Hanging onto my title of Jaguar Saloon champion was always going to be tough having missed three rounds and registering one DNF in the first eight rounds of the season, but I was encouraged after my first saloon win at Castle Coombe in August.
At the end of the month we went to Mallory Park for another double-header and whilst we were mixing with some much quicker machinery, namely the XJ-Ss, I was fairly happy to qualify 9th overall and 2nd saloon, just behind Kevin Doyle’s coupe but ahead of Pearce who had been leading the saloon series since the first round. Frustratingly, when an errant V12 engine dumped all its oil during the green flag lap, the race got canned until first thing the next day.
I got off to a flyer and quickly made up two places, importantly one of which was on Doyle. Not that you ever wish for bad luck to strike a rival, but when he shot off into the barrier on the next lap it relived a huge amount of pressure and so I spent the rest of the race holding off the very much improved Rodney Frost in his XJ-S with a gaggle of saloons including Bye, Lewis, Connew and Pearce just behind. I finished 7th overall but 1st saloon and with fastest lap; Pearce could only manage 3rd saloon. What’s more the weather looked like it would stay dry for the second race later in the day.
This too got delayed after the same XJ-S dumped oil in the pit lane as we went onto the track from assembly! When we finally got going my start was reasonably good but I could not quite get past Webster’s XJ-S which baulked me going into Shaws hairpin. This allowed Bye to go round the outside and so I began to chase him down. A leaking head gasket was spurting fluid over my screen whenever I made a move on his nearside so I changed tactics and tried a move going into Gerrards on his offside. Unfortunately it didn’t come off and as he turned in I collected him in his drivers door; we both spun off into the outfield allowing several saloons through, including Doyle (who started from the back) and Connew.
Luckily I regained the track and took up the chase and was much quicker than Connew down the main straight. In fact we nearly collected each other when he braked, seemingly for no reason, as I was inches off his rear bumper. I moved outside and shot past him to see waved yellow flags, but no obvious incident. I lifted off the throttle nonetheless, though somewhat confused about the warning flags.
Still going well over 100mph I suddenly noticed an object, returning to earth from a great height, directly in my path. It was the complete bonnet and front grill off the Doyle coupe that had parted company from the rest of the car, probably due to damage suffered in his early morning off! At the last second, literally, I took avoiding action and missed it by inches forcing Connew to act equally as quickly to avoid tagging me as I cut across his line. A chill went through me later, when I thought about what might have happened if it had landed on my car and potentially gone through the screen. Still, it didn’t, and I took up the chase of Doyle who was still going with Pearce hot on my heels by now. 7th overall and 2nd saloon was how it finished though had I thought about it a protest of the Doyle car would surely have revealed it was well under weight!
We went to Donington Park, one of my favourite tracks, in September and a good-sized 26-car grid lined up for qualifying. However after just seven minutes as I was getting into my rhythm a loud bang followed by a total loss of control and collapsed rear nearside, the result of a sheared wheel hub, put me into a spin. I managed to avoid hitting anything or anybody else and the session came to a premature end.
I shot off to Coventry after being recovered to the pit lane to get the hub and brakes replaced and was back three hours later ready to go for the last race of the day. It was well worth the effort as I discovered I was 5th on the grid and 2nd saloon behind Lewis. I felt my car was competitive and kept him under pressure right from the start but then missed my brake point at the chicane and had to go through the gravel, dropping down the order. He got away and Pearce got past too as did several others.
The Webster XJ-S was a moving chicane that I could not better and so after regaining several places I had to settle for 9th overall and 3rd saloon. With Pearce finishing 2nd he had done enough to take my saloon crown with two races still to go. I could still finish as runner-up if I got good results and beat Doyle so that became the aim for the final races.
A strong drive the next day and a bit of luck too, when Doyle once again suffered mechanical woes and a DNF, saw me recover up to 4th overall and 2nd saloon, once again behind Lewis moved me up to 2nd in the saloon table by a few points.
I was determined to finish the season well at Oulton on October: it’s my favourite track and I won my first Championship there back in 2006. The weekend got off to a poor start though when the exhaust, that had been damaged during the hub failure spin a fortnight earlier, fell off as I loaded up onto the trailer! It was my own fault, as I hadn’t properly checked the car over after Donington, so a quick repair (thanks Andy) and I was off.
There were lots of niggles however the next morning prior to and after scrutineering and the wet track and well-worn tyres (I didn’t have a set of wets) resulted in my worst qualifying in over five years: 12th on the grid (3rd saloon), though it was a depleted grid of just 15 cars.
Later in the day the track had dried out and my head was where it should have been, focused on racing. I had a brilliant first lap (if I say so myself) making up numerous places with some fairly assertive overtaking moves so that half way round I was up to 5th and 2nd saloon. Four laps later and I was up to 4th and leading saloon and that’s how it finished, the leaders having made their getaway early on.
In the end I lost my title by just 15 points having completed one less race than Pearce but with a hat-trick of wins, seconds and thirds at least I was fairly consistent and never off the podium so I can’t complain.
There is just the Birkett 6 hour relay race at the end of the month and then I need to think about next season, getting some more sponsors and deciding what to do with the XJ40, which is a bit tired and needs improving to remain competitive. If I can get the money together I might also get my V12 XJ-S back on track in some historic races too.