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Diaries of a budding race driver on a budget Pt2
14 October 2012 12:34
CAR's rookie racer Gareth Evans set out to go racing on a budget of £10,000. Click here to read his training blog as he prepared to go racing. And read on for his exploits on track...
Mallory Park - 14 October
The final two races of the 750 Motor Club Formula Vee season were held on 14 October at Mallory Park in Leicestershire.
It’s a small track with effectively just four corners, and an average speed of around 90mph in our little Formula Vees. It’s one of the only tracks we visit which makes use of second gear; the hairpin is a very useful over-taking spot thanks to its wide entry and low corner speed.
Although an extremely brisk two degrees centigrade when we arrived at the track, the sun came out for qualifying and conditions looked good. I went out and began lapping, and immediately found that a car had laid oil down on Gerard’s Bend – a seriously long top-gear, high-speed corner which requires real confidence if you want a quick lap.
The oil made things interesting to say the least – several big drifts later and I’d just about worked out where the traction was. My speed felt fairly good through qualifying, but I seemed to spend a lot of time trying to find space for a clean lap. In the end I decided to back out for half a lap and let the pack I’d caught up with go in the hope I’d get some clean air to play with. It worked, and I put in what I considered a couple of acceptable laps.
Walking over to Race Control, I collected my timesheet and saw that I’d qualified 15th overall and second in my class for both races. Not a pant-wettingly stunning performance, but enough for me to pick up valuable points for the class championship. I was still in with a shout of second place in my class, so it was worth fighting for.
Let’s get racing
Race one started with a good take-off, but unfortunately the rest of the grid got one too. As a pack we entered Gerard’s and began a jostle for position. As it turned out I found myself locked in a battle for position with three other class B competitors in what turned out to be the most fun I’ve had all year in my little mark 2 Scarab.
Lap after lap, the four of us dove and dodged trying to get the upper hand, with none of us able to drive away and secure a commanding lead. At one point – as you’ll see in the video – I had a small ‘racing incident’ – which led to me losing my nose cone, which in turn became an extra obstacle on the track. My car lost serious straight-line speed, but I was able to keep up and use slip-streams to keep fighting.
On the final lap I managed to overtake the leader of our pack and make it stick, finishing 12th overall and first in class B.
Luckily for me, race engineer Andy Storer had a spare nose cone. It was white, but it fit. My fiancée amused herself drawing a panda on the front – something I’m fairly positive brought me good luck judging by what happened next…
Did you get through the last race of the season?
The second race began in decidedly wet conditions. Around 30 minutes before the lights were due to go out the heavens opened. Now, since my performance at Brands Hatch earlier in the year I’d been praying for rain at every meeting. I’m perversely attracted to the idea of driving sideways, and seem pretty quick in those conditions.
My start was good, and the first lap was by far the most eventful part of the race. I overtook seven cars and found myself behind the front-runners. At this point I made an uncharacteristically sensible decision. Instead of trying to catch the fastest Class A cars on the grid, I’d try to retain my position at the front of class B and go for maximum points for the ‘Rookie of the Year’ competition. I followed sixth place for the duration of the race, not taking any risks and eventually finishing exactly there – seventh overall and first in Class B.
So there you have it: one season’s motor racing done.
I finished the championship in 12th overall, netting second place in Class B and taking the points-based ‘Rookie of the Year’ award.
Two things left to do: the Vee Festival in November, and try to raise a budget for next year... I’m going to try to win Class B and finish in the top 10 overall.
Donington Park - 1&2 September
The return to Donington Park was a fairly important one for my maiden campaign in the 750 Motor Club Formula Vee championship.
Until now it had pretty much been a case of turn up, jump in the car and see what happens. Now after an incredible weekend at Anglesey I found myself in with a shout for both the Class B crown and the ‘Rookie of the Year’ competition. Suddenly it mattered.
