After a devastating, and highly expensive weekend last time out at Thruxton, Rob Collard and the Collard Racing team were desperate for things to go more their way at Silverstone. A first race, first lap incident at Thruxton caused massive amounts of damage to the Independent driver’s Vauxhall Astra Coupe, and the team worked flat out to get the car ready for Silverstone, after receiving it back from Triple Eight Race Engineering, where it received a thorough going-over from the experienced chassis-builders.
For an Independent team, expensive car damage is the worst nightmare, and this was no exception for Collard, however his sponsors have been keen to help him get back on track. Kent-based Vauxhall dealership, Whitmore’s (www.whitmoresvauxhall.co.uk) stepped in to supply the bodywork needed to repair the Astra Coupe, whilst the car carried the livery of new sponsor, Brackenwood Windows (www.brackenwood.com) for the first time at Silverstone. Collard commented, “Brackenwood were my guests at Thruxton and saw what happened. I suppose they went through the agony we all felt at the time. They were also bowled over by the championship’s profile and what they saw on the day. Without the sponsors, we wouldn’t be here.”
Saturday’s free practice sessions were treated as a shakedown for the car, so the rain during the first session did not make the task at hand any easier. The second session was drier and Collard set a time which put in 11th position, just over a second off the pace of the works Astra Coupe of quickest driver, James Thompson. When it came to qualifying, the team were somewhat disappointed with 14th spot on the grid, but they were hindered by a problem which they were unable to rectify during the short 20-minute session.
“We made some changes before qualifying that we knew would help the performance of the car, but there’s a misfire that has crept in now”, said Collard. “Hopefully we will sort the problem out before the races tomorrow, but starting that far down the grid is a recipe for disaster. I’ll just do my best to stay out of trouble at the start.”
Come race day and the niggling problem returned. For the second meeting in succession, Collard was unable to complete the first lap of the race. The illusive misfire forced him to pit. The team set about searching once more, and hoping they had finally found it, sent Collard back out. He was able to compete a number of laps, but had to admit defeat when the problem re-occurred yet again. The frustration was clear for all to see, and the DNF would see Collard start round eight from the back of the grid.
The second race of the day was to prove somewhat more successful. Despite some close battles over the opening laps, Collard was able to move through the pack to 11th position by the end of lap three.
“I didn’t make a good start that time – the engine bogged down a little bit, and when I did get it hooked up, all the gaps had closed so I couldn’t make up any places on the opening lap. I was having quite a battle with the Protons, being attacked from behind. The first four or five laps were very exciting, with a lot of overtaking, even though the positions didn’t really change that much in the end. There was a lot of jostling for position.”
“We didn’t actually pinpoint the problem that we had on Saturday and in the first race, but we’ve now changed so many things to do with the engine management, that there’s nothing else left! So we’ve solved the problem but we don’t know what it actually was.”
The pitstop passed without incidents and Collard found himself in a fairly comfortable position, where he was not being put under pressure from behind. With the events of recent races in mind, the Hampshire based driver was content to hold position and bring the car home in ninth – and second in the Hilton Independents Cup.
“I’m very very pleased to come away from the meeting with no damage to the car. The car ran very well. We had the two GA Vauxhalls in my sight, and it looked like I was closing on them. When we made the pitstop and went back out, the car didn’t feel quite the same. The brakes were playing up and I had trouble under braking in to Becketts and in to Abbey. I was getting a very bad vibration through the brake pedal, so I slowed the pace down slightly and just settled for a good points finish. It’s good to bring the car home and take some points.”
“It’s not a bad result from the back of the grid, and we’re just very pleased to finish at the moment really. We needed to get a good race distance under our belt, because we haven’t had many finishes, so I’m very pleased. We’re looking forward now to getting a bit quicker. I don’t think we’re quite back on the race pace we had at the start of year. We will work on that and try to find out where we’re losing out.”
Collard had used a new, 2002 spec engine in the car for the first time at Thruxton, but this had to go back to engine builders Sodemo in France to be checked over. With the more powerful lump only arriving back in the country on Saturday morning, the team had no choice but to run on the older version. With the 2002 engine offering around 10bhp more, there is reason to be optimistic towards the latter parts of the season. Collard commented, "We’ll probably keep the 2001 spec engine in the car for Rockingham and then change to the 2002 spec for Croft, because we should have enough engine mileage left to get to the end of the season on the newer one.”
Looking forward to rounds 9 and 10, in two weeks time, Collard said, “I feel that we’ve had so much bad luck so far, that it will be good to go to Rockingham and try to get a good result. That could be the turning point – half way through the season. None of the teams have raced there yet, so hopefully that will help us!”