2019 - A DIARY OF JIM JOHNSTONE'S RACING SEASON IN HIS 1971 TRIUMPH TR6
Jim Johnstone has given me this report on his season's racing. Do take time to read it, especially if you are considering using your own car in competitive events. It might just be the inspiration you need to get started! Thank you Jim.
Also read about Jim's recent recognition with his TR Register Gold Award. Read about it here
First, a note on the 2018 season which was shortened by two factors: an incident on 19 May during a sprint at Blyton Park which brought my season to a premature end, followed by the need to fix a personal broken mitral valve spring at the end of October.
The Blyton incident, after which the only undamaged outer body panel was the boot lid, meant that a replacement body shell was the preferred option.This is one of many items not available new, hardly surprising when the car was 47 years old at the time and the marque went out of production around 40 years ago.With help from John (Syko) Sykes of TR Bitz, one was found, along with other vital components no longer available new. TR wizard Jon Wood worked wonders on the completion and strengthening of the shell.I was his assistant and the entire project, except the painting, was done in my garage at home. The car was ready to run two days before the 2019 Harewood Practice Day on March 24th .
24 March - Harewood Practice Day. The car, which is road legal, had been run no more than 10 miles before Practice Day.It appeared OK and was given a thorough check to ensure nothing was insecure.
The day was cold but dry and it was my first outing on the course since the complete resurfacing during the summer of 2018.A cautious start resulted in a time of 77.01.After 7 runs, I was happy with my best effort on the day of 71.86 secs.As an experiment, a different diff ratio was tried but was replaced for the first competitive Harewood.
14 April - Harewood Hill Climb.The usual Harewood diff was back in which restored the familiar gear change routine.However the original Lucas PI system which is rarely found in competition TR’s was playing up. I was concerned that running could cause further problems but I badly needed time behind the wheel to play myself back in after missing most of the previous season.Jon Wood was in attendance and assured me it would be OK. The result was a disappointing best time of 72.15, well behind Jolyon Harrision’s immaculate and original Lotus 7 Series 3 and Thomas Robinson in his MG Midget.Back to base, ask Woody (Jon Wood) for his help and out with the spanners! The problem turned out to be the result of ethanol damage to a flexible hose which had collapsed internally, completely blocking the line.
22 APRIL - Croft Easter Monday Sprint. This would have been a qualifying round for the Revington/TR Register Sprint & Hill Climb Championship but was cancelled because of too few entries.This was not surprising considering the appalling weather conditions last year when abandonment after a single practice run was announced when most competitors felt it was too dangerous to run at all.
11 May - Harewood Hill Climb. I finally gave in to the pleas of Jon Wood to “do something” about the front suspension of the TR6, which was under steering and had, in his opinion, far too much travel.Shorter, stiffer springs were fitted, vertical travel restricted and front and rear settings adjusted, including the corner weights. Leon Bachelier very kindly made his sophisticated system available for this exercise. I was keen to see how right Jon was.This was a combined day of practice for entrants in the National Hill Climb Championship for the qualifying round the next day and a club members hill climb.The weather was mostly wet, very windy and cold. The PI system behaved this time. My first run, which was in almost dry conditions, was my best of the year thus far at 70.78 and my first class win.Thomas Robinson’s Midget was second on 72.41.The second run saw only two of the seven drivers in my class braving the pouring rain when wipers had to be on the fast setting. My time was 81.24. Standing water and streams running across the surface were the order of the day.When it came to the third run, only three drivers from the entry of 100 wanted to have a go.I was one of them.I was driving a different car after the suspension changes and needed time to learn it but, understandably, with a team of saturated marshals, the meeting was closed.
12 May - Harewood Hill Climb. This was a qualifying round of the British Hill Climb Championship, with a different class structure.The “BARC Yorkshire Members Class” is where the seven cars not having an appropriate class on the day were gathered.I finished in third place with a time of 70.08; slowly getting the hang of it again! The class winner was Richard Archbould in his Mitsubishi Evo Tommi Makinnen in 63.31 with the Lancia Stratos Rep of John Heseltine in 67.84.Several weeks later, the BARC Yorks e-magazine report on the meeting sprang a surprise by announcing that the class was subject to handicap status.It turned out that, thanks to the handicapper, I was declared the winner!
1 June - Harewood Classic & Vintage Hill Climb.A qualifying round of the Revington/TR Register Championship saw the usual very poor attendance at any event North of Birmingham by Triumph drivers.Three of us ran on the day, in perfect weather conditions.The combination of Jon’s magic suspension mods and the new track surface resulted in my best time of the season so far of 68.71 secs. For the first time, the TR’s tyres were squealing loudly on most bends and the additional grip and turn-in were amazing.Reigning champ, Martin Paine was second with a time of 77.65 while Derek Pywell whose Spitfire engine was far from healthy, was third in 83.74 secs. The TR Championship classes run on a power to weight ratio basis which means that, on scratch times, there are often some wide margins between apparently similar cars.