You can imagine my frustration, then, when things began rather badly on September 1. Heading out on track for qualifying, my car developed a misfire which got worse and worse as the 15-minute session wore on. Cars were passing me left, right and centre as I simply had no straight line speed. I ended up qualifying 23rd overall and fourth in Class B for both races. Tellingly, my fastest lap was my second and there was three seconds between that and my next quickest time.
I’d messed up, though. At the first hint of problems I should have pitted to let race engineer Andy Storer investigate what was wrong with a view to getting back out there. I didn’t, opting to stay out and hope for a miracle cure which was never going to happen.
Time for some investigation
The following four hours were spent scratching heads as we tried to figure out what was wrong with my Scarab Mark 2. We did everything we could think of to prevent problems in the race, eventually getting to the assembly area with minutes to spare.
As I went out for my parade lap to warm up the tyres I noticed the same misfire was still there. When above 5,500rpm in third or fourth gear, I simply had no power at all. Through corners I drove as fast as I possibly could, but had no real hope of competing. I finished that race a disappointing 19th, and fourth in Class B.
Sunday morning arrived, and Andy turned up with a bag full of spares. He dismantled much of the fuel system, replacing the pump and checking as much as he could. Along the way he found a fuel filter with a one-way valve which had actually stopped working altogether. That could very well be the culprit…
Did you fix it?
Removing the filter and replacing with parts kindly donated by front-running racer John Hughes, we got the car back together and prayed that the issue was gone. There’s simply no way to test until you get out on track, so that’s what I’d have to do.
The parade lap was promising. I made sure I got enough speed up to try and replicate the fault and all seemed OK. Lining up for the start, I had a clean getaway and began a frantic lunge forwards, trying to regain some of the positions – and pride – I’d lost in my awful qualifying session.
It was going fairly well. I’d managed to pass a few people and got around the first lap ahead of some of the back markers. Then, just as I was building momentum, I drove towards Redgate corner and under braking received what I can only describe as a gigantic shunt from behind. It was obvious a car had hit me quite hard, but I managed to catch my skid and drive on.
My somewhat distraught girlfriend told me afterwards that a black car had indeed hit me, and had got some serious air after nearly driving right the way over my car. He landed safely in the gravel trap around 20 feet away, my fair lady’s nerves apparently bearing the brunt of the impact.
Wow – hopefully the rest of the race wasn’t too eventful!
Driving on once more, I homed in on a pack of cars and tried to make my way forwards once again. Cue some seriously engaging racing – Formula Vee is nothing if not competitive. Passing a couple of the cars, I arrived behind a frantic tussle for position. Both were weaving before each corner trying to prevent the other from getting an advantage.
I saw an opportunity to pass both coming up to McLeans at the top of the hill, and to my surprise the car on the racing line moved over to the left to let me by. I wasn’t turning down that invitation, so went for the outside at speed to make the pass. Half way through the bend the other racer collided with me hard from the side, my car first going well up on two wheels before spinning out onto the grass, facing the wrong way with the engine stalled.
At this point I was sure my race was over. Surely no car can take that much abuse in a race and see the chequered flag…
I waited for the car to slow before firing it up again, slotting the gear lever into first and tentatively carrying on. I did a few corners and things seemed OK, so I sped up a bit and began putting my faith into the car’s structural integrity. As the race wore on I caught more people up, over-taking as many as I could.
Right up to the final corner I was in battles for position, and ended up 16th overall and second in Class B.
On initial inspection my car now needs a new exhaust, a new tyre, some oil cooler mounts, some suspension kit, a new battery jack and probably a better driver.
Eventful race? You betcha!
We just need to get the car fixed again for the final two races at Mallory Park in October.
Anglesey racetrack 4&5 August 2012
The beautiful Anglesey Race Circuit, in the far north-western corner of Wales, was where I properly fell in love with the club-level racing scene in the UK. I can say with certainty that 750 Motor Club meetings really are a fantastic thing to be a part of.
