Round 2 saw the team travelling to the infamous Donnington Park circuit near Derby. Having only visited the circuit a couple of times (one of those times was during a snowy winters day!) before, the team were looking to continue their positive developments from the previous rounds. The brake issues had been addressed with a complete brake calliper overhaul along with Motul RBF660 brake fluid so expectations were understandably high that the fade would be a thing of the past. Richard Turnbull from Triple T Services had once again collected the car and delivered it to the circuit in the timely and precise manner the team had become accustomed to. With the car safely unloaded and the new marquee erected, Steve Linton headed off to sign on and get the car scrutineered whilst final preparations were undertaken by the rest of the team. Refreshments were taken care of by Steve’s wife Sonia, who kindly provided everyone with welcome breakfast baps, cups of tea and coffee to keep hunger at bay, and everyone focused on the task at hand. The car was cleaned and checked over one final time before the qualifying session was announced, and Steve was strapped in ready to begin the days racing.
After an uneventful start to the qualifying session Steve began with a couple of warm-up laps to re-familiarise himself with the layout of the circuit, and bring the slick tyres up to temperature. A couple of brief rain showers earlier in the day had raised some concern, but fortunately, the weather would prove to be kind for the rest of the day, allowing the team to keep the wet tyres safely tucked away in the marquee. Steve did a 1min 18.9sec lap early on which wasn’t a particularly fast time, but did allow him the opportunity to highlight the slower areas of the circuit where improvements could be made. From my vantage point on the pit wall I could see Steve was on a charge, and the lap times were starting to improve gradually as his confidence grew. Unfortunately, a broken down car on the racing line before Coppice resulted in a red flag which brought the session to a temporary halt. With the obstruction safely removed, Steve went back out on circuit with a plan in mind to make some much needed improvements. After a brief warm up period to bring the tyres back up to temperature, Steve was preparing to do a fast lap when he was overtaken by the Ford Falcon of Andy Robinson, who was trailing a thick cloud of smoke behind him. Not wanting to get too close in case the smoke was the start of something more serious, Steve backed off slightly to allow himself a buffer. As he crossed the line in front of me, I could tell Steve was going for a fast lap as the tone from the twin exit side exhausts increased significantly. The lap was looking good for all who witnessed it up to the point where Steve caught up with the red Mitsubishi Evo of Ian Roberts. Ian was going through McLeans when he hit some oil on the circuit mid-corner and Steve managed to narrowly miss collecting him as he backed off and corrected himself (the incident couldn’t be avoided and was through no fault of Ian, who came over to speak to Steve about it after Qualifying). Steve later told me he was intending to overtake the Evo between McLeans and Coppice but couldn’t for obvious reasons, and instead backed off to try again on the next lap. Again the oil issues proved problematic to say the least, and Steve narrowly avoided following a Renault Clio that sailed off into the gravel trap, after he lost traction on an oily spot on the racing line. It was at this point that Steve decided enough was enough, and made his way back carefully to the pitlane with a view that the car was too valuable to take unnecessary risks, and that he could fight his way through the field during the race, rather than risk pushing on for maybe one or two more places on the grid. As it turned out, I told Steve there was only another minute of Qualifying left when he arrived in the pitlane, so he had made the right decision for sure.
The Ford Falcon had in fact caught fire from the oil he was losing which burned the rear bumper quite badly, and forced them to retire for the day along with a few other cars that suffered varying degrees of failure. Steve found himself on row 7 of the grid in 14th place amongst a pack of competitive cars this time, which would mean he needed a strong start to avoid battling hard in the opening laps, unlike the first race of the season where he picked his way through the slower cars with relative ease. Although Steve managed a strong start after the pace car peeled off into the pits, two of the lead cars (an Escort Cosworth and a TVR Cerbera) span on the first corner sending everyone in different directions to avoid collecting them. Steve managed to narrowly miss the TVR as well as a Subaru Impreza who was also heading off the circuit. With the initial excitement over, Steve had to settle himself down to the task in hand and get himself back into the race. By the end of lap one Steve had somehow managed to get himself up to 12th place, despite the spins on the opening corner. He did however need to pick up his pace as there was an increasingly big gap between him and the rest of the pack.
