15th May 2006
FIONA LEGGATE IN THE E85 GREEN FUELLED ASTRA AT OULTON PARK
The Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship moved to the 365-acre parkland setting of Oulton Park near Chester for the third meeting of the 2006 season on 14th May. For Fiona Leggate, 25 year old Lincolnshire driver of the EEMS supported Thurlby Motors Boston Bowl Astra, it had already been a busy week with radio and TV interviews, a driver appearance at Blackpool Pleasure Beach with a high speed ride on its famous rollercoaster, and an encounter with Roman gladiators complete with swords in the historic city of Chester.
The Astra runs this season on E85, 15% petrol blended with 85% renewable fuel bio-ethanol, and is backed by the Motorsport UK EEMS initiative, Energy Efficient Motorsport, promoting the use of alternative fuels. E85 is now sold in the UK for Flexi-Fuel Vehicles. In factory tests, the engine running on bio-ethanol has produced 285Bhp and has a potential top straightline speed of 260kph (162mph), although this is not possible on the racetracks with their many corners!
“The Oulton Park crowd is always one of the biggest of the year, so the atmosphere is second to none. I love the circuit – it’s a bit of a rollercoaster ride itself. The corners are a real challenge.” This was Fiona’s first race here on the Island layout, which adds a tight hairpin to the swooping track. Rain came partway during qualifying on Saturday so none of the lap times improved with tricky wet track conditions described as ‘greasy’.
Raceday dawned cloudy but dry and Fiona was 13th of the 18 runners on the grid for the first of three races. At the first corner, Fiona rejoined the track after a tap from another car which put her into a spin. Although the Astra was undamaged, it caused her to fall back from the pack. Race 1 was a steady finish in 15th place. “The car felt really stable,” enthused Fiona. “We’ve got the set up working much better for me now. I’m really building my confidence this weekend and understanding what the car can do. I set my quickest time half way through the race, and it was half a second quicker than my best lap in free practice, so I’m seeing the improvements.”
Race 2, two hours later was another steady race from 15th of the grid to finish in fourteenth position with another time improvement of three-tenths a lap. “I’m really pleased with the car, I think it’s the best it’s ever been but I am having problem’s getting off the line with the extra weight of bio-ethanol I have to carry at the start,” said Fiona as she scribbled her post-race feedback for the engineers.
Fiona was on the seventh row of the grid in 13th position for the start of the third race and ready to push on with 30 laps of Oulton race experience in only her tenth BTCC race meeting. On lap two she had to brake heavily to avoid Adam Jones’ Lexus and as a result spun and connected backwards with the tyres at Knickerbrook, going off the circuit and dislodging the rear bumper but rejoining the track. By lap 6 she was in 14th position improving her race lap times again and 13th on lap 7. In the long safety car period after Shedden’s off, the race was extended to 17 laps. Once waved past the safety car, Fiona used the safety car period (when cars have to stay in order behind the safety car) to catch up with the pack.
On her lap 10 she was in 12th place and with some hard driving the Thurlby Motors Car moved up into 11th. “Fiona Leggate’s having a great race – she’s really flying!, this must be one of her best races” was the remark of circuit commentator Matt Feeney. Speed trap figures show her top speed was within 1mph of the top car and the 3rd fastest through the speed trap sector. So after an eventful race, Fiona finished in 11th position having stayed in the race after an incident.
Tech-Speed’s Marvin Humphries was also pleased with the weekend: “This is not an easy circuit, they are quick corners. Now Fiona’s getting some confidence in the car we’re seeing the times come.”
Fiona was buoyant after the races: “This is one of my best race weekends ever. When I had to brake hard to avoid the Lexus, I lost the back end and spun but I recovered well and gave them a good run for their money. I was driving hard. I was held up for quite a while before I got past Adam Jones. I’m over the moon with the weekend. The car’s handling is the best it’s ever been and the new re-spray by the Thurlby Motors workshop has made it look fantastic, I’m really looking forward to the next round at Thruxton. I’ve raced there twice in MGs, it’s a fast circuit. Now I’ve got to go back to my day job for a few weeks!”
Fiona’s sponsors Thurlby Motors and race team 888 Racing has developed a very special 200Bhp Astra 1.9CDTi 16v. Thurlby Motors and ITV are offering one of these cars as a competition prize. For more information see Thurlby.net.
The next round is at Thruxton, Hampshire on 4 June and will be live on ITV for the third race with edited highlights of race 1 and 2.