For race reports from previous seasons, please click the links above.
Onto the final round at Donington! We were racing on the national circuit which meant that the average speed of the lap was very high and there would be a lot of slipstreaming, which would make for exciting/interesting racing!
Qualifying was a bit of a nightmare, with a combination of traffic and, being honest, me making a few mistakes, I ended up qualifying 6th.
Race 1 started well with me being well in the mix in a 7 car battle for the lead; I was yoyo-ing from 2nd to 6th. I was sitting in 5th after about 2/3rds race distance when a yellow flag came out and the 2 cars in front slammed on their brakes - I managed to avoid going into the back of them but the car behind wasn't able to react in time and hit the back of my car at an angle which spat me off! I rejoined in about 13th place behind the safety car. I managed to get up to about 8th or 9th place when I made a challenge round the outside for a position, but the person I was overtaking understeered into me and put me in the gravel! I does sound a bit like these may have been my own doing, but the driver of the second incident which put me out of the race got a fine, so I was definitely not to blame this time!
As a result, I started 22nd on the grid for race 2. Unfortunately, we had to start under the safety car becuase a load of oil had been spilled down the start-finish straight in the race before ours, so the field was very spread-out before we even started! I managed to have a good clean race and made it up to 4th by the finish, which was certainly much better than I thought I was going to do going into that race!
The result also meant that I wrapped up 3rd in the championship, so I was very happy!!
The circuit of Croft near Darlington in Yorkshire was next - I was keen to get going!
As I had been to Croft before I reverted back to just doing the Friday test day, which seemed to go OK.
I had another strong qualifying which left me 2nd on the grid for race 1. After a reasonable start I was away in 3rd place which is the position I held for about 2/3rds of the race, at which point I made my move for 2nd. By the time I got into 2nd, Aaron was about 1.5 seconds up the road, so I concentrated on trying to hold 2nd until the finish. To my surprise, my car kept coming to me in the latter stages of the race and Aaron's seemed to be going off a touch, so I managed to get myself into a position to make a challenge for the win on the last lap. All credit to Aaron though - he drove faultlessly and didn't give me any opportunity to pass, so 2nd it was to be!
I was starting to feel confident coming into the 2nd race and I knew I had to make a good start - which is exactly what I (finally) managed to do! I lead the race until about 5 and a half minutes to go when Aaron and I went side by side in the Jim Clark Esses (a left kink follwed by a right kink) and both wanted the same patch of tarmac - I came off worse and went off the track! I dropped down to 6th place and was too far behind to catch the group in front, so that's where I finished.
Overall, a very promising weekend and my most competitive yet. I finally started to believe I could win in R300s, so it has been a very positive step.
Despite the off-track excursion, I still held a good gap back to 4th place in the championship.
Oulton Park: A circuit I had never driven before - this would be interesting!
I had decided to splash out on a couple of sessions of practice on Thursday afternoon to learn the circuit so that I could tackle Friday practice as normal.
My first impressions of Oulton were fantastic - a really exciting and engaging circuit with grippy tarmac, lots of undulation and not a lot of run-off; my heart was certainly in my mouth a few times over the course of the weekend! I actually had a couple of off-track excursions on Friday trying to find the limits, with one of them being at the 105mph island bend, and I only just managed to keep it out of the armco barrier!
Due to noise restrictions at Oulton Park, all of the qualifying and racing happened on Saturday, rather than being spread over 2 days.
Qualifying went very well and I netted my first pole position in nearly 2 years! The gaps between me, 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th were very small though so I knew it wasn't going to be easy in the slightest!
In race 1 I reverted back to my usual rubbish start and dropped back to 5th or 6th place. After a very hard fought 30 minutes of racing, I managed to get back up to 3rd place but could not get past the front 2 who were very busy battling eachother for the win. I was absolutely over the moon to get back onto the podium that's for sure!
Race 2 was slightly different in that I made an OK start and held 3rd early on before moving up to 2nd after a few laps. Danny Winstanley was leading and was doing an absolutely brilliant job of defending - I did manage to take the lead very briefly but Danny got me back on the cut-back and a few laps later Aaron Head slipped past. I made a small mistake with 3 laps to go which meant I lost touch with the front 2, so I ended up with another 3rd.
A pole position and 2 3rd places at a track I'd never driven before the weekend - needless to say I was very pleased. In addition, my overheating issues seemed to be fixed and I had consolidated 3rd place in the championship!