I’d arranged a test day on the Friday ready for racing on Saturday and Sunday. Upon arrival early Friday morning conditions were inclement. It really did look like rain – which meant a real challenge for me on probably the most technical track I’ve visited in my Scarab Mark 2 single-seater.
Getting out on track for the three morning sessions the rain held off, which allowed me to get a feel for the corners. Then, just after lunch, the heavens opened and we managed some wet running. I was quite glad for that, since the forecast for the remainder of the weekend was rain, rain and more rain. Race Engineer Andy Storer and I worked together throughout the day to perfect the Scarab’s set-up for both wet and dry running, and I came away feeling confident that we were in a good position for qualifying early on Saturday morning.
Did qualifying go as expected?
As with the other races this year, there was only one qualifying session for the whole weekend. Your best time dictates your grid position for the first race and your second best time your grid position for the second race. It had rained overnight, but although slightly windy the track was drying when it was time to go out for our 15-minute sprint. It was the usual deal regarding laps: you have to put three in without crashing or you won’t be allowed to race. I did mine at 80% speed, then began to dial up the pace as time wore on. By the time the chequered flag flew I felt like I had good speed, but as usual wanted more time out there to prove it!
As it turned out I’d not done too badly. I qualified 11th overall and first in my class (Class B) for both races.
Race one, on the Saturday afternoon, was fraught with mechanical gremlins. I lined up on the grid after the parade lap not knowing that there was a miniscule bit of grime hiding in one of my carburettors. As soon as the race started my car developed a serious misfire, landing me with three cylinders for the whole time the engine was under maximum load.
I did absolutely everything I could to try and get speed out of that car. I even found myself ducking down in the seat hoping to make the car a touch more slippery through the air. I drove the wheels off that machine through the corners to keep momentum, eventually spluttering past the chequered flag. I knew a few cars had gone by me, but to my delight it turned out none had been Class B cars and several cars in front of me had failed to finish. I came seventh overall and first in class, also somehow managing fastest lap in my class. To say I was surprised is rather a giant understatement.
There’s only one thing for it, then.
By the time the race was over the sun was out, and since it had gone so well I decided the only thing left to do was get a beer. Race Engineer Andy, my girlfriend and I sat there and chatted for hours while Andy took apart the carbs on my car, cleaned and then re-installed them. In that time several of my opponents from the Formula Vee championship came to chat, and after we were done we walked around for a bit doing the same. It’s an extremely friendly community, and I really began to feel a part of it as we met with and spoke to an incredibly diverse set of people. We finally got a taxi back to our B&B at around 8:30pm feeling jovial and by that time also fairly well lubricated.
Sunday saw the second of the two races, and the parade lap was all it took for me to see that Andy had worked wonders with my car. The misfire was gone and she was running beautifully. I got a good start, vying for positions with the cars around me and then settled into a rhythm away from the pack in some nice clean air. It was an uneventful race compared to the one the day before, but in the end I brought the car home eighth overall and first in class, with yet another fastest lap in Class B.
So there we have it: by far my most successful weekend thus far, with two poles in class, two wins and two fastest laps. The championship is hotting up now, and it’s eyes down for a return to Donington Park on the first weekend in September.
Donington Park – 23&24 June
Sadly, I didn’t get to Cadwell Park for rounds five and six of the Formula Vee UK Championship. Several factors went against me, including a Mille Miglia entry for my race engineer Andy Storer and more importantly a serious lack of cash on my behalf. It was a major disappointment, but I wrote it off as bad luck and started looking at Donington Park instead.
Although I had a few months to plan, the financial woes continued as I scrimped and saved for the new round. I finally managed to get my entry in the week before the race, but by this time the grid was full. I was to be the fourth (yes, fourth) reserve driver for the Vee races. That meant I might not get a race at all, but after discussing with race engineer Andy we decided it was worth a gamble and made plans to go anyway.
