As we build hype and excitement towards the weekend’s round 5 of the Time Attack series at Lincolnshire’s Cadwell Park, we feel it’s time to reflect on and continue our story with Rob Cowling and the Ameon racing team by looking back at all the goings on in a dramatic double-header round at Brands Hatch.

First off, a recap sees the team leaving round 2 at Scotland with a very poorly car despite the team at MG Autos trying to sort all the issues. This left the team with yet more woes, and an even bigger dilemma; how and who was going to sort the latest bunch of problems ready for a key 2 round points scoring bonanza in Kent?

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It wasn’t the fact the MG team were not up to the task of continuing to develop the Ameon car, far from it in fact, but the logistics of making the trip from the North West down to the East Midlands on a regular basis was a nightmare, especially for Rob and his dad; Tony who both are mad keen to help make decisions, understand exactly what is happening to the car and most recently, what’s happened to the car!

Fortunately, fellow Time Attack competitor; Simon Nutter had made the switch after also having problems with the same tuner that we heard about at the start of this journey, who we still haven’t named, but I don’t think they can remain nameless for much longer… Simon recommended Matt and his team at TRL Developments, and after an initial chat, the Evo was on its way over there for preparation for the 2 rounds that lay ahead.

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Matt and the lads got straight on it, dealing with the issues that plagued the team up in Scotland and set about getting it right on song ready for Rob to make up the growing deficit in the points standings! After a good few hours work and delving deep into the engine, the text came through I was awaiting:

 

“The Beast is Alive, first run on the dyno before mapping and it did 620bhp!”

 

Now, the sceptic in me came straight out, as we have been here before, I’ve had text messages and phonecalls along the same vein before, and shortly after everything has gone bang/wrong/broken! My faith was restored a few hours later with another very excitable text message from Rob reading:

 

“720bhp and 66lbft of Torque!!!!! We are back!!!!!”

The car was finished, ready to go and most importantly back in Rob’s garage, where it should be in between rounds rather than in a million pieces on garage floors! Not only that, but we still had 2 weeks to go, breathing space, time to prepare and clean, something we are just not used to when it comes to the abhorrent luck that has been associated with Ameon Racing.

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In between all the bad news and stress of preparing the Evo, the exciting news that we touched upon last time is that Ameon had secured the skills of 2 time Champion and current leader of the BTCC; Matt Neal to help coach Rob around the tricky Kent circuit, passing on advice and knowledge as well as giving the car a good work-out in the hands of what can only be described as a driving legend!

Rob had booked himself into the general trackday on the Friday before the weekend’s events and that’s where Matt Neal would step in to give the team a much needed boost as well as a whole heap of extra confidence for Rob, not only in the car, but also in his own belief that he can be the best in this class which, with everything going off, has been difficult and the 2010 wins he picked up seem a long way off.

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The car ran faultlessly all day, putting in some major track miles with a mixture of Rob and Matt at the wheel, the car seemed to get sweeter and faster, but with no timing gear allowed in the vehicles on a trackday it was down to us on the iPhones and Kev from Autopro Motorsport, who it’s worth mentioning had been called on again just a few days before to add the TRL Developments logos to the car’s livery, but managed to turn it around in super quick time, with the usual high quality we have come to expect!

From our rough timing, it seemed that Rob and the Evo were well on the pace, and with us being real Time Attack geeks we were able to delve into the results and timings from last year’s round via the very handy TSL Timing website proving our thoughts as Rob headed towards last year’s Club Pro class winners’ times whilst taking into consideration that semi slick tyres were available to the competitors in the form of Toyo R888 instead of the full road Pirellis that are in the regulations for this season.

Matt not only brought his superior driving skills and knowledge of the track to the table, but he also used his experience to change the way the car acted, and despite the main change that needed to be made was to the seat allowing Matt to actually fit in the car he also offered advice on suspension travel, ride height, camber and splitter angles further improving the car as it’s fired into the bends.

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With the session over, the car was still on song and it gave a chance for Rob to take in a few last words of wisdom from the Master before we managed to grab a few pictures of the team and ask him exactly what he thought of the car!

“It’s like being fired out of a bloody canon”

Was the stand out quote we managed to grab, and this coming from a man who earns his living behind the wheel of a touring car! One thing that’s definitely worth mentioning is just how nice and accommodating Matt was, it’s easy to get a bit stars-truck, especially if you’re as into motorsport as we are, but he made everyone feel relaxed, was happy for pictures and signing posters and is genuinely interested in finding out all about the Time Attack series, top bloke and a top day, one that will always remain in the Garage Awesome memory bank as well as living on my wall and pictures (note the one of me looking like a competition winner with Matt in front of our logo!).

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Friday night saw the car receive a bath and a check over, and with all the team mucking in including the TRL boys and the rest of my team, it had a real amazing buzz, that was then topped off with an amazing BBQ for everyone and with Rob cutting sausages with tools out of the toolbox, the social atmosphere and excitement was clear in the air and for once from our point of view it was refreshing to see Rob relaxed and confident in his machine!

Saturday came, Round 3 was about to get underway, the car had started, Rob was in and as the pit lane opened the whole Ameon family waited as we found out just how good the car was, and how hard Rob can push. With the warm-up underway it’s clear Rob was high on confidence, the pressure seemed off, the nerves had all but gone and the car was acting on its best behaviour, leaving Rob fastest on the track in the Club Pro category at the end of the session.

