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Gary Thomas – My 2014 Season (Part 2)

Gary Thomas' car

Gary Thomas’ car, a single-seater specially designed for hillclimbs and sprints.

Following a Blyton Park weekend where the car went sick, I set about attempting to get it back to full health. I soon found out at Loton Park that it was no better despite the replacement of a number of parts. I then purchased a kit from SBD Motorsport replacing the ECU, loom, injectors and throttle bodies.

After help from nearby sprinter, Steve Miles, it finally seemed to be running well so I returned to Loton Park for two one day meetings. Second fastest time of the day was the result of day one and on day two I lead until one of the final runs of the day when I was beaten by just one hundredth of a second! That was frustrating but if the sport was easy it wouldn’t be worth doing.


In mid September I entered both days at the Nottingham Sports Car Clubs Thoresby Park Sprint in north Nottinghamshire. Thoresby is a very difficult, technical track with a bumpy surface that does not favour single seater race cars. I was content to set FTD on day one from some very quick Westfields, but day two was very exciting for me as I managed to put together one good run which beat the outright track record by seven-tenths of a second.


I returned to my favourite venue the following weekend,

Moment at Shelsley Walsh

Gary’s “moment” caught on camera at Shelsley Walsh

Shelsley Walsh hillclimb in Worcestershire. I had an ambition to win Fastest Time of the Day at Shelsley but as this is known as a power hill this wouldn’t be easy as there is normally a good entry of larger capacity race cars than my 1400cc engined car. During the weekend we met a number of Christians who were very encouraging. On the damp Saturday I achieved the result I had been striving for by winning outright but on the Sunday the track had dried thoroughly and I expected to be behind the bigger engined cars. To my huge surprise I won on the Sunday as well, despite a big moment where the back of the car swiped a bank on the edge of the track so hard that the rear wing supports bent! So there in one weekend I had achieved a long held ambition twice.


The season finished with three events at my most local venue, Curborough Sprint Course. I had a crazy idea to try to end the season as the fastest driver on each of the three track layouts at Curborough in 2014. The first of these events was run by BARC Midlands on the two lap layout and my time of 52.6 seconds became the fastest 2 lap time of the season. The next weekend was the one lap layout run by the HSA. This went very much to plan with a time which broke the existing class record and again set the best time all season for the short course. Next was the figure of eight layout run by the MAC. A great first run looked like completing the set of quickest times for me till, in the gathering gloom of a late October day, Chris Aspinall pipped me to win the event and be the first recipient of the David Pattison Trophy. Oh well, perhaps another year?


Gary and Gail Thomas

Gary Thomas with his wife, Gail

My season was over and the car was telling me that an engine rebuild would be needed over the winter with the quantity of oil leaking out so I started a winter strip down on the day after the final event. 13 FTD’s meant a very good season and cause to be optimistic for the following season.


Christians in Motorsport would like to thank Gary for sharing the story of his 2014 season (and for his patience waiting for us to resolve the technical issues that delayed us from publishing it).

Father & Son on the Somerset Stages 2015

Father and Son

Father and Son – Duncan and John Freeman

The Somerset Stages rally is based on the hills around Minehead and the Brendons, just 2 miles as the crow flies from our house.  I first watched this nearest stage (Chargot) some 11 years ago, with John as an enthusiastic, 8 year old petrol head.  We parked alongside the road and headed for the noise in the forest.  It was intensely exciting just bashing our way through the undergrowth to get a glimpse of these screaming and fire breathing rally cars.  Despite the novelty of watching our first rally and the desire to watch as much as possible I had to curtail the viewing after just a few cars had gone by; John was hit by a small stone and I was going green with envy.  It looked such fun.  I even thought to myself, I MUST do it one day, regardless of what car, even a Micra, anything with 4 wheels.  Little did I know that the dream would be fulfilled 11 years later.


