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Driver profile: John O'Brien

Championship: Lancaster Insurance MG Owners Championship
Car prepared by: Paul Streather Motorsport
Sponsor: Professional MotorSport World Expo

 

John's blog

Rounds 7 & 8, Silverstone International circuit, 7th June 2014

A baking hot June weekend greeted the MGOC competitors, as did chaos in the Silverstone paddock. With the schedule meaning the MGOC would compete on the Sunday only, other competitors from other championships chose to ignore the pre-assigned areas of the paddock, leaving myself and several other competitors with no choice other than to set up camp on the access road directly behind the wing complex. This disarray and particularly poor organization kind of set the tone for the weekend really…

Unfamiliar with the International circuit’s layout, qualifying left me in a lowly 8th place, almost a second off the pace of the leading ZRs and for the first time in a long time behind the MG F of Simon Kendrick. Bogging down off the line, I lost some space to Mark Baker in another F, before managing to wriggle free and pull a 0.5 second gap by the end of the first lap. While this jostling for position occurred in the first few corners, David Mellor’s freshly rebuilt engine let go in spectacular fashion, gifting me a place; the third run down the Hangar Straight enabled me to draft and pass Kendrick.

Lap four, and on the run in to Vale, up ahead Pain and Rodgerson came together; in the fracas that ensued, I was able to jump both Rodgerson, and Gary Smith, who had become entangled in the fight. I was now up to fourth and just 0.8 of a second behind Pain. The gearbox, or more specifically, the release bearing had other ideas and decided to disintegrate the next time around. Unable to select any odd-numbered ratios on the gearbox, I was left to fight it out with 2nd and 4th gears. This left me slipping down the order quite rapidly, before calling it a day on lap 7.

Race two, and with a new bearing installed in less than an hour, the car took up slot 6 on the grid. As the lights dropped, the car hooked up like never before and catapulted me forward into 3rd place by the time we’d reached Abbey. At this point, the 44 car of Gary Smith had attached itself to my rear bumper, and despite trying to break his tow down the Hangar Straight, by the time we lined up for Stowe, he’d already worked his way down the inside. As we approached Vale, it was a case of he who brakes last. I won. Then immediately lost. The car locked up – as I left it far too late, in hindsight – and just refused to slow. Turning in did little to alter the car’s chosen path, and with Gary turning in where he was entitled to, he struck the front right-hand wheel, breaking the damper clean from the hub assembly.

At this point this was unbeknown to me, and I wrongly assumed the damage was isolated to the front wing now being bent down and rubbing on the tire. The handling traits, noises, and later the plume of smoke bellowing from the front right-hand side around every right-hand turn, all indicated that this was probably the case.

Caught out of shape at Vale, I was then out of position for Club corner, which resulted in me clipping the huge sausage curb on the inside of the corner. Launching onto two wheels, the impact was so violent that it shattered the top mount of the driver’s side, and by now the entire front end was being supported by just good luck and dreams.

For eight laps, not knowing of the true extent of the damage, I carried on, because the red mist had truly kicked in at this point. However, the damper had dropped and rotated slightly, and the bound/rebound adjustment knob was now slowly burning through the tire’s sidewall. Under braking at the end of the Hangar Straight, the tire finally let go on lap 8, calling time on a miserable afternoon’s racing.

With eight rounds gone I have just 10 points to my name, seven of which were achieved at the Donington Park season opener. Safe to say this year can be, and has been, written off already.


Rounds 5 & 6, Oulton Park national circuit, 17th May 2014

Work commitments, and a clash of dates meant that I sat out rounds 5 and 6 of the 2014 MGOC Championship. Not that I was feeling too bad about missing my favorite circuit; a trip to Barbados to check out the revisions to Bushy Park circuit more than made up for not being out on track! A full write-up is in the next issue of Professional Motorsport Circuit.


Rounds 3 & 4, Castle Combe, 21 April 2014

Given how well the car went on its debut at the Wiltshire circuit last year, and with the strong times clocked at Donington last time out, it would be an understatement to say I went into rounds 4 and 5 feeling very confident.

As is often the case, it didn’t go according to plan. Gearbox niggles and a poor set-up in qualifying meant I couldn’t qualify any higher than sixth for both races. Then the gearbox problems put me truly out of contention for both rounds.

Race 1 began to unravel on lap three, when the gearbox decided to stop selecting third from second, leaving me with the sensation of stirring porridge when trying to find drive, before it stopped selecting gears altogether on lap five. Freewheeling around the back of the circuit, and dropping through the order rapidly, the gearbox eventually found fifth, and I was able to go down through the gears to find third before picking up pace again. By this point I was down in fourteenth place and struggling to keep up with the MGF of Paul Wiseby. On the last lap I was able to squeeze past Wiseby, and latch on to the back of Adam Jackson’s ZR as we headed for the line. Having robbed Jackson of a place on the last lap twice already, I was unable to make it a hat trick, crossing the line 0.13 of a second behind him.

The long wait before race 2 allowed some investigative work to be done on the gearbox, and the preliminary diagnosis was a worn clutch. Knowing the change from second to third was impossible once the gearbox was warm, the start should at least have been doable.

