Race Report: Silverstone 27th April


The inaugural race meeting of the NipponChallenge was due on Sunday 27th April at Silverstone. Karen’s MR2 MK1 Supercharger wasn’t actually finally completed until the Wednesday before. The Friday was practice day, but only the morning was available. It seemed like a good idea to see if the car would actually perform at all before using it in anger and thus Karen, Richard and Darren kept their fingers crossed as the car ventured out on the National Circuit for the first time since its rebuild. Things went well and by the end of the morning Karen had posted 1:16 minute times. Despite the new home-brew chargecooler system working effectively, boost was still restricted to 10psi and there were ominous noises emanating from the gearbox…

So the crew arrived back at Silverstone on Sunday morning and found themselves a space in the paddock next to Jim Bridge and his Production Class Nissan 350Z. The car was originally from America and had been prepared by a professional outfit to a very high standard. We’d all become acquainted at practice on the Friday. Jim was a little worried about the forecast very wet weather, in full knowledge his car would be a total handful. Karen was also concerned, not knowing how the Supercharger would handle with the LSD in the wet.

Image copyright David Avery, used with kind permission

Conditions were overcast and dull initially but slowly things began to brighten until Silverstone was bathed in bright warm sunlight! This helped lift spirits and it wasn’t long before the dreaded spectre of scrutineering was upon everyone. Karen was due to lead Jim in his 350Z and Chris Dunlop in his Honda Civic over to scrutineering to let them get a heads up on what happens. However, as she started the Supercharger, the throttle ran wild and she was forced to kill the engine with the cut-out! It turns out the throttle cable had come adrift of the throttle pulley and so the guys had to go ahead on their own as Darren and Stuart Skinner wrestled the throttle nipple back into place. Things went much more smoothly after that until we discovered Jim’s car had failed inspection due to the electrical cut-out not working. Darren and Richard got to work and swapped the cable for a spare Richard carried and got it working. Seems the outfit that prepared Jim’s car could never have tried the cut-out as the angles were all wrong for it to operate correctly. Jim was soon re-checked and all legal to race.

Image copyright David Avery, used with kind permission

Qualification was a real eye-opener for everyone concerned. Some of the cars were extremely fast and seemingly spectacularly loud! Of particular note were a couple of RX7’s, a Subaru Impreza and Chris Huntley’s bright orange MR2 MK2 Turbo. Whilst those guys were hurtling around, Karen was fighting for space amongst the throng of MX5’s out on track. Karen qualified 34th for Race 1 with a time of 1:18.071 and 32nd for Race 2 with a 1:18.333 from a total of 40 runners. That was disappointing, given her times from Friday would have put her starting in roughly 25th place. Dallas Jackson and David Cross had posted some great times in their MR2 MK2’s, but Dallas was forced to retire from the event with a clutch problem. That left David starting near Chris’s MK2 Turbo at the pointy end of the grid!

Race 1 saw Karen get a great start, passing the two MX5’s in front of her and the Honda CRX Del Sol of Roger Sibley before Copse. Into Becketts and one of the MX5’s and the MR2 MK1 of Mark Thomas briefly got ahead before she passed them down the National Straight. Once again the MX5 of Jennifer Garret passed Karen through Brooklands. The MX5’s revelling in their lighter weight and seemingly more nimble handling. As Karen rounded Copse at the start of lap two, an MX5 in front got very crossed up sideways on the outer kerbing until it flung itself towards the centre of the circuit right in front of her! On lap 3 one of the MX5’s once again got the inside line for Brooklands and got past. On lap 4 a pair of MX5’s overtook Karen through Becketts but she hunted them down along the National Straight and had positioned herself perfectly for the inside line through Brooklands. Unfortunately, she had to abort her manoeuvre as yellow flags began to wave. Two MX5’s had a coming together between Brooklands and Luffield and by some bizarre fluke one had driven up the other car into the air and ended up on it’s rollcage upside-down! The race was immediately red-flagged and the cars were then formed up on the grid in their positions from the beginning of that lap. Karen’s crew figured she was to re-start in roughly 29th place.