After scrutineering at 8:10am on Saturday morning it was time to get ready for qualifying. I went out and tried in earnest to thread a way through the swarm of 34 other Vees out on track. It proved extremely difficult - in fact, I think I only put in one ‘clean’ lap for the whole qualifying session. And it was irrelevant anyway…
Race 1 – a washout
After qualifying I went up to Race Control to speak to them about the possibility of actually getting a race. After discussing with the organisers it was suggested that I suit up and line up for the race as if it were happening. There was no telling whether any of the other competitors had problems after qualifying, so since I was there anyway it was worth a punt.
I lined up in the assembly area on the Melbourne Hairpin (which is part of the GP Circuit and thus not used for 750MC meetings) and was directed to the back of the grid. I saw two reserve drivers in front of me, and it became clear at least one person had dropped out. The marshal came up to each of our cars, lining the two in front of me up at the back of the grid and then telling me to take the slip road around to the pits. It seems I’d been unlucky this time, and unless the race was red-flagged in the first lap I wouldn’t be getting a race. I had to watch the race start from the pit lane, which was an extremely frustrating thing to do. After it was over I left with my tail between my legs. A beer was required.
Race 2 – at least I made the grid this time!
I have to admit to a bit of an obsession with Twitter. When I woke up on Sunday morning, one of the first things I did was check the social media site on my phone to see what was going on in the world. It was at this point I saw that the fifth reserve for the Formula Vee race at Donington was not only a Tweeter, but had already checked out the grid and proclaimed that it was ‘likely’ he’d be getting a race… So things looked good for me, too.
Lining up in the assembly area again, this time I was told I’d be joining the race from the back of the grid. What a huge relief - at least I was going to get a go at it.
After the green flag lap I lined up on the grid, the lights went out and we were racing. It was mental. There were cars everywhere, and I was going past the slower ones at quite a rate of knots. As quickly as it had started though there was a red flag, and racing was suspended. Someone had had an incident on track which needed clearing before we could continue.
At the restart I was directed to a place a little further up the grid. I’m not sure how it was worked out, but I certainly wasn’t at the back this time. As the red lights flicked out again I got a better start than last time and began to thread my way through the corners. As I rounded Redgate, pointed the car through Craner Curves and then around the Old Hairpin I was over-taking people again, and started to get into a rhythm.
Coming down the back straight before the final chicane I found myself on the outside of one of my competitors, confident I was going to be able to go around the outside and overtake. He had other ideas, however, and ended up out-braking himself.
He locked up, went straight on and left me with nowhere to go. I took avoiding action and hit a cone, which wedged underneath my nose cone. I went into a gravel trap and the cone dislodged, then bounced over a kerb and re-joined the race. I’d lost two places, so got going again and quickly reeled those two in. A few minutes of intense action later and there was yet another red flag. As I slowed and prepared to enter the pits again I realised that there were several cars off the track. It seems I wasn’t the only one having an eventful weekend.
I ended up 21st overall and third in Class B, so at least I secured some points towards the championship.
Learning my lesson, I’ve already entered the next round at Anglesey on August 4/5th. Now I just need to save like a madman and hope my luck is slightly better.
Racing in the rain at Brands Hatch
If there was one thing I was worried about for rounds three and four of the Formula Vee championship 2012, it was rain. I’d not driven the car in anything approaching wet conditions, my sole experience of slippery tarmac a brief and quickly-drying 15 minutes at Silverstone spent mainly trying to keep the car on track and out of faster cars’ ways.
Bearing in mind I’d not driven Brands Hatch Indy in anger before, my apprehension built rapidly as I constantly checked the weather forecast on my mobile. Every time I looked it was the same story: rain was coming.
Now, my next racing milestone is gaining my National A race licence so I can enter some of the endurance races and larger events. That’s why I was so concerned about the wet stuff – I need to keep the car on the track and see six chequered flags to upgrade my licence. That meant extremely careful driving; something easier said than done driving a snappy single-seater in wet conditions.
Let’s go testing!
