We rejoin Ralph Hosier and friends as the day of the first
race arrives and a degree of panic sets in.
It had been only 12 weeks since deciding to go racing, in that time I
had bought an XJ-S V12, stripped it, rebuilt it as a racer and driven
it round Mallory park circuit for my first ever practice session.
My goal remains to complete one race, at Silverstone in a car that I prepared.
There is still so much to do and the big day has finally arrived, no more
I woke up at 3am. Then again about 4am and finally gave
up attempting to sleep at 5ish. As my first circuit race approached, the
totally overwhelming cocktail of excitement and fear kept me from any
meaningful form of sleep.
I started faffing about wondering what it was that I had forgotten. Freinds
are vital to club racing, and several were pressed into service to transport
all the tat that is associated with racing.
It took about 40 mins to pack the tools, spares, the jack, race clothing
and paperwork into the jag. Ron was also following in his 205 with the
race tyres and a collection of scrap iron and an angle grinder! You never
know what you might need, or indeed what you might find in Rons car…
Unfortunately Rons car was a fairly knackered Diesel which made its rattly
asthmatic presence felt quite well. As it was still before 6, the combination
of this and a racing Jag starting up and manoeuvring off did cause some
degree of curtain twitching. We apologise profusely for the inconvenience.
We were not the first to arrive, even though it was only
7:30, so seeing a few other XJ-S’s I parked up next to one with
the same coloured stripe as mine, just to confuse people! Everyone was
busy unloading, checking tyre pressures, drinking tea and other essential
tasks. Even so, I found the other competitors to be a really friendly
bunch and more than willing to give help and direction. There was a real
atmosphere, difficult to describe, excitement, the sense of approaching
battle, the smell of fuel and race oil, the sound of blipping engines
and tools being used. The picture was of lines of race cars and transporters,
people busy tweaking and preparing the cars, it was a picture I have seen
before in magazines, but now I had made myself a part of it.
To be honest I felt like a fraud because I am new, I don’t feel
like a racer yet, just someone who wants to be. Never the less it was
such a good feeling just to have got this far. The sun was beaming down
from a stunning blue sky, glinting of the cars chrome, it was a perfect
I took a quick stroll to get my legs working after the long drive to the
circuit and had a look at the other cars, its amazing to see how they
differed from mine, it seems that although everyone is agreed on what
the key issues for these cars is, there is no one particular solution.
Already I am getting ideas for modifications such as lowering the front
and ducting cold air to the engine.
Its 8:00 and I am off to sign on and find out where scrutineering is.
In the stewards office I find some very helpful staff and once I explain
that I am a bit new to this, they explain what I need to do in simple
words as if talking to a child, which is about right actually! I sign
an indemnity and hand in my race licence, they keep this safe and will
record any misdemeanours and if I really cock things up then they can
withhold it etc. More relevant, hopefully, is the fact that the clerk
of the course will sign it to say I have been a good boy. Once I get six
signatures I can ditch the novice cross, this is a bit like when you finally
loose your L plates. They then give me a Programme, worth £3, which
Brilliant, job done. Off I trot back to the pits. Once there I remember
that I was supposed to ask where the scrutineering was. Luckily our neighbour
knew ‘see that big building next to us with Scrutineering written
By now it was gone 9 and I scurry off to the novice briefing, required
for anyone who has not raced at this circuit before. In the class room
there was about 15 of us rookies, al talking about our adventures and
excitement getting here. At 9:30 the briefing started with a friendly
introduction backed up with a stern warning that no dangerous behaviour
would be tolerated. We were presented with photocopies of the track layout,
noting where the marshal posts were and where the entrance and exits are.
Then they made a couple of rather useful points, one corner had aggressive
rumble strips that would ‘take your wheel off’, oddly now
I come to write this, I cant remember which one it was! Then they mentioned
that the sand trap at the end of the back straight was extremely effective
at stopping cars ‘ if you go into that, just get out of the car,
you wont be able to drive out, you will have to wait to the end of the
race and get winched out’! The session was concluded by the stewards
wishing us well and lots of fun, which was nice.
Last min prep
Ron had changed the wheels for me and the remaining stickers
had been attached. But I still had not attached the transponder, and feeling
that my art of brinkmanship had been adequately demonstrated, decided
to fit it above the front towing eye just before scrutineering.
Somehow it had become 10ish and the scrutineering bay
was empty. I parked up in the bay and two chaps came out to appreciate
my handy work, yes I was nervous, would they find something I had missed?
