This is a hard post to write. In early 2012 I finally signed up to go racing with the Caterham Academy. In October 2012, I spent a fun, frustrating, annoying, exciting and ultimately very satisfying 3 weeks putting together my race car with my family.
On Sunday morning at Brands Hatch this year, the car had never looked so good. By the afternoon, I’d broken it in the biggest way possible. Sadly, it’s not economically viable to repair the car.
After much soul searching, and talking with friends and family, I’ve called an end to racing for this year.
However, I’m determined that this isn’t the end of racing for me. One of the factors in coming to this decision is that some time off from racing will allow me to recover damaged finances and the aim will be back on a grid for 2018.
It will be strange not being in the paddock for the rest of the year. I wish all my racing family the best of luck and I will, of course, be following along closely and will hopefully see everyone at the awards dinner, if not before.
It’s taken me a long time to post this write-up from Brands. It was a weekend I’m not going to forget any time soon.
From the first laps of the circuit on Friday, I could tell that the car was super quick and stable. All the hard work to reduce my weight and get back to the weight limit had finally paid off in full.
Due to my normal support crew (my parents), being away on holiday, I was running the weekend out of the DPR awning. Having to prepare the car myself through testing and the weekend just proved to me how much I now rely on mum, dad, family and friends. Seemingly large gaps between sessions on track soon got eaten by cleaning, refuelling and general preparation work. I lean on everyone around me and I missed their support.
However, DPR were always on hand for any questions and, vitally, to check pressures and change settings in the pit lane. I’ve never before carried out an in session back-to-back test of a front anti-roll bar and boy, was that eye opening.
Every time you take a car out on track, you learn something, and being able to feel a direct comparison between one setup and another has changed my outlook on testing. All possible because of the DPR boys.
It’s one thing to turn in some speed in testing, quite another to convert that into a good grid spot. And for the majority of the qualification session, it looked like I’d blown it. I spent too long out front in clear air trying to get a good banker and catch the tail of the field for a tow. I dropped back to find some traffic to use for a tow but there was a fair amount of gamesmanship out on track, with plenty of abandoned laps costing time. I wasn’t alone in being affected for sure and there were some grumpy faces in parc ferme after the session. However, on the last lap, I managed to put a decent lap together, including a tow and 2nd on the grid was the result. A few thousandths of a second behind Henry Heaton.
Given the last minute nature of the lap and the track temperature, it was definitely a rescue and a good start to the competitive element of the weekend.
Come race time, the track temperature had risen massively. This is always a bad sign for our tyres, which don’t like it when things get hot. I made a reasonable start off the line and was ahead of Henry going into turn 1. However, Mike Evans made his normal spectacular start and was in the lead from 3rd on the grid going into Druids.
I managed to get back out in front in fairly short order and lead an opening stint of the race. An incident at druids saw the race red flagged. It was looking like Mike was going to be able to get back past at the point the flag was shown, so it may have been a turning point. A re-grid of the race was the decision of the steward for a 15 minute blast.
Another reasonable start off the line but another screamer by mike saw him in paddock bend first. I was able to get past into druids and got me head down as fast as possible to try and spring a gap.
It’s a rare thing to manage to pull a lead over a field of Caterhams, but over the course of a few laps, I was able to pull away enough to be able to take the full racing line consistently. Battles further back then meant I was able to consolidate that lead.
With around 5 minutes to go, I had a gap of 2.5 seconds and knew, subject to not cocking things up, I could bring this one home. Even the sight of Christian Szaruta taking second place and gradually getting closer wasn’t enough to put me off in that race! And I took the flag with a comfortable gap back to the rest of the field.
Four long years it has taken to finally cross the line in first place again. Four years. Boy did it feel great. It was such a shame I didn’t get to share it with my family, but my friends inside and outside of the paddock were all carrying me on the crest of a wave. A feeling that never grows old.
Sunday was another scorcher. Any threat of a thunderous downpour slowly ebbed away through the day and we were in for another hot, dry race.
I made a good start from pole and the early part of the race was similar to race one; fighting with Mike Evans and trying hard to try and spring a gap. However, that wasn’t to be in this race and it was a much more traditional clump of cars through the first 10 minutes of the race. Into the middle phase of the race, Henry Heaton, Tim Dickens and myself all had good battle, with Henry and myself swapping positions on a number of occasions.
Just as things looked like they had settled down a little with Henry and myself pulling a slight gap on Tim, I was preparing to try and solidify that gap. However, I was caught out by Henry braking earlier than I expected for paddock bend and, following very closely to him at the time, I did what turned out to be a bad job of avoiding his car. My front left tyre hit the rear right of Henry’s.
