With the 2011 SPC-UK season complete I thought I would have a little bit of reflection as far as my own performance went this year and my view on the season and the rollercoaster ride it has been.

All in all I enjoyed the 2011 season far less than my first season back in racing in 2010. My first season had gone very well. Despite struggling to make my F103 work on rubber tyres after running on just foams in the 1990′s I managed to eventually find a good balance and ended up winning three finals and having some close and exciting racing with various people.

2010 was a great first year back in racing.

Unfortunately 2011 was to be a very different story. I had spent the winter of 2010/11 doing major work to my F103. I added the F104 rear-end, carbon chassis parts and used a new body – that of the Sauber C12 that I had used in the 1990′s and was very familiar with.

I was pleased with the performance of the car when I tested at Brookland Raceway just before the season began in March, and had high hopes of a strong showing for the first round.

The first round at Ardent Raceway was a good meeting. I held FTD after the first round of qualifying but as had happened so many times in 2010 I was pipped at the end and had to settle for second on the grid. Both finals went well but I was gutted to miss out on the win in the first final but a few tenths of a second from Maz, it was very close!

My 2011-spec F103 was a superb machine.

So after the first round I was sitting nicely in the championship with two second places and was looking forward to the next round at Adur.

Unfortunately I had no idea at this point that a very major problem was looming for my car that would spell disaster for my championship hopes in 2011.

During Saturday practice at Adur I noticed that my car was suffering what appeared to be interference as I went round the infield section of the circuit. This didn’t occur every lap, but was pretty frequent. I tried a different radio system and the problem continued, so I tried changing the speed control, motor and battery and it still continued. I decided to put it down to a freak occurrence and hoped that the following day it would simply go away – as I have experienced in the past.

Unfortunately come raceday the problem was still there and resulted in me having a poor run in the first two heats as the issue got worse and worse. By the third heat the car would barely go for more than a few seconds without switching to 100% throttle and flying off the circuit into the fences.

I retired from the third heat and set about looking over the car to try to identify the problem. I ended up changing all the electronics yet again including borrowing a transmitter and receiver from the race director at Adur (a very helpful guy). I also changed the servo on the car – the one thing I had not done.

I missed the fourth heat and the first final due to all the work I was doing on the car but decided that I was going to get the car on the grid for the second even if it flew off the track at the first corner. I made it to the grid with minutes to spare for the second heat in seventh position – my lowest grid placing for a long time. I didn’t expect the car to be able to complete this race or to even be nice to drive, so my expectations were rock-bottom and I actually felt more relaxed before the start than I have ever been.

Adur 2011 was where it all began to go wrong for me.

At the start of the final I got off the line well and managed to pass a few cars before the end of the first lap. I then managed to make my way up to second position with the car feeling nice to drive and with a good balance. It was the first time I had been able to drive the car to its full potential all weekend and it hurt knowing what I could have been able to do had I not had the problems.

Sitting in second position I could see that Jason Petch was a good distance in front of me, so decided to put the hammer down and go for the lead as the car felt so good. I had nothing to lose as I hadn’t even expected to finish this race. I drove cleanly and by the halfway point found myself right behind Jason. He eventually got slowed by some cars he was lapping, and at high speed on the fast right hander at the end of the straight I managed to slip past him. I held the lead for the subsequent few laps with Jason hot on my heals trying to re-take the lead. Unfortunately for me I encountered a slower car halfway round the final lap and made the smallest of errors as I had to slow as I approached him. This was all Jason needed and he slipped past me to re-take the lead with only a few corners to go and took the win – pretty gutting really.

Despite the problems that day it seemed as if the servo being changed had solved my problems. After the meeting I ran the car again to see if it still operated without issue and it did – it was pretty clear to me that changing the servo had resulted in this problem going away, and I had high hopes for the rest of the year after this blip. Unfortunately things were going to take a more maddening turn at the next round at Yateley.

I had not originally planned on attending the Yateley round of the championship, but after the disaster at Adur I wanted to try to claw back some good points that could pay-off at the end of the season. During Saturday practice I made four or five runs and found the car to be nice to drive, however grip levels were very low – very different to the 2010 round. It seemed as if the electrical problems that had plagued me at Adur were still not an issue and I was feeling confident that I had a good solid car for the following day.