Again, I explained that I was a bit new and asked them if they could give
me any tips etc. They were both very helpful, explaining what they were
looking for and how best to do things. They checked the integrity of the
car (all my lovely welding), that the seat was securely mounted and in
good condition. They checked the condition and mounting of the harness
and that it was certified and in date. They looked at the data on the
fire extinguisher to ensure it was full, in date and the correct type.
They checked my brake lights, side lights and high visibility rear light
(or fog light as it is also known), that’s where we hit the first
problem, the fog light didn’t work! Luckily this was just a fuse.
That done, the ticket was issued and taped to the side window so track
officials can clearly see you have been processed.
By the time this has all happened, the call comes over the tannoy for
us to assemble ready for qualifying. There is something odd about the
pits tannoy, it doesn’t matter where I stand I can never hear it
clearly, it’s a bit like train platform announcements.
The assembly area is just before the pits area and is
a copy of the starting grid. You form up here before a race or qualifying
so that everyone is ready to go at the same time. The call to form up
comes about 15mins before you are due to go out. The pro’s get there
with just a min or so to go so they don’t have to wait too long.
I, on the other hand, was so worried about missing the slot, got there
with the full 15 mins to go.
Here I met Paul Hands who, never being one to mince his words, took one
look at the car and said the front was too high, which it was. Then he
went on to point out all the other things that need improving, very good
advice I am sure, but rather poor timing!
The morning had gone so quickly up to now, this was the first time I had
a chance to think about what I was doing. It’s a strangely peaceful
So there I was, in a real racing car, dressed up like a real racing driver,
waiting to go out for the very first time at Silverstone. Wow.
Then the whistle went, my heart started pumping harder, and we were off,
moving in two columns onto the pit straight. I was surprised by lots of
clattering coming from the underside of the car as all the debris, rubber
and gravel, on the track hits the un-soundproofed shell.
We move out onto the pit straight for a warm up lap, sometimes called
the green flag lap, this is where green flags are waved from every marshal
post, no racing is allowed and the safety car is out in front with the
fire car following behind us all. Warming up involves driving bloody fast,
by the way. As we round the corner back onto the pit straight, the safety
car peels off into the pit lane and the flags go in. Then it gets a lot
faster and I try to keep up. Holding the throttle open as we hurtle past
100mph with a corner in view goes against all my instincts, my right foot
starts to shake on the pedal, I know I have to go faster but something
in my mind is screaming to slow down. The engine makes a superb noise,
starting with a growl and ending with a roar, its smooth and inspires
All the video watching and learning the corners before hand counts for
absolutely nothing out here! I try and follow the line of the car in front
which works quite well, I am amazed how fast the car can go round corners
with all the tyres howling in a graceful high speed four wheel drift.
The brakes are splendid and powerful when up to temperature, which probably
means I am not trying hard enough!. The gearbox is shifting well with
under a seconds delay, but suddenly it makes a horrific grinding noise.
It seems to be worse at peak torque so as long as I use part throttle
from 4000 rpm I can increase to full throttle by 6000 rpm and its not
too bad. But rather slow out of corners, hey I must be turning into a
real racer if I already have excuses lined up!
I start to build confidence, or more accurately the feeling of complete
confusion fades. I cant quite work out the right way to enter the hair
pin at Maggots and try a variety of possibilities with varying degrees
of success and a couple of sideways moments. By the fifth lap I was being
passed, a lot, which made finding a good line a bit more tricky. Rear
visibility is challenging, for example when reaching the end of the back
straight (roughly 120mph) I glance in the rear view mirror I can see a
rapidly advancing Class G car, I look back at the track and glance up
again at the mirror and they have vanished. I turn into the left hander
knowing that they will be in the process of overtaking me but I have no
idea on which side or how fast. As I was going to turn in to the apex
they appear on the left causing an abrupt change of plan. I go a touch
wide which leaves me on the right going into the tightening right hander
and have to slow even more to get round!
After a few more laps I am just getting my bearings and preparing to do
a fast(ish) lap when the chequered flag comes out and its all over! Was
that really 15 minutes? Well yes, it just goes so fast because my brain
is in a warp.
Then we get one cool down lap. This is very important, as the brakes are
so hot, as is al the metal of the engine, if you stop immediately after
racing the heat soaking in will cook the diff seals, boil the brake fluid,
roast the ignition system on the top of the engine etc. So I cruise round
without touching the brakes, but get rather behind the rest of the pack
who are trying to ensure the next session is not delayed.
