The 13,500 spectators at Snetterton on Sunday could be forgiven for thinking that we had put Perry McCarthy and Johnny Herbert in our cars for this meeting as our luck had been akin to some of these two perennially unlucky Essex boys more troublesome weekends. Our troubles started just two laps into free practice and continued until the end of the feature race on Sunday and they proved harder to fathom than the weather system that had most of the paddock looking skywards and scratching their heads in the run-up to the feature race.
With two new engines fitted to our cars since the last race at Croft we had been confidently predicting fireworks. What we hadn't been expecting was that the loudest bang of all would be coming from one of those new engines, after just two laps. With Hyla Breese needing a decent amount of track time to get used to his new mount the last thing he needed was for his new engine to fail in the first session of free practice but, sure enough, that is exactly what happened.
With Hyla forced to sit out the rest of the day on the pit wall, thus missing the qualifying session, it looked likely that the locally based Aussie would suffer the ignominy of missing both races for the second meeting in succession. Thankfully the paddock of the British Touring Car Championship can be a friendly place and people rallied round to ensure he made the grid to finally make his touring car debut. A replacement engine had been loaned from one of our rivals and TOCA officials had granted special dispensation for him to start from the back of the grid. He was back in business and was eager to get on with making his mark on the championship especially as, having used his quota of engines already, he was now minus five points in the championship, despite having not even started a race.
His team mate, Maidenhead-based Jim Edwards Jnr, also had more than his fair share pf problems and struggled to find a set up that suited him and the car and was struggling to find his usual pace, even before a fuel surge problem reared it's head; he found himself languishing back in 11th and 10th places for the sprint and feature races respectively, his worst starting positions this season. Edwards and his mechanics worked on the car and it's set up for several long hours after the session and they were confident that the changes they had made would resolve the problems and find them around a second per lap and put him back into the fight on race day.
In a confident mood the two York City Racing Honda Accords set off from the grid hoping to turn the weekend around but it is soon apparent that our earlier luck has not improved and that we were struggling to keep pace with the other front runners; Jim Edwards Jnr raced round ahead of his new team mate, Hyla Breese, who describes his first touring car start:
"I got a great start which was mainly guess work. I asked Jim what revs to use and worked the rest out in the green flag lap. It worked great, Annie Templeton had trouble getting away and I got away better than the Alfa in front of me and Jim but couldn't get through. I could have taken to the grass to get round but I thought it a bit risky seeing as I hadn't got myself up to speed yet, they may just come crashing into me anyway so eased back. Into the first corner (Riches) I got alongside the Alfa and out-braked him into Sear corner. Unfortunately the Alfa has loads more grunt and was able to pull past me on the back straight anyway, all I could do was squeeze him to stop him having a go at Jim in front."
After five laps, Alan Blencowe blew an engine in spectacular fashion at the Russell Chicane, causing Edwards and Breese to take high speed avoiding action to avoid the chaos that ensued. Their excursion onto the grass loses the pair time but this is recovered when the safety car is deployed to enable the marshals to safely remove the Alfa Romeo and to clear up the large amount of oil that it has deposited on the track.
On the restart Edwards tried to benefit by harrying the cars ahead of him but they managed to slowly pull away from him and he was left to circulate ahead of his teammate until the fuel surge problems reoccur. Thereafter he dropped back into the clutches of Graham Saunders and soon enough the Alfa Romeo and the two Beacon Motorsport Honda Accords of Mark Thomas and Spencer Marsh powered past, followed by new team mate Hyla Breese.
With the Russell Chicane covered in oil and cement dust it proved tricky and Hyla, in particular, seemed to be suffering there especially as he had problems with his brake bias causing him to lock his brakes as he approached the corner, but he managed to take the car by the scruff of the neck and wrestle it through the corner each time round. "I was struggling with a difficult brake pedal which meant it was very easy to lock up a wheel. It was one of the things that was taking time to get used to; the power assistance is something I'm not used to", he commented.
The Beacon Motorsport duo of Spencer Marsh and Mark Thomas had slid off the track in the Bridge complex, allowing Hyla to pass them and move up into seventh position. As he entered the section on his next lap, Hyla discovered for himself why they had gone off when he himself as caught out by some fluid on the track. This caused the back of the car to get loose and he clipped the wall but, thankfully, the damage proved to be largely cosmetic.
