Welcome to part 2! If you haven’t read part 1 – click here!
Half the season was gone, half was still to go! The UK had baked under near constant sunshine for 2 months and the fields had changed from green to a dusty brown. The next round was at Snetterton and I had my family, Kate’s family and friends all turning up on mass to watch my 2 races on the Saturday. No pressure then!
I had brand new tyres on (finally!) but had the longest circuit of the year to learn which is why I ran in 2 test sessions on the Friday. I learnt a bit, but both sessions were red flagged due to constant power cuts due to the intense heat – if that can actually be believed!
On race day, I qualified OK again, was a bit off the pole position pace. With the Snetterton 300 circuit being so long, there were many opportunities to lose time whilst learning it – and it showed up in my qualifying time! There was a lot of time left in the car so felt confident for the race.
Race 1 wasn’t very good. I was in the mix at the start and then started battling one of the Barber Clio’s for a few laps. He was going off the track at almost every corner whilst under pressure from me closing in. I managed to get past but rather than get my head down and pull away, I ended up getting sucked into his wild driving style and got very, very scrappy. I out-broke myself on more than one occasion, at one point went right off the track at the end of the back straight. I got back past and then yet again out-broke myself with a lap to go and lost the place. I eventually finished 4th. Watching the video back was such a good lesson in how not to drive. I managed to put it right in race 2…
In race 2, starting 4th, I managed to launch off the line like a rocket and got past Anna Barden for the lead into turn 1. I was driving much better than the calamity of earlier in the day, but an error on lap 2 dropped me back to 2nd. Over the whole lap, I was able to just about keep up but I just wasn’t able to get traction out the slower corners which meant I couldn’t mount a challenge back for the win. The race would get red flagged after 8 minutes when 2 of the Pre 05 cars behind me merged into one, after a severe T-bone into turn 2!
Lots learnt, onto Donington Park…
Let me be honest with you – I was scared about racing at Doningon Park. In the month leading up to the race, I had a feeling I hadn’t had before any of my previous 4 races. There’s something about Donington that installed a feeling of uncertainty inside me that I genuinely feared the worst before going there!
There was a combination of factors. I’d spectated there quite a few times and have seen so many crashes there – big ones as well. That’s true of all circuits I’ve been to though so it wasn’t anything different. Although I’d driven the circuit many times on my simulators over the years and enjoyed it, it wasn’t a track I was particularly good at. I seemed to always throw it at the scenery and never see the chequered flag! But ultimately the fear came down to one set of corners: the Craner Curves. Something about this circuit just made me think “I’m going to get found out this weekend…“. But then it arrived!
I opted not test on the Friday. At £450 I decided to save my cash and go up late Friday, stay in a hotel with Baza and sink a couple of beers. He had the rest!
On race day, I took it nice and steady in qualifying and learnt the lines. What a track! I loved it, but I still had so much more to learn than I could take in from the 15 minute quali session.
From then on it was a day of great racing. Race 1 had a dodgy start after my steering wheel housing fell off and I got stuck behind a slow starting Civic. I lost ground to my main rivals as a result but battled some cars through the race, enjoying some close door to door racing.
The final race of the day was a story of what might have been. I started 2nd on the grid in Pre 05, with Ashely Parson’s Clio my target for the victory. I had a great start and was thoroughly in the mix going into turn 1. There were 2 spinners in the middle of the road on the exit of the Old Hairpin to avoid and all of a sudden I was diving down the inside of Ashley going into McLean’s. He held me off, and looking back, that was the ultimate moment to have taken the lead.
After a late safety car period, there was to be 1 green flag lap to the end and I could see Ashley just 2 cars up ahead. He was about to be overtaken into turn 1 and I could see he was aggressively defending even though it was a much faster car from Pre 93 trying to pass. It gifted me another chance! I went for the cut-back and nearly got side by side with him before being squeezed onto the grass. I stalked his bumper all the way through the Craner Curves, driving on my absolute limit. But ultimately couldn’t get past before the chequered flag came. I was disappointed to finish second by a mere second. But felt buoyed by confident driving, with willingness to drive on the limit and in close proximity the guys around me, on a very fast circuit. Onto Brands for the finale!
The Finale: Brands Hatch
So this was it, the final race weekend of the year. Once again, tons of family and friends coming so a few of us decided to make a weekend of it and stay over. I wanted to be as competitive as possible before shutting off for winter so not only opted for the Friday test day, but also got my old mate Tom Barley along for some driver coaching.
The Friday went very well. It hammered down with rain in the morning and slowly but surely brightened up through the afternoon. This served me well as it meant I had experience on a wet track as well as a dry(ish) surface. I managed to gain time all day – having 3 spins along the way. That’s 3 more than I’d had all year! So Tom definitely had me searching for the limit and clearly I found it a few times.
On the Saturday, my crew started to turn up bright and early on what was probably the coldest day of the year- it was bitter! I was gutted to find out there was only 3 of us in Pre 05 for the final weekend, but oh well, I still wanted to win it! I went out for qualifying, confident I’d pick up where I left off yesterday but hit problems after just a few laps. My engine was cutting out at certain points of the circuit. I of course feared the worst: “That’s it, the engines gone, it’s all over, weekend ruined, year over!“, but then I realised we’d intentionally under-fuelled the car for maximum weight gain – and it cost us! I had to pull in the pits as obviously the problem would not getting better. There’s no such thing as a splash and dash pit stop in club racing!
Race 1 was dry and a simple affair. I picked off the 2 other boys in class and then got my head down to just bang in lap times. After a couple of laps the result wasn’t in doubt and I took the class victory. After the drama of qualifying and not know my true pace against the other 2, it was at least nice to know once the fuel was in I had it in me to blitz the 2 Clio’s.
Back in the paddock, Kate and I had some fizz and beers on ice ready for an end of season toast to all those who had come to support me all year. We’d have done it even if I’d had a bad race, but it was nice after a good race, with a 1st place trophy and laurels on the car. It made for some good photos! But have so many of my friends and family there to say “Cheers and thanks!” was a really nice moment. Most of them went home freezing cold, but a few of us stayed in the hotel ready for the final action the following day.
And when we woke up on Sunday, it was of course p*ssing down! It was 100% guaranteed to be a cold and wet, miserable race! Lovely! The one crumb of comfort was I had driven in those conditions on Friday and hardly anyone else on the grid had! And very valuable that was to prove as when we finally got going (after many red flag delays in previous race!), I got a pretty decent start and started to pick off some much faster cars who were in tip-toe mode, desperate to get their pride and joy motors safely over the finish line. But I was in attack mode and was out-braking faster cars into Paddock Hill bend and Druids hairpin, but they just had more straight line speed than the Pug so were able to keep ahead of me over the course of a lap. My rivals in Pre 05 weren’t anywhere to be seen – until I came up to lap them. And even some of the Pre 93 cars fancied going a lap down to the 206! It was another solid drive from lights to flag with little to no mistakes. The year has ended on a high…
Conclusions of my first year in motorsport
Today is December 31st 2018 and I am sitting down to finalise this article – a great feeling considering this has been in my drafts since the start of the month! Reading back the 3,800+ words to myself that summed up 2018, it’s a crazy feeling. So many miles were driven to the circuits, so many laps were driven round the circuits, so many hours were spent preparing for the races, so many hours were spent by friends and family in support, so much cash was spent… or burnt, depending on how you look at it! To race was a dream come true, a target set on this very day 1 year ago. So it seems fitting so draw a line under it exactly 365 days later.
Thank you for your support. I will see you in 2019.