As I turn into the pit lane I switch on the extra fan. Marshals direct
the traffic all the way through the pit lane to the exit. I feel like
I have done a good workout, I feel hot and I am breathing deeply. There
is a million things racing through my mind, like can we fix up the gearbox
enough to race, have the brakes caught fire, will the engine overheat
before I get to the pits, most of it is silly worry but as an engineer
I cant help that.
Pulling back into our camp, the team rush to open the bonnet and let the
heat out, the heat haze is quite visible. I wave my infra-red temperature
gauge across the tyres to see how I am using them. The left hand tyres
get more work and are a touch warmer. The inside edge is a couple of degrees
lower than the rest of the tyre indicating that I could run with a spot
more camber but basically its not too far off.
Friends point out that we have a drivers briefing now back in the scrutineering
shed and I am duly bundled off.
Its now 12:30 and the whole morning has gone in a frantic
rush. The race is due for about 4:30 so we now have a long pause.
The gearbox mount is suspected of causing the grinding noise, it is a
complex sprung mechanism which has a rubber isolator in the middle. Its
difficult to see clearly but we think it is this rubber part that is breaking
down and allowing metal to metal contact, it wont let go completely so
there is no danger of the box falling out so the decision is made to continue
After all that can be done to the car has been done its time for a full
racing lunch! The top F1 drivers have a dietician and dine on nutritionally
engineered techno food. I had beans, chips, pie and gravy, mmmmmmmmmm.
The results of qualifying have been published with photocopied sheets
available from the stewards office. I am last, obviously, the grid arrangement
has three columns and I am on the back left. My fastest lap was 1:32 giving
an average speed of 63mph! The fastest chap in my class was Gordon Bobic
with 1:21 at 73mph and the fastest overall was Derek Pearce with a 1:11
at 83mph. Yes I really was that slow!
I watched some of the other racing, the theory was to analyse how others
took the hairpin etc but actually I just enjoyed watching some good racing
and relaxed a bit.
My peace was shattered by the call to assemble for the
race. I headed for the assembly area, marshals directed the cars to our
grid positions and in no time at all we were going out onto the track.
Here again marshals directed us to our grid position, which is essential
for me because I sit so low that I cant see over the bonnet and the exact
location of the grid markings becomes rather a mystery. I make a note
of the car to my right and in front so that when we re-form the grid after
the warm up lap I know where to stop!
With the safety car in front and the fire car behind, we roar off for
a green flag lap. I am very aware that even though I am giving it some
beans, the fire car appears to have no difficulty keeping up and wants
to overtake me! The safety car peels off into the pits and we reform on
the grid, I draw up parallel to the car to my right, I hope he knows where
On the gantry over the start/finish line, there are a number of red lights,
they go out signalling the start of the race. Suddenly it gets load and
very busy, the car in front stalls and I make a quick decision to go to
his left, I am in front of a couple of cars somehow but they are advancing
rapidly. I turn into the first corner, now in second gear and accelerating
past 90mph but still way to slow, as the road straightens out I am passed
on both sides just as the first gearbox grinding causes me to back off
a tad. Into the hairpin and as I brake I get significant under steer,
followed by over steer as I power out onto the back straight, the fastest
part of the track. I glance at the speedo passing 130 (forgetting that
the low profile tyres drop the real speed by 11%) with the engine at full
boar, everything seems to be buzzing, including me.
Then its hard on the brakes for the 90 left at Brooklands, I am not entirely
sure where to start breaking and do it to early and slow too much. I get
lots of vibration from the front, this is a new feature but doesn’t
deter me. I down shift to second and turn in, the shift causes the back
end to step out briefly and I hear the tyres chirp. As I turn right through
Luffield the corner tightens and the car is in a four wheel drift, at
motorway speeds and I am pressed hard into the side of my chair. I apply
power and upshift to third into Woodcote, from here I go from the left
side of the track to the apex on the right taking me out onto the pit
straight, again drifting from the right all the way across the track to
the left with the speedo indicating 120mph. At the end of the pit straight
its hard on the brakes and a down shift that steps the back out again.
I was starting to catch the car in front when I start getting lapped and
I make the mistake of moving off the racing line to let them by, turns
out this is a classic novice mistake.
After 7 laps the red flags came out, this is never a good thing. We all
slowed and as we came round to the pit straight there were marshals across
the track. Three cars reformed on the grid, we believed that the race
would be restarted, a few moments later and the marshals indicated we
should move into the pit lane, game over.
It turned out that a car that was next to us in the pits had come on to
the pit straight and just touched the grass on the left, starting a massive
slide. He held it heroically but it spun round the other way and found
the concrete pit wall. The car was demolished, even the rear axle was
A sober reminder indeed that motorsport is dangerous.