Come raceday I walked up to the podium ready for the first heat to begin and began the warm-up laps before lining up at the start. Within seconds of moving the car full throttled off the circuit onto the grass. I simply couldn’t believe it. How could the servo being replaced sort the issues at Adur and then continue to be fine during Saturday practice at Yateley, and then suddenly all the problems would be back, even though nothing had been changed on the car? I tried to run in the second, third and fourth heats but the problem was simply awful and I decided to retire from the meeting as I couldn’t even drive the car around a corner. When you spent a lot of money getting to these events and staying in hotels as well it makes it all the more frustrating. I drove home disgusted and angry about what had happened and pretty much at my wits end. I had tried everything and there seemed to be nothing left for me to do to sort this out.

Over the next couple of days I decided that I was not able to pump any more money into the racing. I had spent hundreds and hundreds of pounds on the equipment I had and I was not prepared to splash out again without even knowing why I had the problems I had. I decided to sell up and move on and placed my car and other gear on ebay.

My stuff sold and I spent some of the money on my other hobby – that of RC planes (and I should mention that the radio system I have for my planes always runs flawlessly). However, after a few months I was missing the racing and decided that I would return for a one-off at the Cotswold round, which is also my favorite circuit on the calendar.

Although I had sold much of my gear, I did still have an old F103 chassis and a cheap (£35) 2.4ghz radio set, so I decided to see how competitive I would be with these. I bought a speed control second hand on ebay (MRT Pro) which is a professional level piece of equipment. I tested this in the car at Brookland Raceway in both the wet and dry and it performed very well. It gave the car more punch and was a bargain for £50+postage.

Even a bog-standard F103 with an MRT Pro is an exceptionally quick car.

It turned out during Saturday practice at Cotswold that an old chassis and cheap radio gear was pretty good. To be honest despite the extra options (most of which I never used) on the more expensive transmitter they did pretty much the same job. I had no sign of interference during the Saturday practice and was hoping that the same thing would be the case on Sunday.

On raceday I had some good runs in the heats, and the car performed well considering that it only had a small number of hop-up options on it. It was mainly a stock F103. It was certainly not as good as my early-2011 car but it wasn’t too bad at all.

I was lying second on the timesheets by the third heat and I decided to really go for FTD in the fourth heat as I had still not managed to claim it in nearly two years of racing. I had a good start to the heat and was driving well, and then down the straight by the podium at full throttle the rear wing of the car fell off. The support struts had somehow managed to snap and at full load down the straight had broken. I still have no idea how this happened. I don’t know if it was me having a few crashes earlier in the day, or the habit some marshals have of picking the car (weighing over 1kg) up by the little flimsy rear wing and putting stress on it, but regardless the lack of rear grip then meant that the car was very difficult to drive and I had no hope of claiming FTD. It was a shame and came at the worst possible time. I actually ended up in third place on the grid for the final which I think was due partly to the car and also my rusty driving after several months away, as well as the fourth heat drama.

The finals went well for me and I placed third in the first and second in the second final, leading as well for a few laps at one point. All in all I was pleased to have had a good days racing and was happy that I could take a very basic car and have a competitive day. I did have a couple of strange moments down the back straight where the car seemed to steer on its own, but this may have been down to the sloppy standard steering rather than radio glitches, so I can’t be sure I had any radio issues. I guess only time will tell.

Very close racing with Jason Petch at Cotswold.

I missed the final round the 2011 SPC season as renovation work at Snetterton meant the series had its final two rounds at Ardent Raceway – a bit far for me to travel for the second time in a year. I learnt that my early-2011 car that was now in the hands of a fellow competitor had taken FTD and a race win, which was really nice to hear.

My participation in the 2012 series will most likely be very limited or not at all. I am only planning on competing in one round at Cotswold, however if time and finances permit I may do more. However there have been sweeping changes to the rules for 2012. My F103 will now only be eligible for the ‘retro’ class for wider cars, and will run foam tyres – this in itself is not a problem for me. However, there are also changes to the motor rules. Brushless systems are now to be allowed as well as pretty much unlimited chassis enhancements. I have mixed feelings about this, but I certainly won’t be able to run brushless or modify my car to the levels that others will. Therefore it may be pointless me continuing to race in the series – we will see. I am only prepared to travel to meetings if I have a car that is capable of winning, and if the regulations means I have to spend a fortune to do this I will walk away. I will most likely test the water by running at one round and see how things go, but I am pretty sure brushless will become mandatory if you wish to run at the front.

I hope you enjoyed this 2011 review. It may provide an insight for those of you looking at getting into racing as to how the seasons go and the pitfalls you can find yourself in. However please don’t let anything here put you off. I had a bad year and have not had this before. On the whole racing is great fun in the series and I would totally recommend trying the F1 cars. They are simple and fast and require skill to drive well, we need to see more people trying F1 rather than all flocking to touring cars. I can assure you that driving an F1 that is setup well is a great experience.