Now for the 4th round of the championship at Snetterton in Norfolk.
Having done a couple of pre-season test days there, it is the first track I had experience of in an R300 before the race meeting, so I felt confident that I could score a couple of good results.
Qualifying went well with my best result of the season with 3rd on the grid for race 1. Unfortunately the hot weather meant the overheating problem which plagued us at Zolder returned, and my bad start in race 1 exacerbated the problem, as I spent the first half of the race in a multi-car slipstream, which meant the car overheated very quickly and I was down on power.
By the time I managed to get through to 4th and make it stick, and let my engine cool down in clean air, 3rd place was a few seconds ahead. I managed to close right up to 2nd and 3rd right at the end of the last lap, but just ran out of time to make a challenge for the podium, so 4th it was! I was, however, very pleased to be back competing at the front after being a bit off the pace at Zolder.
Based on my finishing position on race 1 I started race 2 in 4th position and managed to make a good start, getting up to 2nd on the first lap and taking the lead on lap 2. The race was a tale of 2 halves with the first being me and Lee Wiggins swapping the lead twice each lap down each of Snetterton's 2 long straights trying to buid a gap between us and the rest, and the second half being joined by Aaron Head and the car overheating again!! I was stuck in 3rd place for a while and dropped down to 4th on the last lap, having a lack of engine power to try and fight back with!
Overall, a very good weekend being competitive again, but being somewhat let down by issues. A trip to the Caterham factory before Oulton Park to try and get the issues sorted out!
At the start of the season, when looking at how much everything costs, I made the decision not to do the Thursday test day at Zolder as it was rather expensive. As a result, I only had half a day’s testing on Friday (there was only half a day’s running on Friday due to noise restrictions), which proved to be a bit of a mistake – I was certainly on the back foot all weekend given almost all of my rivals tested both days!
The biggest shock of the season came in qualifying where I went out, did 5 or 6 laps and thought things had gone well, only to find out I was sitting 10th when I pitted. I had to go back out and pull a good lap out of the bag, which I thought I did, but it was only good enough for 6th! Blimey...
Onto race 1 and whilst my start was a slight improvement on Anglesey, it was still dreadful! I did manage to get myself back up to 5th position during the race, but after another great battle with Clive Richards, I was pipped to the post and ended up in 6th.
I started 6th again for race 2 and managed to actually get a half decent start, holding onto my starting position for once! After the opening laps, I had made my way to the front of the battle for 4th position. However, the driver in second made a mistake, went wide, hit a really large kerb very hard, going airborne and cracking his crankcase (I think), which ended up spilling oil over most of the track. I was pretty much the first driver to get to the oil, and I went off, and dropped back down to 6th (which soon became 5th with the driver in 2nd retiring). After that, a huge 4-way scrap for 3rd ensued for the remainder of the race. Unfortunately, my car started to overheat which (excuses excuses) may have prevented me from challenging quite as hard for the podium, but I doubt I quite had it in me this weekend, and I ended up in 5th position.
While unspectacular, my results were at least consistent, which has allowed me to remain in 3rd in the championship! Onto Snetterton!
Onto Anglesey in North West Wales for races 3 and 4 of the championship!
After a mammoth 10 hour journey to get to the circuit on Thursday, I was ready to learn the circuit in testing on Friday, and what a nice circuit! It is situated right on the coast of the Irish Sea so is somewhat open to the elements, but it is rather spectacular! I had a good day on Friday learning some of the 'secrets' of the track and getting my car set up for the weekend.
After being about a second off the pace at one point during Friday testing due to my inexperience at the circuit compared to most of my rivals, I was relieved and somewhat surprised to qualify fourth!
Before the first race on Saturday it rained, so I went into what was my first ever fully wet race on a track and in a car I was still learning... this was going to be fun! I made an OK start and got away in 4th position which is where I stayed for a few laps until about mid race distance when I made my move for 3rd when the 2nd place driver went wide at the same corner meaning I got up to 2nd myself! I held on to 2nd for a few more laps until Aaron Head came steaming past recovering from an earlier off. I managed to get the car to the finish in 3rd place with no issues - a great result!!
