“The story so far – Rounds 1 & 2 of the ITCC Championship”- with Dave O’Brien

March 20, 2014 by Dave O'Brien  

Last year I did not have a spare minute to even think about writing a blog about my experience in the ITCC 2013 championship.  A newly built car with a few issues required all of my time and attention!

So I decided I would make an effort this year to give everyone a little insight as to how the little E46 saloon came about.  This blog will provide a brief overview and updates on our progress throughout the 2014 fight for the championship.

Having watched my brother Paul from the pitwall competing in the ITCC, I eventually gave in to watching and decided I had to get back out on the track! In October 2012 we picked up a 320i E46 saloon and commenced the process of building a WTCC replica. After a serious amount of blood loss, sweat, the odd profanity and a total of 500 hours our car appeared on the 2013 grid, albeit missing the first two rounds of the season.

We were plagued with many small issues throughout the year, some due to our own inaccurate decisions regarding specification of parts and we were also let down by two major component manufacturers in the UK. This left us with fuel surge problems and also a major handling issue caused by our differential which we chased throughout the year to try to rectify.

The preparation for the 2014 season began in late November 2013 when we stripped more weight from the car, re-designed the fuel system and built the differential ourselves to the spec I thought would work to suit the car.

We arrived in Mondello Park to a test day a few weeks ago a little anxious about how the car would perform, but to our delight the fuel surge issue was resolved and the car appeared to be handling well on old rubber.

Last week saw us hit the grid for the 2014 ITCC championship opener; the sun appeared to be hiding as we pulled into Mondello Park on the Sunday morning. It was one of those, is it wet or is it dry tyres?? scenarios that all drivers hate! Eventually we settled on wets and set the car up to suit the greasy conditions.

Qualifying was tight and Erik held pole for most of the session with only tenths separating us. I really began to get a feel for the conditions after my brake pads bedded in and I adjusted the brake bias  after about the fifth lap. Then on lap 7 I just pipped Erik’s time by a few tenths before an oil spill on the track and a waved yellow at Duckhams put an end to the session.

Conditions improved for the first race and we started on slicks. Lining up on the front row of the grid in pole position with Erik alongside me insecond, I knew I needed to get a good start.

Well if Erik’s start was good, mine was the complete opposite! I didn’t give the car enough revs and it nearly bunny hopped away from the line, Erik shot off into the lead to turn one. What then transpired was one of the tightest and most difficult 15 laps I have ever driven in Mondello Park. Not only were the conditions tricky as the track was greasy and dirty offline, but Erik’s driving was what could only be described as faultless. Every braking point was covered, every turn in point optimised for good defensive driving but he was also lapping fast. Inches separated us for the entire race and at times we traded paint and we eventually crossed the line with 0.3 of a second separating us. I was happy with the performance of the car but was annoyed with myself for loosing position before turn 1.

We had to make a similar decision regarding tyres for race two as the skies threatened to dump on Mondello Park but eventually it brightened up and we decided to race on slicks again. We set off to the grid with the positions reversed, where I started from fifth position with my eyes on the superb Seat Supercopra of Brian Fitzpatrick in front of me.

Conscious of not making a complete mess of the start again I gave the BM a good few more revs than I had previously; lights out and we were off. Erik got his usual lightening quick start and passed me before the bridge down the outside to turn one. I tucked in behind to follow around the outside of turn one and ended up boxed in before BOAC (Turn 2). Brian Sexton, in front of me, lifted the throttle to give Erik some room but I ran clean into the back of him. I managed to position the car up his inside and ended up on the outside of Erik on the way down to Duckhams (turn 3), side by side. I then had to concede the corner and what transpired was almost a carbon copy of Race one!

We diced just as hard for the race if not harder than race one and both of us set our fastest laps on lap 10 which were in the magic 59’s, which I’m sure most of you will know is an incredible pace around Mondello Park, especially when dicing a fellow competitor. Exiting Dunlop corner on lap 12 Erik missed a gear and being as close as we were, I ran into the back corner of his bumper which pushed him out of shape slightly and consequently destroyed my front bumper!

Concerned now about actually just finishing the race I began checking gauges and watching the countdown timer on the main straight. Luckily I had built a good gap from Fitzy in the Seat and I was able to not only finish the race but hold on to second place and the points which are pretty valuable when fighting for the championship.

After the race Brian Sexton informed me that I had broken the lap record (59.613) which was held by Martin Treacy in the savage RS 500 Cosworth since 2011. Hopefully this might convince Martin to dust her off and join us later in the season!

Finally, I would like to thank Philip Wright Motors & my brother Paul for helping me prepare the car for the 2014 season and also my family & friends who give me great support throughout each year. Hopefully we can share many more strong results in 2014!

Looking forward to Rounds 3 & 4 in Mondello Park!

Cheers
Dave


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