Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Best for last, the races that nearly didn't happen

Well, in an exciting and intense end to the season, the Caterham Autumn Trophy at Donington did not disappoint.

After a 5AM start to make the 1hr 45min drive to Donington in time for sign on an scrutineering. The drive, from around the Oxford area, all the way to Donington, was through thick fog, visibility around the 100 meter mark, sometimes less. Turning up at the track, was the eeriest thing I have ever experienced. Despite all the cars, trucks, and people, there's something about an invisible track that is just, spooky.

The fog stayed low and thick until 12:30pm, no racing, a 5am wake up, could have been 9am. Oh well, it was all about the racing, and the clerks and officials worked tirelessly to figure out how to get all the races done. In the end, each 20 minute race was shortened to 13 minutes, and qualifying was thrown away. Because there was no qualifying, grid position for race 1 was decided by championship points, leaving me down in 17th place (12th place in group 1 points, but lots of group 2 drivers as well).

Race 1 went well, I moved up from 17th to 12th, unfortunately I couldn't break free of 11th and 13th, to get clean air and catch the top 10. I had ridiculous fun driving that race though it was just packed full of position changes and defensive driving. - video on its way

Race 2... race 2 is where everything happened, finishing position of race 1 decided grid position from race 2.

I was use to a 12th position start, and in the first race of the season I had gone from 11th to 5th, so I was focused an ready to do something similar. A solid start saw me in 10th after the first corner, and fighting for 8th through the old hairpin, sitting happy in 9th for the first lap, keeping pace defending from 10th. Lap two saw 7th spin off down the Craner Curves, so I took the opportunity to grab 7th from 9th. I was watching the spinning car intently, I knew that if he didn't stop then he would come back across the track, and probably hit me, he didn't though, but I did lift just to be sure.

The lead 6 cars pulled a slight gap then, but I managed a gap to the cars behind me then as well, so I had clean air and threw in a 4th fastest lap, a 1:24.8, just .3 off the fastest lap. A lap later first and second places connect and spin out, so I'm now in 4th place. I collected the final few car lengths to third, eventually make the pass stick. Then find myself in second place! On the last lap I was in second! Unfortunately, all that battling meant Matt Dyer had caught us up, and put a good move on at Coppice, grabbing 2nd, and as I stay right defending the chicane from Nigel, he gets massive draft from Matt and then closes me out in the chicane.

I am bummed I couldn't quite hold on to the podium, but I am absolutely off-the-wall happy I made it all the way to 2nd place from 12th. From the race, I also learnt new ways of defending positions, and how to keep positions I gained.

I think it was a great way to end the season, not a perfect high note since there was no trophy and podium involved, but it was certainly a great race.

Matt, Alex, Nigel, it was fantastic driving with you guys, nice clean racing with some really good moves pulled by all.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

windscreen off, performance goes... up!

Took the windscreen off to do a little testing before Birkett on the 27th, and wow, what a difference. At speed, it feels a lot sharper, responds to the throttle better, and generally GOES faster.

Looks cooler too.


Some damage and scratches from the windscreen brackets... might buff out.


Tuesday, October 9, 2012

6th-4th-24th-12th, all in 9 laps of Rockingham

For the first time, I qualified really well, well into the top ten, in 6th place. It was an awesome feeling, being able to see clear track in front... it's something I will be repeating in all my future races. The first lap however was a learning experience, one that I paid for with positions. The 3rd corner at Rockingham is a sharp right hander, about wide enough for 3 Caterhams. After a flying start, I was in 4th place, did an undercut through the hairpin, and was still 4th coming to turn 3. I wanted 3rd, I felt I could take it, and if I didn't I would lose touch with P1 and P2 by fighting for 3rd the rest of the race. So I took the dive, locked the fronts faster and quicker than I expected as there was less grip off line, gently tapped car #78, and span myself around. After watching 22 cars drive past me, I was determined to claw my way up the ranks, right up until the moment the checkered dropped. In just 9 laps I clawed my way to 12th, something I'm very pleased with.

In the end I lost 6 spots, but overtook 12 cars... it's crazy how racing works.

Part 1, which consists of the first lap.

Part 2, which has all the overtaking!

Donington in a few weeks time, I am thoroughly looking forward to it, as I know Donington really well now, and am positive of a top finish in both races.

After that, the Birkett 6 hour, where if we keep it clean, and consistently just drive around the track, we can be on for a solid finishing position.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

A weekend in Ginettas

Thursday 27/09/12: 5 PM. I finallize driving with Optimum Motorsport in the Ginetta Challenge on the 29th and 30th. Lee and Shaun are simply fantastic, they really went out of the way to get me in a car over the weekend, and I can't thank them enough. I really look forward to winter testing, and next years full Challenge season with them, and the rest of the Optimum team.

