With Fresher’s Fair and all of the start of term festivities ‘completed’, the final round of the HRDC Touring Greats was scheduled to be OUMF’s last hurrah in a difficult and sometimes trying season, but also one in which the team learn a tremendous amount in surmounting the trials and tribulations. With much interest shown in OUMF’s activities from new students, the team was swelled with many fresh faces along with some old friends, namely the return of the “Vadaz” ; the ever-popular Kalman Strohmayer was back for the weekend along with his lovely new girlfriend, Zsé Varga. It was also nice to see the return of former OUMF stalwart, James Manners. Everyone was eager to finish the season with a flourish and send their “Grey” rally prepared Riley 1.5 into proposed retirement from circuit racing with style.
As Snetterton is the other side of the country from OUMF’s base in Kidlington, the team travelled to the historic Norfolk circuit the night before the race. Arriving shortly after nightfall, there was much consternation about how to secure a tent in a tarmac paddock; this was remedied by a trip to the pub for dinner which was followed by a teamwork and coordination exercise as the team attempted to erect the large 8 man tent, kindly provided by Charlotte King. Amazingly, everyone managed to erect the tent without sending errant tent poles through car windows, although a fair amount of noise was generated, much to the joy of Shaun of CCK, who was quick to point out the early start involved for all tomorrow....
Race day dawned at 6am with an autumnal chill in the air; the first order of the day was to pack away the small ‘tent city’ before standard pre-scrutineering checks were made and the transponder was fitted, once again kindly lent to OUMF by Anthony Binnington. The only hiccup was when the car had a little trouble starting; this was quickly traced to what was thought to be loose/poorly fitting battery terminal. Apart from this scrutineering passed without many issues, with only minor requests such as the requirement to lock wire the filler cap and the need to adjust the seat attachments.
Back at our paddock base the regular pre-session spanner check was carried out on the car whilst the scrutineering issues were addressed. Particular attention was paid to the brakes, with extra care taken to make sure they were adjusted correctly after issues earlier on in the season. With the car fuelled and the tyre pressures set, it was soon time for the qualifying session at 9am.
With another bumper HRDC grid, qualifying was the usual close affair, with almost 30 cars fighting and jostling for a clear lap on Snetterton’s twisty ‘300’ layout. After 25 minutes, the Riley’s grid position of 22nd overall and 6th in class (out of 8) was a good reward and everyone on the team looked towards a solid race. The post-session inspection and debrief only revealed a couple of problems; a minor vibration in the cockpit, and a loosening of the rear support lock nut on the panhard rod. A thorough spanner check and investigation was carried out on the front half of the car to try and identify the source of the vibration, but nothing untoward was found. The panhard rod issue was caused by the bolt hole having been worn into an oval over time, as identified at Brands Hatch; due to the tight summer schedule, there had not been time to replace the mounting point and this work was scheduled to occur during the winter off-season. Everything was re-tightened with Loctite added on the panhard rod. The car was prepped, cleaned, fuelled and ready for action by 11am, giving the team time to catch a bite of lunch - prior to some pit stop practice before the race.
So everyone was rather surprised when the Touring Greats grid was called almost 45 minutes early. Lunch was cut short, and Ding was swiftly bundled into his racing gear. With a few minutes to reach the collection area in time, the Riley wouldn’t have much time to get up to operating temperature, but this would turn out to be the least of our problems.
Remember the problems with starting the Riley earlier in the day? This was in fact symptomatic of a much more critical issue... As time ticked away, frantic efforts were made to try and start the car, with Kalman, Tom Maitland and James Manners all bringing their considerable electrical skills to bear on the problem, but to no avail. The sound of racing engines swarming in the background on the formation lap only served to heighten the sense of urgency, but a broken circuit could not be identified. A frantic final effort saw the OUMF team push the car the length of the paddock in a vain attempt to push start the stricken Riley; life could not be breathed into her. As the green light lit up and the final Touring Greats race of the season roared into life, the thunderous soundtrack only served to confirm that the start had been missed and our days racing was over almost before it began. A collective feeling of dejection gave way to the need to carry on; further investigations continued into the electrical maladies whilst the rest of the team packed our temporary base away.
The good has to be tempered with the unfortunate in racing, this time was no different. Unforeseeable and terminal battery failure was the cause of our troubles. No one to was to blame, it was just one of those “racing things”.
However, our efforts had not gone unnoticed. In an act of generous consolation, Julius Thurgood very kindly extended an invitation to the team to the final HRDC Allstars event to held at Donington Park the next weekend, along with presenting the team with the ‘Piston Broke’ award. It went a long way to lifting our spirits!
Greatest thanks go to ‘le Patron’ – Julius – for his generous encouragement of the next generation of historic enthusiasts, and to all our supporters and those in the HRDC paddock who helped and sympathised with our plight. Another great day in spite of everything, and crowned by Julius extending his kind invitation to OUMF to contest the HRDC series again in 2014 with our new Riley 1.5 racer project. So a very exciting season to come…