Anglesey Preparation, Test and Race – Saturday 11th – Sunday 12th May:
After Snetterton I felt as though the car would benefit from a good going over. I had given it a good spanner check at the start of the season, but hadn’t changed the pads or any of the fluids, which I knew would really benefit from a refresh. I took the car over to Chris Wheeler at The 7 Workshop and asked him to give it a good service for me as I didn’t have the time. If I am honest the real reason for this, other than good practice, is that I felt the car was a little slow compared to some others on the straights at Snetterton and wanted to see if there was any friction in the drive train that could be removed with a good service. If nothing else the car would benefit from it.
Chris gave it another spanner check (everything was still fine after my earlier efforts) and changed the pads, flushed the brake system, changed the gearbox and engine oils. Chris found the vibration that I had mentioned to him I thought was coming from the gearbox when selecting 5th gear at 100mph +, but said it wasn’t bad enough to warrant pulling the gearbox and having it re-built. I am almost certain it will need it at the end of the year as most of my fellow competitors have already had one re-build, but for now I can live with it. Everything else was just fine….so it seems as though I just need to drive the thing faster!
I know this is going to sound as though I am stating the bleeding obvious, but from Hertfordshire Anglesey is a very long way. The reason for highlighting this is to get the first of my racing driver excuses out of the way – lack of practice. Anglesey is 300 miles from home, so there was no way I was realistically going to have time to do anything more than the Friday test day prior to the race.
I arrived late on Thursday night, after a 5 hour drive, to a cold and wind swept Anglesey paddock. Staying with Tristan Judge in his motorhome, with fellow competitor Zoltan Csabai was fantastic fun, but probably not the most restful, especially as fellow competitors Scott Lawrence, Tom Woodcock and Gavin Crawford were parked next door. It is a very social group and we turned in after midnight having put the world to rights over several bottles of Old Speckled Hen.
The following morning the track was soaking wet for our first session, so I slipped and slided my way around for 20 minutes trying to remember which way the circuit went and pick up any useful reference points that I could. It is a lovely circuit with plenty of gradient and some challenging fast turns, but it was the slow corners I was really struggling with. Still, I kept the car on the track, which was more than could be said for poor Scott, who managed to put a wheel on the curb at the Bus Stop and got spat into the pit wall. It was a nasty crash that left him concussed (thankfully nothing worse) and his car a real mess. It was a horrible way to start the weekend.
By the time we made it back out for the second session the track had thankfully dried and I was able to start pushing on. I felt more comfortable with the track, but was still far from mastering it. A quickest time of 1.44.7 seconds was great, but Stephen Nuttall and Pete Fortune were in the high 1.43 second bracket and believed that a low 1.43 second lap was on the cards if everything could be linked together. I still had plenty of work to do.
By the time the third session came around I was starting to suffer from a migraine and was driving around in a world of my own trying not to throw up in my helmet. With hindsight I should have given the session a miss and gone to sleep for a couple of hours as it was a complete waste of time going out. I did that once back in and whilst I felt much better for a nap in the tow car I was actually late for the fourth and final session. I was planning to use that session to scrub in some new tyres in case the race was wet the following day, so wasn’t “on-it” and only got 5 laps in anyway.
It had been a useful day, but far from as productive as I wanted or needed, with less than 25 laps completed. I was glad I had made progress in the 2nd session, but quite honestly the afternoon had been a write-off. I was going to have a challenge on my hands come Saturday.
A pleasant evening out with the boys at a local Thai restaurant, a few beers and an earlyish night (before midnight) was a much better way to round out the day.
Saturday Qualifying and Race 1:
Come Saturday the weather had once again turned for the worse and we were greeted by a wet track for our 9.30am qualifying. I decided to ignore all advice (including my own) and change all of my cars settings. I put on the softest front roll bar and softened the back roll bar right off. This I reasoned would give me more traction and more front end grip. All it proved was that I am no race engineer in waiting…it didn’t work.
Once again I slid around the circuit trying to find any grip I could off-line, but towards the end was conscious of holding Tristan up, so backed off and let him past on what turned out to be the last lap of qualifying, just as the track was drying out. As a result I probably compromised my quickest lap somewhat and ended up qualifying a disappointing 9th. I hadn’t been well prepared, I had made too many changes to the car and in all honesty I drove like a bit of a spanner, so couldn’t really have expected much more.
Back in the paddock I put all of the settings back to fully stiff (green front ARB and maximum rear roll-stiffness) and vowed to just get in and drive around any problems I found that afternoon. At least the car would be familiar to me and I wouldn’t be trying to learn it and the track at the same time.
