Having been promoted at work (meaning an expanded budget for next year), and then testing a Caterham Superlight R300-S at Brands Hatch during the Friday test day, I had decided to move up to the Caterham Superlight R300-S Championship in 2016. Given I had no hope of winning the championship, I had decided that I would sit the rest of the season out in order to save some money towards the 2016 season and to try and sell my Tracksport car.
Thankfully, Brands Hatch was a gret weekend for regaining my confidence - I qualified 3rd on the grid despite not getting much of a slipstream during qualifying. Race 1 was an OK race, and I certainly felt I had the pace to win, however one of my competitors was absolutely determined not to let me past, which was frustrating as the leader got away, so in the interest of not battling too much and getting sucked back in the pack, I decided to settle for third, which was still a great result and a huge relief to finally get back on the podium.
Race 2 was much more like it for me; I got in the lead early on and managed to demonstrate the pace I feel I had all year. I broke the 'tow' (i.e I pulled a gap so that I was not going to be vulnerable to the slipstream) and ended up winning the race by over 6 seconds.
Needless to say, I was over the moon to end my season on such a high! Onwards and upwards to 2016 in R300-S!!
After the disasters of Donington and Zandvoort, my championship aspirations were effectively in tatters going into the weekend at Castle Combe, and my attention shifted more towards having a clean weekend and not getting any damage, rather than going all out for results, which is obviously not the right mindset upon reflection!
I qualified 6th, but very close to the pace of the 2nd place qualifier. In the first race, the battling was fierce, and I lead for a lap or so in mid-race, but I was on the receiving end of a couple of 'ambitious' overtaking manouveres by another competitor and I dropped down to 6th at the flag, having been in podium contention going into the last lap. In the second race, I had to avoid a spinning car right in front of me early on in the race which dropped me off the back of the leading pack. I made my way back up to them and got past a couple of them, but the 6th placed car was defending very robustly, and with my aforementioned mindset, I ended up settling for 7th.
I actually got fastest lap in both races and set a new lap record at Castle Combe, but it really was one of the most disappointing race weekends of my life, and I still got some damage from a competitor running into the back of me! My aim for the next round at Brands Hatch is to regai my confidence and go all-out for podiums!
So, onto Zandvoort in Holland; by all accounts a superb track. I can confirm now I've driven it that it is absolutely incredible - fast, undulating and scary!
Whilst most of my rivals were testing on both Thursday and Friday, I was only testing on Friday (as the Thursday test day was very expensive, and I am rather tight!). This didn't really seem to matter though, despite it being a track I hadn't driven before, I was again fastest on the Friday test day.
Unfortunately it all went pear-shaped from there. I was taken out by a competitor (see photo sequence in 'Trackport 2015' in the Gallery page) on lap 3 of a session which was damp and then dried up. As a result, I started the race from 20th on the grid with a very bent car which certainly wasn't handling at it's best. Anyway, I got a good start, and had made my way up to 7th place after a few laps and was on the back of the eading group with over half the race still left to run. Unfortunately, more bad luck struck - my engine blew up and I ground to a halt! Needless to say, I wasn't a happy bunny.
Caterham put a new engine in over-night for the second race, but with it being brand new, it needed running in, and a race certainly wasn't the ideal time to do it! I started 24th in mixed conditions and ended up 10th, which was not so bad considering I had both an ill-handling car and a new engine which was still a little bit 'tight' and down on power.
Onwards and (hopefully) upwards to Castle Combe...
After round one at Snetterton, I was raring to get going again, and fortunately there was only a three week gap between the first round at Snetterton and the second at Donington.
As usual, we tested on the Friday, qualified on the Saturday morning, and raced on Saturday afternoon and on Sunday.
Friday testing went well; we had four practice sessions, with the first three being dry and the final one being wet. My transponder was not working in the first session, so I do not know how I did on that one, but I was quickest in the three remaining sessions (two dry, one wet), so I was thoroughly looking forward to the rest of the weekend!
Unfortunately, it all went wrong from thereon in. I put my race (as opposed to my practice) tyres on the car for qualifying, and ended up 11th... Not ideal!
