A calamity of debuts

by Web Editor on 12th June 2017

Editors Nick Trott and Ed Foster have gone racing, just about

Nick Trott & Ed Foster

Months of preparation, many hundreds of pounds worth of new kit and even a test day, but here we are, ready to load the MGB onto a rented trailer behind a borrowed Jaguar F-Pace for our first round, unable to find the keys for the race car. It’s an inauspicious start to our racing season.

The past two hours have been spent changing the belts, which seem to run out of homologated life every few seconds, and the fire extinguisher. The latter is a relatively simply job, the former not so. An MGB isn’t a wide car and once you’ve tried to wedge in a seat that’s wide enough for, say, a 6’7”, 105kg man there is no room left. Changing the belts takes a lot of swearing and a lot of sweat.

We arrive at Silverstone on Friday morning for the test day full of optimism and excitement – we’re finally hitting the track. What could possibly go wrong? Despite arriving almost two hours before the allotted start time we find ourselves late for the first session. Driving and spannering a car always seems like a good, cheap idea but in reality is more work than it's worth. And very stressful.

Nick Trott: We agreed to take the MGB racing five months ago, so why are we late for our first test session? I guess this is what it’s all about. We’re flying solo. We have no team, no crew, no admin, no mechanics – and some would say no idea…

For me, the drama has mostly revolved around renewing my race licence – which lapsed in 2009. The sum total of my race experience up to 2009 was eight races and five finishes – but I was required to have six finishes to automatically renew following the successful completion of the written part of the Association of Racing Drivers Exam. The MSA suggested that I spend a day marshalling to gain the crucial sixth signature, so a quick call to the incredibly helpful BMMC and Silverstone got me a place at the Blancpain round.

It turned out to be a wonderful experience. If you thought you loved motor racing; spend a day with some marshals. Their love to the sport is all consuming.

Back to the test. With a shiny new race licence in hand, we give the car a final check over (not a very good one, it turns out). Then Ed fires up the MGB, the wonderful Weber carb growls and roars, and our 2017 track season gets underway. It doesn’t last long…

EF: We do eventually make it onto track, but as I peel out of Silverstone's new pit complex and select second the bonnet snaps up, filling the windscreen. In the rush to get on track we forgot to close it properly and my only option is to pull over on the pit exit, jump out and close it as cars are pulling onto the track. The force, even at such a slow speed, was enough to bend the back of it and it now doesn't want to close. A bit of brute force solves it and I make sure it's actually done up this time before jumping back in and setting off. What a rookie error.

Our day's testing is blighted by setbacks: changing the front brake pads takes a lot longer than planned and results in yet more swearing, while not doing up the wheel nuts properly before one session means I nearly lose the front-right wheel going through Abbey. In hindsight we were pretty lucky with that one...

However, come the end of the day the car seems to be working pretty well, even if its drivers are somewhat off the pace. No matter – we had learned two important lessons. Firstly: make sure the bonnet is done up. Secondly: make sure your wheels are properly attached. It's not the sort of stuff Lewis Hamilton has to worry about.

NT: Have we bitten off more than we can chew? I’m beginning to wonder. We have made some rookie errors, brought on by rushing and stress. However there’s little point dwelling on it – we have to remain calm and gather our thoughts. I promised not to have a drink the night before the race, but it’s scorching hot and Ed and I are a little stressed. We have a pint in the local, discuss tactics, kick ourselves (repeatedly) for our mistakes, and promise that race day will be a better day.

EF: Race day arrives and we're signed up for the Classic and Sports Car Club's Swinging Sixties and Classic K series. Both the grids are filled with a wide variety of cars ranging from Mustangs to fellow MGBs via Cortinas and even an MSU TTS 1498. In the 45-minute Swinging Sixties we’ve entered ourselves into class ‘D’ for cars running on historic Dunlops. The majority of the grid is on sticky Yokohamas and we did wonder whether we should get ourselves a set. We didn’t in order to save cost. A great decision when we see only three cars entered in that class on the entry list. A class podium beckoned. The Classic K series, meanwhile, is a one-hour race for FIA Appendix K cars similar to the MGB so we’d be (hopefully) somewhere in the middle of the grid.

In first qualifying I make the age-old mistake of not really completing a flying lap. Isn’t that quite difficult to do? Well, yes, unless you spend most of the session backing off in order to find some space, misjudging it and then catching up with slower cars.

