A RACING START
Steve Wright kicks off the 2018 race season at Donington Park
We were entered in the GT & Sports Car Cup for pre-ʼ66 GT and pre-ʼ63 sports cars, which is organised by GT&SCC Cup and run by Automobiles Historique. There was a variety of cars in this race which meant our little 1958 Porsche 356A was a proper David against the Goliaths. The field was an amazing collection of cars from truly sorted MGBS to lightweight Etypes and we have come to accept that we are nearly always the smallest capacity car in the field – and the only car on drum brakes, as well.
The timetable for the weekend was leisurely, with qualifying on Friday and then racing on Sunday, leaving a relaxed Saturday to take in all the sights and sounds that the festival has to offer. We had gathered together for the first time this season on Thursday evening, where the car was unloaded and a couple of beers consumed. Fortunately Ian Clark from Wolfsburg Performance Services, who is also the co-driver, had rebuilt the engine over the winter and given the car a general going through, so there was little to be done beyond polishing on the first night.
Qualifying went well and as expected we qualified near the back of the field. The 356 sounded awesome and the fresh suspension rebuild over the winter seemed to be doing its job as Steve posted our fastest ever lap time at the famous Donington Park circuit. The rest of the day was spent practicing pit stops where we had to swap drivers and insert a booster seat for Ian – this isnʼt a 2.5-second F1 stop but when swapping drivers every second we save counts. True to form our fastest time was when we were taking it slowly and methodically.
We stripped down the front drum brakes and removed all the accumulated brake dust from the drums, swapped the driver ʼs brake shoes for the passenger shoes as the driver side works twice as hard on the predominately clockwise circuits we race on. We also discovered the anti-roll bars were still on their wet weather settings, so we tightened them up ready for the race.
We got to meet Sam Tordoff (the touring car driver) from JCT600 who had their Porsche Leeds dealership represented in the pits. We must thank them for their welcome and morning coffee, not to mention the amazing selection of cars including 356s, a 2.7 RS and an RS 4.0 they brought with them. Sam was racing his newly purchased Porsche Pre-a 356 and I think the weekend was quite an eye opener for him comparing the classic world to the touring car world. Sadly, he was the victim of some tactics more associated with touring cars than classic car racing, but I am sure he will be
back firing on all cylinders next time. It also provided us with an equally balanced challenge and someone for us to compare our times with.
Race day always feels different, everyone is up that little bit earlier and ready to go. So first things first: team breakfast. We were joined this time by Andy Goodwin, as a trustworthy spare pair of hands in the pits is always welcome. Next we completed a visible inspection inside and underneath, checked the oil, topped up the fuel and set the tyre pressures to the relevant cold settings.
We left the tyres to the last minute due to the track temperature just getting hotter and hotter, which resulted in cutting it a bit too close to not getting to the assembly area in time. Next time we will over inflate the tyres and let them down – much quicker. Another lesson learnt.
On the subject of the weather, having spent many a weekend in the micro climates of most race circuits where the weather is normally less than ideal, to spend it in brilliant sunshine and hot temperatures makes such a difference.
Our race was a packed grid with 40 cars, which always means a rolling start. The cars come out of the assembly area and do one controlled lap before pedal to the metal and the race starts. With the fastest cars lapping some 25 seconds quicker than us, it means it wasnʼt long until our 356 started to get swamped, which made it tricky for the drivers trying to run their own race and keep out of the way of the much faster cars.
The race consisted of two mandatory pit stops and the car ʼs owner must complete more than 50 minutes, which is a great idea as it stops ʻguestʼ drivers dominating the track time, and keeps it a more level playing field.
The first 35 minutes of the race went to plan with Steve going well and looking comfortable. There was an incident on the track and the yellow flags came out together with the safety cars. All of a sudden the peaceful pit lane was jam-
“IT WASN’T LONG UNTIL OUR 356 STARTED TO GET SWAMPED”
packed full of cars getting one of their mandatory pit stops out of the way, and Steve was also on his way in. After moving up and down the pit lane trying to find a space for Steve to pit, the driver change went perfectly, we were in and out and, more importantly, with a safe release (just watch F1 to see what can happen if that goes wrong!).
Steve reported the change to the front anti-rollbars has made the car much more controllable, and Ian seemed just as happy after a two-year absence with his lap times coming down every lap. Next lap, Ian was coming down the pit lane for an unscheduled stop, reporting that the car was misfiring but he didnʼt seem too concerned, remaining in the car while we performed all the obvious checks, identifying zero fuel pressure. We checked all the fuel lines and electrical connectors, and we had pressure again. Ian was released and back out on the circuit.
The car seemed to be going great as far as we could see but half way round it started misfiring again and Ian was back in the pits. This time Ianʼs out of the car – no one knows the car better than Ian. We did some more checks and sent him out again but with the same result; he was back into the pits on the next lap. The car does like a spark plug or four, but while swapping out the plugs for new plugs we dropped one into the engine tinware and by the time weʼd retrieved it we all had burnt finger tips!
We decided to put Steve back in the car as he still hadnʼt completed his 50 minute minimum driving time. Just two laps later and he was coming back down the pit lane. We eventually diagnosed a fuel blockage and the pump was just pumping air. There is no playing with the fuel system in the pit lane, so much to everyoneʼs disappointment we were forced to retire.
Racing can be a cruel mistress and every DNF hurts after all the effort everyone puts in. We loaded the car and consoled ourselves with the complimentary lunch provided by the race organisers but learn to our surprise we have completed enough laps to qualify as a race finisher and amazingly we came second in class. So silver medals around our collective necks, we finished the weekend with big smiles, looking forward to the next round at Silverstone in June. CP
Right: Well, they never said it would be easy. Steve Wright clearly felt the strain – just as well he was sharing the driving with engine builder Ian Clark!
Above: A touch of opposite lock – a change to the antiroll bars has made the car a lot more controllable
Below: Driver change as Ian Clark takes over from owner Steve Wright. A recurring misfire put paid to the race effort. Shame because the early signs were looking good for the team
Below: At full tilt through the Old Hairpin – Donington is a track steeped in history
Above right: You couldn’t ask for a better-looking tow vehicle than this, could you?
Above left: Ian Clark of Wolfsburg Performance Services prepares the car and shares the driving