Come the first race I made a great start from 9th on the grid and got around the outside of Nick Portlock into Turn 1. I then slotted in behind Tony Mingoia and Zoli on the run up to Rocket. As they both went for the inside line I braked as late as I dared and drove around the outside of both. I then latched on to Andres Sinclair who drove off the track 2 corners later at Seaman’s. Coming into The Hairpin Tristan made an error allowing me to get a run on him and dive past into The Bus Stop. At the end of lap 1 I was in 4th place. I spent the next couple of laps closing Michael Coulten down, before getting past him at Rocket as he made a mistake and ran wide. At this point I was desperate to try and chase Pete Fortune and Stephen Nuttall down, but instead spent the next 8 laps battling away with Tristan and Michael for 3rd place, with all of us taking turns at the from. With 5 minutes to go I was in 3rd and just starting to eke out a small gap, when Michael made a lunge up the inside of Tristan and I at Rocket. As I was turning into the apex he came flying past me. I had to turn out of the corner to avoid contact and in this one move I went from 3rd to 5th as Tristan took advantage of both of us being off-line. Three corners later as I was planning my come back the red flag came out.
In Parc Ferme Tristan, Michael and I were trying to work out what the final positions would be, but on the count back to the start of the lap before the accident (almost 2 laps prior) it was Tristan that was given the nod for 3rd. This seemed like the fairest answer, especially given that he had actually been in 3rd place when the flags came out, and I was given 4th. It wasn’t my best result, but it had been a brilliant scrap for position and I had enjoyed the race with both guys immensely. It was brilliant to see Tristan get his first podium since the Aintree Sprint and know it won’t be long before Michael gets his first either.
All of this was put into sharp perspective however when we saw Rob Addison’s car, or what was left of it, which had caused the red flag. Rob had clipped the rear of a spinning car going into Turn 1 and had been launched into a barrel roll, turning over 5 times before coming to a rest. Mercifully he was un-hurt, if concussed, and managed to be discharged from hospital on Sunday morning after a night of observation. Two wrecked cars and two very lucky drivers. It was a sobering reminder of the danger of what we do.
Another pleasant evening eating and drinking in the paddock with friends helped us to forget the less pleasant events of the last 2 days and focus us on what really matters…having fun!
Sunday Race 2:
Sunday dawned heavily overcast and we all spent the morning busily trying to predict what the weather would do for our race, which was the first of the day. As we lined up on the grid it started to drizzle lightly, making the first lap a somewhat slippery affair and it got progressively worse from there on to the finish…it was really the first wet race I have had.
I made another good start from 4th place on the grid and was up to 3rd by The BookaTrack Banking. I slotted in behind Pete Fortune into Church and passed him up the inside into Rocket later in the lap. He took the place back 2 turns later at Seaman’s and I once again slotted in right behind him trying to get the slipstream up to The Hairpin. I moved out and came alongside, but at the apex Pete spun out all on his own and was thankfully missed by the 30 or so cars following, promoting me to 2nd place. I spent the next few laps of the race trying to nibble away at Stephen Nuttalls lead (which was hovering at 1 – 2 seconds) and ensure I didn’t make a mistake and slip back into the grasps of Tristan and Michael who were a couple of seconds further back. At about half distance I made a conscious decision not to push too hard and to just drive for position. In the wet conditions it would have been very easy to make a silly mistake and throw a 2nd place away, so I drove the rest of the race with my head, keeping a careful eye on my mirrors and managing the gap. In all it was one of the less exciting races, being quite processional, but it was certainly challenging to drive a circuit I still didn’t know that well in such challenging wet conditions.
After the race, podium presentations and scruitineering we all packed up and thanked our lucky stars that we were the first race of the day. It was a 5 hour drive back to Hertfordshire and during the journey I had plenty of time to reflect on the weekend. I was disappointed with my preparation and qualifying performance, but pleased by the way that I had raced. I loved the track, but was conscious that my driving style hadn’t worked as well there as at other circuits. I have plenty of refinements to make if I am to remain at the pointy end of the grid, as the rest of the field continues to get quicker and quicker, whilst Pete and Stephen certainly aren’t getting any slower! Most of all I reflected on very two lucky drivers and the responsibility we all have to take care of ourselves and each other whilst racing hard and competing fiercely.
Zandvoort in 4 weeks’ time will be a similar challenge to Anglesey, but I can’t wait for it. Motor racing really is very addictive indeed.