I started 3rd on the grid for the (dry) second race on Sunday and made the worst start I have ever made, and I plummeted down the order ending the first lap in 9th place before a safety car came out for a couple of laps. After the safety car I quite quickly got up to 8th and started chasing down Danny Killeen in 7th place. After a couple of laps I was up to 7th and started chasing down 6th placed Clive Richards. After catching Clive a great battle started and Danny also joined in the fun. In the space of 4 or 5 laps I went from 7th to 6th then back down to 8th and then back up to 6th, where is where I finished up (just about)! My worst result of the year so far but actually one of the most enjoyable races I've had in a very long time, and to be battling with Danny and Clive (a 5 time Caterham champion) was a great experience!
I leave Anglesey 3rd in the championship. I've lost ground to the front 2 (but I'm not fussed about that as it would be unrealistic to be thinking about the championship!!) but I've consolidated my 3rd place in the championship, so a very very successful and enjoyable weekend!
Next up, Zolder in Belgium on 4th and 5th June - Bring it on!
This write up is a bit longer than usual due to it being the start of a new season and my debut in the R300 class!
At long last, after an 8 month break from racing, it was the first round of the 2016 championship. Having jumped up 2 tiers in the Caterham motorsport UK championships
from the tracksport class to the top level Superlight R300-s class, I knew it was going to be tough, particularly given I am only one of a few drivers that is running as an independent rather than in
a team. Not to mention the fact I had never driven the grand prix loop at Brands Hatch before the weekend!
Friday testing was a rather wet affair, with both test sessions being held in very wet conditions! What I did learn on Friday was that the R300 is an absolute handful in the wet, given it only weights half a ton, has quite a bit of power and has no driver aids whatsoever!
Qualifying on Saurday morning was dry (as were both of the races but more about them later), so I had to try and learn the dry track quite quickly if I wanted to get a
decent grid position for race one! Thankfully I managed to get my head round the track, got a clear lap and managed to qualify in 4th out of 35 cars, which exceeded even my wildest expectations
coming into the weekend! The 3 cars in front of me were experienced R300 drivers who had raced round the Brands Hatch GP circuit before, so I was very pleased to line up 4th on the grid!
Onto race 1 on Saturday afternoon; I was very nervous beforehand due to a number of reasons, such as it being my first race in R300, my first race for 8 months and my first time doing a full throttle start off the line in the car. Needless to say, the start wasn't good - I dropped from 4th to 7th but the red flag came out after half a lap as there was a start line incident in the mid-field. Thankfully everyone involved was OK, and the race restarted with the original grid positions. Thankfully I got a better start this time and got away in 4th. 2 laps later I made it up to third and set my sights on the leaders. Another lap or so later I was right on the back of the 2 leaders, having set a new lap record - this was like a dream! The car was absolutely fantastic! Unfortunately there was a safety car a few laps later which was in place until the end of the race, so I finished 3rd. If someone told me I would get on the podium on my debut I would have laughed at them! I was over the moon!
Onto Sunday's race... I started 3rd on the grid and dropped to 4th, but was at least away with the leaders. Unfortunately there was another start line incident (very much a freak weekend for start line incidents!) in the mid field and the race had to be stopped. Due to coolant being dropped on the grid as a result of the crash, the race was restarted under the safety car, and I got away in 3rd. I dropped down to 4th on lap 2 but got back to 3rd at the start of lap 3 and then set the fastest lap of the race in pursuit of the leaders once again. Aaron Head went wide coming out of Dingle-Dell on lap 4 dropping down to 3rd and promoting me to second. I then got a great drive onto the start finish straight and went up the inside of Lee Wiggins to take the lead into Paddock Hill at the start of lap 5! Over the next few laps I started to struggle with the rear of the car. Being a little inexperienced with the car and these tyres, it transpired I was running tyre pressures too high for the higher track temperatures on Sunday and started to struggle quite a bit with the rear breaking loose. I dropped down to 4th which is where I finished, though I did manage to cling onto the leading 3 and crossed the line only 1.1 seconds off the win.
I come out of Brands Hatch tied for second in the championship with Lee Wiggins (but 3rd on the tie-break as his best finish was 2nd with mine being 3rd). This is way beyond my wildest dreams, especially when you add in the 2 fastest laps and a new lap record round a track I've still only done 3 dry sessions on in a car which I'm new to. Full credit to DPR Motorsport for building a great car and to my Dad for doing a great job of running the car - I wouldn't be able to do any of this without my parents!!!
Anglesey in 3 weeks... I can't wait!!
Mobile: 07545 221966
Photos courtesy of Rick Wilson, Chris Middleton, Jon Bryant (snappyracers.com) and John Hutchinson