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Practice delivered a similar story, with the wet weather that we had overnight now drying out, the cars got even faster, yet it was our man who went quicker still, leaving the Ameon Evo proudly topping the lists for the second time of the day and everyone involved sensing that this really could be the turnaround in the luck that we have had our fingers and toes crossed for, for so long now!

With the lunch break giving the TRL guys the chance to check over the car, Rob to refuel himself and Lee and Tony on hand to monitor tyre pressures and adjustments, it was a waiting game to see just how Rob would qualify, which in Time Attack is also a nice way of scoring extra points. With the session underway, Rob had put in a few steady laps appearing halfway up the TSL tables before putting in a couple of storming laps on a clear track to once again head the field and claim the fastest qualifying time and the points that accompany it, although with the car was starting to be a little smoky on overrun, our fingers were crossed that he hadn’t pushed it too hard, especially with a second massive point scoring round to think about on the Sunday.

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The final came, and I’m not going to lie I had butterflies, I was genuinely nervous as me and Coop headed out onto the track he felt the same, a feeling I know that was also been shared with Carla, Cath, Lee, Tony, Aidan, Matt, Scott, Kev and everyone else who had their hopes riding on the first Ameon success of 2011, let’s be honest, we could all taste that top podium spot!

Within 2 laps it appeared our hopes and Rob’s dream lay in tatters, a red flag waved at Druids and a missing Ameon car filled my heart with dread, and a txt message from Coop who had positioned himself at the bottom of Paddock Hill bend confirmed that it was Rob who was off on the grass. All I can remember is seeing the tow truck go out, I updated the Garage Awesome Facebook page status to “Red Flag, It’s Rob, No Words” and swiftly made my way to the pit garage to capture the team’s mood and thoughts.

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I’ve gotta be honest, it was a real hard thing to do for us as Rob gets out the car, the TRL team rush round to try and find out exactly what’s happened and we’re there pointing cameras in the face of a totally gutted Rob, it felt very awkward despite the fact that’s what we are there to do, to take you all on the journey of Ameon Racing in the Time Attack and the fact that Rob is one of the nicest blokes you’re likely to meet, we still felt at any point our cameras would end up smashed to pieces in frustration especially with the background ambience of the remaining cars thundering down through Clearways.

Everyone was in complete shock, Rob’s Mum and girlfriend were upset, it left Lee and Tony scratching their heads, and TRL franticly trying to diagnose the problems, but with the session clock counting down, all hope of a round 3 win had vanished from the Ameon camp. One thing we have learnt working with these guys is that giving up easily isn’t an option and at no point was that going to be the case and a massive effort began to get the car working again for Sunday’s Round 4!

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Once the initial madness had calmed down, Rob explained that the water temp went through the roof causing him to pull off, after a bit of laptop work from Matt and help from other teams and knowledgeable people, including John from Evo Breakers, an initial diagnosis of head gasket failure was called, and wasting no time at all, Matt arranged for new parts to be fitted, the head to be skimmed and sent one of his lads off to go and fetch them! The remainder of the team set about stripping the head off the car in preparation, it may have looked like a bomb site but they were working flat out and were prepared to do so into the early hours to get this car ready for round 4.

Unfortunately it just wasn’t to be, with the head off the full extent of the problem could be seen, and with some assistance from Gavin Renshaw’s NR Autosport team they found the actual block had a large crack through it causing the overheating and catastrophic water loss, meaning it was game over for the team at Brands Hatch.

All that was left for the Sunday was to reflect on what might have been, load the car onto the trailer and pack up all the parts that had been removed in a attempt to get it back out there and make the sombre trip back to the North West and wonder just when this appalling luck is likely to end.

With the entire budget for 2011 well and truly blown it would be a big ask to get yet another engine in and ready for Cadwell, fortunately the boys at TRL are also keen not to give up and decided the work would begin to get it ready. Again though, it seems nothing seems to go right for the team, and Rob informed me that the engine had more damage than first thought and although it was extremely disappointing that the Ameon team would have to call it a day for this season.

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Of course we were massively dissapointed with the news, as I’m sure everyone involved was too and most importantly Rob himself. That said, within a few days of the news we’re delighted to hear that they are using the early exit from the 2011 season to get a leg-up in preparation for the 2012 season with a full rebuild and redesign of the car that has got us very excited! I’m pretty sure the luck and costs involved from a disastrous 2011 season would put most off, but not Rob and with TRL firmly on board this is far from the end of the story, in fact it’s almost the beginning of an entirely new one and we’re proud and pleased to announce that Garage Awesome will be title sponsors again of the Team, and will not only follow the car and team as it attacks the 2012 Time Attack season, but over the winter from now on we are going to be bringing you behind the scenes build pics, design ideas, part replacement and updates on a monthly basis.

As this chapter closes, we feel it’s important we take this opportunity to thank everyone involved for allowing us into the Ameon Racing world and becoming part of the racing family in the 2011 season, so on behalf of Rich, Chris, Aidan and myself, a massive thanks to Rob, Carla, Lee, Amanda, Cath, Tony, Val, Glynn, Jacob, Matt @ MG Autos, Matt, Scott and the team at TRL, Kev at Autopro Motorsport, Robin from Ameon and everyone else who has helped in any way to make this team what it is. Watch out for Team Ameon Racing & Garage Awesome as we launch a full blown attack on next year’s Time Attack.

Lastly, it’s not the last you will see of Rob, in fact not only will we be at Cadwell for round 5, but the Bad Boy will be making an appearance on the Saturday track day with Rob at the wheel ringing the neck of the famous Escort… let’s hope this one is immune to Rob’s bad luck eh!

Words – Ollie // Pictures Ollie & Rich

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