NT: I’ll be honest – I’m all at sea in the MGB. I’ve spent 20 years driving and testing fast modern road and race cars. Machines that brake, steer and go with force and immediacy. They also disguise mistakes, and you can be brutal with them. The MGB has every little in the way of brakes, steering, and accelerative force – and therefore requires finesse. Chiefly, it demands that the driver is on the throttle and steering it through the corner way before the apex. I default to what I know; brake hard and late then turn into the apex while rolling off the brakes. The modern stuff tends to forgive this, but in the MGB I keep getting snap oversteer and lose significant amounts of time mid-corner. I even have a spin so spectacular that the marshals applaud on the next lap. I’m more than a second off Ed’s pace; himself not happy with his own speed. I desperately need more time in the car.

EF: We end up 22nd out of 41 cars, though, which is just fine considering the differently shod cars. By this time we also realise that there is only one other car in class D (the third failed to show) and we were five seconds ahead of it in qualifying. How on earth could we lose this? Well… Turns out Paul Wybrow, in another MGB, was playing a rather tactical game in that he found four seconds a lap between qualifying and the race. A masterstoke. And one that meant we came second and last in class.

The race wasn’t without its small problems, to be fair. For the first time ever I made contact with another car. I was trying to get past someone going into Vale and it was only when I had left my braking later than usual did I see a backmarker turn in. There was nowhere to go and, having turned the car as sharply as possible, my driver’s side touched with his passenger side. I thankfully tracked him down after the race and apologised profusely.

We finally end up the aforementioned second in class and 17th overall. There’s space for improvement.

NT: Ed started the race and did a fabulous job. He was right in the mix with faster cars, and drove with real confidence. I didn’t see his, erm, contact with the other driver – but I certainly heard about it during the pitstop. During the panic and sweat of a driver-change, I witnessed some quite extraordinary swearing – and wondered what was going on. I then spotted the crease in the side of the car. However, I wanted to know about some oil that was down at the end of Hanger, but couldn’t get a word in edgeways. ‘Golly gosh, I darned well hit another blooming car,’ Ed didn’t say. Repeatedly.

Then I couldn’t get the bloody thing in first gear – and Ed had to reach in (still swearing) and select first for me. The rest of the race was pretty average from my part. I never found a rhythm and if I’m honest, I was way too cautious. In the race scenario, the fact that I don’t own this fabulous car really freaked me out, and I jumped out of the way whenever anyone got close. As we cross the line, I don’t even want to know where we finished. Reality bites, as they say.

EF: The gap between race one and two for us is a tight one as even though it says an hour on the programme you get called to the assembly area more than 20 minutes before the race started so the time was spent checking the oil and tyre pressures, sorting the fuel and slightly panicking. Our pre-race fuel usage calculations turned out to be a little off. In fact, they were 15 litres off, which is quite a lot when you only put 40 litres in to start with.

Race two goes much better (thankfully) and we manage to complete it without spinning off or indeed crashing into anyone else, which was a relief. We finish the Classic K race in 15th overall. So no, there haven’t been any calls yet from professional race teams.

NT: I find a little more pace in race two, but not enough. A few dices with other cars raises a smile, but I’m still annoyed that I haven’t got to grips with the MGB’s driving characteristics. [A week later I would race a Fun Cup – a modern-spec race car – and was just 0.9sec off the regular driver, which confirms my lifelong experience in modern cars has left me institutionalised somewhat and carrying some habits that don’t translate to historics.] Ed is generous with his praise, but I know he expected a little more speed from me. Time to get some testing in, and some driver training methinks.

EF: People always talk about how friendly historic paddocks are and the Classic and Sports Car Club one was no different – everyone was keen to get to know us and some even lent us tools that we had totally forgotten we needed. Also most of the racing happened ahead of schedule. Has that ever happened before? A remarkable effort down to the organisers and marshals – thank you.

Next stop is MG Live! where I’ll be sharing with my brother. This time we’ll make sure the wheels are on and the bonnet is shut before we hit the track.

NT: Tradition says I say some thanks at this point – although I wish I could attach these thanks to a better result. Even so, I’ve got to thank Ed for letting me race the car (and letting me continue to race it this year), my wife for not freaking out when she found a third car in our two-car garage, all at Silverstone – especially those at the test day who were patient with our general ineptitude, race-boots.com for the fantastic Adidas nomex, Jaguar for the F-Pace tow car, and of course to the amazing marshals. I’ll be reporting from Le Mans while Ed and his brother take on MG Live, but returning at Snetterton for the Equipe GTS round on the 300 circuit.

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