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Donington Downpoor

And so, the season has now run its full circle. It only seems like yesterday that we were heading out on track for the official test back in March. There were a few front running drivers not present on the Supersport grid and so a good result was possible, however, with 37 cars on the grid, that’s never guaranteed.

This was the first event of the season that I’ve only done the Friday test ahead of the weekend. Most of the time, by the morning of Friday I’m just turning in laps pretty much for the sake of it and often times not using all the sessions on offer. It was a strange feeling to try and compress my normal routine into one day but, in reality, it was more than enough to get up to speed.

As ever, I was around 1 second off of the ultimate pace on track, which was disappointing as I tend to go well at Donington, but I wasn’t too worried as I tend to keep to myself over testing and don’t try to chase a tow.

Come qualification, I knew there was a bit more to be had on track and with some careful traffic management, I managed to bag 4th place. It was a great feeling to be back at the pointy end of the field and it was almost a little strange to only see one row of cars ahead on the grid. Brings back good memories!

I made a reasonable start but Mike Evans and his normal rocket ship went down the inside into turn one. I didn’t compensate enough on the speed and, on cold tyres / track, drifted a little wide on the exit. This left an opening for few more cars and cost me some momentum.

By the end of lap one I was in 6th place and in a queue of cars from 1st down to 8th place. I was able to keep up nicely and felt strong. Some battling with Tim Dickens and Mike Evans ended when Mike lost the rear of his car into the old hairpin. I was therefore in a lead pack that was clear of the chasing drivers.

I bided my time early on, happy to wait for the carnage to ensue up front. Donington always leads to close battles and it’s almost impossible to break away due to the effect of the tow. However, the lead drivers kept it all clean and tidy and so there was no option but to try and move forward through the group.

Unfortunately, I miscalculated how much additional speed I would need to do this and also misjudged a few corners which left me too much to do. Tim Dickens found some of his Tracksport magic, and judged these last 10 minutes of his race to perfection. From a position behind me with 10 minutes to go, he’d managed to get to 3rd place by the chequered flag. This is something I’ve got to get better at and will work on my head over the winter to see what I can do.

6th over the line was the result but nose to tail with the entire lead group is better than I have managed this year to date. Although it was a little disappointing coming from the 4th in quali – I knew that was mainly due to other drivers getting blocked and me managing to get a good lap in.

The forecast for Sunday was for rain. I was really looking forward to the race and really felt positive about moving forward. A wet track is something I love and it’s the first propper one we’ve had this year. Off the line and around the first few bends, the visibility was absolutely dire. The worst I’ve ever experienced. I literally couldn’t see the track and the only marker for the correct direction was other cars around me.

Once the queue settled down, I was in around 8th place. I moved forward to around 6th place but at that stage I realised that my car setup was hopelessly understeery around Donington. I’ve made changes through the year to correct oversteer in the car and unfortunately, by doing so, I’ve created a car that can’t corner in the wet. I was something in the order of 5mph slower than I needed to be mid corner and so wasn’t able to compete as I’d hoped.

Whilst others were throwing the car off the track, I was just holding on hoping the track would dry a touch. That wasn’t to be and by the flag I ended up 6th again.

Whilst this was still an OK result, it was a missed opportunity and by the time all the scores had been totted up, I ended the year in 8th place. A couple more points would have seen me in around 5th…

Not a bad season overall and certainly the most competitive grid by a long way in my career to date.

Although funds are now non-existent and debts are growing – I have also decided to do one more year before likely having to hang up the gloves and recover my finances. This now means some busy winter time getting ready for 2017 and I’ve promised myself that I’ll do more to be competitive next year. I much prefer fighting for podiums – I know I have it in me and I want to get back up there spraying the champaign and taking home more pots for the shelves.

Feeling the slide at Snetterton

It’s been a short while since Snetterton. Certainly a little longer than it normally takes me to write up my report. I left after Saturday’s race feeling quite down and annoyed with my performance. Some of this eased after Sunday but it’s taken a little while to try and process and work out a plan of action for the rest of the season.

Testing had gone OK. My ultimate pace at the moment isn’t setting the track alight but the car was really balanced and I was feeling good that I could turn in a good lap quickly when it came to qualifying.

When qualifying arrived, the track temperatures had increased and the car was slightly less balanced as a result. Until the end of the qualifying session, I’d not got ‘one in the bag’ having made mistakes or getting caught up in traffic. However, my last lap all came together and I set my best lap time of the weekend by a margin.

