The rest of the team were up before sunrise on Saturday morning, eager to get to the HQ to collect the Riley and head for Silverstone! On arrival the Riley was unloaded, the remaining equipment was set up and after a quick check of the car we were ready for Scrutineering. Leaving the garage it was clear that the rest of the paddock had been very busy over the winter, keen to take the fight to our new Riley. Max Cawthorn’s revamped Wolseley 1500 was just one stunning example, and there’s no doubt that the changes are not just superficial; we’re going to have some very close competition this season...
The only issue at scrutineering was some movement in the seat mounts, but having declared this as safe we were given our ticket and were ready to race. After a comprehensive spanner check, the car was sent out for the first qualifying session. The whole OUMF team watched from the pit wall, but were disappointed to see the way it handled in the first corner. As it was exhibiting severe understeer, it was decided that some major setup changes were in order. The car was brought in and Tom Maitland led the charge, tearing apart the back end of the car with Caspar Phillips and Alex McKenzie. Dom Norman adjusted the front ride height and the rest of the team attended to a leaking rocker cover and a misfire under load. With a new rocker cover fitted, new spark plugs in and a new rear suspension setup completed just in time, the car left for the collection area five minutes before our second qualifying session of the day.
With the car handling much better out on track, Ding was immediately able to match his best times from the previous session, allowing him to feel much more confident about the car, especially in the corners. With the car looking so good we were all surprised to see the Riley approaching down the pit lane. Ding explained that the rear end suddenly lost grip and sent him into a high speed spin as he turned in to the penultimate corner. All gauges were reading as normal, but as there was liquid dropping from under the car, we opened the bonnet to find the engine bay sprayed with coolant and the rear core plug at the back of the engine missing. It was immediately decided to try and fix this before the race as we had over an hour in hand - and another core plug kindly supplied by Matt Tomkins’ mobile spares bin – so the engine had to come out and be repaired. While an engine crane was being located and kindly lent by Darryl Davis at Motobuild Racing, the team sprang into action, with the engine out in under half an hour, only enabled thanks to the Zircotec coating which allowed us to remove the BTB exhaust system with bare hands within no time of the car coming in. With JB Weld mixed up, the new core plug was pressed in. To avoid a repeat of this incident Tom drilled and tapped the block to take a strap for the plug. However, with little time remaining before the first race, and issues with fitting the retaining strap, the decision was made that the engine was going in without it.
With just 35 minutes to the race, the whole team made short work of getting the engine back in the car and bolted up to the gearbox. Ahron Bequart, Theo Ensbury and Andy Parsons secured the engine mounts and fitted the oil and water pipes, while Dom Norman and Jimmy Allen refitted the exhaust system. 15 minutes to the race start and we were told we’d have to start from the pit lane. The carburettor was bolted back on, the radiator put in, and all pipes and fixing tightened up, and with 5 minutes to go, Ding climbed back into the car. Axle stands were removed, the wheels were torqued and checked as the Amsoil and Evans coolant were added, and fluids checked too. We could hear our competitors revving their engines on the grid as they left for the formation lap. The radiator cap was pressed on, the key turned and the Riley sprang into life. With no visible leaks, the bonnet was closed and Ding left the garage with seconds to spare, and the Riley shot out of the pit lane as the last car on the grid hurtled past! What a great effort by the whole team, who thrived under the pressure and got the job done.
Watching again from the pit wall, we were able to see the Riley passing other cars, lap after lap in increasingly damp conditions. We held out the pit board to call the car in for the obligatory pit stop, and lined up in the pit lane ready. As the Riley stopped in front of the OUMF pit garage it was clear we had more problems. An tapping noise from the engine bay appeared to be a blown manifold gasket, as we had had to reuse it, and there was a return of a misfire under load. A crack in the distributor cap was found, but after a fruitless search for a spare, a strip of duct tape was our only option. Tyres spinning, the Riley left the pit lane to see if there was any improvement for what turned out to be the final lap, but it returned to the pit no better. But at least the Riley had avoided the unusual number of crashes that had occurred while it had been in the pit...and we had gained invaluable motor sport experience in the most exciting and nail-biting of circumstances.
Masked by the noise from the blown exhaust gasket, further inspection found a loose rocker on cylinder 8 to be the cause of some of the tapping noise and the misfire. Sadly the lock nut on the adjuster was still tight so the issue was deeper inside the engine. The decision was made to withdraw from the second ‘Allstars’ race and investigate the Riley’s problem, which was soon identified as a defective part/material - namely a collapsed push rod. We were able to console ourselves that it was not our fault, and was something about which we could do nothing. And that’s racing!
Despite the disappointments in the ‘Touring Greats’ race, and having to prudently withdraw from the ‘Allstars’ to preserve the engine, the team should be incredibly proud of what was achieved under such a huge amount of pressure earlier in the day to get the car out and start the race. With the next few weeks to investigate further, and hopefully fix all of the issues that arose, we intend to be back - and much stronger – for the next great HRDC races at Oulton Park on May 10th.
Once again, thanks are due to Julius Thurgood for all he does for the team, MASS, MOSS Europe, BTB Exhausts, Zircotec, Phillips Tyres for our Dunlops - and the host of kind sponsors who have helped us to realise our dream; to build and race our very own historic touring car – the OUMF racing Riley!