Croft is the home circuit of York City Racing and, with the soccer team attending on Sunday, we were determined to reward them and the large crowd of almost 20,000 with a good result. We chose Croft to unveil ambitious plans for an attack on the prestigious Le Mans 24hr race in 2003 which surprised many in the paddock but, as has been proved time and again in the past, write us off at your peril!
With Peter Cate electing to step down from his role of replacement for the injured John B&Q we welcomed the popular Norwich-based Australian, Hyla Breese, who will be driving for the team for the remainder of the season. Despite his lack of experience in a front wheel drive car, and no previous testing in the car, Hyla was fired up and determined to make the most of the opportunity.
With just two 40 minute free practice sessions on Saturday morning to get used to the car Hyla was always going to struggle on his debut and, when he was forced to stop due to a broken drive shaft in the first session he might have been forgiven for starting to panic. However he kept his cool and got in a number of laps in the second session before a lengthy stop to make changes to the damper setup and to replace brake pads and tyres. The damper changes positively affected high speed grip but shortly after returning to the track his car developed a misfire and he again found his session curtailed.
With only a handful of laps under his belt it was straight into qualifying and, almost as soon as he left pitlane, disaster struck when his engine failed; stranding him out on the track without having completed a lap. As such he had failed to qualify for either of Sunday's races and, even if TOCA had permitted him to start from the back of the grid, we were unable to build him a replacement engine in time and so he was forced to watch from the sidelines for the rest of the meeting. Hardly a good first impression of the team's abilities for him, but he took the disappointment well and spent the rest of the weekend getting to know the team and how it operates and he is looking forward to Snetterton with renewed rigour.
Team leader, Jim Edwards Jnr, was also suffering with engine gremlins and was only able to grab a couple of eighth-place starts and declared, "I was disappointed with the fact we were so far down the order after the amount of effort everyone has put in this weekend. The problem was that the engine was down on compression in one cylinder and was also running slightly lean. We have fixed the latter but the compression problem will not be resolved until the engine rebuild we have planned for after this meeting,"
Deciding to make a safe sensible getaway, a principle that has served him so well this season, Jim Edwards Jnr made a steady start when the lights went green. With Norman Simon leading from Gavin Pyper and James Kaye the race was just starting to settle down when the tyres were dislodged at Clervaux, which enabled cars to alter their line through the chicane and run tighter over the high kerbs. Several cars had cause to regret this as they damaged their undersides but none more so than Paul O'Neill who damaged his sump and was forced to retire from the race when ensuing oil slick caught fire on lap eight.
Jim Edwards Jnr, battling with Spencer Marsh, was approaching the scene at speed and along with several other cars slid wide on the oil. Unluckily he hit the dislodged tyres causing damage to the passenger side of his car and, as he rejoining the track, Spencer Marsh struck his car causing extensive damage to the drivers side. Whilst Marsh was forced to retire from the damage he received, Edwards was able to struggle on with his own damaged car.
With the safety car deployed, to clear up the mess created by O'Neill, Edwards took the opportunity to close back up on the cars ahead of him but it is obvious to see that he is struggling with the damaged car. When the safety car was withdrawn Gavin Pyper's Alfa 156, which had been suffering from overheating, started to cut out and retired from the lead and shortly after Tom Boardman pulled into the pits, promoting Edwards to sixth on the road.
As they started the last couple of laps Edwards was dropping further and further back and eventually Mark Fullalove was able to pass him for Sixth place. However, as they neared the finish line, Edwards was somehow able to drag his car back ahead of the Peugeot at the final hairpin, crossing the line just 0.33 of a second ahead. Unfortunately, as he started the pass, the marshals put out the yellow flags and he was deemed to have gained an unfair advantage and TOCA officials handed him a 10 second penalty after the event; dropping him back behind the former Lotus champion.
Whilst the race was still going on the team's mechanics had set about stripping Hyla Breese's car to provide replacement parts for Jim Edwards' damaged car. This had drawn quite a crowd but as soon as the number 99 car arrived back at the transporter the doors of the awning were closed as every available hand set about repairing the damage. It would prove to be a battle against time to get the car ready to take the start of the feature race, but it would be a battle that would ultimately be won.
Disaster struck as the cars moved off the grid for their formation lap as Edwards' hastily repaired car was momentarily delayed as the team struggled to get the new boot to close properly and a drive through penalty was the outcome. This dropped him down one place and he lost contact with the pack ahead of him as a result of the time lost in the pitlane.
When he came back out he was clearly fired up and sets about catching those ahead of him. After passing a faltering Graham Saunders he manages to catch and pass the similar Honda Accord of Mark Thomas. After this the gap to the car ahead proved to be too much to claw back and he eased back to look after his car and ensure that he was able to bring it home and score more valuable points.
Any hopes that the leading trio of Norman Simon, James Kaye and Spencer Marsh might falter were dashed with the cars proving bulletproof on this occasion. Despite a solid fourth place finish the team were disappointed that another podium position had slipped from their grasp with that drive through penalty.
Comments And Quotes
Jim Edwards Jnr: "Despite everything I felt the most relaxed I have done all season at Croft and I have complete confidence in the abilities of the team after seeing them rebuild my car after the sprint race in double quick time. The drive through penalty was obviously disappointing but, to be totally honest, we should not have made the start of the feature race at all so it was a bonus to pick up fourth place."
"Whilst I succeeded in closing the gap between me and Spencer Marsh I suffered as a result of the accident in the sprint race as Norman Simon has nipped in ahead of me in the championship. It is a close run thing though with me on 80 points and both of them on 82 so I look forward to getting my new engine at the next round at Snetterton to see what I can do about getting back into second in the points."
Hyla Breese: "Getting used to front wheel drive was my main priority this weekend and that takes time. The rules restrict testing during the season so I have to do it at the race events. I've spent my whole career in rear wheel drive and it takes some getting used to. It's not a problem though, it's just a matter of reprogramming the brain to react to different things the car does on the limit."
"I'm now looking ahead to the next round, at my adopted home track of Snetterton, in two weeks time where I hope to finally make my mark. I have no doubt the team will be back on song with both cars getting fresh engines and I feel much better prepared now than I did a week ago, so bring it on!"
John B&Q: "After missing Mondello I was pleased to be back at the track and was pleased to welcome the members of my football team as guests. It seemed strange to see them in the racetrack environment as I usually see them only at the football ground but they all enjoyed their day out and I look forward to welcoming them again. It was also good to see so many York City fans making the effort to come along to the circuit and I hope to see them all at Bootham Crescent on Friday night when I will be making my debut for the team in a friendly against Bracknell!"
"I am delighted to welcome Hyla to our team and I am confident that he will become a real asset to us as we strive to win the team and drivers championship of the BTCC Production Class. He has already won friends within the team and, despite not racing this weekend, has made a real effort to fit in. Our data acquisition guy was racing at Mallory Park so Hyla handled that for us and even lent a hand changing doors and body panels when Jim sustained body damage after being hit by Spencer Marsh."