Competing in Australia's fastest racing series - Formula Holden

Hidden Valley - Darwin Round 3
As usual, writing up this report forces me to try and encapsulate the multitude of events that occur on a race weekend into some sort of summary. It's not always easy to decide whether the weekend has been a "good" or "bad" one as often there are many disconnected and contradictory events. As I sit here in the back of a borrowed van towing the remains of my racecar on a 3200km homeward trip across the central desert area of Australia it might be tempting to consider the weekend a pretty dismal affair. On the other hand we have advanced to within striking distance of Roger Oakeshot in the Silver star championship which is now VERY close between four drivers. I also got to drive a different Formula Holden which has given me quite a few ideas as to how to improve our own performance. Besides the three day drive in each direction had its fun elements. Last night we slept under the most beautiful clear sky I have ever seen. Here's how it all happened.

Some "Pit" Photos from Darwin.

Practice 1
Last year we had technical troubles at Darwin so we really didn't have a good baseline for the gearing and set-up. We put a fairly conservative set-up on the car and went out to try to establish a baseline. Unfortunately in spite of running a whole mornings races before us they really hadn't cleaned up the track at all and the aerodynamic Formula Holdens showed just how much dust and dirt there was all over the track. There were a number of incidents and the track was so slippery that it was obvious that no one could advance on setting up their cars, as the conditions were so unusual.
Practice 2
The track was now in much better condition and we could see that we would need to change all the intermediate gears this evening. During the session we reduce the aero down force on the car and improved the times and with the gearing changes we looked to be heading toward a competitive time. Almost as the session finished the engine made a terrible noise while at maximum speed on the straight. I managed to get neutral and switch it off quickly but it didn't sound good to me or the crew who heard it all the way from the pits. We started stripping it but after a few hours it became obvious that it had suffered a piston failure and caused pretty significant internal damage. We were faced with the prospect of starting the return journey early, and without points. Luckily Chris Hocking had a spare car with him and was prepared to consider a rental deal. By Saturday morning we were doing modifications to his lovely 96D to make me comfortable in it and might even be able to make it in time for practice 3.
Practice 3
My first drive in a 96D. Unfortunately we hadn't had time to foam up a seat yet so in spite of it being painfully uncomfortable to drive and I kept getting my hand stuck between the bodywork and the steering wheel. The sequential gearshift is really nice but would take a little time to get to grips with and the car has massive front end grip which would require a quite different driving style to my 91D. We did a few laps but I had absolutely no rhythm. Got an alarm on the dash and coasted in to see what had happened so we didn't get the full run.
Much more comfortable with a new seat and the smaller steering wheel off my 91. I started to get the feel of the car and we pushed the lap times down a little but was still quite a long way short of my time from the day before in my car. We qualified on the last row of the grid and would make some more changes to get me more comfortable. The car also developed an oil leak so I got black flagged after very few laps.
Sunday warm-up
On the second lap the throttle stuck open on the first corner and pitched the car into a spin. I came in to see if the crew could see the problem. We went out and tried again but it stuck open again and I had to drive the car back to the pit by switching on and off the ignition. So much for building confidence!
Race 1
On the warm-up lap I could only select four of the five gears. I started the race in second and made a reasonable getaway but caught a glimpse of oil smoke behind me and as it was only the first of seventeen laps in some else's car I came in for a checkup. It turns out that first gear had failed and the side casing on the box was damaged (a 2 square inch hole - to be precise) and the gearbox was loosing oil. Race 1 result DNF
Race 2
Got a great start and passed quite a few cars by the first corner but was trapped on the outside but was still in a good position on the first run up the back section behind Mark Ellis. I decided to get settled for a couple of laps and then launch an attack as I had picked up loads of marbles on the first corner. On lap three I caught up with him and was set-up up for a move but when I got to turn 1 something hit me hard on the back of the legs under braking. I sat behind Mark for a couple of laps while I tried to remember what the layout of this car was. Unlike my car which has the battery under the seat and the extinguisher in front of the bulkhead this one is the other way around and the battery and carrier had come loos and was hitting me hard every time I braked. My main concern was that it might short out against that carbon fibre tub and stop me form continuing. I tried to trap it under my legs but couldn't and was also concerned that it might jam the pedals (one stuck throttle per weekend is my limit). By this time Mark had drawn somewhat ahead and Rohan was not close behind so I could limit my braking performance and prevent the battery cables pulling off and still hold my position. I continued to lap as well as I could and was really starting to feel at home with the car in spite of the "problems". And that's how we finished..
The result moved us up toward Roger in the Silver Star standings and also bought Terry and Rohan up closer too so the Silver Star this year is tight and will require a big effort from whoever wants to win it most. Thanks to the crew for the weekend, Chris Parham and Paul Charal who made the absurdly long drive with me, also to Garrett whose cheapo airfare took almost as long as our drive and Rebecca who soldiered on in spite of being unwell and very uncomfortable in the Darwin heat.
The trip home
You haven't lived if you have visited Tenant Creek, Coober Pedy and Alice Springs, slept under the stars and shared a few beers with your mates. Oh yeah -almost forgot - also the young female Contiki tourists sharing a dip and chat at the Buley rockholes were a highlight too.
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