I’d booked a test for the morning of the day before the race weekend. Not ideal since any major mechanical gremlins can’t be fixed before the race, but it’s cost-effective and there isn’t a lot of testing available at Brands so that worked out to be my only option.
The morning was split into two half-hour sessions. Taking to the track for the first, I did around a lap and then noticed a problem. There was a serious misfire and my car was so down on power it wouldn’t get up the famous track’s inclines without changing down to second gear. Coming into the pits it became clear the car was only firing on three cylinders so I jumped out while race engineer Andy Storer begun investigations. After dissecting the carburettor on the right-hand side of the engine we found that a small piece of rubber – presumably from a tyre – had somehow snuck through the air filter and lodged itself into the chamber where the fuel collects, clogging the hole under full throttle and starving the engine of petrol. Andy removed the offending item just in time for the session to finish.
At around the point I realised I’d have just 30 minutes testing before qualifying the next day, the heavens opened in a big way. Not just rain, either - hail began to pelt from the sky as a violent storm arrived. By the time my second test session came around it was decidedly wet conditions with no sign of letting up.
Venturing slowly out onto the track, I started to get to grips with both the track and driving the car in wet conditions. It wasn’t easy: steering too sharply into a corner meant loss of traction. Too eager on the throttle and the rear end would try and snap around. Brake too late and the front wheels lock leaving the driver a mere passenger hoping the car will slow enough to make the bend. I found myself getting dialled in though, and soon enough was up to speed with the other Vees out there. Surprisingly enough I overtook a few of them this time…
Time for qualifying, then. Were you quick?
Heading out for a very wet quali, the same rules applied as at Silverstone – you must complete at least three laps or you won’t be allowed to race. For that reason I took it easy, concentrating on keeping the car straight and on-track. After the three laps I began to dial up the speed a little and started threading through the field of 29 other Vees on track with me. The 15 minutes flew by but I noticed one thing: I hadn’t been overtaken.
It turns out that I’d surprised everyone there (especially myself) by qualifying first in class B and eighth overall. My lap times were fairly quick because of the simply incredible wet set-up I had - thanks to Andy Storer and his formidable chassis knowledge.
Did it all come unstuck in the races?
Soon enough it was time to try and overcome my nerves as the pack lined up on the grid for the first of two races. I was a long way forward compared to my starts at Silverstone and being surrounded by a group of race-winning class A drivers was a little daunting. As the green flags waved for the parade lap I pulled off and began the process of trying to get my tyres warm. It’s all about leaning on them, weaving around and accelerating hard through corners to get some heat going. Since it was so wet, a bit of care was administered as I didn’t want to get the guy who binned it on the green flag lap.
Lining up on the grid, the five second board came out, and then the red lights lit up. Then blinked out and I was off… or at least I thought I was. I had catastrophic wheel-spin and didn’t seem to be going anywhere at all. I finally got the car moving and pressed on towards Paddock Hill bend for the first time. As the pack settled I began to find a rhythm, but then the race was red-flagged.
Driving back to my grid position for the restart I had to avoid a crashed car on the pit straight, and then I learnt why I’d had no traction. Another car had dumped its engine oil from the exit of Clearways right up the pit straight on the inside line, finishing right at the entrance to Paddock Hill. It turns out I’d started on the oil, and coupled with the wet conditions I never really had any chance of a swift getaway.
The marshals told all the drivers on the inside of the grid they could start closer to the middle of the track, so I positioned my car there for the restart. It didn’t happen though; the race organisers wanted to avoid more accidents so directed the marshals to clear as much of the oil away as possible with water mixed with detergent. Since it was a very long line of oil, this took around 20 minutes. So I sat there, in the driving wind and rain, for 20 minutes trying to keep warm. It wasn’t a great start to the racing – especially so since I seriously needed a pee.
When the lights went out for the restart I managed a much better getaway and darted towards Paddock Hill feeling good, but aware I had to keep the car on the track. Driving in conditions like that was chaotic – even with all cars having their rain lights illuminated you can see very little in front of you.
