It was a rare opportunity to use the full GP layout at Brands Hatch, but in a common theme of Formula Vee events, the weather did its best to throw some chaos into things.
With the event run by MSV, and the cars all sporting new VW Heritage sponsor stickers, James Cater in the RTV Sheane took to slippery track in heavy rain to qualify.
With not even a lap complete, the safety car had to be called out, and conditions were so bad drivers even had problems staying on the track behind the safety car.
James felt good on the restart with his new-found wet weather confidence, despite getting 4th gear wheelspin on the main straight, and tried to tag onto the back of some faster cars.
Unfortunately, the tricky conditions caught him out as he got on the power too early at Paddock Hill bend, going into the gravel at high speed and getting stuck just as another car hit the barriers and brought the safety car out again. Despite the short end to his session, the times still put James in 18th and 16th places on the grid for the races.
The frustrations continued as gearbox problems on the green flag lap of race one meant starting from the pit lane. The problems returned after a few laps and forced retirement, having lost 3rd and 4th gears. The only saving grace was that the problem was a tiny nut on the gear linkage that had worked loose, so the car would be fine for the second race.
With the conditions worsening again for the second race, and almost being cancelled, James made a good start and was running well in 12th place and looking for a strong podium in Class B.
Disaster struck at Paddock Hill once again, as the rear wheels locked up on the entry, and despite some frantic steering work the car ended up sideways in the gravel once again.
Unable to restart the car, this mean a second DNF for the weekend.
There is a lot of work to do to clean the gravel and dirt off the car ready for Croft at the end of May, and fears that it may have been an engine issue causing the rear wheels to lock, but we’re hopeful that it wouldn’t restart due to a flat battery rather than anything more serious.
It’s a shame that we had to come away from our first meeting sporting Primrose Hospice sponsorship with such poor results, but some decent (although short) onboard video has been captured by the JooVuu cameras, as always.
We’ll look to have a strong performance at Croft – a very fast circuit that James loves and that suits his driving style.
With Glenn Hay only finishing preparing the car the night before, we arrived at Oulton Park with a only few hours to spare before we had to qualify.
Already at a disadvantage to those who’d been able to test at the track we knew that realistically this would have to be a shake-down day, despite it being James’ favourite track from motorcycle track days.
We’d gone back to the older engine which seemed to have more power (although still using most of the same internals), but hadn’t been able to make some of the suspension changes intended over the off-season.
As James exited the pit lane onto the damp and greasy track, one of the spark plugs tore itself out along with the thread, leaving him to limp around the track so slowly it was impossible to get any feel for braking or cornering. This meant a very disheartening 26th and 27h place start for the races – if we could fix the car.
As James brought the car back into the paddock the throttle jammed open and he had to kill the engine before it blew. Another problem…
Some hasty repairs with help from the AHS team meant we just about made the start of the first race, in monsoon conditions. Without having taken a single corner at race pace, the aim for the day was to try and keep safe, and try to get some feel back for the car. We also opted to try some very different damper settings, as our full wet set-up from last year seemed to be a bit disastrous.
James Harridge took pole, getting his quick lap in before oil on the track slowed the times, followed by Adam Macaulay and Ben Miloudi.
Avoiding a first corner crash and red flag stoppage, James flew off the line on the restart, finding the experimental set-up working well with the repaired car, and despite a few off-track excursions in the horrendous conditions, made up 14 places to finish 4th in class and 12th overall. Even better was that he was a few hundredths of a second behind Jamie Harrison who was 3rd in class, and just pipped David Leniewski at the line after a great battle.
At the front, James Harridge took his first win, 6 seconds clear from Ben Miloudi and Pete Belsey.
Race 2 saw opposite weather conditions, and James would now have to take his first ever laps on a warm and dry track, starting from 25th place.
We took a gamble and stuck with the wet settings, hoping for a downpour as we knew we’d be quick, but the sun continued to shine as James pulled onto the back of the grid.
Expecting to flounder at the back trying to learn the dry circuit, another demon start saw James on the fringes of the top 10 yet again. A mixture of bravery and guesswork kept him at a decent pace, and after a close dice with returning veteran Andrew Crighton, James pulled clear and gave chase to David Leniewski.
The scrapping pair pushed each other to very quickly catch the group in front, but unfortunately the chequered flag ended the race just before they could take the extra places.