Sadly, it was only good enough for 8th place on the grid. But given the time I was expecting, I considered this a bit of a rescue and actually higher than I would have expected.

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Into race one, and the temperatures rose throughout the day. I made a great start to the race and was in 5th place a few corners in. However, I was immediately aware that the car balance was now way off. I struggled with oversteeer from the off and this only got worse as time went by.

This saw the gradual slip from 5th to 11th in a very frustrating 30mins of racing. I don’t care so much about position so long as I feel like the car and I are able to compete. Sadly, I was only able to hold onto the coat tails of people around me. It all left me feeling frustrated.

One of my bonnet catches also came undone part way into the race – which was distracting at times.

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Sunday dawned hotter again that Saturday and I made a tweak to the setup to try and help with the oversteer I’d had on Saturday. I made another storming start and was again in 5th place by the end of the first lap.

I couldn’t keep hold of the front runners but this time, I was able to keep in the mix with others and the front of the race remained in sight.

The higher temperatures seemed to help as others started to suffer. I had a great battle with Dan Gore through the race. I expect Dan felt I was a nuisance to his progress to the front of the field, but the racing was close, fair and generally a pleasure to be part of.

I got close to the 3rd 4th battle but just wasn’t able to get on their pace once their battle settled down.

A mistake 1 lap from the finish left me across the grass at Brundle and stuck in 6th. After the frustration of Saturday, I was much more enthused by the performance. Still not quite where I want to be on ultimate position but closer again.

Onwards to Oulton.

 

Hot and Bothered in Zolder

Zolder holds some great memories from my Roadsport year in 2014. It was a hot hot weekend but I also had one of the most hard fought races to date.

I was therefore looking forward to my return to this iconic Belgian track. With bad flooding all over Europe and with thunderstorms and heavy rain predicted all weekend, I wasn’t too sure what to expect out on track. But with 2 days of testing ahead of the weekend, there was going to be plenty of time to get to grips with the place once more.

As it transpired, the threat of rain disappeared over the weekend and we were left with a hot, sticky weekend on the continent. Unfortunately, hot and sticky seems to be the worst conditions for me and my car at the moment.

The tyres we run overheat and quickly cause the car to become unbalanced. Some drivers seem to cope with this OK but I find it doesn’t suit my driving style at all.

Qualification was damp to begin with but was always going to dry out by the end of the 20 minute session. I set a good banker time early on and had ‘the one that got away’ late on. However, 7th on the grid wasn’t too shabby and I matched my fastest testing times.

However, come race time, the temperatures had risen out on track and a fairly aggressive setup choice meant that as we got under way, it was only a couple of laps into the race before I started to suffer from the tyre related oversteer issues. About half way into the race, the car was also running hot and seemed to suffer with lack of eagerness in 4th gear.

All this saw a gradual slipping down the order throughout the race and an ultimately disappointing 12th place at the flag.

The second race took place in slightly cooler conditions and with a tweaked setup. This did see an improvement in the cars performance, and I was running well early on. However, the rot did eventually set in as the car got hot again and I made silly mistakes trying too hard to defend positions and push to maintain speed.

Again, this saw me dropping down the order and even say a high speed trip across the gravel at one point. Certainly not my finest hour.

I crossed the line a disappointed 11th place.

I said ahead of the year that there would be very little in it across the top 15 or so drivers in the championship this year. Being slightly off the pace means you inevitably finish down the order. Zolder was confirmation of this. Qualification saw the majority of the field covered by a second and in race 2, the top 11 cars were nose to tail at the flag after 30 minutes of frantic racing.

Being in such a competitive field is both a blessing and a curse.

I like Snetterton as a track and we’re headed there next. I’m really hoping that we get some cool weather – dare I even hope for wet conditions! Perhaps unlikely for our July event! But whatever happens, I’ll be out on track, pushing hard as ever.

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.

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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!

Promising end to a difficult season

Not one Tracksport race has gone by this year where I haven’t made a mistake or had some issue or another. Compared to Roadsports, where I had a lot of luck, this year has been tough.

I headed to Silverstone knowing that I had gone well there in the past and had strong hopes to take home some silverware. It would have been a nice end to a difficult season.

Sadly, I wasn’t able to fulfil that ambition – missing out by 1000’th of a second in race 2… however, the season ended on a high note and with a car that felt back on song after a mid season slump.

