Tag Archives: Brands Hatch

Crest of a wave, bottom of a trench

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.

Making a b-line for Brands

We’re headed to Brands Hatch this weekend for rounds 5 and 6 of the Official Caterham Motorsport Ladder. The paddock is joined this weekend by the Olympic Legend – Sir Chris Hoy. He’ll be racing with the 310R boys and girls but will certainly add a bit of fame to the #CaterhamFamily

Timetable

Supersport race times this weekend are:

  • Quali Sat 3rd June 09:25 – 09:45
  • Race 1 Sat 3rd June 12:20 – 12:50
  • Race 2 Sun 4th June 14:05 0 14:35

Live Timing:

http://tsl-timing.com/event/172231

Live comms should also be available on the Live Timing page over the event. If not, the Brands Hatch App used to have this feature – so you could try there!

Back in the mix at Brands

Two days of testing and two days of race action draw to a close on the first weekends racing of the 2016 Caterham Supersport Championship.

It’s fair to say that my 2015 campaign didn’t exactly go without issue and so the first round was always going to be one of discovery. With 44 cars entered for the first event of the year, there were too many cars to run on a single grid. We therefore had to run a split grid format.

parc-ferme

That’s never ideal and it’s a shame that we haven’t yet seen all the lead drivers together on track. From the four races that took place at Brands, that’s an extremely tasty proposition. Fingers crossed, Anglesey will see everyone together.

Qualification was fully wet and generally went to plan. There’s always ‘the lap that got away’ and this session was no different. However, 3rd fastest in session was a good result and with the combined qualification times and the way the grids were decided, I would start 2nd on the grid for race one.

I made a good, initial, start at the lights but second gear bounced out briefly, so I settled in behind Jack Brown and keeping an eye on the swarm of cars in the mirrors. The fairly traditional lap one safety car came out after Max Robinson was caught out by a spinning Andy West and left immobile in the gravel.

At the restart, Jack went almost as soon as the safety car lights went out. This was a stroke of genius as we pulled a huge gap on the whole field – with the exception of Richard Ainscough, who was slightly stuck in the middle ground. As I was clinging on to Jack Brown’s car for all I could, Richard slowly caught me and as soon as we started dicing for position, we gave Jack the perfect opportunity to tootle further up the road.

The rest of the race was a too and fro battle with Richard for 2nd place. Fantastic close racing. The back-markers certainly played their part in proceedings. One driver being lapped perhaps four times in a 20 minute period – the speed differential through the corners meant that it was hard to judge how and where to try and get by without compromising race position.

The final run to the flag was an equally tight affair, with Richard pulling alongside early on the straight and I wasn’t sure whether I’d managed to hold him off over the line. As it goes, I just managed it by a few thousandths. 2nd place. Back on the podium and back in contention.

It was a superb feeling and quite a relief after 2015.

Race 2 took place on the Sunday and was a much sunnier and far more blustery day. Half of the grid were made of new drivers compared to race 1 and all, as ever, eager for a good result.

I made a reasonable start, although a slightly cautious 2nd gear change meant I slipped to 3rd behind the fast starting Mike Evans by turn one. Christian Szaruta lead early doors as everyone else tussled for their running order behind.

It became quickly apparent in my car that the rear end grip wasn’t what it had been through the rest of the weekend and I struggled to get the power down and control the cars backside. This left me without much attack once things settled down as I was constantly having to defend along the back straight rather than move forward.

Ultimately, this saw me gently fall through the front pack as the race went along. I did briefly make it to the front of the field but it wasn’t to last.

To cut a long and extremely exciting, close and frantic story short, I ended up 5th over the line, with a missing rear wing, curtesy of Adam West – who clearly fancied a nibble of cheese on his way to 4th place! Sadly, it was one of my original Academy wings – so now I’m down to just one remaining!

For all the excitement that the races brought to the table, there was always a feeling of ‘what will it be like when we’re all together?’ That’s an extremely enticing prospect and one which we’ll hopefully get to see at Anglesey in May.