Having said that, the car is amazingly strong, the driver was taken to
hospital but only had a sore neck! The safety system fitted are life savers,
the seat, harness, roll cage, crash helmet, cut off and fire systems are
the most important parts of the race car.
Its also a good reminder of why race cars need to be structurally sound,
it is never worth trying to get away with a cheap rusty banger.
The tannoy reminded me to collect my race licence from
the stewards office. Smiles greeted me in the office and my licence was
retrieved with my first signature on it. They also presented all the competitors
with a little souvenir plaque. Wonderful.
Unsurprisingly, my final position was last. My best lap was down to 1:28,
four seconds faster than qualifying, and my average speed had risen to
the dizzy heights of 65mph!
Well it’s a start. We did this in three months, from daydreaming
in a cafe to racing at Silverstone. We did it on a very tight budget and
with no special facilities on the driveway, mostly in the rain. I did
most of the work on my own but couldn’t have finished it in time
without the help of friends like Ron and Franc.
As we packed up for the day, I felt a real sense of achievement. The sun
setting over Woodcote corner, the car glinting in the orange light, we
made it. OK, we didn’t win anything, this time, but we overcame
so many hurdles just to get here.
If nothing else, I can now sit in the pub and bore people by saying ‘ah,
yes well of course when I raced a V12 at Silverstone…’
And as for the future, well I need to do better than last, I need a little
more from the car and to learn how to overtake. Dangerously, I have a
plan, forming in my head….
I had an idea, usually that’s the start of trouble.
I spent my months allowance on another car. It is a 3.6 XJ-S.
Now this is my theory; the new car has the sportspack springs on and a
new set of road tyres (which I need despirately), it only cost £400.
I will transfer the front springs, then later I will swap the whole rear
axle with its lower 3.54 diff and rear anti roll bar.
This will give the racer more roll stiffness and acceleration, plus a
set of new road tyres, which is good.
I will be left with a 3.6 with a ridiculously high diff and soft springs,
giving rubbish handling and amazingly good fuel economy. I will then re-sell
the car on Ebay as a silly project or spares.
What can possibly go wrong?
I start with just changing the front springs, and after some very interesting
experiments with jacks and compressors, I got them on to the racer. They
are the same rate as the old ones but drop the front by about 2 inches.
This increases the camber and lowers the centre of graffiti, or something
like that, which reduces the roll a bit.
Crucially, it also means I can see more of the road, which might come
I used bits off the 3.6 to make a solid rubber gearbox mount which brings
a little more noise into the cab but holds everything in place exceedingly
The 3.6 also donated a few bits of switch gear and ods and sods that needed
I finally got round to ducting cold air from where the inner head lights
used to be to the air boxes. I chiselled out the various panels between
the head light and the engine bay and used the old 3” ducting (from
the interior heater to the rear foot well) to get the air directly into
the air boxes.
The old fan cowling had to go, it was restricting the free flow of air,
a little bit, and it was rusting and generally getting in the way. It
also contained the standard electric fan which is a very old design, i.e.
heavy and not very good. To remove it I had to take off the top radiator
bleed hoses and lots of wiring.
I became curious about this. There is still a lot of wiring on this car
that serves unknown purposes, well, unknown to me anyway. Turns out that
the two relays on top of the cowling are for optional headlight washers,
which I didn’t have, so I was able to remove them and a substantial
bit of wiring.
I also removed the old bonnet release mechanism and various brackets that
were no longer needed.
The car handles a little better now and is about 20kg lighter, best have
Donington – a revelation.
We decided to camp at the circuit in a tent on the Saturday
night and get the car all ready to go for the morning to avoid the early
morning rush that leaves me drained.
This seemed like a good idea at the time.
It turns out that the circuit is directly under the take off flight path
from East Midlands airport and they fly all night! Funny old world.
The morning arrived, more or less on schedule and we set about last minute
fiddling, checking cold tyre pressures, re checking fluids etc. The smell
of early morning fry ups and race car exhaust began to fill the air.
I attended the novice briefing at 8:30 where I met a fellow Devonian racer,
Bruce, who runs in the 6cyl Class D. It was good to catch up and we discussed
car set ups and the such like. I was informed that the gravel traps were
in-escapable and that live recovery was possible (recovering a car whilst
the race is still on) due to video surveillance all round the track. This
also meant that any transgressions would definitely be picked up on, so
a degree of caution was in order.
