After the relative disaster at Croft, I had assumed that Chris Hutchinson and I would be battling it out for second place in the championship - William only had to finish second in either race to secure the top slot no matter what anyone else did.
Testing on the Friday went well; my base setting worked at Silverstone, I felt more comfortable in the car. I felt like I was back in business again and able to battle for the win.
Another race meeting and another wet qualifying session! Will qualified on pole (for the first time in his car racing career amazingly!), I was second Chris was sixth. Things were looking positive in the battle for second in the championship.
Like at Croft, the rain had stopped and the track has pretty much dried out in time for the first race. I got a really good start by the end of lap 1 I was second behind Lee Bristow, Chris Hutchinson was third and William had dropped back to 6th. The racing was really close with lots of overtaking between about eight of us for the lead. On lap 6 Chris had taken the lead, I was second and Will was back in 5th. On lap 9 we came over the line and Chris was leading with a gap of nearly one and a half seconds, William second and I was fourth. Laps 11 & 12 Chris was leading, I was second and trying to close down the gap to the lead, then a gap back to William and Lee in third and fourth. On lap 13 Chris was leading, me second and we had pulled a bit of a gap. I had no idea where William was but I knew that if he didn't finish second then there was a glimmer of hope for the championship going into Sundays race. I made the move for the lead on the final lap and luckily made it stick. Finished first, a whisker ahead of Chris. I came in to find that I'd set fastest lap too which meant an extra championship point and William had got caught up in the pack and finished seventh.
This meant that on dropped scores I was now only 5 points behind William. If I could win the last race with fastest lap and Will finished off the podium I was still in with a chance. A very tall order - William is very rarely off the podium!
I started on pole for the second race on Sunday by virtue of my race one win. I got a really good start with Tim Dickens, who finished third in race 1, right on my tail. By lap 8 we had managed to pull a 10 second lead on the rest of the field. Tim took the lead on lap 10. I knew I had to win the race to have any chance of the title. I took the lead again on lap 14 and went on to win the race. I had no idea until I got back to Parc Ferme where William had finished. He had finished fifth which meant that we were on equal championship points (neither of us got fastest lap) on dropped scores. My win had made it six for the year and William had won five times so I won the championship on countback - how close could it be!
Next up was the long journey up to Croft for the penultimate round of the championship. Going into the weekend I was leading the championship on dropped points so was hoping to get some good results to eke out my lead.
The test day was a good day in that there was lots of dry track time to learn the circuit (as I had never been there before). My pace was OK, however I did not feel that on top of the car the whole day. I found that my base setting, which had worked well at every other track we went to, did not work at all well at Croft; the rear of the car kept trying to break away and I had quite a few wayward moments! We (my father and I) worked on the setup of the car to the point where it was a little easier to drive without performance being affected too much, but it was far from ideal. I think the problem was compunded by the fact that Croft did not suit my natural driving style at all, and I had to adapt to the circuit.
Saturday came round and what do you know... it was absolutely tipping it down! I don't think many of my competitors had driven Croft in the wet, so most of us were quite literally in the same boat. I qualified 4th, which is probably where I was on dry pace anyway, so that was OK. Nothing spectacular but at least I was on the front two rows of the grid and in a position to attack.
The rain had stopped almost immediately after qualifying ended and the track had almost completely dried up by the time it we were out for our first race.
I got a good start and moved up to 3rd in the first corner and was in the lead by the end of the first lap. The track was a little damp and a little slippery off-line in a couple of places. I managed to hold the lead until lap ten, despite being put under a lot of pressure by Henry Heaton & my main championship rival, William Smith. However, disaster then struck - I spun myself off (thats a first for me!), the car cut out during my spin and by the time I managed to get back on track I was down to tenth which is where I finished the race. I could not believe I had done that; I had gone the best part of two years without spinning once, then I go and spin at the most crucial time and I lost my championship lead! The problem was compounded by the fact that William won the race with fastest lap (you get an extra point for fastest lap)!
Race two came around on Sunday and started tenth on the grid, where I finished the first race on Saturday). I had noticed on the Saturday that the gears were crunching a little, but though nothing of it, but it was a sign that the gearbox was on it's way out. In the race on Sunday, things got a little worse and I was struggling to get the car in gear a few times so was losing time. I managed to salvage a fifth place, but William won again and the championship was all but gone! Fair play to him, he was utterly faultless over the weekend.