I started race 1 from 6th on a very close grid and I was able to continue the starting form of Oulton Park, moving into 4th and keeping it near the front over the beginning period of the race.

I then got shuffled backwards a touch, into the clutches of Cedric Bloch, Mike Evans and Max Robinson. Cedric and Mike tend to race moment to moment, rather than looking at the bigger picture. It leads to some opportunistic passes in unusual places but sadly, is not conducive to keeping pace with the front runners.

I eventually broke free of this tussle and the majority of the rest of my race was spent trying to close down on the battle for 3rd place. At one point, I didn’t think I would make it, but with a couple of laps to go, I managed to breach the gap and got to play with the group. I didn’t have enough time to make up spaces though and so I ended up 7th but happy enough with the result.

Race 2 began with a storming start. 7th to 2nd place! I love damp and greasy conditions and generally show good pace when everything gets slippy. But that start was probably my best ever. Early doors I also had great pace but unfortunately, got caught out by Christian being a touch cautious into Stowe. With locked fronts, a horrid closing speed and a touch of luck, I avoided Christian but ended up in the gravel. Not stuck though!

I rejoined in about 14th place and settled in for a long fight back. In the tricky conditions, I was fast. It was drying all the time but remained tricky to the end. I went into the last lap in a strong 3rd place but I completely missed the last lap board.

I didn’t defend a last lap dive-bomb from Richard Ainscough and that dropped me to 5th going onto Hanger Straight.. Going into the last few corners I managed to get past Christian once more and was alongside Richard going over the line. Sadly, I lost out by 1000th of a second. Had I known it was the last lap…. who knows!

Great fun racing. Great to be back up to speed. Good way to end the season.

Oulton Park Promise…

Oulton Park is a long way away from home for me. I’ve not raced there before this weekend and have only made the trek up once, earlier this year, to turn some testing laps. However, the track itself is worth the effort.

I think it’s largely regarded as one of the best in the UK and you can see why. It has gradient, demanding corners, it takes no prisoners but is ultimately extremely satisfying to hook together into a good lap.

Testing still wasn’t looking ideal with my lap times some way off the ultimate pace. However, a very lose rear balance on the car wasn’t helping and a setup change going into qualifying felt a lot better.

Unfortunately, an abbreviated qualifying issue due to fog only left 3 laps to put a time in, and I succeeded in not doing so! That left me in 10th for race 1. But with the feeling that more performance would be available for the race.

A reasonable start and a fair opening few corners saw me in good position. Unfortunately, I was in completely the wrong position for a spin by Max going through turn 1 on lap 2. The inevitable carnage that resulted left me further down the order as people took advantage of the situation.

Unfortunately, the rest of the race was spent trying to get the places back lost from the lap 2 incident. I never really got to use the pace I felt I had. Having said that, the battle at the end with Christian was great fun and was nice to come out on top. 6th was the result. Much better feeling than past few race meets and still a feeling of more to come.

Because of Oulton’s noise restrictions, everything happens in one frantic day’s action.  That leads to inevitable brain ache as you try and process that you’ve got to do it all again a few hours after race 1 finishes and not with the normal sleep in between!

I guess things weren’t too bad though as I got one of my best starts, coming out of turn 1 in 4th place. And what was most pleasing was that for the first half of the race, it was a legitimate place and I was right with the lead pack and we were gapping the rest.

Henry and Dan didn’t work together well though and at around the half way point, they were slowing our groups progress and letting Jack Brown disappear in the lead. I could also see Christian and Max closing up behind. I took advantage of some more Dan / Henry battling to move forward and I was looking to get past Tim when a combination of waved yellows and fluid down on the track meant I overshot the second chicane.

Normally, this isn’t such an issue, however, to go off under waved yellows and subsequently past marshals pushing a car is an extremely bad thing.

These marshals put their lives at risk for us and so I was absolutely gutted to have let them down. I let it get to me and spent the rest of the race trailing Max as we caught up the lead pack – but the fight had gone. I was sure I’d be out of the  results after the inevitable trip to the clerks office.

An end result of 8th BUT with so much more promise that I’ve seen for the past 6 races that I couldn’t help but be fairly hopeful for the coming races at Silverstone.

And the meeting with the clerk? Well, watching the video back, there was no stationary yellow ahead of the double waved yellows and from the first point of being able to see the flags, I took the only course of action open to me. The reason for the run on was fluid down at that corner from another incident and I went by the marshals at around 20mph. No further action taken and so a positive end to a positive weekend.

