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Added: 10 Jan 2017 Category: Other Motorsport
Swapping the Camera for the Steering Wheel - Season 2
After and enjoyable first season in Autograss in 2015, 2016 was my first full year in Autograss, a full year and a full season may sound like the same thing, but the difference is what happens away from the track. The car went to Gary Grattan to get a bit of work done to it, new arms were fabricated for it, paint touched up, another set of alloys arrived and were painted up and there was a painstaking weekend of peeling off the old vinyl graphics before it went to LJN for some fresh new ones. All in there was a lot of hours put into the car before it had even turned a wheel in anger in 2016, this was my first pre-season prep, without the constant need to be working at stockcar stuff on the computer and will plenty of time to do the work on the buggy it’s probably fair to say I was enjoying it and quite proud of how the car turned out.

Over the closed season and following the sad passing of Andy Sizer who I’d raced against the previous year, I took on the role of PR for Down Autograss and gave the website a bit of a facelift and produced fixture lists for the club, all tasks I felt I can add something by doing them and perhaps re-channelling some of the enthusiasm I used to have for Stock Car racing before the good classes got a bit drowned out by average ones.

On track my first outing of the year was to Carlow on my birthday in March where myself and Jonny turned out to be the entire Adult Specials class, but we’d some great racing including a final in which we swapped the lead on what seemed like every lap. I took my first final win of the year and a trophy which took the edge of the long drive home.

After Carlow it was back to Down for the start of the club season, the initial opening fixture was rained off and put back a few weeks. I went into the first meeting with a lot of confidence in the car and that the work I’d done over the winter was going to pay off which led me into a weekend of things going wrong. In the very first heat I got my arm restraints caught around the gear lever and couldn’t free my arm up to steer, I was first across the line in my second heat but clipped two cones and got docked two places, finishing third in a 2 car race! I was second in the final in which we then rushed off to Tullyroan if memory serves me correctly.
The Sunday of the opening weekend had the best car turnout the class has had so far, with 5 cars out, my misfortunes continued with a 4th in heat one after I pulled the last bit of rip and roll off my goggles sitting on the line to go and couldn’t see for most of the race. Heat two I was third with the throttle jamming as I crossed the line, second in a dramaless heat three before bursting a brake pipe in the final and finishing with no brakes and returning to the pits with a huge stone wedged into the gear linkage preventing me from knocking the car out of gear which made for some fun in the pits trying to stop the car on a hill with no brakes and stuck in gear.

Another Wet one followed at Down on the next Saturday of racing which was called off following the opening heats, at first meetings being called off for the weather screwed me up a bit, but I since got faster and faster in the dry and still couldn’t drive a nail into snow when it’s wet, so if it’s wet I’d prefer it very wet and called off.
The Sunday couldn’t have been more contrasting with a nice sunny day for Down’s National qualifying round and the first of four rounds of the NI series, I’d a first and second in the heats and a second in the final which I think left me in the lead of the club points for the class and second in the NI points.
The next weekend at Down was the big one of the season, the opening Round of the All Ireland series, it’s not nailed on that each club gets a round of the All Ireland’s each year and there hadn’t been one at Down in my first season, so this was my first All Ireland round. Our class is fairly new and I didn’t know what sort of numbers there was at other clubs but hoped we’d get a good turnout of cars, unfortunately it didn’t turn out like that and it ended up just the Down cars in the class, so it was a better weekend to stand and watch, but from a racing point of view it was just the same as any other. Preparation was slightly different though, I took the Friday off work to get the car loaded up and down to the track on Friday night for scrutineering, then took a run round to a car show/ meet at the Outlet in Banbridge before heading back up the road home.
Some over enthusiasm with a spanner had left my suspension very tight and the car was challenging to drive to say the least, really when you can spin to the outside on a straight you know you’ve got your handling wrong. In the seat it was a weekend that was more endured than enjoyed while trackside it was a great weekend of racing and we filmed it for NIOvalTV’s first Autograss DVD, which went on to be one of our best sellers of the year. I finished the weekend second in the class points but I think I’d been last in every race but Jonny had some DNF which meant I’d outscored him.

The next outing should have been at Causeway for the second round of the NI series, but it clashed with the F2 British at Nutts Corner and the forecast was terrible, I went to the F2’s and the Autograss got one set of heats before it had to be called off, so it goes down as a good judgement call I think.

The next few Down meetings continued where the All Ireland round left off, gradually working on handling problems and getting the car back to where it had been, while fighting to get the feel for the car in wet slippery conditions.

The second round of the All Ireland series was at Cork and I missed it to be at the Aghadowey Speedweekend, the points leader in the class was the only one to go and with full points for the weekend I now couldn’t win the All Ireland series, but I had fancied getting round the other tracks so I went to West Waterford at the end of August all the same.

West Waterford was the third track I’d raced at and my first real weekend away racing. I’d spent the weeks leading up to it getting the car ready and cleaning up my trailer, it was dark the night before I went before I was getting wheels back onto the trailer, by the time the car was loaded up and all my spares packed on the Friday the concept of doing a bit of dropping the car at the track and doing a bit of sight seeing was becoming more like “will we make it in time for scrutineering?”, we did and then we went off to a wee B&B just outside Dungarvan and a nice wee pub for dinner, I know you can do Autograss on a tighter budget, but I do enjoy my creature comforts and my food!

