Tag Archives: Race 1

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.

Flat through Eau-Rouge

I’m back on UK soil after the Caterham Motorsport’s yearly foray into Europe and I’ve just about had enough time to reflect on what was an awesome visit to the legendary Cirquit de Spa-Francorchamps.

We only had two sessions testing ahead of the race weekend; far less than normal for a new track. Everything was compressed into a very tight schedule. It’s a track full of fast, committed corners where you have to settle the car quickly and get back to the throttle. The kind of corners I go well around.

However, it’s also got the two longest flat out sections of any track we visit. From La Source all the way to Les Combes and from Stavelot right up to the bus stop.

In a Caterham, this means the track is all about managing the slipstream and racing tactically. Outright pace is not actually required!

I felt comfortable with the track after the first session out and was putting in times at the top of the timing-sheets quite comfortably.

I therefore went into Qualifying putting a little more pressure on myself than I have been used to recently. I knew pole was possible but trying to manage the ideal time when you only have 6 laps to do it is far from easy. This was also complicated by us sharing our qualifying session with the 420Rs.

Extremely early on, I got a super tow from Dan Gore up the Kemel straight. I was squeezed through Les Fanges between Dan and an 420R. This put me off and I made mistakes at the tail end of the lap. However, this lap was good enough for 2nd on the grid and for Dan, was good enough for pole. Without those mistakes… could have had Spa pole on my racing CV – which would have been very nice indeed!

Pole could still have been on, but sadly, a great lap was written off by a very slow car in the bus stop. (preparing for their own lap no doubt, but annoying none the less…)

My ideal lap in Quali was 1.4 seconds faster than the time I ended up with but that just shows how powerful the tow is around this track.

The weather through the whole weekend was threatening and forecasts changed from minute to minute. However, the sun shone down on Race 1 and an earlier cloud burst that caused havoc in the Roadsport race had completely dried by the time we got out on track.

There were over 50 cars set on the grid as the 420Rs were also lined up with us. It’s the first time we’ve run split grids at a Caterham weekend and seeing the sheer amount of cars ahead was pretty daunting. Getting through La Source on the first lap was always going to be a bit of a lottery and so it was for Ben Tuck and Roy Gray who were out after just 400m or so of racing.

I made a great start and was hooked onto the tail end of the 420Rs going up Kemel. But for a safety car due to the first corner incident, it felt like I had the chance at a break from the group.

The safety car seemed to drag on forever and the race only got going again with under 16 minutes remaining of the race.

There followed 16 minutes of frantic action working the tow and trying to figure out how to finish the last lap in the lead. I didn’t quite get it right, sadly, and missed out on the win by just a couple of car lengths but was extremely pleased with 3rd place. Back on the podium after an absence of over a year and it felt great. What was even more encouraging was I felt I had more to bring to race 2.

Sunday was another threatening day according to the forecasts, however, race time was sunny and it certainly looked like we’d be dry throughout.

This time, everyone got through turn one without incident and I settled into the lead pack. A much larger lead pack this time and one that just grew as the race went on.

There’s over 10mph difference between a Caterham Supersport running on it’s own as opposed to running in the tow; so again, the management of this process along the two hugely long flat out stretches of track was an art form.

For 90% of the race, I managed this process OK. I’d switched around my rear tyres ahead of the race to manage the tyre wear and ensure they remained legal after the race, however, they didn’t bed in very quickly so the rear of the car was very lose throughout. I also had one missed gear which sent me tumbling down the field; and one unlucky run up the Kemel straight that also cost me 6 places due to the tow. With, just a touch of patience and planning, I did manage to get back to the front on each occasion. Things were certainly looking good!

As the 30 minutes race period elapsed, Ben Tuck and myself broke very slightly clear of the pack and up the final straight into Balnchimon, I was able to take the lead. I crossed the line thinking I’d finally won another race. However, no chequered flag was waved and it dawned on me that we had another lap to go. Sadly, this lap went badly and while trying to go side by side with Ben Tuck through Pouhon, my rear tyres ran out of grip and I ran out of talent. That left me out wide scrabbling to get back to the track and the whole lead pack through. I was back in 10th or 11th at that point with only 3 real corners left to go.

At Blanchimont, Mike Evans cut across Henry and Christian causing some wings to go flying and a cascade effect of braking and swerving within a pack of 10 drivers. I was at the rear of this and had to jink right around the flat out left hander. I was closer than I would have wanted to having a big accident in the tyre barrier and also no further forward up the field and now with only one corner to go.

The right hander of the Bus Stop Chicane also had a yellow flag for Ian Sparshott’s stranded 420R. However, I noticed that the left hand part of the chicane was showing a green flag. Dan Gore was spun out of the pack ahead of me, having been overtaken under yellows and I just about managed to squeeze through to take a wider line into the left and cut up the inside of several drivers to make it to 7th place over the line. In the stewards office afterwards, Richard Noordhof was unfortunately excluded from the results. I therefore came in with a 6th place finish. Certainly a lot better than it could have been with 3 corners to go but also a huge part of me knew I’d blown another great result.