Out of puff at Combe

I came into two days testing at Castle Combe really hopeful that my car problems were resolved by a engine timing correction made at the Caterham factory. Sadly though, by Friday evening, I pretty much knew the weekend was going to be an exercise in damage limitation.

Qualifying flattered to deceive, with a 5th place after a last ditch tow fest lap and I was happy enough with the effort.

In race 1, I made another poor start and an overly cautious Quarry saw me drop to around 8th. Unfortunately, things didn’t get much better from then on. I was a sitting duck on the straights with a lack of grunt coming from the engine, Without a full tow from the car in front, I wasn’t able to keep up in a straight line.

Some early defensive driving kept me on the tail of the front pack – and there I stayed for the rest of the 30 minute race. I did briefly pass a few cars but it wasn’t to last.

A bit of back-packer luck on the last lap saw me take 9th over the line.

I did do a rain dance over night but the weather was pristine come race time. So, it was going to be another long race attempting to keep up with the lead group and holding off the second pack.

One big moment going through Camp corner caught my attention late on in the race and I was gunning for Richard Ainscough at the end of the race until I had to drop back a little whilst overtaking some back markers.

Another 9th place finish.

I would say I got the most I could out of myself and the car. I feel that Castle Combe might suit my style so it’s a shame things weren’t fully resolved with the car. However, two top 10’s and there’s still just under half the season left to go.

A quick mention to the crowds at the circuit! It was brilliant to see so many people on the banks watching the races. I hope the Caterham brigade put on a good show for them all. The excellent circuit comms were also a real bonus and added so much to the atmosphere.

A HUGE shout out to the Caterham support team over the weekend. They had everything thrown at them and the managed to get everyone back out on track and competing.

Finally – thanks as ever to all my friends and family for turning up to support me. There were loads of you this weekend!! Sorry the results weren’t properly there. We’ll get it sorted in the end.

Caterham’s Return to Castle Combe

Next weekend, 18th / 19th July, sees rounds 7 and 8 of the Caterham Tracksport Championship at Castle Combe.

This will be the halfway point of the season, around a fast, old school circuit. It’s been a number of years since Caterham’s were last at Combe and everyone I speak to says that Combe promotes great, close races.

Schedule

Qualification – Sat, 18th July – 12:15 – 12:35
Race 1 – Sat, 18th July – 17:25 – 17:55
Race 2 – Sun, 19th July – 13:40 – 14:10

Live Timing

You’ll be able to follow Live Timing over the weekend here: http://www.tsl-timing.com/event/152931

I’ve got a lot of friends and family heading over for the fun and games. Fingers crossed for a good weekend!

Finally, some silverware!

Back to Donington again. This time for the second race weekend of the 2015 season.

Testing was positive and my speed carried through to qualifying with the second pole of the year. This time by a margin of nearly 0.5secs. Head winds meant tow was all important down the back straights and I lucked in.

Race 1 had 3 distinct phases. There was an early ‘sorting out’ phase. Some great battling with the lead pack. Around 10 mins into the race, Henry and I managed to break clear of the pack and worked together to build a gap over the rest of the field.

Unfortunately, all hell broke lose elsewhere on the track causing retirements, trips to the gravel and parts of Caterham strewn all over the track. This lead to a safety car period and the lead that Henry and I had built,  evaporated.

The final phase of the race began at the restart and didn’t relent until the flag. Unfortunately, I found myself in the wrong place at several times, suffering from the mistakes of others. This saw me slide from the lead, right back to 8th place.

An accident caused by a, frankly ridiculous, move by Cedric into the final corner saw Dan taken out of the race and I had to fight to avoid being involved – I missed by millimeters… However, Max McDonagh was able to sneak past on my inside and I crossed the line in 5th.

A last minute brake pad change on Sunday morning, just ahead of the race, focused my mind and got the adrenaline pumping.

Another race of 3 phases. A similar shorting out phase at the beginning of proceedings with jostling throughout the lead pack. Again, Henry and I managed to just sneak a lead over the chasing pack as Mike Evans, Jack Sales and Dan Gore made amazing progress to the lead group from the back of the grid. The pre-safety car period the day before had been a good rehearsal and Henry and I built on our lead for the next 15-20mins of the race.

A couple of silly errors on the early parts of the final lap saw me drop away from Henry a little too much and make my attempt for the lead a little more difficult than it needed to be. I gave it a good shot but ultimately crossed the line second.