I’ll have just turned 38 by then…. I’m getting too old for all this!

Round 1 Ready to Go

So, we’re rapidly approaching the first race weekend of 2016 for Supersport. We’re heading to Brands Hatch on the 9th and 10th April for what’s surely going to be a fantastic and chaotic weekends racing.

The Supersport grid is over-subscribed for racing at Brands, so we’re having to run a split grid format. That means there will be plenty of Supersport action on track, with 2 qualification sessions and 4 races. Each driver will be part of one qualification session and one race on Saturday and one race on Sunday. The exact races I’ll be in will not be known until after quali and race 1.

Qualification: Sat 9th April 0950 – 1005
Race 1: Sat 9th April  12:00 – 12:30 / 13:45 – 14:15
Race 2: Sun 10th April 12:10 – 12:40 / 16:35 – 17:05

Live timing will be available over the weekend if you want to follow along: http://www.tsl-timing.com/event/161431

The racing on Sunday is being recorded for TV and will air on Motors TV – normally the week following the race meeting.

There are a lot of variables this year, with plenty of extremely competitive drivers – some new to our grid and many who’ll be familiar.  Who’ll come out on top? We’ll soon find out.

Two sunny races at Brands Indy

Ahead of the weekend, I was worried about my lack of running at Brands. I had turned some laps earlier in the year, however, it was icy at the time, so not really any benefit for the perfect conditions we were faced with over the weekend.

Henry managed to pip me to pole though by a few thousandths of a second. Jack was only a few thousandths further back as well. Unbelievably close.

On the Friday I tried to find a nice balance and rhythm around the track and figure out where I was strong and weak. With such a busy test session on such a short track, I had thought that it was going to be hard to achieve. However, it was great and we only had a couple of Red flags that interrupted the sessions later in the day.

Quali took place early doors on Saturday morning. The track was still damp early on but with the sun already blazing down, it only took a short while for the racing line to dry out. I was amazed on finishing the session to see I’d managed to drop in a 54.79s lap. I hadn’t managed a 54 bracket lap at all in testing. Henry managed to pip me to pole though by a few thousandths of a second. Jack was only a few thousandths further back as well. Unbelievably close.

My start for race 1 was not at all bad. I challenged around turn 1 for the lead before tucking in behind Henry into Druids. However, the conservative approach left the outside open to Dan and he passed me down into Graham Hill. That also left the door open for Jack to stick his nose in and, although I managed to hold him off into Surtees, I couldn’t stop him on the run down to Paddock. I had thought the inside line was shut out but clearly I’d left one car width available – which Jack duly stuck his car into.

At that point, it wasn’t looking too promising. 2nd down to 4th. However, the lead pack would stick together as a 4 for the remainder of the race, with Will and Lee joining in the fun briefly after the safety car which came out for a stranded car.

Towards the end of the race, Henry was really struggling for rear tyre grip and I was able to find a gap and squeeze past. Some defending saw Henry fade slightly and over the last two laps I tried everything to close the gap to Dan but only managed to get to within 4 10ths at the line.

3rd place was a welcome result – especially as we weren’t racing with a split grid. However, Jack finishing 1st wasn’t ideal! He’s on such a fantastic run of form at the moment. I managed to pick up a new lap record, which helped limit the point damage slightly and Will’s lack of pace left him in 6th position at the flag.

I snuck around the outside of Paddock – which isn’t something you can say every day.

Race 2 was slightly marred by 2 safety car periods so battles never fully matured. Oil down at Druids caused a number of incidents, including contact between Henry, Dan and myself. However, even though the battles didn’t get a chance to fully play out, they were intense and extremely hard fought.

On the penultimate lap, I finally managed to get around Jack Sales for the lead. I snuck around the outside of Paddock – which isn’t something you can say every day. I held him until Paddock the next time round but he returned the favour and took me around the outside.