2 June - Harewood Hill Climb. The customary Harewood classes were restored for this meeting. Four entrants only in the Classics class which was very disappointing.That was tempered by my time which at 68.45 secs was a new personal best at Harewood.Thomas Robinson was in second place on 70.32.I was a very happy boy on the way home!
6 July – Shelsley Walsh Hill Climb.I resorted to the lowest diff ratio I have for this round of the TR Championship. 10 Triumphs entered the class including 4 TR7’s each with a V8 Rover engine.My engine developed a reluctance to start.If left for more than 15 mins it was very difficult so I resorted to firing it up every 10 minutes so I could be reasonably certain it would start.It didn’t sound right all day and the driver wasn’t firing on all 6 either.However, a practice time of 37.77, only 0.75 slower than my best time at Shelsley was encouraging. A rain shower during the lunch break changed things somewhat.Shelsley is a hairy proposition as it requires pedal to the metal to be competitive.When slippery it is even more difficult to get right. After competitive run one, my time of 38.72 gave me second place to the immaculately prepared and driven 4.6 litre TR7 V8 of Steve Small with a time of 37.74.In dry conditions, Steve is usually in the mid 34 second bracket and his car is normally 20 mph faster than mine through the speed trap at the finish line. We both had a “moment” in the Esses on our final run with almost identical times of 50 seconds.
3 August – Harewood Hill Climb.Another very disappointing entry of only four in the class. The “Shelsley Diff” was retained and I was beginning to exploit the engine’s wide torque band by changing up at much lower RPM.This resulted in a different gear change routine which took a few runs to adjust to. Fuel supply problems were back and it was only due to the help of the Paddock Marshals that I was able to complete all my runs. My time of 69.39 was just shy of a second slower than my PB and less than half a second ahead of Thomas Robinson.Richard Derrick’s Mini 1275 GT was snapping at Thomas’s heels, only 0.19 secs slower.
4 August – Harewood Hill Climb.This was to have been the Montague Burton Trophy event.An incident before all entrants had completed a timed run resulted in the abandonment of the meeting.It was the only decision the officials could make as the collision of a competing car with a stone barn had caused sufficient structural damage to raise concerns that it could collapse. A shame, as practice times had been encouraging.
25 August – Harewood Hill Climb.The class, which is for Saloons and Sports Cars built up to and including 1972 had 6 entries this time.The numbers fluctuate but still no other TR’s.Can anyone explain this conundrum? Overheating fuel aside, the TR behaved itself once advice from Peter Willis, a member of the Cleveland TR Group of which I am a member, had been followed.He suggested that fresh, cooler petrol be added to the tank.Bingo, as the saying goes.My best time of 68.78 seconds was more like it.Anthony Patrick in a Mini came second in 70.42 and third was fellow Harewood veteran, Les Proctor in the Sebring Sprite in 71.45.The question remains, is the Shelsley Diff the correct choice? I haven’t yet equalled my PB which was set on the taller diff back in June.
31 August– Bo’ness Hill Climb Revival.Jim Clark Memorial Weekend.Son Nick and I arrived after the 200 mile run at about 3:30 on Friday afternoon.For the last 50 miles or so we travelled through very heavy rain and headed straight for our paddock spot.The grassy area was a quagmire and the loss of rear wheel drive on the KIA Sportage added to the difficulties. We abandoned all efforts to get to our paddock bay and parked the trailer on hard standing, by which time we were soaked to the skin.
An earlier than usual arrival on Saturday enabled us to get the TR out of the trailer and, along with the now front wheel drive only tow car, we managed to reach our paddock bay.
The rain had now become intermittent but heavy and with the paddock mud being carried onto the track, an interesting day was in prospect!So it proved.Getting away from the mud coated start line was tricky.Allowing the car to move away at little more than tickover RPM worked best for me.Arriving at the very tight hairpin at near maximum RPM in second gear certainly got the adrenalin level raised when applying the brakes.Not once did I negotiate the hairpin on Saturday without a very close call when front wheel grip deserted me only to suddenly return, thus avoiding contact with my old acquaintances, the straw bales.My best time, 37.60, was approximately 5 seconds slower than I achieved in 2017.Marcus Bewley, who threw his lovely and quick GT6 at every bend in rally style was second with a time of 39.05.At the end of the day, we squelched our way to our accomodation to remove the mud and take our places at the Bo’ness Revival Dinner where we were treated to Wayne Scott, Press Officer at the TR Register, interviewing Eric Dymock, a well known motor sport journalist and personal friend of Jim Clark.Eric has written the recently published biography of Jim.He was followed by Tom Purves, formerly CEO of BMW UK who was instrumental in successfully introducing the current Mini to the US market.Tom, who competes in his Triumph TR3A, is now Chairman of the MSUK and had some very interesting news about future proposals for motorsport in the UK.