It wasn’t. As the lights turned green, I sprang forward with the rest of the pack, only to slip backwards once I went for third. Going defensive almost immediately compromised the run towards Quarry, and by the time the first lap was complete, I was down in ninth, locked in a battle with David Mellor and Ian Evans that would run to the end of the race. Sliding past Evans into Quarry on lap 6 elevated me to seventh, but in a frantic bid to catch up with the pack I completely overcooked it the following lap and ended up on the grass.

On the final lap I had a much stronger drive out of the final chicane than Evans, and made a move – going the long way round through Camp Corner. It almost paid off, but I crossed the line ninth, separated from Evans by just 0.02 of a second.

Post Castle Combe, the gearbox has been stripped down, revealing a destroyed syncromesh and two cogs with several teeth missing. Once again, my tendency to snap at the gearbox has been my undoing… I’m also pretty confident Streather Motorsport can drop and repair the gearbox from my car while blindfolded, such is the practice I’ve given them!

Towards the end of the day at Combe, I also learned that I am the only ZR in the field not running ABS, which explains my tendency to lock up into Quarry. My results aren’t improving, but my excuses are at least…

(Image courtesy of Chris Steer)


Rounds 1 & 2, Donington Park, 22-23 March 2014

The winter rebuild of my trusty ZR saw it revitalised by the boys at Finishline. Straightening the chassis (suspected to have been caused by my off in free practice, Oulton Park 2012), chopping out a warped boot floor (known to have been caused by the overzealous driving of some in the MGOC over the past two years!) and adding some other trick bits were the order of the day. Add to that revised regulations meaning 35kg was shaved from our minimum weight limit, and the car felt phenomenal at a pre-season shake-down.

Having had to endure just one wet race in 2013, the 2014 season opener at Donington Park was a decidedly different affair. Biting wind, standing water and persistent downpours left everyone in no doubt that this was going to be a wet meet. Qualifying took place at 5.45pm on Saturday, and with light fading quickly, and grip at a minimum, everyone seemed to be approaching the session tentatively, including myself – with brand-new tires fitted to the front, the slightest tickle of the accelerator sent the front washing wide, which direction was anyone’s guess. After two gentle bedding-in laps, I began to wind the car on, but out of the eight laps I completed, just one was uninterrupted by the now significantly slower classic MGs. That one hot lap was good enough for 4th on the grid, with my second-best time earning me 7th for Race 2.

Race 1 was early Sunday morning, and we were greeted with sunshine. Biting winds still, but at least it wasn’t soaking. A strong start saw me keep my position on the run down to Redgate. However, an even stronger starting Rodgerson had nibbled his way between Lee Sullivan, who had lined up 3rd, and myself. On the run through Redgate and in to Hollywood, Sullivan ran wide, concertinaing Rodgerson into me, and then me onto the grass. As Rodgerson powered through the gap, I found myself in the clutches of Vince Pain, who took just one lap to capitalize on a small mistake I made during turn-in at McLean’s. Lap 4 saw Pain take Rodgerson, and two laps later I managed to do the same. Unable to close the gap to Pain, I crossed the line 5th.

Race 2 was another televised round on Motors TV, and as a result all of the day’s remaining races adopted a rolling start. Lining up a disappointing 7th, I was this time on the inside for Redgate, and determined not to let someone sneak up my inside. As the lights went out, I made a decent start, keeping within breathing distance of Doug Cole in front. Hung out to dry was Ian Evans when Fergus Campbell nipped up the inside of him, and I him, with the 22 car dropping four places in one corner as the fast-charging Pain made his way forward, towing David Mellor along with him.

All was going well, and as we headed out onto the back part of the circuit I decided to make a lunge for a gap that was always going to close. Trying to dive down Cole’s inside into McLean’s was ambitious at best; as he took his natural line, I had to stand hard on the brakes, at which point I felt the rear unsettle. Attempting to catch it, I did. And then I quickly didn’t. With Cole’s rear ¾ perilously close to the front of my car, applying full throttle would have seen me drive right through the 99 car. As a result, I had a moment all to myself on the infield, while the pack streamed past. Now down in 20th, my second TV appearance wasn’t going as smoothly as the first. Picking off Mark Bailey and Jim Baynam before the lap was over meant I started lap two a lowly 18th, and any ambitions of a good points haul were scuppered. Nevertheless, the red mist kicked in and I began to work my way back through the pack. On the last lap I caught the squabbling ZRs of Mellor, Campbell, Evans, Cole and Jackson. Latching onto the back of Jackson’s ZR down through Craner, I was able to feign a move into McLean’s, unsettling his rear end, meaning I had a stronger drive up to Coppice. Making sure I was filling Jackson’s mirrors, he ran wide on the exit of the penultimate corner, meaning the drive down Starkey’s straight was in my favor. I crossed the line in tenth, just 0.7 seconds behind Cole in 9th.

(Image courtesy of Chris Steer)


Next rounds: 9 & 10. Croft.

Archive: 2013 Blog, 2012 Blog

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