What followed was a big accident. After the initial contact, the front of the car skipped in the air and initially landed interlocked with Henry’s car. It then launched again, this time with both the front and rear wheels contacting at the same time. The car pitched up at about 45 degrees and I was close to rolling. Thankfully, when the car landed, it righted itself and I skipped across the gravel and made heavy contact with the barrier.
As the dust settled and I caught my breath, I was thankful that everything felt in one piece and I could see Henry jumping out of the car.
It was such a sad end to what was shaping up to be a great battle between Henry and myself. We’ve had some great battles in the past and we’ve shared a racing journey for the past 5 years. In the cold hard light of day, I made contact with a friend out on track whilst he was leading the race. Nothing’s going to change that now.
The contrast in emotion was, and is, enormous between the highs of Saturday and the lows of Sunday. Motoracing gives and motoracing takes away.
You would have been perfectly justified to assume we’d arrived in Norfolk in high summer based solely on the weather. It was bright, sunny and hot all weekend long at the Snetterton circuit.
The spectators were certainly appreciative. The tyres, less so!
Having been largely used to 2 days of testing in the past, this was one of the first times I made do with just the Friday test ahead of the weekend. It means everything has to be compressed into half the time I’m used to but it really doesn’t take long to get up to speed nowadays, and overall, I think I rather liked the added pressure of getting on it from the off.
I usually enjoy the Qualifying session and not too often have I felt like I didn’t get everything out of the car. However, in this session, I definitely left my best back in the locker room. I made mistakes and didn’t manage the traffic and tow very well. Something that’s essential at Snetterton. My fastest lap included overtakes in compromised places and avoiding cars left right and centre!
After all that, 6th on the grid was actually not a disaster and I’ve learnt a few more lessons to add to the playbook going forward. Even into my 5th year of racing, there are still so many things to learn and adapt to.
The front 8 cars on the grid were the expected gaggle and were covered by the expected close margins. The order was perhaps less expected with Alistair Weaver putting in a great show to grab the first pole of the season. In general, the LFP motorsport team were flying with 4 of the top 5 spots filled.
Caterham Supersports were running in the graveyard shift for this weekend so by race time, the sun was low in the sky and visibility was reduced. However, the temperatures were still high and the grip levels therefore low!
For the first race of the season it was certainly frantic up front. Mostly it was within fair bounds but there were some chops and jinks that would politely be termed as ‘borderline’ as well.
A novelty for me, was the ability to actually move forward and compete rather than being consumed by the whole field. A few driving tweaks and some dieting over winter have made me more able to race and signs are good that this will help through the season.
I had some good tussles but our groups inability to work together properly meant we lost touch with the lead pack of 4.
Part way through the race, we had our first Code 60 period to clear away a very nasty accident for Gary Weatherall, who ended up sliding on his roof from pit out all the way to the turn 1 gravel.
Code 60 is new this year for our race meetings. It was originally designed for endurance racing as a way to neutralise a field without the need for a safety car to bunch everyone up. The idea being that everyone slows to 60 KPH and sticks there until the flags are put to green once more. The advantages over a safety car being that, theoretically, the gaps between cars are maintained and the incident can be cleared quicker and everything get back to racing sooner.
I made a great restart, overtaking Christian and Henry who didn’t pick up on the green flags quite so quickly. I’m not sure I’ll get that advantage again going forward, but I was smiling in my helmet I can assure you!
At the tail end of the race, I didn’t manage my positioning very well, failed to capitalise on contact between Henry and Christian and failed to make a decent exit out of the final bend. So a potential 4th was instead a 5th place over the line. Still, not a bad start and one place improvement on qualification.
Race 2 was to take place on the hottest day of the year so far, with barmy 25 degrees and bright cloudless skies. This is never a good thing for the tyres or engines but I know what to expect and that makes it easier to manage these days.
Another hectic opening section of the race saw me mired with Mike and Ben arguing figuratively – and literally – on track. This pushed me backwards to a hungry Henry, Christian and Dan and our failure to work together also saw Alistair Weaver catch up on a recovery drive from the back of the field.
At that point, It was always going to be damage limitation and again, lessons learned to store away for future reference.
It was nice to get the final turn correct and overtake over the line for 6th place, just to prove I can actually do it. I can’t recall a last lap where I have managed it before!
So, a weekend that promised much going forward and, although reasonable results, I feel there is more in the tank and I was certainly a whole lot more involved than I was through the whole of the 2016 season.
My only problem is that I know there are at least 4 other drivers who also feel exactly the same and will be looking to rectify things next time out.
Talking of next time out, we’re headed to Spa Francorchamps to race at what has to be a bucket list track for every race fan. Brilliant! I can’t wait to give it a go and will report back how it is in just over a months time.