The 2015 rally did not start too well.  At scrutineering we nearly failed on our helmets (yes, they were scratched and had obviously seen a lot of use), and I was expecting some comments about “These polycarbonate windows don’t have an MSA approval sticker” or “Your seat belts unfortunately don’t meet the current standards”.  I had read and re-read the ‘Blue Book’ that the MSA produce to see what changes had been introduced and what was allowed, but I am a born pessimist, so was expecting the worst.  We did get through scrutineering, but only after promising this would be the last time we used the helmets, and not to crash!


Helmet Selfie

Helmet Selfie – New helmets needed!

Having arrived early at the Minehead base, time soon vanished as we bought some emergency rations from Tesco, and we rushed to the start queue, only to realise we had been seeded just behind a Mk 2 Escort and ahead of a Rover 1400.  I promptly went to the Rover to say we would watch out for him if he caught us up, and I apologised in advance if I screwed his times up.  We then belted up, removed the safety  pin from the plumbed in fire extinguisher- just in case-  and waited for the start  to head for the first stage, the Porlock Toll road.  Last year it was my first attempt at reading pace notes, and after the 6th or 7th instruction I realised I was lost.  It was much harder than I thought to call it at the right time and not get ‘lost’.


John drove confidently, rarely lifting off the accelerator and thrashing the little car, with valves popping all the way up.  The massive hairpins are easy to screw up in such a low power car and the gearbox kept jumping out of first gear last time. We were much more prepared this time, with me holding the gear lever and calling the pace notes more confidently. The little car went up in style, posting a time that equalled the 2 litre Escort and was 20 seconds ahead of the 1400 Rover, and just 2 seconds behind a Subaru Impreza!  Incredibly 5 cars had broken down on this, the first of 12 stages.  How gutting.  But for the grace of God… the second run saw us knock a few more seconds off of our time and go up the score board 3 places.  We were now lying 129 out of 159 starters.

Gravel Stages

The Freemans’ Micra running through a gravel stage on the picturesque Somerset Stages


We were to run the first gravel stage almost last, behind the ‘big boys’ with very, very big bhp and 4 wheel drive.  That is a mandate from the Motor Sports Association in an attempt to stop spectators being hurt.  Not many are happy about this decision.  We have 60 horses and 13 inch wheels; not a nice thought of ruts and rocks churned up by WRC cars, ready to destroy drive shafts/ tyres/ anything. The whole stage  is a blur of noise- stones and rocks are blasted against the bodywork, the valves are trying to burst out of the engine, the heater is full blast to avoid overheating (one of the issues we had last year), and lastly, my shouting of instructions.  Slippy hairpin right, double caution. I repeat (louder) double caution… slippy… right hairpin.  John mostly hears what I say and luckily ignores my anxious tone.  Pedal to the metal until the hairpin is almost touching distance.  Brake hard, slight flick of hand brake and foot hard down again (and me holding the blooming gear lever).


John gave me less hairy moments compared to his very first event last year, though I did shout “Tidy up!” in a very strict head-master sort of way, referring not to rubbish in the car, but an excessive amount of sideways movement on a narrow track.  John claims he did not hear me, so my breath was wasted!  We posted another good time, this time going up 19 places to lie in 110th place and lying equal with a Fiesta ST.  The next few stages go well.  We now find ourselves following a Landrover Discovery.  Except this one had a tuned BMW engine pushing out 350 horse power to all 4 wheels.  We wait some distance behind the Disco, in case rocks are thrown up as he launches off the start line.  A truly impressive sight!  I swear the ruts deepened by many inches after he started.  Despite a monstrous amount of power, we were only 9 seconds slower on a stage that is almost 4 miles long.



I was beginning to relax that we were unlikely to be caught by anyone behind us, and have forgotten about the Rover 1400.  But could we catch anyone ahead of us?  The running order changes again so we were back behind the Escort.  The last stages find us apparently getting close, judging by the dust he left behind which found us struggling for vision (navigator becomes quite useful!!) and when we arrive at the time control we find the car still there.  However, the times give the truth.  We are only 24 seconds behind him on the long Croydon stage, and beat him on all but one stage.  It would be a great feeling to catch the car in front despite them having a minute head start.  One day… but the next rally will see us seeded a little higher.