On the back straight going into the last corner James had such a great run on the pack ahead he had two wheels on the grass flat out in top gear, attempting to go past 3 cars at once, before backing out of the move. In hindsight that move would have meant James took his first ever class win, but he had to settle for a still ecstatic 2nd behind Jamie Harrison, and 13th place overall.
This performance also meant James got the fastest lap time in Class B – not a bad present on what was his 40th birthday weekend! The results also put James 2nd overall in the B class championship.
Craig Pollard took an excellent overall win, with Ben Miloudi second again to lead the championship, and Paul Taylor snagged the final podium place.
The next round is a very rare outing at Brands Hatch on the full GP layout on May 1st, where James hopes to significantly improve his performance on his least favourite track.
To end our 2016 campaign, RTV headed down to Brands Hatch for the annual non-championship MSVR Vee Festival at the weekend.
This is always a great event with loads of track time at a great price – qualifying and 3 races – which attracts star drivers from other series alongside a few who only ever do the Festival and no championship rounds. Stephen Morrin brought an Irish spec 1600cc Leastone over, whilst there were a few rather older vintage cars in John Bowles’ Hawk and the even older Appal driven by Erle Minhinnick. Gavin Buckley was also over from the Irish Championship, but this time in a UK spec Vee hired from Team Carbrooke Racing, and there were a few new faces at the track, too.
James put the Sheane 12th on the grid in qualifying out of 21 cars, but unfortunately had to pull off the track after losing all the gears.
Fearing a very short weekend, Ben Miloudi offered his spare gearbox to us, which would have at lest got us back on track for Sunday – luckily Glenn found that it was just a circlip that had come off. This was fixable, except it was a struggle to get the shaft back out to replace the clip. A little help from John Bowles soon got things back together, and the car was ready about 15 minutes before we were called for the first of the three races.
Knocking a second off his previous best lap times, James fought hard to stay with the leading pack, but dropped back a little not quite able to match the pace until a big crash between Ian Buxton, Ian Jordan, and Charles Merrill stopped the race.
Buxton was taken to hospital after going into the wall backwards at Paddock hard enough to bend his flywheel, but was seen hobbling around the paddock on Sunday morning to spectate. All three cars suffered fairly extensive damage and so were out for the rest of the weekend.
After the restart and a 2 lap sprint, James brought it home 10th – the perfect place to take advantage of a reverse-top-ten grid for the next race.
Sunday morning brought thick fog and ground moisture, testing the confidence that James had built up overnight ready to lead the field into Paddock for the first time.
After a slight delay, it was deemed safe to see a sufficient distance, and the Vee’s gridded up, with the yellow RTV Sheane lining up in the number 1 spot.
Despite his confidence, James bogged down a little at the start on the camber, which was enough for Stephen Morrin to use the 1600cc and lower gearing of his Irish spec car to get ahead into the first turn.
There was never any real hope to storm away from the pack, but some good, clean driving was again displayed as the faster cars came through to regain their natural order, with James back to 6th at the end of the first lap, but still giving his all.
He managed to knock another 0.5 seconds off his best lap times, but again didn’t really have anyone lapping at the same pace to scrap with.
Claiming another 10th place, this race held yet another first experience as James caught a bunch of hard-fighting back-markers and had to lap through them, still carried by the extra pace gained from being up with the front runners for the early part of the race.
Starting 10th again for the 3rd and final race of the Festival veteran racer and Formula Vee legend John Bowles was all over the back of James for the first few laps, forcing him to give it everything until he finally eased clear to safety.
We were again expecting to end up in a somewhat lonely place in the middle of the pack, but James was still working hard despite aiming to bring the car back safe and sound without risking too much.
This paid off as Jamie Harrison went straight on at Druids into the gravel, and then Irish Vee regular Gavin Buckley (on his second visit to the Vee Festival, but this time hiring the British spec Team Carbrooke Racing Sheane) went onto the grass to avoid tangling with Paul Taylor.
Coming down the hill from Druids, James saw Gavin rejoining the track and shot past, just about holding him behind to cross the finish line on the next lap in a best ever 8th place overall.
This also carried with it the unofficial Class B victory (although no classes were officially recognised for the Festival) – something that James will need to find another 2 or 3 seconds a lap to repeat in the regular season!
Massive congratulations to John Hughes who won the 2016 Vee Festival despite barely racing this year, and then failing to make the track for qualifying – everyone will agree that he drove amazingly all weekend, and has re-affirmed that he’s a very fast driver capable of big things next year.
