And just like that, it was all over…
12 races entered, 12 races finished. We rolled the Peugeot back into the garage and switched the lights off, leaving us to look back and reflect on an incredible first year of racing. Here’s how it all unfolded…
On New Years Eve 2017 I set a goal to get a racing license and to compete in at least one motorsport event in 2018. The license bit was straight forward enough. Apply for the pack, book the ARDS test, pass the exam and get my license. And that’s exactly what I did on a soggy day at Brands Hatch in February. The second bit was going to be trickier – what on earth was I going to race… and how much was it going to cost me!
But goals are goals and after initially looking into Arrive and Drive packages (equating to £1,000+ per weekend to drive a mini or Toyota MR2), Dad and I set out looking for a simple racing car fit for someone starting out in motorsport.
I can’t actually tell you how excited I was scrolling through the race car adverts on racecarsdirect.com for the first time as a potential buyer. The dream was getting closer to becoming a reality!
After lots of phone calls and emails, mainly by Dad, this beauty turned up:
This was one of Gary Parkes’ spare Peugeot 206 GTI 180’s and was up for sale. A proven race winner in the Classic Touring Car Racing Club in recent years, and pretty much ready to race in 2018. SOLD to the boys from Essex!
My first race weekend: Silverstone
A trailer purchased, a 4×4 borrowed, Dad’s overalls & helmet borrowed (stolen?!), OMP race boots finally in the right size delivered and we were all packed and ready to go on the Thursday night before my first weekend racing. The only negative – Dad couldn’t make it. We’d have to make do without him and just make it up as we went along – but we’d manage!
With the car bare of all stickers and sponsorship, I tested all day Friday with the helping hand of pal mate Barry and my girlfriend Kate. Their duties were not only preparing the car, but preparing the driver and keeping him calm! Easier said than done!
As I rolled down the pit lane and past the flashing light telling me “Warning: cars passing pit exit“, my heart was racing – THIS WAS IT! I was heading out onto a live racing circuit where the rules of track days were a distant memory, and the highway code counts for jack sh*t…
Let me explain. On a track day (road cars on racing circuits in a highly controlled environment), there are rules about how you can pass other drivers. Overtaking is by invite only, only on the left hand side and only on the straights. These rules are strictly enforced. However, on a test day, anything goes. Overtake without invite, overtake on either side and overtake into corners – if you want to!
I will never forget this registering in my mind for the first time as I was in a gaggle of about 4 or 5 cars on the run out of Copse corner and remember honestly thinking “F***ING HELL! THERE ARE CARS LITERALLY EVERYWHERE!!! COOOOOOL!!!”. Track days were now soooo 2017 – I was now a racing driver!
The car ran well all day and I settled down without any hiccups. We spent the rest of the afternoon stickering the car up, adding logos for my own businesses, Surewise.com, EnterF1.com and (you guessed it), EnterMototsport.com – as well as a few extras.
We were ready to go racing!
Waking up on the Saturday morning and seeing it hammering down with rain outside of the hotel window, I was a bit nervous to be honest. A dry day of simple running would have made things a lot easier, but I couldn’t change it.
We got the car scrutineered, just, with the help of Gary (Meek) who had to replace my seat washers for some bigger ones (thank you Mr Scruitineer for that mini dilemma!).
Qualifying was on a soaking wet track and in heavy rain. When I got out on the circuit, my nerves and apprehension actually drifted away and driving the car was just fun and putting a big smile on my face. I wasn’t blisteringly quick, nor was I a total disgrace and lapped at a similar pace to my Pre 05 rivals. Importantly I qualified without any incidents and the car was ready to race!
My first ever race was a wet one. I actually felt quite calm on the grid and the warm up lap. I couldn’t wait to get started. Looking back at my onboard video now shows just how cautious I was. Without any experience, I really had no idea how much bite the tyres would have on the opening laps so my number one priority was not to lock up the brakes and plough into 5 cars up ahead of me. As the race settled down I started to find confidence and speed – which led to some overtakes and making some progress through the field. I was so relieved not to be going backwards down the order and losing time to the cars ahead of me. I would eventually finish 3rd in class, later bumped up to 2nd after the winner was disqualified for running an illegal anti-roll bar.
