Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Paul Hogan explains how the team came about and shares his post Le Mans Classic report


Post race thoughts from Michael Cotti Team Leader - Paul Hogan.
After months of planning and preparation for CLM 2104 it was finally all over and the  Michael Cotti - Penrite team has returned to the UK in high spirits after spending a tremendous week at Le Mans.  Without a doubt, the return to ‘normality’ was something we were not really looking forward to as how could everyday life compare to the thrill of what we had achieved by racing at the Le Mans Classic?  
To discover where this particular journey started we need to wind back to June 2013 and the Le Mans 24 hours race proper.  Duncan Wiltshire of Motor Racing Legends had invited me to take part in the supporting race he organises for the ACO .  Needless to say I jumped at the chance and I offered the drive to John Sykes and Barry Sidery Smith with Paul Gerring acting in support.   The car ran faultlessly and we had a great time there but it was on the way back that the idea of running a team of three cars at the following year’s Classic event began to take shape.  Paul’s car had already run at the Classic in 206 and 2008 and so was an obvious candidate for the team.  In August, whilst competing in the Gold Cup at Oulton Park, I ran into Tim Stamper, who now owns OKV777, the very first TR2 to compete at Le Mans.  Tim was very supportive of the idea but sadly he was unable to commit to the team as he was still sorting out the finances of his late father’s estate. 
Not long after the Gold Cup, I had a ‘phone call from Terry Smith who by chance had been doing some work for Penrite Oil and were thinking of ways to promote their new range of classic oils.  Terry knew I was keen to race the TR again and so I was asked to prepare a proposal outlining the various options to the Penrite Oil Company that would enable them to enter the classic racing scene.  I tabled three options to them and entering a high profile race like Le Mans with its wider European connections appealed to them but could we get an entry?
As the TRR’s undisputed ‘King of Blagg’ I of course said “Yes, no problem” but I then had to enter into a steady flow of correspondence with Peter Auto, the organisers of the Classic in order to bring this about.  After months of negotiation, our entry was finally confirmed in January but still with only two cars.  With only days to go before the entry list closed Neil Fender finally got his act together and became our third team member with his TR2.  We now had three cars entered in three different grids which would give spectators the opportunity to see TR’s racing for over 9 hours of track time.  Something which hadn’t happened since the works team was there in the 1960’s. 
The team piggy backed onto the Register’s Castle Coombe track day for testing but it proved rather disappointing. Paul Gerring’s car ran well but was damaged in the paddock after accidentally hitting the ramps on his trailer.   (Couretesy of ‘Neil Should have gone to Specsavers Revington!)  My own car wasn’t even allowed to run having failed the stringent 100DB noise test by just THREE decibels. 
Two weeks later I took my car to Goodwood where it sailed through their noise test but while accelerating down the pit straight towards Madegwick corner there was an unexpected BANG! and the car came to stop.  It transpired that the distributor drive skew gear had stripped the teeth off the camshaft.   As debris may have gone into the engine a full strip down and rebuild was necessary which was undertaken by Matt Smith of S&M engine services.
By strange coincidence, Paul Gerring was also having trouble with his camshaft having run its bearings.  We both solved our camshaft problems by fitting new cams supplied by Steve Hall of TR Enterprises which are ground to their own specification.  They proved to be very effective and delivered a good spread of power and torque throughout the rev range.
Having finally sorted our engine problems out there was no time left to undergo any further testing at Bruntingthorpe as we had planned. The team had arranged to meet up at Portsmouth to catch the 10.30pm overnight ferry to France. On arriving at the dockside it was like joining a classic car meeting with all sorts of classics and competitors cars lined up on the dock.  We eventually set sail for France in high spirits and floated on quite a bit of beer as yet another English invasion of the continent was under way.  Next morning we made our leisurely way to Le Mans with an obligatory stop at a cafĂ© on the way for breakfast.  Unfortunately, they had run out of Croissants and so in a ‘Coals to Newcastle’ moment I rustled up some we had brought with us from our local Sainsbury’s! 
We arrived at Le Mans to find a good number of transporters parked up already waiting for the gates to open at 2.00 pm.  Needless to say French officialdom was to the fore and no one was allowed in! By four o’clock tempers were getting frayed as it was now well over 30 degrees.  The British stoically queued up and awaited their turn. The French did not.   We finally got into the site at 7.00pm to find our advance guard of ladies had secured a decent sized  plot for our team which eventually comprised of the 3 x race cars, 4 x trailers,  3 x tow cars, an American RV motor home , a vintage Bentley, Phil’s TR3S  a couple of other cars and a motor scooter. All this kit might sound impressive but in the equipment stakes we were definitely nearer to the bottom of the pecking order than at the top. Some of the rigs other teams brought along had to be seen to be believed.
