It's funny, after twenty six years in this sport, I'm still learning. Today I had the honour of shaking down a beautiful and important Alfa Romeo Tipo 33/3 sports prototype - the subject of so many iconic images from the Targa Florio, Le Mans and the like.
This very original car has undergone a meticulous and extensive rebuild of late so inevitably you expect a few niggles first time out. My senses therefore were on high alert to pick up on any peculiarities before they had a chance to become actual problems. With the Silverstone National circuit starting out damp and crowded, it was some time until we could start leaning on the car sufficiently to generate tyre and brake temperature but, once up to speed, I did indeed have inclination to pit a few times to report the odd misfire, inconsistent delivery of power, crunchy gearbox or anything else 'suspect'.
Frustrating as it can sometimes be, this approach proved correct as each time they were minor adjustments to be made or precautionary suggestions to be noted. Eventually we were ready for a full speed run on a dry circuit.
Second flying lap, braking into Becketts, a small but noticeable plume of smoke (or vapour, I couldn't quite tell) entered the open cockpit, evaporating just as sharply as it had appeared. Had something important let go? Possibly in the engine? Temps and pressures looked okay, but I didn't want to risk it, so once again, I dropped the revs and trundle safely back to the pits. After a thorough look, everything seemed fine and we put it down to our first experience of a brake lock up with this car, tyre smoke coming in through access holes in the wheel arch. 'Strange' I thought, 'because I certainly didn't feel a lock up.' But on we went.
Rejoining the track there was a subtle whirring noise I noticed while decelerating. It was quickly drowned by the engine though and everything felt fine so this time I ignored my instinct to pit yet again because we had some tyres to test and I just wanted to get on with a proper run.
A lap later though, braking this time for the high speed Copse corner on my first 'flyer', sure enough, a wheel bearing let go and the car pitched sideways. Fortunately, Silverstone is a forgiving place and I had plenty of room to gather up it up. Had it been elsewhere though, we may not have been so lucky.
Moral of the story? Trust your instincts! And keep trusting them. Be sensitive to the fact that your machinery is made up of thousands of highly stressed components. Tune in to them, stay glued to the gauges and try to pick up on any peculiarities. Your eyes, ears, hands and feet - even your backside - are all excellent attenae... if only you pay attention.