Historic racer: MGB Roadster

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209

A maiden solo race in Norfolk almost ends in disaster for Nick Trott as he continues his budding competition career

If you read my report last month, you will know that my trip to Snetterton in the MGB was the first time I ‘flew solo’ in the car. BRX owner Ed Foster was unable to make the event but generously offered the car. So, with fantasies of being a true ‘gypsy racing driver’ I loaded the trailer and used Motor Sport’s long-term test Mercedes Marco Polo camper to tow the car to the Norfolk racetrack. With spannering assistance from Roy Gilligham of Chequered Flag Classics, I felt ready for the race. Even more so after the Friday test when I put in times good enough for a top 10 spot on the grid – and that was on an old set of Dunlop historic tyres. I had a new set in the camper ready to go on for the race – which inflated my confidence further.

If you tune in regularly to these pages, you will not be surprised that the whole lot came down to earth with a bump. Feeling (over-) confident, I asked Roy to put the new set of tyres on for the qualifying session so they would be scrubbed for the race. Bad move. I also asked him to tweak the rear suspension – feeling that we needed to stiffen the rear (but with nothing other than instinct to base it on). Double bad move.

Three laps in, I was slithering all over the place and unable to get within a couple of seconds of my test time. I came in to the pits halfway through the session and Roy tweaked the tyre pressures, but I was running out of time to set a fast lap. After traffic, fluffed apices and some quite choice swear words I found myself with one lap to go – and three seconds away from the top 10.

The lap was going well. Really well. The MGB hooked up beautifully around Coram, with its right front wheel tap-tap-tapping the inside kerb. The way it dangles its front wheel is a strange curiosity of MGB race cars and ours, despite stiffening the rear, does it more than most. It felt good. Really good…

“Be careful if you stiffen the rear suspension,” said owner Foster before qualifying. “It can make the car a little more unpredictable under braking.” Sure enough, at Murrays (the last corner) I locked the inside front left and went straight on. Having lapped in the 2min 28sec region in testing (good enough for ninth) my qualifying best was a 2min 34.7sec (bad enough for 30th). I felt I let the car down. And Ed. And Roy.

Roy saw my deflated attitude and worked the mind coach on me. Not just a fantastic engineer and mechanic, Roy – as I found out – is also a pretty damn good motivator. He said he’d been watching me on track and it was clear I was faster than the cars around me on the grid. “Remember that when you’re in the pack at the start,” he said, “and take advantage of it to move up the field quickly.” Then crucially he added, “and don’t forget to have fun.”

Fun is exactly what happened next. For the first time in my short racing career it felt like I was only looking forwards, planning the next overtaking move and working out racing strategies. For the full 40 minutes I was overtaking and only once was I passed – and that was mistakenly by a competitor who didn’t see the safety car flag. That flag was shown when a Triumph disassembled its left-rear corner at the fast Riches, leaving a driveshaft, a hub and a wheel in the centre of the track. I was one of the first on the scene and carrying some speed when I came across the car. I knew if I braked mid-corner I’d spin and hit the stranded car, so I lifted slooooowly and just steered around it. Phew.

Then, after the safety car, I was well and truly mugged. I missed the green flag on the Bentley straight and Graham Bates came past me in another MGB. I felt I was faster than him, so regrouped to overtake. Then, suddenly, that was that. The chequer was thrown, and I was left ruing a lapse in concentration that would have put me 13th.

Still, Roy was there in parc fermé to give me the slap on the back I needed. “You made up 16 places,” he said cheerfully. “If only I’d started higher,” I replied.

If. That oft used word in motor racing. I’m getting fed up with saying it!


Next month: Ed’s back, the glorious Oulton Park, more safety cars, and (ahem) a visit to the clerk of the course
Thanks to: www.equipegts.ukwww.fyshe.com (Adidas racewear), Roy Gillingham, Ed Foster