Thursday was devoted to admin and scrutineering. All three cars sailed through the appendix K safety checks but when I went to have my entrants licence checked the organisers refused to accept it on the grounds that it was only valid for the UK and they would not allow us to race!  Sacre Blue!   I pointed out the official that the licence WAS in fact valid as it had an endorsement issued by the FIA and the MSA that said it was ‘valid for historic international events’ and was this not indeed an International historic event? “Non!” Came the reply. “It is a UK licence and you cannot race”
The scene was now set for a re enactment of Agincourt with me asking which part of ‘valid for international historic events’ don’t you understand and I demanded to see a higher authority.   Eventually  after much going back and forth to confer they capitulated (don’t they always?) and I moved on to the next admin desk for some more paper work and fingerprinting.  Meanwhile, John Sykes and Neil Fender were standing behind me when we heard a lound but rather strangled scream from another competitor who was waiting by the desk I had just left.   John thought he was also having an argument with the French over his licence but sadly, it turned out that he was having a massive heart attack brought on by stress and had collapsed on the floor.  Given my own recent heart scares I can only sympathise with him as French admin and officialdom is enough to give anyone a heart attack.
Thursday evening saw the team meet up with the MG boys for a very informal dinner at Ecommoy.  As one would expect there was the traditional inter team rivalry between the two Marques but the banter was very light hearted and a great night was had by all.
Friday morning saw the drivers briefing.  As usual it was conducted in French and English – the race is predominately an English affair with a smattering of other nationalities.  This was not without humour and all the English speakers laughed in the right places. The French remained silent even when the joke about not driving in the organiser’s garden was told in French.   (Well we all thought it was funny).
Practice is split into two sessions, daylight and night time.  Our first slot was absolute chaos.  There was nothing wrong with the car but the pit lane discipline that is so necessary at Le Mans was completely absent.  Other teams parked in our allocated garage and blocked our car in making the obligatory driver change and absolute shambles.  It is of course important to get the driver change absolutely spot on as there are pit lane penalties for speeding and leaving the pits too early.  There is a 60kph speed limit in the pit lane and the TR3S doesn’t have a speedometer.  You also have to be stationary for 60 seconds so the minimum time you should take is 90seconds but anything longer costs you time and track position. 
The night time practice session was much better but it was the first time John Sykes had driven there at night and the transition from the bright lights of the pit area to the absolute darkness of the Mulsanne Straight made for some ‘interesting’ driving.  As John says in his post session interview, it was the scariest thing he has ever done!
The race itself follows the traditional 24 hour format with each grid or plateau split into three 43 minute races, each of which is roughly 8 hours apart.  Kick off is at 5.00pm on the Saturday and ends 24 hours later on the Sunday afternoon.  For one race in each grid the drivers are allowed to sprint across the track but the other two races are by a rolling start.  Our team would be racing in Grids 2, 3 and 4 but with each car in a different collection paddock. This would make communication between the three TR crews difficult and so we each had independent pit crews to handle the driver changes.
The Fender-Broad TR2 was first off at and Guy Broad set a cracking time of 6min .01seconds.  My own TR3S was next and we also had the Le Mans Start to contend with.  As Barry Sidery-Smith had done this piece of theatre many times before I gave John ‘Syko’ Sykes for the honour.  As the time for the race came near the stewards came into the paddock to collect the cars to the pre grid but of John there was no sign.  A quick phone call to him found him still sitting in his motor home! He was convinced he was doing the second stint and so he had to run to the collecting grid on the Buggati circuit and do a ‘Superman’ style change into his racing overalls in full public gaze – there is never a ‘phone box handy when you want one is there?  Take it from me, seeing Syko getting into his Nomex underwear is not a pretty sight! However, we made the change over with just minutes to spare but it wasn’t a good way to prepare for a race.   
After a difficult Le Mans style start Syko then put in three good laps and our driver change worked well.  Barry then put in a really fast sub 6minute lap but due to an error on refuelling he ran out of petrol on his last lap!