I should have been good for second at that point. However, bad defending left me exposed to an on form Dan and he took his chance with a great side by side moment through Surtees. I almost got the run back at him across the line but ended up 3rd once more, by only thousandths of a second.

Dan’s racing all weekend had moved up a notch and he was rightly pleased with his results. A pleasure to race with him. Jack’s mid season run continues with impeccable race craft backed up with raw speed. Henry’s rollercoaster season continues but racing with him is always a highlight and, although I didn’t get to play with him a lot on track, Will rescued a weekend and his championship by pushing his car higher up the points than it seemed to want to go.

As the dust settles, I’m back at the top of the championship. Jack is one point back and Will a further point behind Jack. However, that doesn’t give the whole picture and I need some more great results to keep in with a shout at the title.

I shall continue to push hard at Croft. As ever, I can’t wait to get back on track. It would be nice to get back that winning feeling again 🙂

 

Back to Brands

OK. Time for another race weekend. Brands Hatch Indy on 2nd 3rd Aug. Another huge entry means another split grid weekend (booo).

You can follow along with live timing at http://www.tsl-timing.com (search for Caterham over the weekend and you should get a live timing link.)

Quali: Sat 2nd Aug 0900
Race 1: Sat 2nd Aug at either 1145 or 1305
Race 2: Sun 3rd Aug at either 1000 or 1105

(Which races I’m in depends on quali and race 1 result.)

Sounds like it’s going to be busy on the banks over the weekend and weather doesn’t look too bad. Why not pop over and say hi!

Orange Army – a day marshalling

As part of the Academy season, you’re encouraged (and bribed just a bit) to volunteer to be a marshal for a day. For your efforts, you’re given an additional upgrade signature on your race licence and also issued 5 bonus points in the overall championship at the end of the season.

Both these factors mean that most people who are going to continue on racing after year 1 duly sign up and take part.

It appears that most years, Jenny at Caterham will arrange one of your meetings to take place on just one day of the weekend. That leaves the other open to do your marshalling. However, I had already arranged my day ahead of learning we could have done it over our Brands Hatch race weekend. This turned out to be a bit of a blessing however! For a start, the Saturday of our race weekend was absolutely baking hot. Lots of those taking part came back cooked medium rare.

Secondly, I’d chosen a top notch race meet to attend, with F3, British GT and also the Caterham R300’s all racing on the GP circuit. This meant a busy weekend on track.

Lastly, as there were far fewer drivers marshalling at this meeting, it felt a bit more special and unique. I wasn’t on a post with another Academy driver so I really had to get stuck in.

On arrival, I handned over my upgrade card, signed on and was issued with a voucher for a free cooked breakfast! Not a bad start to the day. I was allocated my post (no.5) which was up on the entry to Druids.

I was already set up on post as everyone else was arriving. I got chatting away and soon felt pretty happy that I wasn’t going to be left bored or feeling like a spare part! As soon as you let slip you’re a driver, the marshals all light up – safe in the knowledge that their day can be spent taking the piss out of you!

I think I just about held my own. It was great being able to bounce off each other as well chatting about how difficult it is for a marshal to report every incident that happens or to catch every track limits altercation etc. Having been given the opportunity to flag one of the races, I can confirm that it’s a pretty nerve wracking experience for the novice. It’s a hard job to keep up with the race and know who’s in a battle and who’s overtaking for position.

Having now experienced it first hand, it’s hard to justify ever getting annoyed that blue flags aren’t being shown to back-markers! As a driver, it’s also a skill to learn how to race and pay full attention to the flags. A day on the banks working with the team who are there to help keep you safe brings it home just how important a job this is for a driver.

The day was largely uneventful with respect to incidents at druids. There were a few bumps and scrapes, but all involved recovered back into their races. That was, until the F3 race right at the end of the day. I was just chatting to one of the recovery marshals who was saying that sometimes, days just go like this – with nothing much happening. But just as he was saying this, there was a nasty crunching sound behind and I turned to whitness an F3 car flying high through the air, tilting to 90 degrees before landing on its side, and, luckily, back on it’s wheels before heading into the barrier at high speed.

