After we qualified for our first Fun Cup race, our final grid position was a bit of a shock. wheelworldreviews Editor DAVID HOOPER explains why – and reports on the race.
RACE day saw another early start – we had to be back at Snetterton for 7.30am to sign on. The cars had been scrutineered the previous night, and our crash helmets and racing overalls had been checked to make sure they met the MSA’s current safety standards. Everything was fine apart from an exposed battery terminal on the car, which was soon sorted out with a bit of gaffer tape.
Fun Cup qualifying is different to most qualifying sessions. Between 9 and 10am, each driver had to take it in turns to complete three consecutive laps of the circuit without falling off.
Unlike most races, where the fastest cars end up at the front of the grid for the race start, our grid positions were decided by a lottery.
The qualifying session started a couple of minutes late, with a huge queue of cars waiting in line to get out on track. It was a colourful sight and every car looked different.
Jeremy, Dave and I qualified for the four-hour endurance race without any problems, but the car had developed a fuelling issue which made it stutter in right hand corners.
Back in the pit garage, a weeping seal on the carburettor meant urgent repairs were needed, so Scott, our mechanic, became something of a blur as the clock ticked ever nearer to grid time.
All the drivers had to attend a drivers’ briefing with the Clerk of the Course, who went through the rules, the safety car procedures, and answered questions about the new track markings at the exit of Sears corner, which had previously been used by drivers to widen the track, but would now, it became clear, result in stop and go penalties for anyone who regularly put all four wheels over the “kerb”.
After the briefing, our grid positions were drawn, appropriately enough, from a crash helmet. The first out of the hat started at the back of the grid. It was like listening to the draw for a raffle that you knew you were going to win, but you didn’t know when! As the last few positions were drawn, our car’s number, 99, had still not come out of the crash helmet. The three of us looked at each other in amazement when we drew the number two grid slot on the front row and quickly agreed that Dave Shelton would be the man to start, in the hope that his racing experience would keep him and our car out of trouble in the first few corners.
The morning flew by, and there was a real buzz around the pit garages as everybody seemed to be dashing about, making final preparations. Scott was still working on the engine and ours was one of the last cars to be pushed out onto the grid.
It really looked great in the sunshine with all its corporate decals on – even the mechanics commented on how good it looked.
After posing for photos on the grid, we got Dave strapped in, ready for the green flag lap. You could feel the tension as the cars reformed on the grid ready for the start. The red lights came on and went out quickly to get the race under way. Dave got a good start off the line, but as we expected, the more powerful diesel cars swarmed through the field and by the end of the first lap we were already down in 15th place! But at least the car was undamaged and still running.
One car though didn’t fare so well – snapping a drive shaft at the start. Unable to move from its grid position, everything managed to miss it somehow, but the safety car was immediately deployed to control the race until it was recovered. A couple of laps later the race was back on.
Every 40 minutes or so, a pit window was opened for 10 minutes. During this time, each car had to make a stop. We each had two stints in the race. Jeremy did the second and me the third, changing drivers and refuelling the car each time. For safety reasons, no-one was allowed to be in the car while it was refuelled.
Jeremy was next out, and Dave and I got him strapped in and off he went. His lap times were good and consistent and it was nearly time for my go when there was a crash on the circuit which left one of the cars with three wheels at the Russell Chicane. The safety car was deployed again and the cars streamed into the pits.
After it was refuelled I jumped in and rejoined the track under yellow flags and quickly caught up with the back of the pack. Other cars soon joined behind me and we spent about 15 minutes behind the safety car.
When it eventually pulled off, it was chaos as everybody accelerated flat out down the start/finish straight. The diesels pulled away in front, while a couple of other diesel powered cars overtook me into the first corner. It was exciting stuff for a while.
During the race there were several incidents which saw numerous front splitters snapped in two on the high kerbs, cars spinning off in clouds of dust and plenty of close and exciting racing, which is exactly what Fun Cup series is designed to deliver.
Dave and Jeremy completed their second stints without any major dramas, putting in some clean, consistent lap times, which saw our Car 99 climb back up the leaderboard as other people spun off, incurred penalties and had mechanical problems.
Then it was time for my last stint – it was up to me to bring the car home. Our racecraft had improved noticeably during the day. We had got wise to some of the sneaky overtaking tricks the old hands pulled and started blocking some moves they attempted.
We all had some exciting battles with other cars, some we won, some we didn’t. It was great fun, but the scariest moment for me was when a car spun off on the long sweeping Coram Curve. As it bounced across the grass, a huge wall of dust blew across the circuit. I was closing in on three cars having their own battle as the four of us headed for the dust cloud at 80 or 90mph. As the trio in front disappeared into it, I had no idea if they had come out the other side, or if they had all piled into something hidden from view. After a split second’s hesitation, I opted to follow the last car into the dust, hoping that if there was an accident, they would have all slid out of the way before I got there. Fortunately there was no accident – and we continued battling until the end of the race.
When I crossed the finish line with the chequered flag waving it was a fantastic feeling – we had done it. We had got the car to the finish with hardly a scratch. Even our delicate splitter under the front bumper was still in one piece, which impressed our mechanic. “Ten out of ten for that one mate – you don’t see that very often,” he said with a grin.
On the slowing down lap all the marshals were clapping and waving from their trackside posts. It was quite a moment, and I couldn’t help but wave back. I don’t think I would have felt much happier if we had won the race.
With two novice racers, and a car none of us had driven until the day before, that was never going to happen against people who race regularly in the series.
We finished ninth in our class of 18 cars, just over 30 seconds behind the eighth placed car and 20th overall, from the 32 which started the race – and we were happy with that.
We had enjoyed our weekend immensely. Everyone we met had been friendly and helpful, but above all, it had been great fun.
The Fun Cup is a brilliant race series that is exciting to watch and thrilling to take part in.
• If you fancy having a go yourself, visit www.funcup.co.uk where the excellent website has everything you need to know about getting on track in a Fun Cup car.