It was late and dark on Friday night at the barn when we eventually left for Castle Combe… We had aimed to leave at around 3pm but after re-installing the Accu-sump after lunch, the racing Riley would not register any oil pressure.
After some discussion, and knowing that the engine had been fine that morning, Dom Norman decided to rebuild the oil pump, fearing the shaft might have snapped. He quickly set to work removing the oil pump from the bottom of the engine and whilst he was tearing the pump down, the rest of us cleaned and prepared the gasket surfaces ready for reinstallation later. I made some new paper gaskets for the oil pump as the ones we had in stock were incorrect, and Dom was soon ready to reinstall the pump.
With the pump back in place, we removed the spark plugs from the engine and cranked it over on the starter motor, to see if it would build pressure. After a few minutes, and muttered concerns about the starter motor overheating, there was still no oil pressure.
After more thought about the possible causes for this issue, and confirmation that the gauge was functioning properly, it was decided that we remove the oil pipe closest to the oil pump so that we could see if any oil was circulating. After a few seconds, and some wheezing from the pipe, a delightful spurt of oil was seen, followed by a steady flow. We promptly reconnected the pipe and cranked the engine over - and this time oil pressure was building!
The van had already been packed so we quickly gave the Riley a test drive and loaded it onto the trailer, ready to set off. The time was now around 11pm, as it had taken nearly all day to fix the oil pressure issue. We stopped at a petrol station to acquire the necessary fuel needed for the van and the race car, and set off to Castle Combe.
We arrived at this beautiful circuit shortly after midnight, and promptly set up camp ready for the morning. We had hoped to arrive in time to set up next to Tim Cotgrove and Jon Puliston and their Ford Anglia in the Paddock, but as we could not find them in the dark, we settled down for a well-deserved night’s sleep.
In the morning, we prepared the Riley and sent it out for both the ‘Touring Greats’ and ‘Allstars’ practice sessions, and it qualified well for both races. However when it returned from the second session we found that the nearside half shaft's nut on the rear axle had come loose! On discovering this, Andy Parsons and Dom went to see Andy and Mike Jordan, who we found were running the same pattern half shafts as us. They explained that to solve the issue they were using modified nuts - and luckily they had some spare that they were prepared to lend us for the day.
After lunch we spanner-checked the Riley again, and topped it up with fuel ready for the ‘Touring Greats’ race, the first of two that day. We knew that in spite of a full capacity grid of 42 cars, we were 5th reserve for this race, but given there are always some cars which have issues and have to drop out, we hoped to race anyway. As the other racers assembled on the grid, the Riley and the team waited anxiously in the collection area at the top of the pit lane exit for the signal that we could go on track. However on this very rare occasion, there were not enough retirements for us to get into the race, so, after returning the Riley to the paddock, we got some lunch and decided to watch the race from the last corner.
This was my first experience of an HRDC race as a spectator, and I soon realised why it was so popular with the crowds watching from the high banks. The racing was fast, close and action packed, and with such large diversity of cars on the grid, there was constant overtaking and plenty of interesting moments.
After the disappointment of not participating in the ‘Touring Greats’, we returned to the paddock and prepared the Riley for the second race of the day - the HRDC ‘Allstars’. We were only 3rd reserve for this race, and as we had heard of a few retirements from the ‘Touring Greats’ race, we began to get very excited that we would finally see the Riley fly on the picturesque Castle Combe circuit.
Again, the OUMF Riley was directed into the Assembly Area, rather than on to the start grid with the other cars, and we waited nervously for the start of the Green Flag formation lap. We were overjoyed when a car on the grid developed a problem and we were directed out on to the track to join the back of the grid as the pack went past. As the 42 cars came round and lined up for the race start, the Riley was so far away - right at the back and round a corner - that Ding could hardly see the start lights!
However the lights went out and as the grid moved off with a great roar of engines, we could see the Riley from the pit wall, already weaving past several slow starters. By the time the Riley got to us it had already gained 12 places, and by the end of the first lap it had passed 21 cars – half the field. Clearly the hard work we had all put in to its preparation was paying off in spades as the Riley continued its relentless charge through the pack. Despite the heavy traffic and an unfamiliar track, the Riley eventually fought its way past a total of 33 cars by the time the chequered flag fell, coming home 9th Overall, and an astonishing 2nd in Class - behind an Jaguar XK140! This dramatic race result brought great joy to the OUMF team - who earlier in the day had feared the Riley would not get to race at all!
As we collected yet another trophy at the prize-giving later, we all reflected that this meeting had been perhaps the best OUMF performance ever with the HRDC, and we can only thank Julius Thurgood yet again for his generous patronage, allowing us all the exciting privilege of racing for a 6th season in this brilliant race series that he has created. A big thanks too to Roz Shaw at Laranca Engineering without whom we would not have been able to keep racing after our half-shafts broke at Donington in May, and to all our many other supporters who make days like this possible.
So - roll on the next HRDC races at Thruxton on September 24th!!!
Thanks for reading.