Hampshire racer rounds of with top ten finish
A difficult weekend at the Croft circuit in North Yorkshire for reigning Independents Cup champion Rob Collard in the latest three races of the 2004 Green Flag MSA British Touring Car Championship finally came good as he finished ninth in the final race.
With an engine problem on Saturday, July 24th, hampering his qualifying, Rob was knocked out of a strong finish in Sunday’s race one before striking mechanical problems in race two. >From the back of the grid he gained 11 places in race three - winning Dunlop’s award for the Independent driver gaining the most places in the three races.
From Free Practice on Saturday morning, Rob and the team knew they had a problem, the car lapping Croft slower than it had the year before. The newly-refurbished engine was the subject of their attention and a series of parts were changed, but things were no better for the afternoon’s qualifying session.
“We’re no further forward with the car than we were this morning,” said Rob, from Eversley in Hampshire, immediately after qualifying 17th on the grid for the first race. “The engine just doesn’t want to pull – it feels like it’s running on diesel and we are slower than we were here last year. We’ve had the specialists in to look at the car and they can find nothing wrong, so it is a case of changing parts and a process of elimination.”
Overnight the team were fairly sure they had finally pinned down the engine problems to a faulty sensor, and on the out lap from the pits for the first race to the grid Rob already felt an improvement. In the race he gained places in the early laps but a clash with a rival when running 11th near the end saw him drop to 15th by the end.
“I didn’t get a good start, the engine bogged down off the line,” said Rob after that race,” but into the first corner there was a lot of commotion and I went round the outside of a few cars. The car took a few knocks but we got through, and in all it was an eventful first four or five laps as we came up through the field.
“Unfortunately, in some of those early knocks the steering got a bit damaged, and that overheated the tyres and they started to go off. I was trying to just bring the car home from 11th when a rival made a lunge down the inside into Sunny and took us both off – which cost us both as he was out and I rejoined in 15th. The Astra is a bit battered and bruised, but it will be OK for the next race and at least the engine feels good now.”
As the clock ticked down to the start of race two the team suddenly hit another problem, the gearbox stubbornly resisting being reassembled. The crew finished the task before the start, but Rob was forced to start from the pit-lane at the back of the field. His race proved short lived as a combination of gearbox problems and damage to a front wheel saw him pit after just two laps.
“I went over a kerb and the car bounced hard,” explained Rob, “and that put a flat spot on the rim, it was making a noise which made us think it was something more serious, but the gearbox still wasn’t right and I just had to come in.”
The non-finish put Rob at the back of the grid for the final race of the day, and he put in one of his characteristic storming drives to come home a superb ninth – from 20th across the start line. Gaining places through the 15-lap race, Rob finished the weekend with a smile on his face with a deserved top ten finish.
“I couldn’t even see the start lights from that far back,” said Rob, “so I made a bit of a duff start. The first corner was good and I made a few places up there, then some more at Tower corner. I battled my way through and picked off some cars, then caught the main train of cars battling for seventh.
“I’m glad we finished with a strong race – just disappointed in general that we have had a poor weekend. We had high hopes of doing well here, and that just hasn’t happened. It all goes back to the problems we had on Saturday – you start the weekend on the back foot and that hurts you all meeting.”