The end result was quite surprising.  We finished 89th out of 159.  Only 111 people finished the rally, and we were first in our class.  Some have time penalties, but we were hampered by the navigator reading the pace notes for the wrong stage!  No wonder John ignored most of what I said.  We also lost time in a big chicane made from round straw bales.  It was slippery and we failed to get around.  Poor John spent the next 5 seconds hammering the steering wheel in frustration.  I was completely beside myself for not reading the correct notes.  Thank God we forgave each other.


Duncan and John tackling one of the many hairpins on the Somerset Stages, with no lack of bravery or commitment.

We stayed for the prize giving, which few people do.  Most people are exhausted and want to get home, but since home is only 14 miles away for us, we stayed, as well as the fact that this is our first class win.  During the interminable wait for prize giving, we chat to the winner of the 1.6 class, a young lad who used to have a Micra 1.0.  We learn from him about engine mounts causing the gear lever to pop out and left foot braking and control of the rear end which whets our appetite for the next event.  We returned home exhausted, but champions, and on our home ground!


Thanks to Duncan Freeman for this story.  If you have an event report you think we would enjoy, please send them in to us.

Motorsport Breakfast

A sleepy, Nottingham industrial estate, cut off by on-going tram works, was shaken into life on Saturday 21st March by the sound of engines.  V8s, V4s, flat-6s and 4-cylinders, all singing a different tune than Trent Vineyard Church would normally hear echoing around its auditorium, all there for a motorsport breakfast organised by Christians in Motorsport and Trent Vineyard.

Panoramic shot of the Trent Vineyard auditorium for the Motorsport Breakfast

The Trent Vineyard auditorium for the Motorsport Breakfast.

Over a hundred people enjoyed a full-English breakfast before hearing from the Jesus Saves Racing team about their return as a motorsport team in the UK.  Adriano Medeiros won the Classic Formula Ford 1600 championship in 2013 and Leandro Guedes won the Rookie championship in the same series in 2014.  After breakfast, Gary Thomas revealed his newly liveried Jesus Saves sprint and hillclimb car, a carbon-fibre, Suzuki Hayabusa-engined Force PC.


Full-English breakfast – a good start to any day

Force PC hillclimb and sprint car

Gary Thomas’ Force PC Hillclimb & Sprint car.

With appetites satisfied, our guests could explore the auditorium.  An eclectic range of cars and bikes were on display for people to admire, sit in and dream of racing.  Everyone was given a ‘C’ sticker that they could place on the car they deemed to be the coolest.  There was no dissent when the coolest car award was presented to the beautiful Lancia Fulvia.  From time to time a mysterious figure would be seen stood among the cars.  Some people think he is the Stig… but we know him as the Stig’s East Midlands cousin! 😉


The Stig’s East Midlands cousin.

Outside car display

Outside car display

For our more adventurous visitors, there was the pitstop challenge.  Against the clock, teams would have to change the wheels on the Force PC, get their driver into their race overalls and helmet, then strap them into Nick Grahame’s mad Lexus V8-engined Mazda MX5.  There were some valiant efforts, but none of the teams quite matched the slickness of a Le Mans pitstop, though these were much more entertaining to watch!

Wheel change

Wheel change

Driver change

Driver change

Our third competition was for fastest driver of the day.  The ‘health & safety’ brigade wouldn’t let us tear round the car park in our real cars, so we had to make do with some 1:32 scale fun.  Christians in Motorsport brought out their new 6-car digital Scalextric set, complete with Audi R8, Mercedes SLR and Porsche 911 GT cars, for a series of endurance races.  The driver with the most laps in 3 minutes would lift the trophy, with victory going to a young lad who managed 35 laps.

Fastest driver challenge

Fastest Driver Challenge

Talking racing

Talking racing

The event was a great success with many people asking us if it was going to be a regular event, so we may be persuaded to make a return visit next year.  Trent Vineyard were really happy to see the variety of people that came in to their church through the morning and we hope that something of what they experienced will have got them thinking.  Many thanks to all those who attended, brought vehicles or helped in any way with the event.

(Images courtesy of Gary Thomas)