Meanwhile, Paul Gerring, Carl Kidel and Ernie Cole had arrived to take over our pit for their session with the TRS which also performed faultlessly.  While Barry and John went off to get some much needed rest Tony Jeanes and I made our way back to our paddock to retrieve and service the car as our next session would be at 4.00 am in the morning.  With petrol only available from the organisers at £6+a litre – yes really- it was costing over £200 to fill the TR up and each 13km lap was consuming a gallon of fuel.  With no fuel available in the paddocks the officials told us to get some jerry cans and take them to the refuelling point.  – Which we did but the officials at the refuelling point would have none of it and told us to drive the car there.  In his perfect French, Tony explained to them it was rather difficult to drive a car without petrol but they were having none of it.  It seems there are regulations and then there are French regulations!  In the end Dave Solomans and his fellow TR people from Wensum Group appeared like ghosts in the night and helped us to push the car down to fuelling point in the pit lane where I was relieved of yet another £200!
Meanwhile, the weather was starting to begin deteriorating badly and sometime around 2.00 am the heavens opened and lightning filled the sky.   It would be a very wet and dangerous race if the weather continued like this.  
The sound of engines being run up brought our paddock back to life.  Barry Arrived for his first stint at the wheel and we set off for the start line paddock with me holding an umbrella to keep the rain off. It would be a rolling start this time behind a pace car and so a fast first lap was envisaged.   We were not disappointed and Berry came in right on time for the driver change over.  By literally pulling Barry out of the seat, we strapped John in and he set off for his first ever night race.   The result can be seen of the TRR web site as Wayne Scott interviewed him right afterwards.
The 2nd hand over to the TRS pit crew was straightforward and we went off for some much needed sleep.  Not that we got any but following a quick breakfast we went back up to the paddock for our final session at midday. Once again Barry would start the race with Syko taking the chequered flag.   This was a truly great race with real drama on the final lap as the leading Aston Martin DB4GT spun just before the pit straight and allowed the Lotus 11 which was following him an unexpected win.
Our own results were nothing less than fantastic.  We entered the race expecting nothing more than with hopes to complete the course without bending either car.  With 70 plus cars on each grid and large speed and power differences between the top line cars and ourselves we never expected to finish anywhere up the grid placings.  Moreover, despite one or two problems with the TR2 and TRS all three cars finished without a mark on them. Also, because our pit changes were right on target we didn’t score any penalties and we ended up with two 3rd. in class positions.   A great result and all credit must go to the drivers who achieved this for us and Penrite.  As for oil consumption, I was frankly astonished that we didn’t have to add a drop.  The oil was virtually as clean as it was when we put it in the car and there was never any drop in oil pressure.  We were of course using Penrite’s top grade ‘Ten Tenths’ racing oil but all other lubricants were Penrite standard products.
I and the rest of the team are deeply indebted to Penrite for without their support we could never have entered CLM in the first place.  I would also like to acknowledge the support given by Phil Tucker and his company, Tucker EMS.   Phil, in his role as Vice Chair of the TR Register, also  arranged to provide material support in the form of a pit trolley, fireproof overalls and pit boards.  I must also heap praise upon Wayne Scott whose vision and enthusiasm enabled members to view the action at Le Mans from the comfort of their own homes.  I don’t really know how this sort of stuff works so as far as I’m concerned it’s a black art practised by teenagers and therefore a form of magic.  Finally,  I extend my thanks to the drivers and all the other members of the team who pitched in and made it a truly memorable week at la Sarthe. 
Paul Hogan.
For Team Penrite & Michael Cotti Racing.
The final results were as follows

Triumph TR2
1955
Race 1
Race 2
Race 3
Total time

57th on Index

1:23'55.641     

38'10.299    
38'21.127     
2:40'27.069 

52nd scratch

57:45.000    
44:52.712    
51:08.170      
2:33:45.882

77 starters
Fastest Lap
135.9kph




  
Triumph TR3 S
1959
Race 1
Race 2
Race 3
Total time

37th on index

56'44.994   
44'33.422   
44'14.541   
2:25'32.958    

41st  scratch
5
57:00.000   
46:57.901   
52:46.057  
2:36:43.958

75 starters
Fastest lap
138.5kph
116.6kph
117.5kph



Triumph TRS
1961
Race 1
Race 2
Race 3
Total time

38th on index

  55'45.437     
55'54.665     
51'40.800     
2:43'20.902


24th scratch

55:45.437
50:01.992
45:48.127
2:31:35.556


75 starters
Fastest Lap
137.7kph

137.8kph



For more on the Le Mans Classic Triumph Team see TR Action magazine, available free to all members of the TR Register.



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