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.
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.