Sorry for the lack of updates, we’ve been really busy over the last few weeks, preparing for last weekend’s race at Brands Hatch. Things went much more smoothly this weekend than they did at Oulton Park!
-The Brands Hatch Indy Circuit is relatively simple
The weekend really began a week before. We went to Brands Hatch to test the weekend before the race, and this constituted our weekend practice session, since the Friday of race weekend we would go straight into qualifying and race 1. The test was vital, since we learned that after getting the bodywork re-painted and repaired, none of it fit together correctly. A sidepod top flew off in testing and most of the rest of it was held together with duct tape. We had a steering rod bent as well, and discovered two bent screws in the steering column from Oulton Park that needed to be replaced. All of these issued were sorted out after the test, the weekend before the event.
-Our new livery got a lot of compliments
If we had a traditional weekend with a day of practice before qualifying, I would have been quite confident of our chances, but going straight into qualifying threw a bit of a wrench into things, as we also replaced the front brake pads for qualifying. As my mechanic Jack said, “full-on qualifying isn’t the ideal way to bed new brake pads.”
I was disappointed to qualify second-to-last for all 3 races, but qualifying was a victory for the team as it was our first completely problem-free session. Our plan was to run 5 laps to scrub the tires and bed the brakes, let things cool off for a few minutes and then run the rest of the session. Everything went according to plan and we were able to run the entire session without any glitches, although we all would have preferred to go a bit quicker. Since we were the first ones on track in the morning, and the last ones on track for our race, it was a long, long wait for race 1. However, it was totally worth it.
-Pre-race engine checks
Before the race, the weather had been extremely cloudy and dark, and as we lined up for pre-grid a fine mist was falling onto the circuit. The paddock looked like it was getting quite wet, and minutes before we were scheduled to roll off, every team started a rush to put rain tires on. Knowing this might be an issue, we practiced quick tire changes during our downtime, and we were able to change all 4 tires without any power tools quicker than some of the other teams that had some. I told the guys to only change the roll bars to a semi-wet setting, in case the track wasn’t as wet as it looked or if it dried up during the race. While the paddock looked wet, the track seemed to still be in decent condition so a full wet setup wouldn’t be necessary.
Rolling onto the track for the warmup laps, it was immediately obvious that the track wasn’t ready for a wet setup and wasn’t even ready for wet tires. Every car had wets on, so it wasn’t a disadvantage, but if we had gambled and kept dries on, it would have been a significant advantage. It’s also worth noting that the race was going to be significantly shorter than intended, since delays throughout the day had pushed us right up against the circuit’s curfew time.
In Oulton Park, my 5 years of non-driving manifested themselves during the race in the form of timidity. I wasn’t as aggressive during the race as I had been in the past, and was somewhat afraid to take any risks, even when a good chance presented itself. This weighed heavily on me all day, and I knew I had to push myself to not be content just to finish the race. I had to make passes and I had to take risks.
-More pre-race checks
I got a poor start, the only car starting behind me beat me easily into Paddock Hill bend, a fast, blind down-hill sweeping corner. I noticed in the middle of the corner that even though I was off the racing line, I was well under the limit and, in the pack of cars, I gunned it going down and up the hill to Druids hairpin. Again, the pack was traveling much slower than possible, partly because of the natural concertina effect, and partly because of the unknown weather conditions. I took the outside and managed to drive around two cars. Over the next few laps, I swapped places with Australian Olly Rae. I got a better exit out of Clark Curve and made a move into Paddock Hill. He immediately responded with a solid move into Druids. I stayed behind for a lap, analyzing our speed difference and where I could take him. After following for 3 laps, I made a move into Clark Curve, outbraking him from 2 car lengths behind and decisively beating him to the apex. From there I was able to pull away, and began catching leaders Fabian Welter and Mat Rao. Behind them were a gaggle of EcoBoost cars, which are usually considerably faster than us and very difficult to pass.
-Working away at a podium finish!
Unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to try since the race ended just as I had caught onto the end of that pack. I was very satisfied with how I had driven, and had no idea where I had finished. When I pulled into the pits, I saw all the guys waving at me excitedly. Thinking they were just very pleased with my drive, I gave them a thumbs up. It didn’t hit me that we were on the podium until one of the stewards pointed me into the spot where podium finishers parked their cars. My eyes must have filled up my entire helmet as I realized what happened. I got out of the car slowly to allow the guys to run over and we all had a big group hug. After being distraught with my poor result in qualifying, it felt really good to finally show everyone what we are capable of. We’ve still got a bit of work to do to put up these results consistently, but the constant mechanical issues that plagued us at Oulton Park seemed to all be weeded out, and now we could focus on going fast. Also importantly, my racecraft was coming back to me and I had proved to myself that I’m still capable of taking opportunities that come to me, and being aggressive when I need to create an opportunity myself.
-“I’m not sure what to do with my hands.”
Plenty more drama unfolded over the weekend, but you’ll have to wait for part 2, as this post is getting a bit long!