Eventually we were shown some mercy and the race came to an end; Hyla scored a couple of points for a ninth place finish and Jim trailed him in, some 17 seconds behind, still suffering from the fuel surge problems that had blighted his weekend.
Hyla was delighted to have finally got some time in the car and, with his borrowed engine proving to be lacking in top end power, he had treated the race largely as a public test session and tried different lines and tactics. Jim on the other hand must have been hugely disappointed that he had lost further ground in the driver's championship.
Determined to get to the bottom of the fuel surge problems the team had systematically stripped the entire fuel system but could not find the root problem. They had done everything they could in the time available but, sure enough, the problem was destined to reoccur halfway through the feature race.
The feature race was, as always, started by way of a rolling start. Jim Edwards Jnr has had a lot of experience with this method of starting the race, and got away well, but for his new teammate it was a new experience. "This was my first rolling start since I stopped racing karts all those years ago. Unfortunately I was right at the back after my engine problems and, when Annie Templeton dropped back from the rest of the field as they accelerated towards the line I had to hold back and I was unable to pass her until we crossed the start line. This instantly dropped me off the back of my main competitors."
Both York City Racing cars were again struggling near the back of the field and when the safety car was deployed after Alan Morrison suffered an off at Coram we were pleased as this would give us an opportunity to close up on our competitors ahead and have another go at them but unfortunately the safety car picked up the wrong cars, delaying the Alfa Romeo of Alan Blencowe and our two cars, causing them to effectively lose virtually a lap as their rivals were able to power round and join the back of the train of cars. The three cars were eventually waved past but none of them were able to catch up with the rest of the pack before the safety car was withdrawn and their race was as good as over at that point.
Unbelievably Jim's fuel problems reoccurred shortly after the safety car returned to the pitlane and yet again he fell back and ended up behind Annie Templeton. He was able to re-pass her after several laps when she ran wide at Russell but clearly things were still not right and he was forced to pull into the pits and into retirement just a handful of laps from the end of the race to bring a sorry weekend to a close.
Hyla Breese meanwhile, crossed the line to bring his car home for his second ninth position finish of the day, albeit five laps down after being forced to stop in the pits twice due to technical problems and the safety car blunder. "The car suddenly started to handle badly, it felt like a puncture and wouldn't turn into right hand bends. I stuck with it and went into the pits twice to have it checked over. It was as if a track rod was unwinding itself and that would have been a massive accident and I didn't want that, but the mechanics couldn't see anything that was obviously wrong so I went out again to get more time in the car and try to salvage some points for the team."
Comments And Quotes
Jim Edwards Jnr: "To come away from a meeting like this is always disappointing at first, but then you sit back and realise that there are positives to be drawn from every situation. The team proved once again that they could gel very well in the face of adversity and that is something that is vital in a championship campaign. We might have picked up fewer points than we intended to this time but we will all be trying our damnedest to recover that situation next time out. I am delighted for Hyla that he was finally able to make his debut. He is an extremely determined young man and his arrival has been a breath of fresh air in the team."
Hyla Breese: "I was obviously very disappointed on Saturday morning when I thought I was out of the meeting but the team worked hard to get me back into the running and it was wonderful to finally be sitting on the grid for my first touring car race. It was a tough weekend for all the team and everyone did the best they could to get both cars out there for the races. There is a fair bit of work that needs doing before Knockhill but I'm sure they team will have things ready by then."
"I got a good start, better than I expected to, having never done one before in a front wheel drive car. I struggled with a flat engine which lost me time on the back straight, but it was a good first couple of races, and I got some points for the team and more track time which I desperately needed having only completed 22 laps in the car prior to taking the start of the sprint race."
John B&Q: "This was one of those weekends where you wish you'd stayed at home! I arrived on Saturday evening after watching York City lose to Sunderland and I arrived to find nothing was going our way here either^Å it is enough to drive me to drink!! We just need to keep ourselves focused - this is motor racing and as Murray used to say, anything can happen and usually does. Unfortunately it always seems to happen to us for some reason!"
"We were celebrating a double podium just two races ago and this is just a temporary setback in the grand scheme of things, no matter how disappointing it is to leave the circuit with less points than we arrived with. Things will improve and the other guys had better watch out because we will be back at Knockhill and they won't want to get in our way; the team are absolutely determined to get that elusive race win before the end of the season and what better way to bounce back after a race meeting that brought back memories of trolling round in those bloody Integras!"