So I just thought I’d look back at last Weekend’s Silverstone Festival which I had been looking forward to for a long time, for 2 reasons really, firstly we finally get to race our 1961 Lotus Formula Junior, 18 months after buying her and after a 12 month restoration, and also we were invited to drive the Nascar around the Silverstone Grand Prix track for some demo runs so I finally get to see what it is capable of as since owning the 24 I have really only driven it up the Goodwood FOS hill climb, as amazing as that is it isn’t really what the car was designed for so at last I’ll be able to give it some beans down the long straights at Silverstone.
The latest Custodian of this gorgeous 1961 Lotus Formula Junior.
We were going to be at Silverstone for 4 days, the Thursday being a test day in the Lotus, this was to be my first real drive in the Junior so I was certainly keen to get out and see what she was like, we were only going to get 2 x 25 minute sessions but I am well aware that seat time is everything in motorsport so I was keen to get every second I could. Unfortunately both sessions had red flags in the middle of them so we didn’t get as much time as I’d have liked, in my head I wanted to get down to a 2 minute 38 second lap as that was the time a friend of mine achieved in his first outing last year in his Lotus Type 18 Junior, all the could manage though was a 2:48 so plenty of time still to find.
She drove well though, the engine seems to have a dead spot between 4-6000 revs but the power really comes in between 6-9000 revs so it is just a matter of keeping it in that power band, also the gearbox is a little temperamental, there is no synchromesh on it so it is just a matter of throwing it in which does throw up the odd grinding noise from time to time, what I soon realised was that I need to learn to heel and toe to match the revs to the gear change, I have never done this before and I did try it a few times and only managed to get it right once which worked a treat, the other times I tried went horribly wrong and I missed the apex by a mile, definitely something to work on though as definitely helps.
The real highlight of Thursday was that when coming in at the end of the second test session Jim Clarks Lotus 25 overtook me and I followed it down the Hangar straight which was incredible, the Type 25 is by far my favourite F1 car and I’m a huge Jim Clark fan so that made my weekend, that really was priceless for me.
So today was qualifying, luckily it was dry but I was a bit concerned that with 60 cars on track it would be difficult to get any clean laps in but I needn’t have worried as it wasn’t too bad at all, so with a 2:38 lap time in mind I gave my best for the 20 minute session but only got down to a 2:41 and an overall qualifying position of 42 out of 56, not great but after only spending about 30 minutes driving the car in total I guess it could have been worse and a lot of the drivers are Pro’s for this event as there is a lot of prestige in winning the Silverstone Festival. I was really struggling with 2nd gear in the slow left hander ‘The Loop’ which was costing me a lot of time, later I would find out it could be taken in 3rd which would make things a lot easier, and faster.
Then at lunchtime we got to take the Nascar out for it’s first proper drive, since getting the car over from America last year we had always had a water overheating issue, now we weren’t sure if it was a problem or if as the car is designed to run at over 200 mph then it just wasn’t getting enough airflow, around Silverstone this would help to figure this out as we could get some serious speed up, it turns out that it really needs to be moving at speed for the temps to stay in a safe operating window as once we got going then it stayed very constant.
I have to say that the Nascar really couldn’t be anymore different to the Lotus Junior but what an experience it was nailing the throttle down the Hangar Straight, it was like Hyperspace as the car just fly’s, with 900 horsepower the acceleration is off the scale, before you know it Stowe is approaching quicker than you’d like and you have to put a lot of trust that the brakes are going to do their job, it really was an incredible experience but before you know it our time was up, at least we’ll have runs on Saturday and Sunday.
Feeling a little Nervous
Today was a big day, my first race in the Junior and my first ever single seater race, now I don’t generally get nervous but I had never been on a grid this big especially with people that are used to racing this type of car, as you can see from the above pic I was a little apprehensive.
This wasn’t helped that the race was at 9am so I needed to be ready for around 8am but when I got to the garage the 20/22’s battery was totally dead, we didn’t realise that there was no alternator on these cars and you are supposed to put the battery on trickle charge to keep it alive when not being driven so it was looking quite unlikely that I would get to start my first planned single seater race as we only had a few minutes to find a solution. Luckily for us, not for one of my fellow computers though who’s car had an engine issue, we asked around and as he couldn’t race he very Kindly lent us his battery, what a gent, so the race was back on.
To make things even more nerve wrecking we had a lot of rain overnight and the track was still pretty wet so I had no idea what to expect, I was assuming a fair bit of sliding around. So anyway the race started and off we went, as I thought there was a lot of understeer and I went off the track a couple of times, a couple of laps in to the race as I came round Copse I saw my friends Lotus 18 in the gravel looking very sorry for itself, unfortunately he had made contact with another car and had rolled it, luckily he was OK but the car now needs a total rebuild due to a bent chassis, it really was horrible to see this, in the end though I had a great race with one of the front engined Juniors, I felt I was a fair bit quicker than him but didn’t want to force anything so followed him home to finish 38th so at least we had moved forward.
Unfortunately the Nascar demo run was cancelled due to rain which was a shame but it was the right decision as they really are a handful in wet conditions, every event we took the 24 this year had session cancelled due to rain, really sums up the summer of 2023 I guess.
Here we are at the last day, driving in I had to smile as most people have a nice lazy start to a Sunday but my alarm went off at 5.30am, I then drive an hour to Silverstone then get strapped into a race car at 8.30am and am then straight into a race at 9am, certainly a great way to wake you up, luckily the adrenaline kicks in and once the lights go green you are in the zone.
I felt much more relaxed for race 2 having already got one race start successfully under my belt and it was bone dry today so I was keen to really attack for the 20 minute race. Unfortunately we had a full course yellow for a couple of laps after the first lap as someone was off at the side of the track so the race only lasted for around 10 mins but I had another great race with front engined Junior where we kept swapping positions and I ended up coming out in front and I actually got my lap time down to a 2min 37sec in the race, so over the course of the weekend we had gained around 11 seconds so I am confident we can find a lot more time with more time in the car, in the end we bought her home in 33rd so around mid pack which I was really happy with for a first weekend. It is funny as before the weekend started I just wanted to get through it with no issues and to make sure the car was OK, basically use it as a glorified shake down but once that visor drops all those thoughts go out the window and all you want to do is beat the person in front.
Next up at the end of the day was our last run in the Nascar, this time without a safety car so we could give it maximum attack and this was the first time that I felt that I was really driving the 24 rather than just holding on for dear life, such an amazing car, I feel more comfortable driving the Junior but what an experience the Nascar is, the noise and power really is something else.
So there we go, what an amazing 4 days with some incredible memories and experiences, I just can’t wait to get out and race the Junior again, I didn’t know what to expect to be honest but after race 2 I was buzzing, it wasn’t the best finishing position but I had a brilliant race and that is all that matters to me and with more seat time I think we could be reasonably competitive.
I’m hoping to make the final race meeting of the year in the Junior then do a full season next year, watch this space for more updates.
So that is the summer of fun of 10 Springsteen gigs and motorsport over, now it is back to the day job, luckily I have the best day job in the world 😀