In my head, I’d won the 30 minute race of Spa – but clearly my old bones can’t cope with 35 minutes!

Well done to everyone for largely keeping it clean and tidy under immense and sustained pressure. I loved the weekend at Spa and am extremely happy to be able to say I’ve not only raced at Spa, but I’ve also had a podium there.

Next up is Brands hatch in just 3 weeks time. Can’t wait!

 

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!

The racing begins

It’s been quite some weekend! Firstly it’s been bloomin hot. From the test day on Friday, all the way through to the race on Sunday, the sun has shone it’s heart out and roasted a whole lot of drivers and spectators!

At the test day, I finally got to meet up with Michael Downing from Roadsport. He put together a brilliant blog last year for his Academy season and I know he’s been following along this blog from the beginning as well so it was nice to finally have a face to face and share stories!

Testing went OK and I knew I’d be on the pace come race day. This was a relief as the previous day at Donington had been soaking wet for the majority of the track time. I spent different session playing with different tactics and techniques.

Into the weekend proper and it was a long, hot, wait for the qualifying session. The nerves really began to kick in as the time approached. Getting kitted up and strapped in got the heart going like a hard gym session! My session didn’t go exactly to plan. It was looking good initially, with Nick Horton along for a play and to help each other with a tow, but Nick then had a spin, leaving me all out alone on track. I didn’t quite hook up a good enough lap in clean air, so tried for a couple more, but this left me deep in traffic as I caught up some spinners and slower cars. There was no gap on track either ahead or behind. Just as I found a good bunch of cars to work with, the session was over.

Third on the grid was the result – which was a great outcome and kept me at the sharp end for the start of the race.

I was far more relaxed on raceday itself. The party the night before had ended in a late night/early morning beer drinking session Henry and James. It was a great evening but it did take until mid morning to shake off the groggy feeling!

A couple of Uni friends joined my sister and dad to watch the race. It was nice to have them along and, as the race itself turned out to be a stormer, I’m glad we all put on a show for them!

From lights to flag, it was extremely close up front, with Nick, Henry, Dan Livingstone, Dan Wade and myself all going tit for tat. Considering it was everyones first ever race – it was pretty incredible to be a part of.

At the start, Nick managed to select reverse gear instead of second (I don’t know how you do that!) so dropped back. I got through turn one in second behind Henry and we managed to pull a gap. At that point, I really wanted Henry to work with me to solidify this gap – but he went ultra defensive and it was only a matter of a lap or two before Nick and Dan had pulled us back in and now we had a lead pack of four.

Again, the battling went on with places swapping all over the place. Dan Livingstone can, I think, could himself a lucky boy, as he overtook under yellow going through McLeans and didn’t return the place back. He was initially excluded from the results for this move but the Clerk of the Course accepted that Henry re-taking the place back at Redgate was enough to let him off.

All this shenanigans still meant we were slowing each other down and that meant Dan Wade could join in the party. Lead pack now of 5 cars.

After Dan Wade missed his braking spot into Redgate and spun avoiding my rear end, it was just the four of us left going into (what transpired) was the last lap. I completely missed the last lap board so had no idea!

Into Coppice (second last bend) I decided to take a slightly wider line in, to try and get a slingshot out onto the back straight. However, it was far more slippy out on the wider line and the back-end stepped out pretty sharply. Once I’d got that under control, the tarmac was at an end and I knew I’d be heading for the gravel. This isn’t a good thing – and I was extremely close to spinning to a stop on about 3 occasions as I tried to fight the car back to the track. If I’d spun at that point, it would have been race over, 0 points. I lost my 4th place to Dan Wade as I picked up speed once more and then, was thinking about chasing him down – when the realisation that the chequered flag was now out hit home and I knew that I’d thrown away a good chance at a podium right at the end of the race.

It was a complete mix of emotions on the cool down lap. I was initially gutted that I’d thrown away the position, I was sad that the race was over because it had been such a lot of fun but I was also incredibly happy to have been a part of such a great opening race. Everyone raced clean and fair. I only felt I’d been ‘weaved’ on once by Dan L and considering all that was going on, that’s pretty good going!

I did have an added nervous wait up at the Clerk of the Courses office. I didn’t know why I’d been called up there but there was a nervous queue of about 6 other racers all standing in a line, waiting to be called in.

As it transpired, he was just asking about a report of contact when Dan Wade outbraked himself into Redgate and spun. I think a marshal had reported that contact had been made – but neither myself nor Dan had felt any – and certainly the rear of my car was all in one piece! He also mentioned a four wheels off moment down at the old hairpin but said my race had been good and clean offered congratulations on my first signature.

So, that was the end of the weekend. A complete roller coaster of emotions. I loved the racing. Loved the fact it was hard but clean. Loved the social aspect (as ever!) But did come away feeling I hadn’t got the most out of the result. I’m happy with 5th but know more was possible.

I really want to be part of that podium celebration! It looked brilliant! Congrats to Nick, Henry and Dan on their result. Really looking forward to Brands Hatch in 3 weekends time. See you there!