During the second lap, Steve managed to pick up a further position and was now chasing down the Vauxhall Vectra of Craig Odams. It would take Steve another three laps to accomplish this however, so by lap five he was up in 10th place overall. The next competitor on the list was the ex-BTCC Honda Accord Touring car of Derek Hale. He in turn was chasing down the red Evo of Ian Roberts who Steve had narrowly missed during the earlier qualifying session after hitting oil). Derek Hale managed to pass Ian early on lap seven, and Steve followed suit at McLeans after Ian suffered a temporary lapse in concentration that saw him come off circuit between Schwantz Curve and McLeans. Steve would later discuss the moment with Ian and the team as it proved rather interesting for all involved as Ian took a rather different approach to McLeans that would see him parallel to Steve, with both of them wondering where he was headed! Fortunately, both drivers’ skills prevented a major incident, and Steve was able to resume the race.
The gap at this point between Steve and Derek Hale in the Honda Accord had increased to around 3secs, so catching him would be a real challenge given the clear speed and cornering capabilities of this pure race car. Undeterred by the challenge that lay ahead, Steve pushed hard and managed to narrow the gap to around ¾ of a sec (no mean feat I can assure you), but a brief lapse in concentration caused Steve to lose most of the time he had gained, and he found himself almost 3secs behind again. Determined to maximise the breathing space he had gained from Steve’s slight error, Derek clocked a lap time of 1min 17.403secs, but Steve was also on a flyer, and managed his best time of the day being a 1min 16.261secs, which put him back in the chase.
By lap ten Steve had narrowed the gap to just 1.6secs and he was looking good to close that to a level that would allow him to challenge for position. The chase was simply breathtaking to watch from wherever you were around the circuit, and lap after lap saw the two of them duelling to the best of their abilities. Regrettably lap thirteen would prove unlucky for Steve as he made a mistake that lost him around 4secs to the Honda Accord. Not to be put off by the setback, Steve valiantly battled on and managed to gain nearly 2secs on the fourteenth lap before gaining even more on the fifteenth lap, and narrowing the gap back to just 1.2secs.
The final lap board came out and Steve realised he didn’t need to carry on pushing so relentlessly, as the Honda Accord was in a different class anyway, and he didn’t want to risk the car or his efforts in getting to such a good position, given the numerous hazards he had done so well to avoid getting there.
With the race at an end and a tired but exhilarated Steve safely back at the marquee, the team began the timely task of packing away before the award ceremony. No one at this point really new quite how well Steve had actually done, as the varying off’s and battles meant no one knew which cars in the top ten positions were from which classes. The car was safely loaded onto the trailer by Richard Turnbull and his brother-in-law who had also kindly turned up on the day to provide support (we cannot stress enough how important and valuable everyone’s help is in doing these events. There really is no way we could do what we do without the help of each and every one of you – thank you once again) and began its lengthy journey back to the workshops in Enfield.
As we wandered over to the award ceremony with some of the team already underway on their respective drives home or to see family, Class A was called and we waited patiently to hear the names. First up was a driver who hadn’t been on the podium before, and was new to the series ‘Steve Linton’. We all looked at each other at this point in stunned appreciation; Steve had made it onto the podium after just three rounds! As he made his way through to receive his trophy, we cheered him on happy in the knowledge that our efforts had paid off, and we were continuing our quest to prove the racing potential of the much overlooked Toyota Supra.
After the event and with excitement still high, we were even more pleased to find out that Steve was now sitting 2nd overall in class with 36 points. Not bad considering this is our first attempt at a proper out and out no holds barred race series!
Sadly we are not going to be able to compete at round 4 at Brands Hatch on the 11/12th June, so our efforts will need to be doubled to pick up where we left off as we travel to the unfamiliar circuit of Pembrey in Wales on the 2/3rd July, for rounds 5 and 6. If you can find a way to join us then we will look forward to seeing you for yet another action packed race weekend. I can’t wait!