Friday 28/09: 12 PM. I arrive at Donington, the paddock is already buzzing with people, and packed full of teams, trucks, awnings, and cars. I spent the afternoon chatting with the team, checking out the car I would be driving the next couple of days, and going over video footage with Joe Osborne to get an idea of how to drive the G40 fast. I also went for a bit of a walk down the pit garages, ogling the GT1 and British GT cars... Lamborghinis, Ferraris, and the gorgeously evil sounding BMW Z4, all sitting looking pretty in their garages. Eventually ending up at the Optimum GT3 Ginetta G55. I took a quick seat in it, and the feeling of raw power, even without the engine running, made me shiver with excitement. I think driving a GT car is in my not too distant future... After the track day had finished, Joe, Lee, david, Gary and myself took a quick walk to the Foggarty Esses, and around the Melbourne hairpin, to go over lines and braking points. I think I would have walked the whole circuit, but a setting sun stopped that.

Saturday 29/09: 6:30 AM. A harsh alarm clock signifies the start of an awesomely exciting day. With the guys taking care of the cars, doing a bolt check and getting them ready for scrutineering, all I had to do was eat breakfast, get changed into my gear, and do my focusing exercises to get in the zone. Qualifying was at 9am, so at 8:40, I jumped in the car and drove down to the assembly area, ready to hit the track for the first time. Bear in mind that this is only the second time I have sat in one of these cars, and the first time driving one in anger, add that to the slicks and sequential gear box, I had a lot to focus on and learn in my first outing. I spent the first few laps of qualifying getting use to the car, seeing how it handled, and slowly pushing the car faster as I gained confidence in the grip and brakes. On my first hot lap however, as I went through the Old Hairpin, I encountered my first slide. The rear left hit some mud at the exit of the corner, with little experience catching a car on slicks, I fishtailed for around 50 meters, ending up in the gravel pit. Sadly the first sector split time I had set was up in the top 15... oh well, P25 it is!
4 PM. I spent mid-day looking over the footage from qualifying, seeing what I was doing wrong where, and figuring out a battle plan for race #1. I now knew that I hadn't been able to catch the slide because I was so use to the Caterhams tires. As they're road tires, I normally listened for when they were sliding, rather than feeling the car do it, because slicks don't make any noise, by the time I stopped listening, and started feeling, the car was too far gone for me to save. With my newfound knowledge of how to drive the car, I decided the best thing to do during the race was to keep out of trouble, overtake when I know I can, and just set about bring my lap times down. While keeping it out of the gravel of course. The race went splendidly! I kept it on the black stuff, and gained 5 places while doing it! But the best thing by far, was I managed to drop 4 seconds off my qualifying lap time, just 5 seconds off the fastest lap of the race, and 3 seconds off Lee's and David's times. Lee managed to finish in 13th, but David had an unfortunate spin through the Esses into the gravel. Saturday was also Lee's birthday, so with cake and good company, the day ended on a very high note.

Qualifying spin:

Sunday 30/09 8 AM. Slightly more reasonable time in the morning this time. Our race wasn't until 11:45, so we could afford a little lie-in. Sunday was also the big GT race, a 2 hour affair in the afternoon, so a lot of the focus was around that, and getting the car and everything ready. Having spent the morning watching my race footage, I was confident I could do I better job in race 2, and then really get a move on in race 3. Race two started with a very near miss going through turn 1, you can't see in the video, but a car is spinning in front and to the right of me and to avoid contact I had to throw it into the gravel, I had to keep the momentum up to get it back onto the track. At one point our two cars were mere inches apart. After the restart, I set about working my way up from the very back of the grid, car by car I focused on nothing but gaining positions. The final place I took was for 16th, with a finalized (two disqualifications) of 14th. Because no lap was void of yellow flags, I didn't go faster than the day before, but I did hold my speed, meaning that despite yellows in the areas where I'm fastest, I still managed to gain time through the rest of the track. Looking at the two races, and then at qualifying, it's like night and day. I am ecstatic about how much I improved over the weekend, and how much I learnt.

Race 2 video:

Race 3 was cancelled due to the schedule being an hour late, it was supposed to be at 6:45pm, but would break the noise curfew if it was an hour late. I really wanted that last race, with my 14th place finish in race 2, I would have started in 14th, meaning a top 10 finish would have been well within my reach.

Many thanks to Shaun, Lee, David, Gary, and the whole team, who took a few moments to go over my races with me, and tell me ways of fixing things to gain time. I had a great weekend, I learnt loads, and eagerly look forward to working with you all in the very near future.

This weekend afforded me the opportunity to learn from the more experienced faster drivers, just being able to follow and see the speed they can carry through corners, allowed me to gain so much confidence in the tires and car in a very short period of time. I met many people, befriended them, and had an absolute blast driving the G40. I am certain GT racing is the path for me, and driving a G40 in the Challenge next year with Optimum is the first step to a full racing career.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Rockingham: last run to the finish line.

Gopros are ready, car is packed, just add fuel!

This weekend is the final installment of the Academy championship, and it's going to be an exciting one. With the championship on the line for Alex Gurr and Matthew Laurence, everything is up for grabs. As it's the last race, I will be fighting for my first win, with two DNFs my championship standings no longer matter, so I will be driving the wheels of my little Caterham with nothing to lose.

Two final races will be taking place at Donington at the end of October, finally filling the upgrade card, and allowing for some serious racing during the Birkett 6hr at Silverstone.

Good luck to all this weekend, lets keep it clean this time huh fellas? I think one crash free race is a nice idea...