On the long journey home (with plenty of time to calculate where things stood in the championship), we worked out that I was now third in the championship a whole twelve points behind William and two behind Chris Hutchinson, and any chance of the title had all but disappeared.
The engine and gearbox came out the car the following day and the gearbox sent away to be rebuilt. It was put back in the following week ready for the final round at Silverstone
Brands Hatch was next; my home circuit.
For the first time this year, the Friday test day wasn't all plain sailing! I had an electrical problem with the car which saw me miss most of Friday morning's running. We thankfully got it sorted during the lunch break, thanks to the great help and support from Caterham! After we got it fixed, the afternoon went really well.
Qualifying was next, as usual on Saturday morning. I qualified third, but only twenty seven thousandths of a second off pole, so was set for a close race!
There were 'only' thirty two cars on the grid this time, so there were no split grids thankfully - I would be racing against the whole field.
I got a reasonable start in race one on Saturday, but got boxed in a little so I dropped down to fourth on lap one. I gained third going in to Paddock Hill bend (turn two) on lap two, then through the last corner and on the start finish straight the next time round, the two leaders were side by side, so were a little slow coming out of the last corner. I got a great run on them, utilised the massive slipstream they were giving off and managed to take them both on the outside of Paddock Hill bend, whilst they were dealing with each other on the inside. I held the lead, and a couple of laps later, the safety car came out. I started having flashbacks to Zolder, where I got overtaken for the lead on the restart. Thankfully I managed to hold onto the lead this time and eked out a two second lead to take the win!
For race two on Sunday, I started on pole again and actually managed to make a good start and held the lead through the first lap. I managed to eke out a 1.5 second lead in the following five or so laps but again, the safety car was deployed following an incident and more flashback occured! I actually made a really good restart and I managed to pull away and eked out a 1.2 second lead within two laps! Unfortunately a fluid spillage in the initial incident which caused the first safety car somehow wasn't cleared up, so the safety car was deployed again! I was starting to think someone up there didn't want me to win!! This time I was unable to hold on to the advantage and two of my rivals were right on my tail. On the penultimate lap Chris Hutchinson, the current championship leader, pulled off a great move and overtook me on the outside of Paddock Hill bend. Coming onto the last lap, we were side by side and I managed to pull off the same move on him, managed to take the lead and win the race.
This was my first double win and it was in front of friends and family; a perfect weekend! A great haul of points too put me second in the championship, just one point behind Chris and one point ahead of William Smith (not the actor), my other championship rival. This is going to be a very, very close end to the championship!!
Next up was Rockingham one of my favourite circuits; mainly because it was the scene of my first win last year!
Again, the Friday test day went well and I was really happy with my pace.
Unfortunately, Rockingham has a relatively small track capacity for it's size, therefore because there are a lot of entrants in the Caterham Roadsport championship, the grid had to be split in two after qualifying.
On Saturday morning, all 35 cars went out for qualification together and I managed to qualify on pole. The grids for the races were split according to qualifying positions, with people qualifying first, third, fifth etc. in one race and people qualifying second, fourth, sixth etc. in another.
I started in pole for race one, but got an awful start and was fourth at the end of the first lap. I gained two places the following lap and after dropping back to fourth place the following lap spent the rest of the race battling in the four car lead battle, eventually finishing second. It was certainly the most intense battle I have ever been involved in; all four of us were side by side constantly for about three quarters of the race!
The grid for the second race on Sunday was determined in much the same way the first race was, but based on race results from race one, meaning the grids were mixed up a bit and you got to race some different people.
I started on pole again and much like the Saturdays race made a terrible start and dropped down to fifth in the early stages! I did however have a great pace and I managed to pull ground back and eventually won the race by six seconds!
With fastest lap in both races, meaning two extra championship points, I'd managed to reduce the deficit in the championship, but was still a way off the leader.
We headed off for a week in Belgium for the mainland European round of the championship. This year it was at Zolder, which used to host the Belgium F1 Grand Prix. What a fantastic place, and a
proper old school track!
Along with the majority of the field, I tested on the Thursday. The weather was overcast and there were a couple of showers in the afternoon, but all in all a good day and I was in the mix. The sun came out on Friday and I did a couple of test sessions in the afternoon, again along with the majority of the field.
On Saturday the sun was really beating down and it was 30 degrees, which is extremely hot when you're in a race car wearing several layers of fireproof clothing! Qualifying went well and I put the
car on pole for race one.