Luckily, the driver was OK and was able to get out of the car under his own steam. The snatch vehicle was sent to retrieve the car and, once the race was over, I was able to help pulling out what remained of the front wing of the car (which had managed to go completely under the tyre barrier) and generally tidy up things ready for the last race of the day.

It was quite shocking to see such a large accident up close. It was all recorded for TV by one very brave camera woman. Apparently, she never budged and the accident was coming straight for her at frightening speed. There was also no barrier to protect her had the car not landed back on the ground. Can’t wait to see the footage on TV next weekend to see if it’s as I remember it!

I’m extremely glad that I got the opportunity to work with the marshals. They do a fantastic, unpaid and often silent job all to enable us drivers to do what we love. We can’t do it without them and I hope I never forget that. A simple wave is all that’s needed as thanks at the end of a race in return – and it’s amazing how many drivers don’t even manage that.

I’ve set myself the target of volunteering to marshal at least one event every year that I race. I hope that resolution is followed better than my new years ones!

Brands Hatch Race – Not bad :)

The weekend began on Friday, with official testing. We shared the allocated 4 half hour sessions with the Roadsport boys. This was a new experience and I had expected to be looking in my mirrors a lot more through the day but the added grip that their tyres and roll-bar gives them is offset by their smaller wheels – meaning the Academy cars have a straight line advantage. So, to my surprise, I was actually able to keep up and even overtake some.

It’s hard getting everything done in 4 sessions through the day. I started with a list of things to try out – and I ended up not doing most of them! Still, it was great to get my eye back in and I found a very consistent pace which I knew I could replicate in our short 15 min sessions for qualification and the race.

My brakes were shocking all through the weekend – with a spongy pedal that really wasn’t doing anything for the first 2 inches of travel. I was also getting pad knock off due to a lose front left hub nut. Caterham nipped up the hub nut and tried their best to bleed the brakes – they were marginally better and at least I could heel-toe but they will need attention now the dust has settled as it’s not great being committed into corners not knowing what your brakes are going to feel like when you press the pedal! I’m sure I’ve got air getting into the system somewhere…

My Friday evening was rather spoiled by accidentally leaving my car keys in Dads car. He had driven off for the night and my car was locked – with ALL my stuff inside. It took my tired brain a long time to work out how the hell I was going to get my keys back again when my phone was locked in the car, with all the numbers to friends and family that could possibly point me in the right direction. Anyway, a long and stressful story later, I got back the keys and on returning to the paddock, made the decision to stay at the Thistle Hotel for the night. This wasn’t anywhere near cheap, but it was worth it.

Saturday was a non-day really as we weren’t on track till the Sunday. I just tinkered with the car, did a weight check and got the race fuel set. Oh, and I got Sunburn on my neck! Handy for wearing a HANS device I can tell you! As people started arriving in the paddock during the evening, we ended up at the bar – and then went onto the Thistle for food and Ferraris… There was a meeting of the Kent Farrari Group and the hotel carpark was a sight to behold.

A night sleeping in the tent in the paddock will now likely be my last. The revelation of sleeping in a bed and having a decent shower available is now too apparent and I was tired all through Sunday. I’ll find the money for hotels somewhere I’m sure! I’m glad I’ve done the proper club racing bit though and some of the best memories so far are paddock banter and late night drinks as the Sun goes down…

Anyway, onto the main action on Sunday. Qualification in the morning and Racing in the evening. The wait-to-action ratio isn’t great at 720/30 but somehow, that doesn’t matter! There’s always tonnes to be done – and loads of places to be. Sign-on, scruteneering, briefing, prep, assembly and finally track. That means a quick 15 mins on track actually takes hours to achieve! All the time, the tension rises and the adrenalin flows.

