Getting Started in Racing – James Johnson

Ever since I can remember, I’ve had an interest in cars and racing in particular. Initially it was model cars, then I got involved in motorsport when I could. I began marshalling, clad in bright orange coveralls (!), at Oulton Park with my dad in 2003. My mum and dad have always helped me pursue my interests; this is still very true today. Once budget allowed I entered an Autosolo as my first competitive event, these events are a fantastic cost effective way to take part in proper MSA approved motorsport, true ‘grass routes’. By this point I had bought my first MG, an F 1.8i. The tight and twisty Autosolo courses run in the North West often didn’t suit the MGF, small hatchback cars with keen handbrakes were the cars to beat. Motorsport is interwoven into the MG community, particularly the MGCC and it wasn’t long between my enquiries with the MGCC Speed Championship and my first Sprint event in 2009! A successful first season ensued. I continued competing when I could with interruptions for studying, stepping onto the property ladder and getting married!

Foray into circuit racing…

I thoroughly enjoy Sprints and Hillclimbs but the dream to complete on the country’s fabulous race circuits meant I needed to pursue a race licence and take the step into the world of ‘wheel to wheel racing’. In order to race in the UK, you must acquire a Race Licence by passing an ARDS test. I did this in January 2015 in a Mini Cooper S kindly (read: bravely) leant to me by my in-laws Martin & Gillian.

I already had a target race championship that I hoped to enter; the Cockshoot Cup run by the North Western Centre of the MG Car Club. I needed a car! The advice and knowledge associated with our friendly marque is fantastic and I was advised of the benefits of buying an already prepared race car. With this in mind, I began contacting a number of people within the racing fraternity and was put in touch with Ian Evans, a racer who had recently been competing with the MG Owners Club. The car had only run for 1 season but had suffered front end damage in the last round of the 2014 season. The impact had damaged the front mounted engine oil cooler, causing a severe oil leak and subsequent engine damage. With a trailer borrowed from Rob Croft and a 430 mile round trip to Essex back to West Yorkshire in February, the car was just as I was promised and it was time to repair the damage. Repairing the engine would take time, so I elected to source another engine while I repaired the original. An evening trip was made to Leicester with my brother to collect an engine from fellow racer Adrian Hodgkinson. A busy weekend saw the broken engine removed and the replacement fitted. Attention turned to the bodywork too, a ‘make good’ attitude was applied and budget was spent on the mechanical items. I am very thankful to father-in-law Martin for his expertise and valuable time committed to the project.

Getting to grips…

With the car ready by mid March, I elected to attend a track day at Croft to ensure both the car and driver were capable. The car ran faultlessly and I learnt a lot about the car’s handling characteristics. It was a promising start and I boldly entered the first round of the championship.

Race One: Mallory Park

My chosen championship, the Cockshoot Cup had it’s opening round with 7 other MGCC Championships at the Leicestershire circuit of Mallory Park on Sunday 29th March 2015. I had to make my racing debut at some point, it transpired that of the 30 car circuit capacity, my application was 1 of 29 entries received; I had entered the busiest race of the entire day. With ever helpful father-in-law Martin, we loaded the car on to the trailer on the Saturday evening in fair weather conditions, rain would feature more prominently on race day. Martin was my tow man and chief mechanic for the day, with tools loaded in his X-Type and my mum, dad and brother bringing fuel & other heavy items in their car – it was a team effort. Upon arrival, a dash through the rain to race control was required to have my documents checked and to sign on. Scrutineering followed, where the car and my safety equipment were checked for compliance with MSA rules. With the formalities out of the way, my Qualifying session soon came around. The heavy rain had left standing water and with continued showers; conditions were tricky. I used the first few laps to familiarise myself with the circuit before gradually increasing pace. My last lap was my fastest and upon my return to the paddock, the TSL Timing website revealed I had qualified 17th. Some of the other racers had tyres specifically for wet conditions; I would have to make-do with my semi-slicks.

Race

Nerves began to build as I waited in the assembly area prior to the race. Rain was falling once again as the marshals signalled us out onto the circuit to do one lap of the circuit before lining up on the start grid. A green flag is waved from the rear of the grid to signal that the track is ready to go live, this is followed by the illumination of the red lights. Engine revs rise and as the red lights go out, the dash to the first corner begins. I didn’t get the best start in the slippy conditions and was overtaken by some fast starting MG Midgets around Gerard’s Bend. I wasn’t out to try any heroics. Ashley Woodward who started 2nd on the grid had a moment exiting the first corner, loosing rear traction in his ZS 180. I started to make progress over the first 3 laps, over taking the cars that had got away from me at the start. Getting the rear tyres to warm up proved tricky, making the car very liable to oversteer. I had an over 45 degrees sideways moment in qualifying, that I saved by keeping on the throttle. Then on lap 4, I made an over correction to prevent myself running into the rear of another car – one tyre on the grass was enough to send me into a spin. I re-joined but my immediate competitors were now way ahead. Weather conditions stabilised and I began to make headway passing a number of cars and improving lap times. Unfortuinately a number of competitors suffered with the soaked track with 4 damaged cars retiring, others had mechanical issues. As the chequered flag fell, I finished 12th. It was a good result for a first race; with valuable experience gained I left the circuit achieving what I had planned to do. The car had run faultlessly and I picked up some information on how to set the suspension for wet conditions. Although competitive on circuit, the paddock is a very friendly place with drivers sharing advice on how to get the best out of the cars.

The next round is at Donnington Park on Sunday 31st May.

Car Specifications

2004 MG ZR 160

Safety Devices Roll Cage

Corbeau race seat and Sparco harnesses

Z and F tuning remap – 170BHP, raised RPM

Carbon fibre air induction system

Lightened flywheel and AP Racing clutch

Engine and gearbox are otherwise standard

Gaz Gold GGA457 Adjustable Dampers with adjustable height and 42 way adjustablility for bump & rebound damping

Adjustable front suspension strut top mounts for camber setting

Rear suspension camber plates

Mintex Racing Brakes

 

MG Car Club Cockshoot Cup Calender 2015

 

March 29th Mallory Park

 

May 31st Donington Park

 

June 20th and 21st Silverstone Grand Prix (Two Races)

 

August 8th and 9th Anglesey (Two Races)

 

September 12th Oulton Park International (Single Race)

 

September 26th and 27th Croft (Two Races)