My issues were compounded by the fact that my visor kept misting up. Although I’d used a well-known brand of de-misting spray that bikers use, I constantly had to lift my visor to use a finger to wipe away the fog.
As the race drew to a close I passed car after car retired on the grass verges, but wasn’t sure where I’d come. It was a case of keeping my fingers crossed that I’d not been overtaken too many times. I drove back to my garage and found a screen showing the results: somehow I’d retained my first place in class B and come sixth overall. I was pretty pleased with that for my second ever race weekend.
Did race two go as well as race one?
Conditions for race two on Sunday were worse. Not only was it raining very heavily but there were rivers of water flowing over the track on the run down the hill after Druids and right in the middle of Surtees. This made for treacherous going for everyone, and many more people retired. I spent the whole race concentrating solely on keeping the car on the track.
I thought it was going well, with not too many people going around me, right up until I hit the water at Surtees mid-corner and under-steered onto the grass. I was covered in mud and grass as I hit a puddle, but somehow kept it heading straight ahead and bumped over a kerb to get back onto the track again.
A wipe of my visor and I was away again, only to do exactly the same thing again shortly afterwards. I’d pushed my luck too far this time and my car didn’t like it – my carburettors became water-logged and my misfire returned with a vengeance. I did everything I could; dropping gears to compensate for the lack of power as it felt like the whole field went past me.
Every fibre of my being was focused on getting that car past the chequered flag by any means necessary. Finally, after limping out of Clearways for the final time, I spluttered over the line and completed the race.
When I visited Race Control to collect my results I had a very nice surprise waiting for me. I’d brought my car home second in class B and seventh overall. A pair of trophies later and I was rather happy with that for a weekend’s work. My car is simply fantastic – it’s a real testament to Andy that this novice could ham-fist his way to the sharp end of the grid.
It’s Cadwell Park next, but I’ve run out of cash. Stay tuned for the next update…
Qualifying for my first race! - 16 April 2012
Ten months had passed since I took the plunge and made the decision to go racing. It’s been a long and expensive journey thus far - as you can see from my last blog – but finally, on March 31, I achieved my goal and became a (very amateur) racing driver. This is the story of how I got on.
The very first thing you need to do to race in the 750 Motor Club Formula Vee Championship is register for the championship itself. That costs £110 and involves filling in a form with your car details and which class of which series you’re entering. My Scarab mark 2 is eligible for Class B racing, i.e. we go on track with Class A cars but over the year we’re competing in a championship only with the Class B cars. This makes it possible to have two types of budget – which is useful since mine is pretty much as small as it gets.
Once you’ve entered the championship you then need to enter the first race. The Silverstone double-header weekend – which features 21 races and 12 disciplines of car - costs £325 to enter, and there’s also the option to donate to the marshals on the day too. I did so because put simply: the work these fantastic people do saves lives and makes motorsport possible.
The postman delivered a package containing four tickets for the race weekend and a copy of the ‘finals’ - the official instructions for racers over the weekend. This gives information such as the times of the qualifying and races, rules governing the weekend, a map showing where each of the different car types should congregate in the paddock and a list of everyone who’s entered each race discipline.
So you had the paperwork, now get to the track!
Soon enough the race weekend rolled around and it was time to get serious. Silverstone is an hour’s drive from my place so I decided to drive there and back rather than spend money on staying the night.
I was due to attend a scrutineering session at 8:50am, but before that I had to sign on, go to the Drivers’ Briefing (essential as I’d not raced at Silverstone before) and of course get my car unloaded and ready. For this reason I arrived at the track at 7:30am. I signed on at Race Control first, and picked up the 750 Motor Club stickers you have to display on your car if you want to accrue points in the Club’s events.
