After a very successful opening to our HRDC season at Silverstone, it was soon time to head back to the track for one of our most important events of the year, the Donington Historic Festival, for no less than three, 45-minute races – the most track time the Riley has ever faced at a single meeting.
After our twin wins at Silverstone, the Riley had returned with no mechanical issues which meant that the team could concentrate on getting the Sebring Sprite closer to being ready to paint, and simply fine tune the Riley for Donington. The first issue was that we discovered we had close to no camber on the front left wheel! With an emergency full team effort to sort the suspension and a trip to Phillips Tyres for tracking, we were then ready for the significant packing and logistics operation that is needed for the whole three-day festival. It seemed that everything bar the kitchen sink was squeezed into the van, the weight of all the kit making itself known as myself, Nikita Volkov and Ding negotiated the many hills on the road to Donington.
We arrived at the track well before 5:00 pm on Thursday, securing a large paddock space for the OUMF team’s Riley and the two cars of Julian Crossley. We quickly built the ‘OUMF Palace’, next to ‘The Tony Hall’, signed on and got the Riley to the Scrutineering bay, where we were joined by James Martin and Tolga Karabetca. Thankfully the car passed, in spite of the cracked windscreen, and Dom Norman met the rest of us at the Hardinge Arms in Melborne that evening for a meal. This made up the OUMF advance guard - that would also be joined by Andy Doyle the next morning – who would run the Riley during its Friday qualifying sessions.
At the start of the week, weather forecasts had promised a 20-30% chance of light rain on Friday. The team woke up on Friday to find that this meant 100% submarine racing. Despite the rain and rivers running through the paddock, the car was still thoroughly checked, and adjustments made for the wet qualifying sessions. We were extremely thankful for the fresh set of Dunlop ‘L’ section tyres for this weekend from Phillips Tyres as fully treaded tyres were absolutely needed in the conditions we faced. Despite this and continual tweaks to the setup, we simply could not find as much grip as usual in the wet conditions and qualified lower down the order than we would have liked to in both the ‘Allstars’ and ‘Touring Greats’ qualifying sessions. The rain halted long enough for a dry line to develop at the start of the ‘Coy’s 100 Trophy’ session, which saw the Riley set its best lap and take pole position in its class.
With the busiest day of the meeting finished, we were joined by Oli Grantham, Vlad Ardeleanu, Ben Scothern and Isaac Jarmarkier, the last team members to arrive following their obligatory ‘on line’ exam in Oxford, and we headed to the near by Bull’s Head pub, in Wilson, for dinner, having abandoned the original plan of a barbeque due to the weather. Unfortunately, everyone else in Donington had the same idea. Finding that there was ‘no room at the inn’, we reverted to Plan A and headed into Melbourne to buy BBQ supplies. We were having the party despite the weather! My parents had arrived from Ireland with a great variety of food which was laid out, along with two disposable BBQ’s, under the OUMF marquee.
The party (and smoke) attracted attention in an otherwise wet and windy paddock, with Shaun Rainford and the CCK team, several Westbourne mechanics and even a track marshal joining the fun. Shaun had shouted a summons to James from his motorhome across the paddock, and James and several others went to see what the fuss was about. They returned 15 minutes later, with the CCK team and a well known professional trumpet player, Rupert Cobb. I don’t think it was ever fully explained why Rupert was with the CCK team, but he proceeded to entertain us (and half the paddock) playing jazz on the trumpet, and even playing Happy Birthday for me. Eventually, by around 11pm everyone had eaten and drunk their fill and we retired to bed.
With only one race on Saturday afternoon, we were allowed a little lie in after the fun of Friday night, until the planes and race cars woke us up anyway. Saturday was thankfully much dryer than Friday but still windy. After checking over the OUMF Riley in the morning, attention was then turned to Julian’s Jowett Javelin.
The Javelin had been misfiring in qualifying and OUMF engine experts Dom and Ben Scothern led the efforts on Friday and Saturday to fix the problem in time for the ‘Touring Greats’ race. This was one of many cars in the paddock that received OUMF assistance during the weekend, with OUMF members helping with brake issues on Julian’s Mini, a Lola Mk1 Climax sports racing car, an A40 gearbox rebuild and doing driver change pit stops for five different HRDC cars during the races.
