With no time to draw breath after our highly successful Open Day on Saturday 30th March, we set the Sat Nav’s for Snetterton in Norfolk and the JEC Saloon & GT Championship season curtain raiser. After a long drive from Somerset and arriving at gone midnight we grabbed some much-needed shut eye. The break of dawn revealed a bright crisp sunny day and near perfect conditions for testing.
Tom Robinson continues this season to pilot the number four XJR and we are delighted to announce that he has been joined on the team by the highly experienced Jaguar driver Tom Butterfield who will drive the other XJR formerly driven by Adam Powderham, this car will now be sporting the number seventeen. Having two Tom’s in the team won’t be at all confusing, will it? Perhaps a certain Sat Nav company would like to offer us some sponsorship?
Early testing for both cars looked extremely promising, however this was short lived, the Butterfield car developed a misfire which progressively got worse and after eliminating many possibilities eventually the diagnosis was that it was down to contaminated fuel, unfortunately this wasn’t discovered until the entire fuel system had become infected. This resulted in replacing both fuel pumps, filters and injectors and we are indebted to our friends and partners at Emerald who are based locally to Snetterton for staying late to supply us with a new Bosch fuel pump. Some late evening spanner work got the seventeen-car back firing on all cylinders. A dash to Norwich was also required to J-Cat Independent Jaguar to collect a crank sensor bracket to replace a fractured one on the number four car, our thanks to J-Cat for helping us out at very short notice.
Saturday morning was cold and overcast but fortunately dry for qualifying, Robinson in the number four XJR ventured out first and quickly went to the top of timing board, posting an opening lap time in the 2.13’s, last years champion James Ramm was next to post a quick time just two tenths back. Butterfield in the other XJR on his first outing in the car was having some handling issues and was struggling to get it hooked up, that combined some supercharger belt slippage meant that he eventually qualified tenth on the grid. Meanwhile on lap two Robinson had lowered his best lap and was in the 2.12’s and sitting on provisional pole until Colin Philpott produced a sensational late lap in qualifying to steal P1, never the less Tom was delighted to be on the front row of the grid for the opening race.
The rain that had threated for much of the afternoon fortunately held off and with a dry circuit optimism was high in the Swallows camp. With a very clean start off the line by the entire field the front four held grid position going into Riches for the first time and Tom Robinson was soon threatening race leader Colin Philpott who was having to defend from the Somerset driver. Tom Butterfield meanwhile made a flying start off of the line in the number seventeen XJR and was up to sixth by Riches, but sadly the gremlins returned, and the car was struggling to pull below three and a half thousand revs, not wishing to damage the engine Butterfield reluctantly retired the car for a DNF. At the front of the race the leading four had split from the rest of the field and by lap five only 2.7 seconds covered first to fourth and a battle royal was developing for the podium places. Robinson continued to loom large the mirrors of Philpott, the Berkshire man having to use all his considerable racing experience to hold off the young charger in the XJR.
Sam Clarke Junior who has returned after a two-year break from the championship by now was occupying last year’s champion James Ramm both in XJS’s setting up an epic fight for third spot. With no quarter being given the front pack continued to hold grid positions and the result was still in the balance until lap eight when Robinson got the car slightly out of shape costing three tenths of a second, just enough to give Philpott a tiny amount of breathing space. The chequered flag came down on lap nine with the front four still in the starting order, Philpott, Robinson, Ramm and Clarke Junior. Ramm then unfortunately and slightly harshly discovered he had been awarded a five second penalty for exceeding track limits promoting Clarke Junior to third.
Heavy rain just an hour prior to the race start and some standing water on the track made for exceptionally tricky circuit conditions and handing an advantage to the better handling and lesser powered XJS’s, not really what we want for our supercharged XJR’s. As the safety car peeled away from the rolling start Sam Clarke Junior sped into Riches from pole to take an early advantage from Tom Robinson followed by Colin Philpott. Rodney Frost also made an excellent start in his XJS and was making his way up through the field, as the back markers came around it was evident that our number seventeen car was missing and that Tom Butterfield’s terrible weekend was complete and he had returned to the paddock still suffering from fuelling issues.
Out in front Clarke was stretching his lead and coping with the difficult conditions extremely well, meanwhile in our number four car Robinson was fighting to keep the mighty XJR on track and was slipping down the field, a sticking throttle cable not helping his cause, Guy Connew the next beneficiary relegating Tom to sixth place, by this time James Ramm had started close on Clarke in the battle for the lead and Frost had caught teammate Philpott to set up a titanic battle for third. A brief break in the rain allowed the hint of a drier line in patches for the last two laps and Ramm closed in on Clarke as the lap times dropped slightly. Frost meanwhile was once again attempting to overtake teammate Philpott around the outside at Williams and eventual on the final lap he made a move stick to claim third. Ramm made a final attempt to pass leader Clarke as they crossed the line almost side by side, Clarke holding on for the win by just one tenth of a second. Guy Connew in was fifth and Tom brought the XJR home safely in sixth to claim valuable points.
A frustrating debut weekend then for Tom Butterfield and the Swallows crew with the seventeen car and a more satisfying weekend for Tom Robinson in the number four XJR scoring some valuable points, another very welcomed podium place as well as a drive of the day trophy on Saturday.
The action moves to Silverstone for a double-header on Sunday 5th May, we do hope that you will come and join us at the UK’s number one circuit, the paddock is open so pop along and say hello we will be delighted to see you there.