I put my 'practice' set of tyres back on for race one. I made a reasonable start to the race, and thankfully my issues from qualifying we're resolved, and I had made it up to 3rd place by the end of lap five. I was in a multi-car battle for 3rd place over the next few laps, and was running in 5th place when the two cars in front of me collided, and I had nowhere to go and got caught up in a crash. Unfortunately I sustained too much damage to continue and had to retire! Again, not ideal!
As the grid positions for race two are determined from the results of race one, I had to start from near the back of the grid. Thankfully (at least from my perspective), there were a few retirements from race one, which happened before my incident, so I 'only' started as low down as 24th; still quite a way down! What was to follow would be a race of two parts... I got a great start, and had a great first few laps and made it up from 24th on the grid to 4th by the end of lap four(!) However, I did not make much progress from there; the two leaders were away out front by the time I had really managed to make it to third, and I spent the rest of the race in a five car battle for third place. Rather frustratingly I missed a gear on the penultimate lap and lost contact with third and fourth places. I set the fastest lap of the race on the final lap trying to make up for my mistake, but I was too far back and had to settle for fifth.
All in all not a successful weekend, with mixed results and a bent car to fix before the next round; the six week wait before a Zandvoort is quite a welcome one (particularly for the wallet!). Having said that, I can't wait to get back out on track, especially as the next time is at the aforementioned Zandvoort circuit in Holland on 20th and 21th June. Bring it on!!
At long last, the season has arrived!
After what felt like an eternity waiting, the first race meeting of the season was here.
We drove over to Snetterton from Kent on the Friday morning, which meant a 4am start! As was the format last year, we had practice on Friday, with qualifying and the first race taking place on Saturday, and the second race being held on Sunday. The only change with the format from last has been the increase in the length of each race from 20 minutes to 30 minutes.
Friday practice went well; the weather was dry all day, as it was to remain all weekend. I got myself up to speed during the day, making a few changes to the car and to my driving style, to try to adapt to the Tracksport specification car and to the Snetterton circuit (I had been to Snetterton before, but it's certainly not one of the circuits I would consider my best).
So next came qualifying; with 32 cars on the grid, the Tracksport grid is the largest of the Caterham grids this year, and it will generally be important to get a good starting place to try and avoid the first lap shenanigans which so often happen in the depths of a grid so large. Thankfully I had a good solid qualifying session, getting myself on the front row of the grid, in second place.
Now was the moment we had all been waiting for, the first race of the season! I made a good start and took the lead in the second corner, however, this was not to last and I was soon to rediscover the massive effect the slipstream has in Caterham racing, particularly round Snetterton with it's long straights. As soon as we got on to the back straight, the tone was set for the entire race, with us constantly swapping positions, often going 3 wide in to the corner at the end of each straight, and with no-one really being able to get away. In the first race, there was a five car lead battle, and the on-track fighting was intense. Unfortunately for me, my rear view mirror mount had become loose, and the mirror flopped down mid-race and had rendered itself useless. This would not have been a problem, but I had chosen not to run a left-hand side mirror, so I had no idea whether I was being overtaken or not until someone was fully alongside - good job I have good reactions and spacial awareness! Note to self: get a side mirror next time, and use Loctite! It did not hinder me too much though, and I managed to bag a third place finish to start off the year, which was a very welcome start given I had crashed on my way to eighth place in the first race last year! My good friend Tim Dickens won the race, and this was his first win... Well done Tim!
So on to the second race, held on Sunday. I started third on the grid based on my finish in the first race, and made a good start, making my way into second. It was much the same as the first race in that the slipstream made the racing unbelieveably close and competitive. Looking back at my onboard video, there were 34 lead changes in the 30 minute race, and watching the television coverage, the front group was made up of about eight cars - madness! In the end, I came second, beaten by only 17 thousandths of a second! Again it was Tim who won the race, despite an off-track excursion during the race! Fair play to him, he was the class of the field this weekend, but rest assured I will be doing everything I can to try and beat him next time out!
On to Donington on 9th and 10th of May...
Mobile: 07545 221966
Photos courtesy of Rick Wilson, Chris Middleton, Jon Bryant (snappyracers.com) and John Hutchinson