That top step remains elusive. But taking silverware home and getting to stand on the podium again is brilliant and the feeling will never grow old. I said ahead of the season that these podiums would prove much harder to pick up. However that makes the achievement all the more sweet.

As ever, thanks to all my friends and family for their support and help over the weekend. I hope I repaid that just a little 🙂

Is it really all over already?

Ridiculous that we’re already at the end of the 2014 season. Yesterday I was at Snetterton shaking everyone’s hand before the season started and today, I’m home from Silverstone having competed 14 races of relentless battling.

I’m not overly keen on Silverstone International as a track. It’s fun to initially learn but once you’ve found the commitment it needs, ultimately, the pace is not found with driving skill, but with following someone. However, that does lead to some truly epic battles being fought out as clumps of cars circulate and can’t shake each other off and, sure enough, the Roadsport grid put on a great show for the large crowd of spectators that had all turned up to support.

Qualification was soaking wet. Having not driven Silverstone in the wet wince the monsoon of our final Academy race last year, the first part of the session was figuring out if there was any grip anywhere… (there isn’t.) Having made the call at Snetterton and Croft to leave the car very stiff on setup, I again plumped for that decision. However, the front end of the car just wasn’t prepared to grip enough in these conditions and I struggled to get turned while retaining any speed. That left me in 6th on the grid and off the pace. Half way through the session, I was down in 12th.

It was a great battle. It’s always a great battle. One day, I will figure out how to win!

6th is my worst starting position ever. Rockingham would have been 6th but for the fact we had a split grid. However, the track was drying fast in the afternoon and the left side of the grid was far drier than the right. As the lights went out, my car shot forward, whilst those on the right of the track bogged down with wheel spin. That immediately saw me in 3rd place. Once a frustrating combination of yellow flags went away in the early stages, I was free to push on and having made it to the lead I pushed as hard as I could to try and break away from the mob of cars still fighting it out.

That worked, to the tune of 1.5 seconds lead. However, that wasn’t enough to shake off Jack Sales, who had also broken clear out of the pack. Over the following couple of laps, the DRS like tow pulled Jack back to my car and he sat there, waiting! All the time, we were pulling away from the battle for 3rd and all the time, I knew that Jack was just waiting for the last lap board to show!

Last time down hanger straight, I tried to double bluff him and we went into Stowe side by side. But Jack had his nose ahead coming out of the corner. Into Vale I was on the outside. I braked as late as I dared and, as it transpired, too late. I went wide at the corner, but Jack had gone wider, and off the track. However, I couldn’t pull it back around as there wasn’t the space and the outside of the track was still wet. Around club I tried another cut back but the line at Silverstone comes very quickly out the final corner and I ended up a 10th back.

It was a great battle. It’s always a great battle. One day, I will figure out how to win!

Will ended up finishing 7th. This saw the Championship close up dramatically. It was all going down to the last race of the season. That only seemed right after the year we’ve had.

Race 2 saw a very damp track again. This time, the early morning sun and lack of cars running around hadn’t had a chance to create a dry line. But, as the sun got stronger, it was only going to get better as out race went on.

Again, I made the decision to keep the car stiff and at the start of the race. Off the line, I got too much wheel spin and immediately dropped to 6th. Through lap 2 that had seen me slide down to 8th and on lap 3, I started in 9th place. The car was not enjoying the conditions and I was trying too hard to make up the difference. However, as I learned the track conditions and as the drying line appeared, I picked up the pace. Once I’d got back past James and Will, I was able to span the gap that had formed to the battle for 3rd. I used the tow that had been used by Jack the day before to skip past and get to 3rd. However, Dan wasn’t going to sit down and take that and we swapped places once more before I finally got a small gap.

It’s been a fantastic year. I’ve had a brilliant time. There’s nothing I want to do more.

That gap just hung on through the race and although I was catching Jack and Tim out front at the end of the race, I couldn’t get back in contention and I crossed the line in 3rd.

Jack had once again won the race and with Will having only recovered back to 5th, that saw them tied on points. However, countback on number of wins saw Jack take the title. I ended the season 4 points back from the top two. Stats are a bitch! I had a great weekend, with great results, but I still managed to lose 2nd place in the Championship!

It’s been a fantastic year. I’ve had a brilliant time. There’s nothing I want to do more. Best of all, I get to share every weekend with friends and family who love it just as much.

Thank you to EVERYONE who makes this happen. See you next year for more of the same!