The re-start of Race 1 was a minor disaster for Karen, as Jennifer Garrett’s MX5 pulled across to close the door in an uncompromising manner. Karen was forced to go around her but the loss of momentum saw Karen haemorrhaging placings! She’d lost six places by the exit of copse (Mark Thomas’ MR2 MK1 was one of them) and that wasn’t the last of it. She lost out to another MX5 on the exit of Becketts. On lap 2 Jennifer once again piloted her MX5 around the outside of Brooklands to gain a place over Karen. On the very next lap she was mugged by two more MX5’s into Copse. Karen was now defending hard against Roger’s Honda CRX Del Sol. He out-gunned her down the Main straight, but he out-did himself by going too deep into Copse and Karen had the inside line, so re-took him. Yet another MX5 dived inside to beat her through Becketts but the greater torque of the Supercharger saw her past him again and ahead into Brooklands and Luffield. Lap 5 saw Roger re-try his previous move but he didn’t make the same mistake this time and he was away. As they came through Brooklands a couple of MX5’s were re-joining from the gravel trap. The status quo remained to see Karen finish 29th overall.

Damage to the car was limited to a large crack down the side of the lovingly crafted front bumper. That was soon fixed with judicious use of red tank tape and new cable ties.

Race 2 didn’t see Karen get a great start and a couple of places were lost immediately. She fought Roger hard down the National Straight and got the inside line into Brooklands. As she exited Luffield, the rest of the field ahead seemed to have little trouble driving away from her. Behind her were Roger and a couple of MX5’s that were constantly threatening. On lap 6 Karen was just entering Maggotts when the three front runners lapped her. The two leading RX7’s passed without incident, but the Impreza of Graham Poultney had been un-sighted by the MX5’s behind Karen. Graham pulled hard in to make Becketts only to find Karen already occupying that bit of tarmac! He gave her a sharp tap on the passenger side on his way past, as they both attempted to reduce the impact of the collision. Lap 9 saw one of the chasing MX5’s get their nose into Becketts on the inside, but Karen swiftly out-paced them along the straight. It was Chris Huntley’s orange MR2 MK2 Turbo that lapped Karen at Becketts on the next lap. Lap 11 saw Chris Dunlop’s Honda Civic lap her on the run into Magotts. At the start of Lap 12 one of the chasing MX5’s managed to squeeze past into Copse. Karen chased him down along the National straight and positioned herself to get him on the inside, only to be robbed by the blue flags warning of lapping cars. So as Tony Crossley’s RX7 took the inside line she was forced to play follow my leader with the MX5 ahead until the exit of Luffield, Woodcote and the chequered flag. Once again, Karen finished 29th.

Click here to watch the Race 2 Video.

Damage this time was a cracked passenger door mirror and a battered and flattened passenger rear arch. Richard was rather perturbed that all his hard work in preparing the bodywork of the car would have to be re-visited in several areas. Not only that, but it seemed that synchro on third gear had gone on vacation and either the Supercharger clutch was slipping or the Supercharger drive belt was slipping which would account for the lack of boost. Plenty of things to improve before the car’s next outing.

Image copyright David Avery, used with kind permission

The Nippon Challenge had arrived, and in style. Lots of smiling faces from new racers and old-hands alike. Admittedly, much of the field was made up of MX5’s racing in their own series, but later in the year they’ll get their own races leaving the more varied field of Japanese cars to have their own fun.

About Karen Phillips

  • Karen races her Impreza WRX in the Classic and Sports Car Club (CSCC) Modern Classics series, with her husband Richard as a 2nd Driver. The races are mini-endurance events involving a driver-swap. Karen has previously raced in the Nippon Challenge, a race series for Japanese and Asian cars. Karen has been racing since 2006, having started in the MR2 Challenge.
  • Please check this site regularly for updates on Karen's progress through the season and developments with her race car.

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