustments to the new set up, there was little improvement, and after second qualifying we decided to revert to the tried and tested suspension settings for the two races ahead of us in the afternoon.
The weather warmed considerably during the day, and we were glad to be joined by Andy Parsons, Stretch and Big John, Tom and Bruce Maitland, Ahron Becquart, among others there to cheers us on; but sadly neither Paul Phillips or Paul Beer were able to make it as we had expected.
The first race was the HRDC 'Allstars' with a big grid featuring a wide range of cars in both size and power - so everything from Mini Coopers and Austin A35's, to Mustangs, Jags and Ford Falcons. Even with the suspension issues in practice, the Riley had qualified in 14th/30, on row 7 of the grid, and when the lights changed it shot past a couple of cars with smoking tyres, and so gained places from the off. The Riley's race quickly developed into a full-on battle with Julian Crossley's Swiftune Mini, with the two cars neck and neck and swapping places once or twice every lap. The excitement reached fever pitch as the clock counted down to the end of the 30 minute struggle, with the Mini just leading the Riley out of Luffield on the last lap...but it couldn't quite hold it and the Riley stormed to the chequered flag, crossing the line first by barely a nose to win the scrap by a 10th of a second - and taking the Class win to boot!
When the Riley returned to the pit garage, the first thing that happened was a very angry driver of a Mini Marcos came storming in and accused Ding of nearly killing him by cutting him up as he was overtaking the Riley and causing him to spin off the track. However when our in car video footage was viewed by Vlad it indicated he was well behind the Riley, going too fast in the wrong place, and had braked with one wheel on the grass, causing the spin. And all of this was also witnessed by Julian Crossley following closely in the Mini. When he heard there was video footage of the incident, the chap calmed down very quickly...! Meanwhile, the exultant OUMF team set about curing a reported flat spot that had kept on occurring in 4th on the main straight - and which indicated a possible fuel problem. So before the longer second race - The Coys Trophy - the Riley's petrol lines, pumps and filters were dismantled and thoroughly inspected and cleaned, and the fuel pressure gauge set a little higher too, to ensure sufficient fuel was getting through to the Weber carburettor at full chat.
All checks and inspections were completed in good time for the 45 minute Coys Trophy in the late afternoon, and again the Riley took its place on the grid - in 19th spot - as it was up against even stronger opposition.
The teams 'due diligence' in regard of the fuel issue had cured the problem and the Riley screamed off the start ahead of both the Crossley Mini and our arch class rival Gavin Watson in the Alfa Giulietta - and was never really worried by either of them again during the race. The team's pit stop practice beforehand paid dividends at the 'driver change' - and the Riley left the pit lane still ahead of the rest of the class. It was able to maintain a comfortable distance ahead of them for the duration of the race, and stay on the track too despite the increasing amounts of oil being laid down by other cars. The feisty little Riley tried valiantly to do a bit more giant slaying of the much more powerful American muscle cars and the bevy of Jags - with some success - and much of it on three, and sometimes two wheels. Always a crowd pleaser!
At the flag the Riley took another Class win - which made it the best start to a season the team have had in this, their 9th year of racing with the HRDC. At the prize-giving ceremony Julius was full of much-deserved praise for the OUMF student team, and insisted (quite rightly) that they - and not the driver - went up 'en masse' to receive the second, Coys Trophy award.
As the sun began to set, we set too - off back to Oxford! - and reflected on what an extraordinary and unexpectedly brilliant start to the season we had all enjoyed. We also reminded ourselves just how fortunate we are to have such an array of fantastic supporters and sponsors who, in so many ways, big and small, enable unforgettable and inspiring experiences such as Silverstone and give such encouragement to us young engineers to take the sport forward.
We thank them all for their continuing kindness and generosity that makes all this possible - and, to name just one - Julius Thurgood without whose long HRDC patronage we would have no stage on which to perform, or means to gain practical race engineering experience - and both historic racing and several generations of us students would be infinitely the poorer for it.
Roll on the wonderful Donington Historic Festival 2019!!!