Tag Archives: Paddock

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.

Spa GP Paddock – With Caterham

0.002s was all it took to top off the best weekend ever! That was how close I got to predicting my Brands Hatch qualifying time. Mine was the closest prediction across all the Caterham championships at Brands and so I won the competition for Caterham F1 paddock and hospitality passes for the Spa F1 GP…

Race win, fastest lap and competition winner… The competition was designed to offer something for everyone to shoot for, so winning the race and the competition was greedy to say the least. Coincidentally 0.002s was roughly how long I felt guilty for when Jen rang me up to let me know.

Rob Clay, Academy Group 2, had won the competition at our Donington weekend and we arranged to stay together as near the circuit as we could. Rob was accompanied by Laura and I had dad in tow. Laura and Dad did all the hard work getting arrangements sorted. After all, the drivers had done all the hard work up to that point. I almost got a blister writing the qualifying guess onto a piece of paper.

After a LONG journey across Europe, through Brussels rush hour(s) we eventually arrived at the accommodation. A great challet style house in the Belgian Ardennes.

There was no time to rest though, as we needed to pick up the passes for the weekend. Dad and I drove over to the Caterham team hotel (Mercedes were also staying there) and we met Cyril for the first time. Cyril is in charge of looking after all of Caterhams guests over race weekends and he made us feel right at home from the off. We had a great chat over a couple of beers. We also met Fatna for the first time. She heads up the front of house inside the hospitality ‘truck’. We spent a good 40 mins chatting away and generally getting excited about what lay ahead.

Saturday dawned and we were out the door early. Spa is renowned for its bad traffic. The circuit is nestled around a series of rugged valleys and the approach roads are majority country tracks rather than main roads!

It was a lovely feeling to be able to walk through so many security gates leisurely flashing our magic passess all the way into the F1 paddock. I felt like I was trespassing! We had a walk around the paddock to get our bearings and looked in awe at all the trucks and buildings that comprise the F1 circus. The Belgian paddock is split level, with the pits and car trucks on the upper level and the hospitality units on the lower level.

Linking in-between was a set of stairs. This pinch point in the paddock turned out to be a brilliant place to hang out as everyone was forced there to get around – it was easy pickings to get lots of photos there!

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We went up into the Caterham hospitality and were met by Fatina with teas and coffees whilst we waited for Cyril to arrive. As soon as he did, we knew we were going to be in good hands! He had the whole day sorted for us! Viewing area in the back of the pits for FP3. Quick lunch. Pitlane walkabout. Pit garage for Qalification. Over to the media scrum to see all the interviews taking place and then back for some afternoon tea.

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If that all sounds brilliant, I can assure you that it was even better in reality! Watching the qualification session from the back of the pits will stay with me forever! We were right there when the call was made for Van Der Garde to go onto slicks and joined in the huge celebrations when he went and stuck it in 3rd in session 1 of quali! Just before quali 3 started, Cyril took us in front of the garage and we were nearly in touching distance as all the main runners and riders queued up to leave the pits.

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Seeing the work of the mechanics, engineers, scruteneers and pirelli tyre personnel was also fascinating. The routines are all set and rehearsed. The same things happen each and every time the car enters and leaves the garage. Cleaning and polishing are constant!

Another memorable moment was the first time the two cars were fired up in the garage ready to leave for the track. An F1 car is extremely loud when out on the track and is unbelievably loud when that noise is contained inside a garage! It’s a very physical experience as you can feel the noise right through your chest.

After afternoon tea, sat next to Guido and Charles while they talked to the worlds media, we decided we’d go and watch the GP3 race from Eau Rouge. Rob made the inspired decision to flash our passes at one of the Gold grandstands and, much to our surprise, the bemused guard said we could go through! So we got to watch the race from a prime spot half way up one of the most famous corners in motor racing! Fabulous end to the day.

We all spent the evening looking through all the photos we’d grabbed through the day whilst an epic thunderstorm raged outside! We compared who’d seen who and who’d seen what! Between the 4 of us, we’d taken literally hundreds of photos but it was great re-living the day and sharing stories!

Sunday morning! Another early start and Dad and I decided to have a walk up to the other end of the track. It’s a huge track and it took about an hour to walk all the way up past Eau-rouge, along the straight and up to Les Combes / Malmedy. The F1 cars do it in a matter of seconds! It was great to taste the atmosphere of the GP in the forrest and also the views out across the valleys.

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Back in the Caterham hospitality, Cyril laid out another packed day! An early treat was watching the GP2 race from in front of the Caterham pits, litterally 3 meters from the Caterham GP2 teams pit crew whilst they changed tyres. WOW! And through the day we got to watch Guido’s mechanics put his car together again ready for the race. Hundreds of man hours every weekend go into removing and replacing all the body panels on the car to check, clean and monitor the car.

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After another quick lunch stop it was back out for the second pit walk of the weekend (oh, the chore). Watching the start of the race from the outside of La source felt the most like a normal GP but it was a brilliant place to see the action! The race itself was fairly spread out after just a few laps so being able to return to the garage was great. And then the final surprise of the weekend! We were able to go down to the podium for the celebrations! Right under the rostrum for all the anthems, champaign and trophies. Ross Brawn was just behind us in the crowd! Unforgettable.

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SpaGPPaddockCaterham 45

So, that was the weekend of a lifetime. We said our goodbye’s to the Caterham team and to Cyril and Fatna. We hung around in the paddock for one last blast of the cameras and then slowly made our way back to our cars and eventually back home to he UK.

This year was already a completely unforgettable one for me. This has put it in the stratosphere. It’s certainly going to be a hard one to beat…