Sign on was at 9:00 and scrutineering at 9:20, the only comment my chariot
received was that the recovery points should ideally be more accessible,
the standard recovery points on the XJ-S are on the axles and this would
need a degree of excavation in a gravel trap! Possibly an on board shovel..
I had just got back to our camp when the qualifying session was called,
which meant I missed breakfast!
Qualifying was eventful, I saw two cars spin and saw more parked at the
side of the track. Redgate was claiming many, this is at the end of the
pit straight and is deceptively sharp and feels like a skating rink. The
art seems to be to turn in late and drift the full width of the track
coming out, which is difficult when being overtaken on both sides! Once
some space developed I put in a relatively swift lap (for me) then took
it easy again to let the brakes cool.
The race was about 4ish, queuing in the assembly area my heart was thumping.
Could I actually overtake someone? I knew John was positioned ready to
take the best photos of me, as were assorted other friends, all watching
with cameras poised. No pressure then.
As we went out for the green flag lap I was looking at the other cars
near me, they all had much more experience than me, and my car may be
the cheapest on the grid!
We regrouped on the start line. Revs picked up as the red lights on the
gantry came on. Heart thumping even more now. The lights go out and there
is the roar of 25 Jaguar engines at full throttle, some tyre smoke and
cars dart for various opportune gaps,
I accelerate but with the tall diff still in there is a long wait till
I am in the power band which lets the car to my right roar past. I see
a mass of cars all heading for the hard right hander at motorway speeds,
surely they cant all get through? There is a cloud of dust hanging thick
in the air where someone must have gone off but the growling throng of
cars carries on at full power, I cant see much and back off very slightly
which allows the only car behind me through.
Into the legendary Craner curves, the feeling you get going flat out here
is awesome. Like a supercharged roller coaster with a V12 soundtrack.
I am hooked.
A gap started to develop between the last three cars (with me in my traditional
last place) and everyone else. I quickly become aware that I can go faster
than the car in front, so now I have to do my first ever overtaking! But
where, we are using nearly all the track, sliding through corners. I start
to see how he takes corners and got along side him as we go into the blind
right hander at coppice, I cant see the apex and I know I am going too
fast to be on the inside going in, so I back off.
Coming out of the corner at full throttle on to Starkeys straight I let
the engine rev to 6500 before shifting to 3rd and catch up, but I brake
way too early for the dogleg onto the start straight.
As we go past the pits again, I know I can go faster than him, the adrenaline
is pumping but the fear is still there. I draw alongside into the Craner
curves but he takes the racing line and he seems so close that I think
we will touch, as he goes into the old hairpin I turn in a little later
and carry a touch more speed out on the exit, drawing along side as we
slide left up the hill, the engine is screaming in 2nd and I dare not
look at the rev counter, I just want to make this stick with all my heart.
I get past but now I am going much faster into Mcleans and skid from the
apex right across and over the rumble strip on the exit, it all holds
together, crikey the car is good. Now I can see a fellow class f driver
about two hundred yards ahead. Gulp, lets go for it. I leave braking for
the Esses as late as I dare (still way to early though) and the rear wheels
momentarily loose traction as I change down to 2nd. I am closing the gap
fast as we slide into Redgate, another car has gone off and the view is
totally blocked for a moment by dust, I hear gravel smashing into the
underside of my car and it squirms under me, then we emerge into craner.
I snap at his heals but I just don’t have the talent to overtake.
I am pushing him for another two laps and we are both sliding round a
lot more, then we start being lapped by the front runners who stream past
as if we were parked! I take a tighter line on to Starkeys and draw along
side, flat out the cars are matched and we both accelerate to about 110,
then some more faster cars come past as we go into the Esses, one of them
starts to spin right in front of me and I have an intense second darting
from one side to the other trying to predict which way he will go, I squeeze
past just in front of his front bumper but have slowed to about 50, the
car accelerates (relatively) slowly and my rival is just off my left flank
as we dive into Redgate. I am going faster and am totally committed to
the line I am taking, any deviation will result in a spin so if he arrives
on my inside then we are going off, and at about 80 that will be a long
way off. Two faster cars wait till the exit before streaming past and
I fly through Craner. With no one in front of be I am battling against
my own fear to go faster through each bend, at Starkeys there is a totally
clear road ahead, we were so slow that the rest of the pack is half a
lap ahead. I press on but when the final lap board is held up with still
no one else in sight I ease up and don’t use the brakes again until
after the cool down lap and I come into the pits.
What a race, what a circuit. I achieved my goal and overtook two cars.
I am exhilarated and tired all at once.
More in part 3...