Qualification went OK. I never got out as much as I wanted and on my fastest lap, managed to tow Nick around for Pole! I’m sure he’ll return the favour one day! It was tricky finding clean air and I cocked up a good early opportunity that would have at least given a good banker lap. As the dust settled, 3rd was the result. Indeed – the front 4 racers were the same, with Nick Horton on pole, Henry Heaton 2nd and Dan Livingstone 4th.

So, it was all back to the paddock and reflection time. Then more reflection time. Followed by a touch of reflection over lunch. Some more time to reflect after lunch and then a final bit of reflection before jumping back in the car for the race.

I was lucky enough to have friends and family along for the weekend. A whole plethora of Aunts and Uncles, Mum, Dad, Sister and brother in law. Mates from Uni added to the pile as well. The banner that the Lapicki support crew brought along was just brilliant! No pressure then!

After a LONG and protracted start procedure where they tried to get everyone in the right positions, we eventually got lined up for the start. I got a great one. There was even a chance to try for the lead going into paddock but that would have meant 3 wide so I decided instead to opt for the more cautious approach and settled into 3rd.

Henry put pressure on Nick through the first couple of laps – whilst I was keeping a close eye on Dan behind. I knew if he got past, he would be tricky to get around. Henry’s pressure on Nick finally paid off as Nick locked up going into Druids leaving the door open for 3 of us to nip up through. A couple of corners later and I took an opportunity into clearways up the inside of Henry – it was close wheel to wheel stuff but I had the inside line and I knew that would be good enough to get the lead into Paddock.

So, lap 3 of 16. In Caterham racing, being at the front isn’t always a good idea! Could I hold on for 13 laps! Henry was right there in second for the first half of the race. We were managing to make a gap for ourselves as Dan and Nick were having their own battle. James Houston wasn’t far behind them. On about lap 6, Nick made a move up the inside of Dan Livingstone into Graham Hill. It’s a tricky, off camber left hander and on the exit, their wheels tangled. This immediately pulled the cars together even more and sent Dan out wide and into the gravel on the exit. This effectively ended Dans race, although he was able to continue, he had a bent steering arm and it took a long time to get out of the gravel.

What this did mean was that Henry and myself were now clear of the James by a good margin, so it was down to us to figure out who was going to win the thing. For the next 4 laps or so, Henry was never far out of my mirrors. The lap was roughly split in half, with myself faster round Graham Hill, Surtees and Clearways and Henry faster around Paddock Hill and Druids. Just as I’d managed to pull a reasonable gap, back markers came into play. It’s a tentative time trying to make your way through a pack of drivers involved in their own battles whilst trying to ensure that you don’t lose out in your own fight! I thankfully chose pretty well on the whole where and how to pass them, so although I did lose time in some cases, I ended up with a larger margin to 2nd once they were all negotiated.

I could tell from my race timer that I had nearly won my maiden Race victory – but I hadn’t seen a last lap board and the chequered wasn’t waving as I crossed the line. So, whilst the crowd and most of the field knew I had won the race, I was blissfully unaware! Henry also wasn’t going to back down so we merrily went on a flat out warm down lap! On crossing the line for the second time, I could see the flag waving and I just burst! Lost my voice in the space of 2 corners! Still hadn’t landed back to earth all the way back to park ferme.

I knew that Henry had got 2nd but I was over the moon when I found out James had got the final spot on the podium.  Last time out at Donington we had all been drinking well into the early hours of the morning, chatting and generally finding out why we each decided to do the Academy – so sharing the podium with those two was a real honour.

However, for me, seeing a whole heap of friends and family on the bank opposite the podium, with the huge banner that the Lapicki clan had made, cheering and shouting was the best moment! Thanks to you all for making the effort to be there and then sharing in my moment in the sun!

It’s taking a long time to come back down after the race. I still get tense and excited every time I think about it! I’ve watched it back lots of times already and I think I’ll probably manage a few more views at some point. In the paddock after the race, I was genuinely touched by the number of people who came up and congratulated me. Even some of those licking their wounds from a bad result or a bump/scrape.

It’s now 4 weeks until Rockingham. I may just have enough time to settle down before the build up all starts again!