My start in race one on Saturday wasn't great and I went down to third. I made it up to second by mid-race distance, but made a small mistake and dropped back to third, which is where I ended up. I did, however, manage to salvage an extra point for fastest lap.
Sunday came and the rain had returned overnight. It was wet at the start of the race and I made a great start from third on the grid, coming off the first corner in the lead! I managed to eke out a small advantage over the next couple of laps. However, the safety car was deployed after a nasty crash, which saw one of the cars on fire.
The sun had come out by this point and I discovered that Zolder dries out unbelieveably quickly, and a dry line had developed during the four laps we were under the safety car! Unfortunately, the fairly long safety car left only time for one lap of the race. I lost my advantage on the first corner and was not able to regain the lead. Second place it was - safe to say I was gutted having lead and felt good before the safety car was deployed.
It was, however, a very good, solid weekend and I was now sitting third in the championship but still many points adrift from the two in front.
The car was sent off to Caterham Cars straight after Snetterton for a new front end and De-Dion tube. It was finished just in time (the Thursday before the next race at Donington!) and we picked it up en route.
Again, Friday testing seemed to go well and I was in the mix! It rained heavily overnight, and with our qualifying taking place early on Saturday, me and Dad set about putting a wet setup on the car. Unfortunately for us, it dried out very quickly, and with there being a few niggling problems with the car after the rebuild which manifested themselves just before qualifying, we did not have time to put the dry setup back on, I therefore had to go out on a dry track with a wet setup on! I managed to qualify seventh - not great, but no disaster.
Come race one on Saturday I was still feeling a little nervous after the crash and worrying about it happening again - my bank balance had suffered enough! This affected my driving and I found myself backing out of moves and generally not driving to the best of my ability and I finished where I started -seventh; not Happy!
After the race my parents gave me a good old English pep-talk and said that there was no point in me being out there if I was going to drive within myself and not enjoy it! So for Sunday I decided that I was going to have to go for it. I started seventh on the grid. By the end of lap 1 I was fifth, by the end of lap 2 I was up to third and going well. I took the lead on lap 3, but my competitors bit back and I was back to third. I made my final move for the lead on lap 6 and managed to break the tow and pull a gap. I eventually won with a two second advantage - I was back in business! Even better I got an extra championship point for fastest lap; a little cherry on top of the cake! I was now up to fourth in the championship standings, but a long way off the leaders and not really thinking about the championship.
April saw the first meeting of the year and I was really excited after what seemed like a very long winter! Testing on Friday went fairly well and we were able to maintain a good pace throughout the day, making small improvements to the car setup as we went.
It had rained a on Friday night and we were qualifying early on Saturday. I made a real mess of qualifying, thinking too much about getting a tow (slipstream) and whether I was giving one away. I had set myself up very nicely for a good lap late in the session - I had made a good start to the lap, but the yellow flags came out for a spinner who had ended up parked on the racing line. Unfortunately, next time I came round, the chequered flag was out! This put me 11th on the grid for the first race - I had a lot of work to do!
I made a good start in the race and my pace was good, and actually managed to work my way up to the front group (there was a seven car battle for the lead believe it or not, it was a crazy race!), and I had briefly taken the lead on lap four. A few more laps passed with lots of position swapping, then disaster. Me and two others were three abreast battling for the lead at the end of the back straight and next thing I know I found myself airborne! I was on the outside (admittedly a vulnerable position, but had made the move work a couple of times already in the race) and we all braked as late as we dare and were on the absolute limit, the chap on the inside went just a couple of feet wide and touched wheels with the chap next to him, who essentilly bounced off into me, we touched wheels and I was airborne at 85mph! Fortunately for me, there was a lot of grass run off, so I managed to get going again. The car felt dreadful but I managed to finish eighth.
The car went straight to the Caterham Support team who quickly diagnosed a bent front chassis and De-Dion tube (essentially a rear axle).
Unfortunately they were unable to fix the car at the track, but I decided to take my chances in the car for the Sunday race anyway, how bad could it be?
I started eighth on the grid. The car was absolutely horrible to drive; it handled like a shopping trolley, all over the shop! I had absolutely no drive out of left handers, due to the De-Dion tube being bent and the left-rear wheel barely touching the floor as I went round left handers! Never the less I finished the race in eighth, a light sprinkling of rain mid-race helping me out. All in all, not a great start to my championship, but points on the board nonetheless!
Mobile: 07545 221966
Photos courtesy of Rick Wilson, Chris Middleton, Jon Bryant (snappyracers.com) and John Hutchinson