The Journal of the Friends of Sywell Aerodrome

No. 11 Summer 2004

Sywell People - 'Indyanna' Morgan & Co!

by Mick Goss and Patrick Morgan

Teammates- (left to right) Robert Knight (Nibber), Mick Goss, Mark Robinson and Patrick Morgan (Patch).
Teammates- (left to right) Robert Knight (Nibber), Mick Goss, Mark Robinson and Patrick Morgan (Patch).

Picture the scene, four mates sat in the Aviator Bar, a few beers under their belts and Patrick announces that he is thinking of buying an Indy Racing car. "Oh really, must be your round then." Eighteen months later Patrick Morgan (Patch), Mark Robinson, Robert Knight (Nibber) and Mick Goss found themselves climbing out of our tents at 5.30 on a Friday morning to travel the six miles from the camp site to Goodwood to run Patch's Penske PC19 1990 Indycar.

The whole story started many years ago. I grew up around two things, vintage aeroplanes and motor racing, two passions that for many people go hand in hand.

The first time I went to an Indycar race I absolutely fell in love with the sport. I had watched it from when I was a small child as my father was a development engineer at Cosworth working on the Indy engine before starting Ilmor Engineering with his friend, an exceptionally talented engineer, Mario Illien.

To watch a car average 230mph around a track for the first time was truly awe inspiring. From then on, working on these cars was all I wanted to do.

In 1999, I moved to the USA full time, working as a trackside support engineer for Ilmor Inc. in Detroit. This was a truly great part of my life. As an engineer in the field you are exposed to all sorts of pressures, human as well as mechanical.

On May 12th 2001, qualifying day at Indy, it all changed. Many of you, no doubt, will remember that fateful day. Among the other dilemmas that presented themselves to my family, one for me was the necessity to move back to England and hence into another job. Indycars, for a time, were to be shelved.

It was some time early in 2002 that the idea of buying a car first came to me. It was one of those pipe dreams that was fairly unlikely to happen, but I eventually came to the conclusion that if I didn't look into it, it would never happen.

If there were a chassis/engine combination to have, for me, it would have to be a Penske with an Ilmor engine. To my great surprise and delight, both Ilmor and Penske were very enthusiastic. By late December 2003 I had bought the car, Mark and I had rebuilt the engine, I had gone over to Penske Racing in Pennsylvania to fire it up and ship it back to Sywell. Then the real work began! By mid-June I had finally driven the car and we were, indeed, off to Goodwood.

The only time I get out of bed at 5.30am is when I go on holiday, but according to Patch we needed to be at the track early to beat the traffic. What traffic? We didn't see another car the whole way. Even the birds were still asleep! The plan was to do one practice run on Friday and two runs on Saturday and Sunday with Patch doing the three morning runs and our star driver, Christian Fittipaldi, driving the two afternoons runs.

Each of us had our own jobs. Mark had all the difficult jobs like making sure the car was running okay; Nibber's job involved getting a lift to the top of the hill armed with a bucket of water and two of the most expensive towels Patch's mum could buy to cool the bodywork down when the car stopped; my job was to start the car, which involved dragging the starter trolley, which had a mind of its own and never went the same way twice, behind the car every time we needed to start it; and Patch, being the boss, had the easy job of driving the car!

Unlike aero engines, which are able to tolerate almost any abuse you can throw at them, racing engines are very delicate instruments. Before starting them it is essential to pre-heat them to avoid damaging the bearings. To this end, the first job in the morning is to fit two heat guns to the exhaust system to heat the engine. This takes about an hour and a half during which time Mick and Nibber managed to polish anything that stood still long enough. By 10am we were at the point that we could start the engine.

This always guarantees a large crowd will gather outside the garage - until the methanol fumes make their eyes water by which time those of us in the know are long gone.

With 20 minutes to go and 70,000 people waiting for us to make a mistake, Patch is in the car and Mark is pushing it towards the assembly area, while I am following behind with the starter trolley.

Two minutes to start up, a quick look around the assembly area to see who's around. Emerson Fittipaldi is in the '94 Penske next to us, Christiano De Matta sat on the other side talking to him. Jenson Button walks past. Talk about out of our depth! Bodywork off, connect the battery, bodywork on and tighten the 10 fasteners that secure it. The marshals tell us to fire up and get down to the start line.

Pulling out on to the track to get to the start is, without doubt, one of those moments one never forgets. So much work had gone into this fantastic piece of engineering I was sitting in, with more acceleration than is decent under my right foot and packed grandstands either side, it was hard not to feel a bit emotional.

At the start Mark and I have to fire up the engine again. She fires up easily, and we start pushing to help Patch engage first gear. He's off. That's our job done, it's up to him now.

We watch Patch drive up to the start. We hear him rev the engine, even though he is 30 yards away. Come on, don't let us down now. With the revs still rising, he drops the clutch and smokes the tyres away from the line. It's two proud men that stow the starter back in the minibus for the trip to the top of the hill.

Having got away from the start and being fairly relieved that I didn't stall or crash, I then had to tackle the first corner. Having not driven this track before, two things struck me instantly. Firstly, you can't see over the hay bales, which gives the impression of driving in a very narrow tunnel; and secondly, the tarmac has a very curved surface. This rather dictates your line into the corners and certainly grabs your attention the first time you enter a corner as the car almost goes where it wants to rather than where you want it to go.

As I got onto the straight in front of Goodwood House, I plucked up the courage to nonchalantly give it some stick, just getting into the boost at around 9,500rpm. Brake hard for the next left-hander and up into the woods. After crossing the finishing line, there is around half-a-mile of straight to slow down on. There were marshals positioned on either side waving and applauding. I didn't think I had performed that spectacularly, but it gave me a real sense of what this fantastic event is about and the enthusiastic way in which it is run.

Patrick Morgan in his Penske PCI 9 1990 Indy car roaring up the track at the Goodwood Festival of Speed.
Patrick Morgan in his Penske PCI 9 1990 Indy car roaring up the track at the Goodwood Festival of Speed.

As I pulled into the top paddock, Nibber was there to greet me, towels in hand, and we were quickly joined by Mark and Mick. Eighteen months of hard work in two countries, building a type engine that had not been built for over 10 years (a very long time by motor racing standards), much heartache, but that first run left no doubt in my mind that it was all definitely worth it.

We were reunited in the garage with much backslapping and handshaking. Later, inevitably, we found ourselves in the bar. We had done it, our first run at Goodwood. Not a lot mattered anymore, until someone pointed out that we had to do it all again the next day, not once but twice, and then there's Sunday. Must be my round then!

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