It was such a relief to get to Brands for the first round, as there were a lot of modifications to be carried out on the installation of the Swindon TOCA engine.
Unfortunately, the tail lift on the lorry broke at media day and the team only got the truck back at 18:00 on Thursday(!), thus taking away any chance of a comfortable, organised garage setup for the weekend. The lads worked late into the night, and we managed to redeem ourselves by getting through all the new scrutineering hurdles and additionally getting the car wrapped in its latest livery.
As we only completed twenty installation laps at media day, first practice was a continuation of our pre-season testing. We were tasked with finding a boost leak in the intercooler, alongside bedding brakes in, which took up most of the session. We started to dial in the suspension, but it soon became apparent that the final setup would actually resemble what we ran last year.
Second practice was curtailed early, when a critical bolt in the steering failed. What appeared pretty mundane to us viewing from behind the fence, in reality provided Dan with a very memorable moment! We had the information we needed, with a couple of tweaks to the diff and change of gear ratio’s, and after an input driveshaft seal was replaced, we were ready to go!
We were a couple of minutes late leaving the pits, in which time the pole lap had been set, as when we crossed our tyres ready for a lap, down came the rain. As we were limited on tyres and brakes, we went through the procedure and ended up a lowly 25th. This highlighted a setup change in the preload on the diff.
70% of the grid have changed to the new updated RML suspension kit which visually is a vast improvement but also showed on the timing screens to be 0.4 seconds quicker than last year’s pole time. This was verified through the racing, and as Brands is such a short circuit I think we can expect around a one-second advantage come Donington. It’s just better everywhere: low speed, traction and braking. Where our setup has been great compared to others in previous seasons, this has now been eroded. Hey ho, nothing £40k or a balance of performance promised by Gow won’t fix!
Very quickly, with new brakes and tyres on board, Dan and the Proton made their way forward up into the serious contenders finishing 15th. We scored a point! Immediately the hype surrounding the car and obviously everything we had modified for this season, exceeded our expectations. It’s amazing what a coat of paint can do!
Dan received a lot of television coverage, especially from Plato’s on board camera who hounded Dan for 15 laps, eventually finishing 12th. With Dan’s driving ability and car handling, it’s where we should have been. The only downside was the engine temperatures kept rising to the point the engine timing would back off, meaning Dan would have to pull out into clean air to regularly cool the engine. This meant we were running with quite a horse power disadvantage – probably circa 15 bhp. This will mean another two weeks of graft; fitting new radiators, coolers and ducting. If we can crack this we’ll be better off at the next meeting.
Social media lit up after this superb finish, and a pub in Oxford reportedly ran out of beer! The icing on the cake was getting an interview on the grid with Louise, which was a great feeling for the team – their efforts were appreciated for all the hard work put in.
Starting in 12th and having studied the opposition and lap times, a decent top 10 finish was on the cards. A massive whip around for brake pads and tyres, saw Dan full of confidence on the grid. Red lights went out.
An MG in front stalled, forcing evasive action by Dan – squeezing through a tiny gap but losing half a dozen places. A lap and a half later, Sutton in the MG (who was obviously attracted by the colours of the Proton) cut across the inside of Surtees bend, T-boning the car into a spin. There was no space to overtake. Please do not buy an MG under any circumstances. Quite rightly, he was later hauled up in front of the clerk of the course for other infringements. Recovering from that last contact, Dan managed to work his way back to 20th in a battered car.
By the end of the weekend, our pace wasn’t too bad and we consider winter testing now finished. With a buoyant mood in the camp, a great time was had by all. We hadn’t done anything different to the last two years apart from fit the high boost TOCA engine!
Hey that was a better weekend, we went racing. Massive thanks to all our supporters that have contributed.