1 September – Bo’ness Hill Climb Revival.Jim Clark Memorial Weekend.The rain had relented overnight but we were confronted by a wet and still muddy surface.The BBC and Met Office were at loggerheads over the outlook for the day.The Beeb had predicticted continuous rain from lunchtime.Fortunately, the Met Office was spot on; the sun shone until we were completing trailer loading. The first practice run was very tentative to get the feel of things but it was not until my final run of the meeting that front wheel grip was restored at the hairpin.The warm sunshine and passage of cars gradually improved the track but the start, hairpin and fastest section under the trees were far from perfect, even by the end of the day. Times generally improved over those on Saturday.
The timed runs were delayed while the results of an excursion at the entry to the Courtyard were dealt with.The Clerk of the Course called a Drivers Meeting to warn that a combination of coolant and oil had been spilt on the apex of the bend and that we should exercise extreme caution at that point.In common with most in the class I approached normally but some concentration inevitably went on looking for the hazard.It wasn’t until the return down the hill to the Paddock that it was visible.
My first competitive run time was 35.47, still 3 secs slower than in 2017 when conditions were good.However, on his first timed run, Marcus Bewley had really got the hammer down and put in a time of 35.08.There’s nothing like serious competition to stir me up and I went to the start with a certain determination.I drove as quickly as I could, ignoring the C of C’s warning, and posted 35.01.But where was Marcus?Returning to the Paddock I learned that when he started the GT6 there was a low pitch rumbling noise which appeared to come from the lower part of the engine.He had no option but to withdraw.He was philosophical but, having experienced similar circumstances myself in the past, I know it was a bitter pill to swallow, especially as he had led after the first run. Margins in hill climbing can be small but, to win by only 7/100ths of a second is tight!
14 September – Harewood Hill Climb.The car was delivered to Harewood ready for the event but, on Saturday morning, the nut normally found behind the wheel was cream crackered and felt it would be unwise to get into a quick competition car.I withdrew my entry.
15 September – Harewood Hill Climb.Having spent the previous day frustrated but taking it easy, I was fine on Sunday morning and arrived earlier than usual for scrutineering.I was entered in the JDC 4 Hills & Sprint Championship class in support of my good friend Geoff Mansfield who, with his wife Sheila, organises the series which merits greater support than it has had this year.There were only 4 entries comprising a lovely D-Type replica built from a kit and driven by hospital consultant, Adrian Evans, who assembled it on a redundant ex-hospital patient trolley, a 3 litre 4WD X-Type Saloon driven by David Rogers in his first hill climb, Geoff Mansfield in his Kougar powered by an XK Jag engine and yours truly.The JDC championship includes a non-Jaguar category which was introduced with the aim of increasing the number of entrants, hence my appearance in this class.
My first run was ruined when my foot slipped off the brake pedal onto the accelerator at the left kink before Orchard.Rather than risk attempting to keep to the course I let the car run straight on across the grass.My second and third attempts were better with the final one a time of 69.26.Adrian was second in the D-Type with 74.13.At the prize giving afterwards, I was announced as having set a new class record, previously held by Colin Elstrop in a TVR.Not a lot to be proud of as it was almost one second slower than my PB at the June event.
End of Season ramblings.Considering the problems with the fuel system since the rebuild of the TR6, which were at best a nuisance and at worst a handicap, I think I should be reasonably happy with the results. The really irritating point is that, before the Blyton incident, the TR ran without missing a beat for four seasons!However, with help from Peter Willis who turned up at my home to fix the fuel supply problem, I am delighted to report that, from Bo’ness onwards the engine has run at its best.It took the acquisition of a spare metering unit and the refurbishment by Neil Ferguson of it and the original one plus replacement of the suspect fuel pump to restore the engine’s performance back to what had been normal.
The suspension changes and adjustments have transformed the handling and cornering capabilities and it is now the driver’s task to learn just how quickly the car can be driven.I am convinced there is more to come from the car and I now have to find it. That is my target for 2020. The choice of diff ratio remains an unresolved question as far as Harewood is concerned.Persevere with the “Shelsley Diff” or revert to the one which was fitted when I achieved my best time there in June?
There are people I need to thank for their advice, direct assistance and support. In particular: Jon Wood, John Sykes, Peter & Neil Willis, Geoff & Sheila Mansfield, Neil Ferguson, Mark Campbell, Mark Busfield, Dennis Jones, Leon Bachelier and my son Nick.Without Nick’s support I could not have entered the long distance events and daughter in law Rachel played her part by granting him the necessary weekend pass outs.Thank you Rachel!