Next I went and found race engineer Andy Storer, who had transported my car to the track the night before and had slept in his camper just around the corner. We shook hands and he immediately told me “there’s a hell of a lot to get done between now and qualifying, so don’t go missing”. I went back to Race Control for the 15-minute-long Drivers’ Briefing then returned to the paddock, and straight away we began prepping the car for scrutineering.
I needed to put my new number 42 numbers on the car, install the stickers I mentioned earlier and visit the filling station for 19 litres of Super Unleaded fuel. We checked all the nuts and bolts seemed in the right places and then placed my entry form, overalls, gloves, boots and helmet in the seat ready for the scrutineers to check the car was race-ready. Since I’d not raced in this helmet before, I needed a sticker on it showing that the scrutineers had approved it for racing. This cost me a whopping £2, but it’s worth it. The helmet is an extremely important bit of kit and needs to work when required.
Once the scrutineers had checked my car they gave me a small bit of card to tape on the inside of my fairing to show that the car had passed muster. Then it was a waiting game until qualifying. Andy spent this period talking me through the process I’d have to go through. “It’s imperative you don’t go out there flat out,” he said. “You’ll have to complete three full laps or they won’t let you race.”
Luckily I had brand new tyres on the car. Why lucky? Because they won’t work right away. They need ‘scrubbing in’ and Andy tells me that funnily enough, doing that takes around three laps. Qualifying is only 15 minutes, so it’s important not to go too slow because my two fastest times will be used to determine grid position for the two races. That’s right, there’s only one qualifying session for both.
When the tannoy blared out that it was time for Formula Vee qualifying the cars began to make their way through the paddock to the assembly area, which is in front of the Brooklands Suites. On the way in I was subjected to a noise test – holding my engine at two thirds of max revs while someone with a microphone measured how loud my car was. They also checked my scrutineering card, then waved me through and directed me to line up in one of two rows of Formula Vee cars. After a short wait we were waved out onto track and immediately began lapping.
No going back now, then…
I was cautious, trying to find the grip in corners without going too mad and spinning out. There was obviously a lot less grip than I’d had previously, but equally there were some other cautious people out there too, so I just followed them around as I slowly built up speed. After around the third lap the tyres were really starting to work. I could feel grip building rapidly underneath me and my confidence was increasing with every bend. Something I hadn’t considered was starting to happen; I was actually over-taking people! It’s not something I’d done before. Everyone on the test days had much quicker cars than me. Now things were a bit more equal.
Before I knew it the chequered flag was waving and it was time to go back to the pits. I had no idea how it had gone. I just knew that I hadn’t crashed, so was fairly pleased. I had to wait around 20 minutes for the times and to find out where I’d line up on the grid for the races. I didn’t care if I was last. Just getting out there and racing would be a feat in itself!
My quickest time was 1:09.690 which slotted me in fourth in Class B and 20th overall out of a grid of 28 cars. My second quickest time was 1:09.820, which was enough for third in class and 18th overall.
To say I was astonished with that is a serious understatement. I was genuinely expecting to be close to last, not close to mid-field in my humble Class B Scarab mark 2.
Part 2 – the racing
Last time I left you after the qualifying session for my inaugural race in the Formula Vee Championship. Now it was time for Andy to finalise preparing me and the car for our first ever motor race. There was around three hours between the end of qualification and the race, and we must have spoken pretty much constantly for that period. I had to know about the green flag (or ‘parade’) lap, my grid position and crucially how to actually start. Up until this point I’d never taken off at speed from a standstill, so my first go at it would be in the middle of a grid of 28 race cars barrelling full-bore towards the famous Copse corner.
Andy suggested I watch another race start just to get a feel for what I’d be going through. He told me not to go flat-out. In fact, he refused to tell me what revs to take off at. “A brisk paddock start is what you need to do,” said Andy. “If you try to get the perfect start you’ll spin your wheels, and they won’t stop spinning until you let off, even when going up through the gears.”
