Direnza’s Jonny Fletcher scores an impressive podium finish in Round 3 of Time Attack against strong opposition – get the full story from Oulton Park and the Tunerfest North weekend
No time to waste
The engine failure sustained in Round 2 at Brands Hatch meant time was tight during the build-up to Round 3 at Oulton Park and the Tunerfest North weekend, writes Jonny Fletcher. The engine had to be removed from the car and sent away to be stripped, cleaned and rebuilt with new parts before reinstallation. Once this was done, the Astra received a new ‘Multi Vane Technology’ Intercooler from Direnza and visited Oulton Park for a steady-paced track session prior to Round 3 itself, just to make sure everything was working as it should.
As always, we headed over to the track the day before the event to allow for any delays in travelling and to get set up without having to rush about on competition day. Thankfully, unlike at Brands Hatch, scrutineering was open on the evening before the event, which meant one less thing for the morning. We took full advantage and the car sailed through the inspection with flying colours.
The timetable started a bit earlier than usual, which meant we were on track at 8.50am. There was some light drizzle around but this didn’t hinder my program. The plan was to go out and give the car a little shakedown but not push too hard, making sure everything was running correctly around Oulton Park’s Island Circuit. Warm Up helps you dial into the track, and the feeling I got from inside the car was a very good one, which increased my confidence of achieving a good result.
With nothing to adjust on the car, the build up to Practice was relaxed. Then it was back out on track to get some more running and push harder to find the grip level. As with Warm Up, there were no issues and the session ran as smoothly as I could have wished for. At the end of Practice, I completed a couple of pulls in two higher boost settings. This allowed us to check the engine map on the laptop and make sure the car had several power options available for Qualifying and the Finals.
Following a quick clean and the scheduled pit lane walkabout, which allows the public to get close to the cars and drivers, it was time for Qualifying. My first lap was a solid 1.38.540 and then it was a case of chipping away at the braking zones and getting on the power earlier. The next lap was a 1.37.054, moving me into third place in class.
Now or never
Sensing there were still a couple of seconds to be found, I cooled the car then turned up the boost, ready for a final push. After the first sector, I was up on the previous lap but then entering Hislops Chicane, I lost third gear. Disaster! I returned to the pits hoping something could be done before Qualifying ended, but it was not to be. I’d had to settle for third – a bitter sweet result given it was my strongest qualifying of the season, but I knew there was more time to be found.
Before the Final got underway, we ran the car on axle stands and discovered third gear was still attainable. That was great news and meant we only had to change the gear selector cables to fix the issue, or so it seemed. First on to the track for the Final, it quickly became clear third gear remained reluctant to slide home. All I could do now, though, was crack on and make the best of the situation.
My first flying lap was good enough for first place, but I was avoiding selecting third whenever possible to stop something truly disastrous happening. My second lap was three tenths faster, stretching my lead slightly. But the next few attempts were severely hampered by the gearbox acting up. Then came the radio message informing me that I’d dropped to third place in class. Not good enough!
On my eighth and final attempt, I threw everything I could at the lap and somehow managed to clock a 1.37.249, which was enough for second place! It was a fantastic feeling stood on the podium, and this sort of result is long overdue, I must say. The Astra is really flying now and I have high hopes for more strong results. Round 4 takes place at Donington Park on August 26th.
Images: Rich Sams Photo & Time Attack