Not very often you get to race at Spa Francorchamps...
The Wrexham Glyndwr University Students of Together, We Progress (TWP) Racing made the long haul to the Belgian Circuit for the final 750 Motor ClubClub Enduro race of the year with quiet but hopeful expectation.
A huge amount of work had been completed in the lead-up to the weekend and the two MX-5 Parts MX-5s arrived at the Circuit late Thursday night.
Friday and the Team was met with bright sunshine and warm - almost tropical - temperatures! The two one-hour test sessions proved the MK1 on-pace, if not ahead of the Mk3s in Class with the Mk3 two seconds off but carrying a fuel return sensor fault that was limiting the rev range at the top end.
Saturday, and the lunchtime qualifying was met with typically 'Spa-like' weather! Tyres were swapped out for wets (the first time this year the Team have had to pull them off the truck!) and the cars qualified 5th and 7th in Class (16th and 20th overall) for the Mk1 and Mk3 respectively. With both cars qualifying mid-pack the worry now was for the rolling start and far more powerful cars behind us...
At 9.15 sharp the 30-car grid hurtled across the start-line towards the La Source hairpin.
In the Mk1 Graeme McMurchie immediately started making ground and continued to build a healthy lead lap-by-lap hitting our target 3.03s by lap five. John Munro - struggling with the lack of top-end speed - still managed an Eau Rouge outside overtake on the No21 Aston Martin GT4 and continued to plough through steady lap times for an hour twenty-five.
On the first scheduled driver change Nick Dougill took the Mk1 reigns after a flawless pit-stop. A mix of slow pit-stops and driver penalties - mainly track limits - by the competitors meant that by the time Nick made his way out onto track the '82 car was almost a full lap ahead of the next car in Class.
Then, disaster; Lap 29 saw the battery live cable - left unsecured after an oversight in pre-race prep - touch the battery isolator, which in turn cut the earth to the battery killing the cars' electrics. The car sat stranded for a full 11 minutes before Nick diagnosed the fault out on Circuit and managed to return to the pits. The lead was gone, with it any hope of that illusive season win.
Deciding to use the rest of the race as a test session, Nick went back out onto track and, on lap 37 took the car's fastest lap (3.00.785), further evidence if it was required of what the 22 year old machine was capable of.
Having run John long in the Mk3 he pitted after 27 laps for our final scheduled stop with Will Earp planned to take the flag. What the team didn't know was that at some point an oil leak had started, slowly draining the engine. After just two flying laps Will had to park the car at the bottom of Eau Rouge before further damage was done.
Two DNFs, enough racing for the Team to classify 9th and 11th in Class at the flag but still a bitter pill given the strong form and hopes at the mid-point.
Talking of the Mk1 fault, TWP Team Principle Jon Earp said: "The whole Team is gutted, the drivers are gutted, I'm gutted. It's even more disappointing knowing the work that's gone into both cars post-Silverstone has been huge but in particular we brought the Mk1 here knowing that it was fast, that we had found a lot of speed in that five week break. We made a lot of people sit up and look at us on Friday, not very often a Mk1 MX-5 beats a Mk3. To see it fail out on Circuit for something so simple that a piece of speed-tape could have prevented is all the harder to accept but in the rush to rebuild the front end we missed it".
Fault diagnosis on the Mk3 oil leak was inconclusive; the block was clear of fluids but damage to the undertray and oil traces on its trailing edge suggested the possibility of an oil sump issue. Until the team get the car on the lift this week they will be unable to confirm the issue. As for the Mk1; a painful lesson in 'attention to detail'. A bitter irony of the whole situation was the battery was planned to be moved as part of the continual improvement programme but, due to the necessity to rebuild the front-end had been delayed...
Five races down, two - arguably the most demanding - still to go. The Team now has four short weeks before the journey back to Silverstone for the 750 Motor Club Birkett 6hr. We will of course be there...
Last year, TWP entered a single car as part of the Armed Forces Race Challenge team, this year we take two cars and are joined by Claire Smith in her MG, racing as a Wrexham Glyndwr University entry for the first time.
2017 Race Calendar:
750 Motor Club CARTEK Club Enduro
19 Mar Donington 2hr 23 Apr Snetterton 2hr 08 Jul Anglesey 3hr 20 Aug Silverstone (Int) 2hr 01 Oct Spa Francorchamps 2hr
750 Motor Club Birkett Relay
28 Oct Silverstone GP 6hr
BARC / Mission Motorsport Race of Remembrance
11/12 Nov Anglesey 12hr
That's 29 hours of racing!!!
TWP: Together, We Progress. In partnership with Wrexham Glyndwr University.