The time came for me to get myself ready. I stood on the seat, lowered myself into the cockpit and made sure I was comfortable before Andy plugged in my battery and told me to fire up the car to get some heat back into the engine. A few minutes later and Andy told me it was time to make my way back to the assembly area. This time I was waved by marshals to the position I’d be starting the race in. I switched off my engine to stop it over-heating while Andy ran over and gave me a few more words of encouragement, and then it was time to fire up my flat-four once again to pull out onto the track. The field of Vees drove around to the grid where once again a team of marshals were on hand to tell us where to park. When we were all lined up the marshals left, warning boards were shown and then the green flag waved to signal us to move off on the parade lap. This is a chance to get the car moving and get some heat in the tyres, although since I had no clue how to do that I just took the corners at speed and tried not to crash. Soon enough we were back on the grid and lining up in the places we were in previously.
Did it all go according to plan?
Again the warning boards telling us how much time we had left and then five red lights flashed on. I slot the gear lever into first gear, gave the throttle a little kick and when the lights went out I let the clutch pedal up slowly at first, getting the thing rolling before applying full power and heading on a mad dash towards Copse.
Now, the first three laps were an absolute blur. All I was concentrating on was keeping the car on the track and I had no idea how many cars had passed me or if I’d somehow managed to get around anyone myself. After those initial laps I got settled into a tussle with two other cars I’d found in front of me – numbers 15 and 25 - and fought with them for the entirety. I kept sniffing at them, lunging in front through corners, but in the end couldn’t do enough to pass them and make it stick. I had no idea how long I’d been racing for but when I saw the chequered flag flying I was gutted I hadn’t managed to pass them. As we rolled down the pit lane towards the scrutineering area I was curious to find out where I’d come, but not expecting anything special. I didn’t feel like I’d done very well as I hadn’t managed to pass these other two, but I found out to my surprise that I’d actually managed to remain fourth in Class B, finishing 19th overall. More importantly though I’d done what I set out to do all those months ago: I’d finished my first race. I could now claim one of the six signatures required on my race licence upgrade card towards a National A licence, and I was on my way.
What about the second race, then? Was that any better?
Race two on the Sunday was an entirely different kettle of fish for me. Gone were the nerves about not knowing what to expect and I was just looking forward to getting out there. I swiftly dispatched the parade lap and sat waiting for those red lights to blink out for the second time that weekend.
When we were racing again I had a terrible start. Actually, let me re-phrase: I had an excellent start – so good that I had to let out before Copse to stop myself crashing into the car in front. This lost me valuable momentum and hence a few cars went by. I swore so loudly I’m sure the crowd heard.
After the first lap fireworks I found myself in a staid battle with just one car – the red number 25. What developed after that was probably the most intense mental battle I’ve ever found myself engaged in. I would dive for a pass, he would block me. I’d draught him up a straight and pass, he’d come straight back at me as I tried to make my car as wide as possible. Every corner was a test of wits and guts as we drove the wheels off our cars in an attempt to get in front, stay in front and then drive away from our adversary. All thought of the perfect racing line went right out of the window as we scrapped on the bends and weaved down the straights.
The pressure was relentless even as we through past the final lap board. My adversary was in front of me and remained so until the exit of Maggots/Becketts. I got a great tow up the long straight that followed and as we approached the final set of corners I made a dive for the inside line at the entrance to Brooklands. I just about managed to get the car turned-in, but where was 25? I punched my Vee towards Luffield corner and caught a glimpse of red in my pitiful mirror. However, something wasn’t right. I took a second look at saw that he was facing the wrong way – I’d won! Not the race by a long stretch, but I’d come out on top in this little battle. The feeling I got crossing the finishing line - the marshals clapping as the field wound down for a lap - is something I’ll never forget.
So what was the bottom line?
I finished third in Class B and 16th overall. More importantly though I’d got through my first race weekend in one piece, and gained two all-important signatures towards my National A race licence.
It’s Brands Hatch at the end of April and I’m very much looking forward to James trying to return the favour.