June 2017: You’d think that after a day spent sharing a tiny circuit with 35 other cars at racing speeds, the drive home would be the easy bit. But heading back from a successful race at Brands Hatch, I got 130 of the 136 miles home before a rather daft lady pulled out straight in front of me on a roundabout. It’s funny how the mind works – in the tenth of a second before the obviously impending impact, I was able to process how utterly heartbreaking the concept of crashing this car was, how angry I was that I saw her and knew damn well she didn’t even look before coming out, how ironic it was that I’d spent all day in fireproofs, race suit, helmet and HANS only to now crash in shorts and a T-shirt, and at the very last moment a vague wonder of whether it might hurt.
This is how the car looked when it came out. The engine was still running after the impact, which didn’t feel too bad, but I was shocked – and bloody worried – to find the gear lever not where I left it. After much fumbling to find where reverse had moved to, I managed to extract the car from the side of the Yeti and take stock. It looked bad but fundamentally driveable, though I could only get second and fourth gears. This was enough to crawl it home after getting insurance details and having a very helpful attending officer summarise the situation rather succinctly, without passing any comment at all on it clearly being a race car: “Well she’s just pulled out on you, hasn’t she?”.
The mood was sombre that evening – with no opportunity to inspect the damage before nightfall, we really didn’t know whether the car might have turned its last wheel. It meant a lot to me, and the thought of reshelling the parts – or worse – was awful. With any racing car you accept a level of risk, but to have it potentially destroyed by something as stupid and unnecessary as a low-speed road collision really hurt. And of course, we had a test day at Cadwell just four weeks hence…
My insurers, Equity Red Star, had little work to do. The offending Yeti driver’s underwriters called me first thing Monday morning to apologise profusely on behalf of their policyholder and ask how they could make things right. They sent an assessor to inspect the damage, who understood well what the car was and even humoured me by looking at comparable cars on racecarsdirect.com to value it properly! We arrived at a sum for “cash in lieu of repairs”, allowing me to sort the damage out myself with no impact to the car’s status. This is a real opportunity to point out the value of declaring everything to your insurers – they knew it was a racing car, knew every modification I’d made, and had agreed a value with me at the start of the policy. The peace of mind that gave me when I actually needed to use the cover was priceless, and made the £330 premium seem like small change.
In the following days, a proper assessment could be made. I’d feared the worst on thinking the body was damaged badly enough to push the engine back, but in fact quite the opposite – the engine and gearbox simply sheared all their twenty-year-old rubber mounts and kept going forward as the body stopped around them, leaving the thermostat housing jammed up against the fan shroud and the whole lot about three inches forward of where it should be.
The fact that the car had driven OK, albeit gingerly, after this was nothing short of astonishing. The sump was resting on the front subframe and the steering column, and that was pretty much all that kept it in the car. The bonnet, front wing, slam panel and grille carrier all came off rather badly but other than that, it wasn’t terrible. I’d only get the true picture once I got the powertrain remounted and tried to drive it – before then, who knew what damage had been done to the driveline, subframes or even the body itself. So I got a new headlamp and some polyurethane engine and gearbox mounts ordered, and set about getting everything back where it should be.
Mercifully, there is a happy ending. After a lot of pain getting the powertrain remounted and the panels back to nearly-straight, I went for the most tentative shakedown I’ve ever done, gradually building up pace and watching temperatures over an hour until I was comfortable enough to start pushing the car. She drove perfectly. I could not fault it in any way. Stunned, and just in time for the test at Cadwell before the next race, I stopped to get a photo marking the reincarnation. One of the very last Avro Vulcans being in the background is a nice bonus… There’s no stopping this car.
The viscous cooling fan on the front of the engine was damaged so removed, letting the car rely on the electric auxiliary fan on the AC condenser. This served it well until a proper solution could be made over the winter. I only replaced the slam panel and the shock-absorbing “crash cans” behind the front bumper, to get the car structurally sound and give the right positions to bolt new parts to. The bonnet and wing were bent back as close to straight as Kevin and I could get them, and the less than ideal fitment accepted until the car needed to lose weight – fibreglass panels would be a more appropriate replacement than more standard steel. So it’s fairly easy to tell whether a photo is pre- or post-shunt! Onwards and upwards, to Lincolnshire and Cadwell Park…