The next day was a special one. The sun was shining, the track was dry and I was confident after a steady first race and good result. The lights went out and I was in the thick of the action heading into Maggots for the first lap. I eased off the power earlier than the cars around me and started to turn into the apex when BANG! – what felt like a bomb going off down the left side of the car and instant thoughts of “I don’t know what just happened but it sounded like the car just got written off.” An Alfa Romeo had hit me and was now spinning down the track and smashing into a Clio, with me having to avoid both. I was fuming! A bleep machine was needed for my on board video (which only a selected few have ever fully seen!). I then had to avoid another crash seconds later and found myself flying over the grass and crap!
The car was still working as I drove down the Wellington Straight but I was convinced the damage would be too severe to continue. I gave the steering wheel a little wiggle and checked it braked in a straight line – which it did! I was still in the race…
Like the first race, after a couple of laps getting the tyres up to temperature my pace was pretty good. Suddenly I was picking off cars one by one and could see the leader in Pre05 up ahead! I started to close in at over a second a lap. I realised then I could actually win this race – that was usually the moment on the PlayStation that I would bin it into the barrier! So I had to keep my cool if I didn’t want that to happen!
The video below really does the talking – what ensued was a fantastic battle for nearly 10 minutes between Steve Barber and I for the lead. I tried a few different lines to work out the best place to position my car for a move later in the lap. My chance came when I got a brilliant exit from Maggots onto the Wellington Straight. I was able to outbrake Steve and pass round the outside or Brooklands. The move was not only in front of Kate, Barry and Alex, but was also on TV! I held onto the lead for 2 more laps before crossing the line victorious!
What a weekend! It had it all and I managed to share it with so many friends and family who made the trip to Silverstone. The car was damaged, but it could have been worse. The passenger side mirror had been smashed off and I had a scrape mark all the way down that side where the Afla tagged me. But it would buff out!
Highlights from the rest of the season
As my Dad put it: “Silverstone: you knew the circuit, but you didn’t know the car. Croft: you now know the car – but you don’t know the circuit.” And boy was he right! We went to Croft for a 4 day weekend so that I could test on the Friday. I initially really liked the circuit but as the test day wore I, I felt the car was becoming more and more of a handful. In the burning early spring heat, I soon realised I was cooking my only set of tyres and brake pads for the weekend!
By the time the race weekend was underway on Saturday, I had a total lack of pace and confidence to push the car. I was trying! But ultimately not getting a lot of reward for it. Dad and Colin put some Halfords brake pads in to try and give me something but they were overheating, and the tyres just had no bite out of the low speed corners. I was well off the pace in the first race which was dry and plodded home 4th.
On the Sunday, it was wet and I did fair better, overtaking some of the bigger and more powerful cars who were struggling in the conditions. It was good to do some overtaking after such a disappointing first race. The biggest downer for me was Kate, Dad and Colin making the 500 mile round trip for a weekend that didn’t get anywhere close to the heights of Silverstone the previous month. But that’s motor racing and I was determined to go better next time!
After the disappointment of Croft, I was desperate for a fresh set of tyres and race worthy brake pads. We managed to install the latter, but there was absolutely no stock of my size Toyo R888R anywhere in the UK, so I would just have to make do with what I had at Mallory Park.
This event was held on the May day bank holiday and would be a single day event – a new challenge in my short racing career! It was nice to know all my friends and family who would travel to watch would be able to see me in 2 races in one day. A bit more bang for your buck let’s say.
I had experience of Mallory Park from an afternoon testing a Toyota MR2 earlier in the year, when I was weighing up my racing options for 2018. I’m so glad I had! The circuit was so incredibly fast and where confidence & b*lls are rewarded with lap time.
My pace in qualifying was so-so. I was in the mix but a little way off the pole position time. Race 1 was driven under the safety car for 10 minutes after a Civic slammed into the tyre wall on the first lap. When we eventually got going for a 5 minute dash, I had to pick off a few invitation entry Hyundai’s that had rudely jumped me on the opening lap through the carnage. My caution on the first lap meant I’d been overtaken by slower cars, but I was happy not to get caught up in the problems up ahead to be honest.
Race 2 was a different affair. This time we had a 15 minute lights to flag race in which I was running 5th and could see 1st place just meters up the road. I was quicker than my competitors in some parts of the lap, and slower in others – our pace was very similar over the whole lap so getting in a position to pass was very difficult. Two Renault Clio’s dropped out from making contact, promoting me to 3rd and picking up another trophy. I was disappointed not be be able to pass through being quicker on the road, but felt happy with myself to come away with absolute no damage compared to the 4 Clio’s battling it out in front of me.
It was time for the summer break and a recharge!
This is the end of part 1 – click here to read part 2!