On track I won the opening heat for our class, was second in the second heat and from there was the only car left in it, so they gave me a single lap as a third heat so that I had officially won my race, in that one lap I severed a rear brake pipe. I left the track on the Saturday night accepting that I’d just stick the car on the trailer in the morning and head up the road, but returned on the Sunday morning with the idea of blanking off the pipe and just working with the other brakes, and so with a bit of help and a pair of well hidden vice grips, that was what I did. I’d no one to race against on the Sunday so ended up out with the class 9’s as my 4th heat before going out with a class 10 for a final which was also a tokenary 2 lap race. I enjoyed the weekend, it’s a nice track, it had been nice weather, nice scenery and good company but it’s a long tow for the few laps you get to be cut shorter, on the other hand I’d be the first to ask why one car is running round the track on it’s own, no one wants to see that. As the only car in my class for most of the weekend I’d won my class and picked up second in the All Ireland Series.

With the All Ireland’s out of the way it was back to club racing and back to Down in Mid September. The club points were tight between myself and Jerome Lynch, Jonny was in third and still mathematically in with a shout but only based on unrealistic results for everyone else. There was four of us out on the Saturday and I got a slow start and came off the line fourth moving up to third on the second lap, second on the third lap and taking the win right on the line by a nose, it was my best race so far and from it gave me a bit more confidence that I could challenge for the points. In a day of twists and turns in our points the gain from the first heat win was quickly wiped out in heat two when a nut came off the ball joint and I sailed into the bottom bend on three wheels for my only DNF of the season. The final brought about yet another twist when Jonny and Jermoe tangled and were both DNF while I picked up a second hoping a botch job on a nut held together for the distance, it did and I think I finished the day a point in the lead or a point behind, either way it was close.

The next day it was the third round of the NI Series at Down and I think I picked up seconds all day, extending my lead in the NI points but slipping further behind in the club points.

The start of October seen the last club weekend of the year, I could still win the points but I’d need to win most of the racing. It was tight all weekend, I think I won the first heat on the Saturday and it brought the gap down, I narrowly lost the second heat and I was a mile behind in the final. We went into the Sunday separated by a few points and I gambled on a smaller tyre to suit the cones being in and the track a bit shorter, but they were out wide and I ended up geared even shorter, to make matters worse I burst a brake pipe and wouldn’t have time to change tyres, only for those around me mucking in I wouldn’t even have had the pipe changed, I’d accepted I wouldn’t be out for the second heat and when our class was called I was stood with a brake pipe in my hand, Wayne MacKenzie told me to get in and buckled up and somehow got me back out, but another second wasn’t helping my points. I went into the final race that I could only win by Jerome not finishing, in stockcar racing that can be arranged, but this isn’t stockcar racing. Jerome took the win and I got a second. Runner up in the club points it was to be, but there wasn’t a tighter points race in the club and none that had gone to the last race, it was a joy to be a part of, win or lose.

A week on and it was off to Causeway for the final round of the NI Series, my fourth track of the season and my first trip up there. It was only myself and Jonny and three seconds would be enough for me to win the NI points. I was getting a better drive down the back straight but losing out on the home straight, I was a week off going on holiday so it wasn’t going to be a day for heroic dives into gaps that weren’t there. Seconds were good enough and three seconds it was. Despite all the close racing at Down the class seemed to raise an eyebrow or two at Causeway and there looks like a few more cars coming out on the back of our trip up there. I’ve always believed the class has a lot of potential and is probably the cheapest way you’ll race a single seater anywhere so it’ll be good to see how that materialises next season.

Towards the end of the 2016 season there was a lot of head scratching as what to do next, Class 3 would be the next option for a RWD, there is a good field of them at Down, but it’s a Saloon and I like the idea of racing single seater, Class 5 is the pinnacle but probably beyond my budget and the big buggy classes have only a few cars in them, so you’d be spending bigger money to still race against a few cars. I’d considered a Superstox but it doesn’t fit in well with filming and photoing at stockcar racing and it’s a bigger budget even to be at the less competitive end of the class. After a chat with Jonny we decided we’d stick with the class, I’ve now sold mine which will race with us next season and I’ll have another one, plus there are a few more in the pipeline after our trip to Causeway so the class could be creeping towards being one of the bigger classes in local Autograss for 2017, I can’t wait!

No season review would be complete without a mention of those who’ve helped, so thanks to Gary, Jonny, Denver, Stephen Boyd, ‘Senior’, Wayne MacKenzie, Stephen Irwin and everyone else who has helped me out throughout the season.


Pre season prep

The photoshopped "I'd like it to look like this" I gave to LJN

... and how it turned out

Ready for action in Carlow

Jonny and I had close racing all day at Carlow

Sitting on the line for the All Ireland round at Down


Following Jerome who won the club points

Coming home after a soggy June meeting

That'll need washed then

In action at West Waterford


Just off the trailer for the last Down meeting of the year

Not a bad yield of trophies for my first 2 seasons

Looking forward to this view again in 2017

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