Our single HRDC race on Saturday was the 45 minute ‘Touring Greats’ race. After our qualifying, we were hoping to make up lost ground in the dry conditions. Ding got off to a blistering start, overtaking about 8 cars off the line, and it was all looking good until the Safety Car was deployed about 10 minutes into the race. The track returned to ‘green’ just as the pit window opened, leading to most of the field to pit at once. In the resulting melee on the pitlane, we received a penalty for not switching off our engine during the stop - but Ding knew nothing of this as he flew out of the pits and back into the race. With further uncertainty about which car was the recipient of the black flag, it took a couple of laps before Ding realised it was for him and came back in to serve the stop-go penalty. We were not the only ones in this position: several cars had to serve similar penalties and many black flags were flying from the pitwall. In the confusion, Ding pitted again, believing he had been shown another black flag - but it was for another car. Very frustrating, and after a brief but animated chat with James he was on his way again, but the damage was done, and consequently we finished 4th in Class. At least our adopted Jowett Javelin finished on all four cylinders - and we won the race to the pub that evening.
No doubt to the joy and relief of our paddock neighbours, no trumpet player when we returned from the pub meant we had an early night on Saturday, as we were the first cars on track on Sunday morning for the 45 minute ‘Allstars’ race. This race was in the dry and turned out to be almost the exact opposite of the ‘Touring Greats’ race the previous day. Despite getting blocked on the start, the Riley was flying, and we saw it do its best ever lap of Donington of 1.28. The pitstop was flawless and Ding brought it home 2nd in class – despite having no brakes for the final 3-4 laps.
We had little time to celebrate the result though, as we had a serious brake issue that needed to be fixed for the ‘Coy’s 100 Trophy’, the big closing race of the Festival. The Riley had indeed lost its brakes and all the brake fluid to the rear wheels in the last stages of the race. Niki and Oli worked to track down and resolve our brake leak, which was traced to a T-piece on the axle becoming untethered and loosening a brake line. Meanwhile, I checked over the rest of the car to find what else was working its way loose. With our new Arrow crank, we were now revving higher and producing more power than ever, which was great for our lap times but was literally shaking the bolts off the car! Great care and diligence was required after every session to find what had been shaken loose and to tighten everything back up (and to make sure they didn’t come undone again with a healthy dose of Loctite). One of the extreme examples of this was one of the exhaust mounts which had been broken off due to the vibrations. This left two small holes in the exhaust which I was able to swiftly ‘’make good” – using a coke can and jubilee clips.
With coke cans attached and braking restored, we lined up first in class for the last race of the meeting. Ding got off to a classic flying start but spun it on the first lap trying to overtake Julian Crossley’s Mini at Copse. This sent him to the back of the pack, making the team on the pit wall quite worried as we waited for him to emerge from the chicane. With unforecast rain in the air, a greasy track and worn tyres, we were noticeably down on pace but still made up ground as other cars retired. The busy weekend is hard on cars and several let go in this last race, most spectacularly a huge yellow Ford Falcon driven by our great Racelogic sponsor, Julian Thomas . It let out a series of loud bangs as it thundered down the pit straight, covered the pit lane in a smoke screen, and finally came to rest at Redgate corner. Despite a slow, but legal, pit stop, Ding fought his way back up to 2nd in class, and thereby gave us the second of two class podiums at this prestigious race meeting.
After collecting our trophies at the prize giving, we all thanked Julius Thurgood for his continued patronage of the team, and also Chris Routledge, CEO of Coy’s Auction house, and his wife for sponsoring the ‘Coy’s 100 Trophy’. Then, with everything packed, we headed back to Oxford after another wonderful Donington Historic Festival.
As always, we have to thank all our sponsors and supporters that make weekends like this possible and bring us precious experience, along with memories of a lifetime. We can’t wait to be back out on track again, and the next meeting is at Lydden Hill in Kent, for another bit of motor sport history - the first ever all HRDC Race Festival!
Niall Geoghegan. Motorsport Engineering, Brookes