Also congratulations to Craig Pollard and Pete Belsey for 2nd and 3rd respectively, having also barely driven in Vee this year!
Huge thanks again to MSVR for hosting the Festival for us – I know a lot more cars would have been out but had some unfortunate damage to them or the drivers which stopped them racing.
And that will be the last time that RTV will turn a wheel in anger in 2016!
It won’t be the end of the updates, however, so make sure you click to like us on WordPress, Facebook and Twitter. There are big plans for 2017, and lots of work to be done in the off-season.
2017 will also be the 50th year of Formula Vee in the UK, so all eyes should be on what is already a respected and hard-fought championship – with rumours that the Vee Festival will be held on the full Brands GP circuit with some star names jumping back in a Vee.
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As ever, all the action from the weekend was captured on the excellent JooVuu X and Mobius action cameras supplied by JooVuu, and you can view them on YouTube:
At the final race weekend of the year, James Cater finally managed to get on the elusive B Class podium with a hard-won 3rd place and 11th overall on the Snetterton 300 circuit in Norfolk.
Following the disastrous Silverstone weekend where two engine studs snapped (likely to have been caused by the long holding times with the engine running), Glenn Hay made the decision to swap in next years engine, using most of the internals from the ruined engine.
With no time to test, Racing Team Vee drove the trusty VW camper to the Norfolk circuit on race day – with almost all the other drivers having arrived at the circuit the day before to test or set up. 750 Motor Club put on a great value extra test session at 09:00 – but with qualifying scheduled for 10:35 if we found any problems we’d have had no time to fix them anyway.
The RTV Sheane took to the track for a very limited qualifying session. With a red flag stopping the session, James only managed one lap whilst trying to get up to race speed, putting him 22nd and 21st on the grid for the final two races of the 2016 Formula Vee championship.
James reported that the car felt good, and it felt like he was driving hard but it still didn’t seem fast. He opted to leave the settings as they were for the first race, possibly stiffening up the damping front and rear for the second race, if the speed couldn’t be made up by his driving.
Another great start in race 1 moved him up the grid onto the back of a large pack fighting for the final trophy place, mixed with a number of higher spec A Class cars.
After fighting through to the front, James was able to hold off the assault, pulling away with 2 laps to go when several of the chasing pack fell victim to an oil spin on the infield of the circuit.
Despite another hard fight in the second race, James fell back from the main battle with the engine losing power, finishing in 18th place overall and 5th in class.
All of the action was captured by cameras supplied by sponsors JooVuu – the UK based action/dashcam company.
Although the regular season has now ended, RTV will be out one more time on the last weekend of October for the Formula Vee Festival at Brands Hatch, where there will be qualifying and 3 races against competitors from the Irish championship.
Hoping to improve on the 9th place finish we had last year, and knowing that the new engine is reliable, we should be able to get a little more from it, and James will be keen to push harder as a driver on his 3rd visit to Brands Hatch Indy circuit.
Making up 8 places before the first corner at the start of the first race sadly came to nothing, as engine failure at the end of the first lap forced retirement.
Starting out the day with the aim of testing a newly rebuilt gearbox, James Cater had the added problem of a very cold and wet track – having only driven at Silverstone International last year in dry conditions.
A miscalculation with the suspension settings (we were totally focused on the gearbox and actually went out with the dry setup we’d used at Anglesey!) added to the problems, but despite a few spins James still qualified 23rd of the 38 cars entered.
With the track almost dry for the first race, conditions were better suited on what is a brilliant circuit, exactly one year from when James had his first ever race there.
A demon start took the RTV Sheane closer to the B class podium finish we were aiming for, before a 120+mph spin at Abbey at the start of the second lap meant dropping back down the order.
Red flags a few corners later due to another accident caused a restart, but with the engine sounding off, James took the restart from the pit lane after checking in with Glenn Hay. Sadly, the problems got worse back on track, and he had to pull back in to the pits and retire from the race.
An inspection found two engine studs had snapped, one proving too tough to remove the remains of the broken thread from the engine case at the track.
Despite a valiant effort from Glenn to repair the engine, we unfortunately ran out of time before the start of the second race, and the weekend was over for us.
We’re disappointed with the result, especially as James had new sponsor decals on the car for British action camera company JooVuu, and also the newly formed RTV.
We will be hoping to make amends and get a solid result at Snetterton on September 24th for the final race of the year.
As always, you’ll be able to read the more in-depth race report from James’ perspective on www.jamescaterracing.com shortly.