Our 2016 HRDC race season has come to an eventful close, full of many spectacular highs and a few emotional lows, but rounded off with a spectacular finale at the superb Donington Park circuit on October 15th. For the Oxford Universities Motorsport Foundation it was an event that will be remembered well by many a veteran and newcomer to the team, for a long time to come.
Leaving earlier on Friday evening, Ding, Vlad and Jack O’ Connell formed the OUMF ‘vanguard’ and successfully secured a pit garage at the circuit. They dropped off the Riley race car and trailer before rendezvousing with the rest of the team at a great local pub called The Plough, a few minutes from the circuit. Following a hearty meal there, the team of 16, in 4 cars, had very little trouble making the 4 tickets and one car pass go a long way on re-entering the circuit! Our thanks to Dave Constable Berry, Andy Parsons, and Jack Swarbrigg for driving and helping the rest of the team with lifts.
We all enjoyed the rare treat of having Garage 1 as the OUMF base, and eventually settled down to a good night’s sleep.
After the resounding success at Thruxton with our first outright win, followed by the unfortunate retirement at Castle Combe, there was a palpable tension throughout the team as race day dawned.
The morning started off well with only a slight hint of rain before qualifying, but otherwise, sunshine was the order of the day. The team began to settle into a well-oiled rhythm and tensions eased as the practice and qualifying sessions went without a hiccup. The pressures in the fresh tyres, courtesy of Phillip Tyres and T&T Motors, were lowered slightly, and this helped ensure that the Riley was able to secure a solid grid position of 17th place out of 42, ahead of a very diverse field of classic race cars. Our new found speed and control inspired the team and raised their spirits for the forthcoming battles on track – and surprises off it.
The OUMF Riley got off to a blinding start in the ‘Touring Greats’ event, dodging through the pack, quickly making up places and slotting into the top ten before the manic round of pit stops. One such battle that preceded the pit window was holding off great OUMF supporter John Yea in the more powerful BMH Austin A40. Midway through the race, another rolling A35 created a brief safety car period which played well into our hands - in a very similar way to our triumphant race at Thruxton three weeks before.
The obligatory pit stop was very well timed and was a positive contribution to our race strategy, ensuring that our Riley 1.5 was able to maintain its commanding 10th place Overall as it went out for the second half of the race. At this point all eyes were on the chasing Class B Riley 1.5 of Bonhams Auctioneers, which was desperate to snatch the Class victory from us. However, their all-out pursuit was ultimately in vain – as the OUMF Riley took a chequered flag a full 10 seconds ahead of John Polson in the Bonhams car - and all the woes of our previous meeting evaporated completely.
The rest of the day, however, would not quite go according to plan…as a loss of power towards the end of the ‘Touring Greats’ event was quickly traced to head gasket failure by Dom Norman and the team after the race. When all options had been considered, it was decided that withdrawal from the All Stars event would very prudent, to avoid further much more expensive engine damage.
In conclusion, it was an inspiring day that many of the new team members will remember for years and one in which the mighty students of OUMF once again proved their prowess and ability in historic racing - the fastest growing category of motorsport. As he handed us our winners trophy at the prize giving, Julius Thurgood kindly invited us to join the HRDC series for our 7th season with them next year – to our great relief, joy and gratitude.
So, can the team, and especially the new arrivals, rise to the challenge now and through the winter off season, and be there - faster, stronger and better than ever before? Hell yeah!
So here’s to what should be an even more exciting and action-packed 2017!