PREPARING FOR RACE DAY!
The story of my race weekend at Donington really starts on the Monday after Mallory. I’d arrived back at my Parents house after the race feeling pretty fed up. It was going to be easy to fix the throttle cable but I had no idea why the car was down on power! Where would I start?
I stayed there the night and then packed up all my race gear. I was just about to head back to Louth and to work when my mobile rang. It was the owner of the rolling road where my car had been before Mallory. He had heard about my disastrous start to the season and offered to have the car back in for free to fix it for me! I rearranged my plans immediately and by that evening my Little Locost was back there on an impromptu holiday!
Four days later I got a call. My car was fixed and ready for collection. The magic eye in the dizzy had come loose and was causing the engine to randomly retard and advance, causing my loss of power. Whilst it was there they’d also fixed the problems we’d found with my carburettor over the winter. It wasn’t their fault but they’d found the problem and fixed it for me straight away. I was very impressed – Thank you Dave.
I was booked on a track day at Donington on the Saturday of our race weekend. As I took to the track for the first session and hit the throttle a big grin spread across my face. The car was a different beast, it even sounded different. Over the next few laps and for the rest of the day it flew and I had a permanent grin. I couldn’t wait for Sunday to come. (A bit different to how I felt as I drove away from Mallory just 13 days earlier!)
Despite a bit of miserable weather on Saturday night, when Sunday arrived it was bright and clear. Determined not to repeat past qualifying mistakes I put myself in the middle of the pack and found myself following Kev Lucas on to the circuit in his new car. Deciding my best bet for a good time was to impersonate his shadow I stuck to his back bumper for the whole ten laps! It worked and I watched with glee as my lap timer showed my times tumbling! Every lap my times came down and as I crossed the line for the final time I’d managed a 1:30.76 just 1.2 seconds off the Locost lap record! When I returned to the garage I was told I’d give the Cheshire Cat a run for it’s money! I was over the moon.
When the times came out I discovered I’d qualified 16th – my highest ever qualifying position. With five drivers going straight through to the final I would start the heat eleventh. This was going to be a new experience. The race was going to be very interesting, my highest ever start combined with some car problems for some of the front runners meant I’d got cars behind me I wouldn’t normally be able to see from my grid position! I had a feeling I might be going backwards down the field very quickly. Whatever happened though I wasn’t going to waste my best ever grid position and I’d give it my all!
RACE ONE – The HEAT. (Start 11th, finish 8th!)
Lining up on the grid with the start lights large, bright and above me was a new experience. Normally they’re five dots in the distance seen through someone else’s roll cage! When they went out I made a decent start and dived up the left of Samir’s car but changed from second to third too early and Richard Jenkins who’d made a cracking start shot past on my left. He was closely followed by Declan and Paul, who shot either side of me with Jason on their tails. As we got in to Redgate I had cars tightly packed on either side of me, then disaster struck. My car hit oil and the back end slewed right. Unfortunately for James O’Donnell ahead of me there was lots of oil on the corner and he spun. Luckily at this point Jason took to the grass to miss him also giving me an escape route but some of the drivers on my right weren’t so lucky and as the field shot down Craner Curves the red flags came out. I was disappointed; both for the cars that were damaged and because I’d made a decent start and whilst some cars had overtaken me I’d also got past a few and was running in 14th.
With James and Samir both missing I was now ninth on the grid. Eek! This time as the lights changed I opted to shoot down the right side of the pack, a strategy which gained me a couple of places before I ran in to the back of a traffic jam at the apex of Redgate (luckily not literally). At this point if I’d changed down to third I could probably have kept my momentum and my place. Unfortunately I didn’t (I’ll know next time) the car bogged down in fourth and a stream of cars went past on the left. I was helpless as I watched Declan, Paul, Kev, Jason, Brett, Richard, Lynfel and James go past! I was now down in 17th – Doh!
As we got to the bottom of Craner Curves I was desperately trying to find a way past James and wasn’t paying enough attention to my mirrors! Matt Cherrington who had made a blinding start from the back of the grid came flying past on the outside. I re-took my place as we went under the Dunlop bridge only for him to come back on the right and beat me to the line for the essess, past Declan who was stopped on the outside of the corner. I then managed to pull alongside him again on the exit and got him down the pit straight.
Ahead of me I could see James, Rob and Lynfel battling and I raced to join them. As we came out of McLean’s we passed another car who’d pulled off on the left. As we got on to the Dunlop Straight I caught and passed Rob, who I think had developed some problems.
With a few cars expiring and a couple of good overtaking manoeuvres I was now up in to 13th and it was only the end of lap two!
The car was going like a dream and by the end of the third lap I had caught Lynfel. Ahead of me I could see Paul, Jason and Michael battling, unfortunately on the braking zone for the Essess a large patch of oil caught them unawares and sent them straight on gifting me ninth.
So as we started lap four I found myself at the back of the lead group! I can honestly say I’m not used to having the race leader in sight! Things were going very well and Lynfel in eighth was my next target. I finally got close enough as we went through coppice to try a move but he held his line and his place as we went on to the straight. I then tried to overtake round Redgate and Craner but he had the legs on me and I couldn’t make it stick. Finally I caught him as we came out of the old hair pin and I raced side by side with him as we went under Starkey Bridge. He took a defensive line so I took to the grass!! My car was going that well that even this didn’t slow me down and I was now up to eight. (by the way I was told afterwards by Paul and Glen who were watching that there was room for me on the circuit but I’d never been eighth before and I wasn’t taking any chances!)
I was now right behind Kev and the group battling for fifth. As they battled and swapped places ahead of me I tried to grab a tow and finally thought I’d got one and the chance of seventh as we raced back on to the pit straight. Suddenly the pass seemed too easy. Something was wrong! Then I realised nothing was wrong, I just missed the chequered flag!! It was all over! At only seven laps long, due to the restart, it felt like a very short race but it had been brilliant fun. I’d got my highest ever finish in a heat. Not only that but I was only 13 seconds behind winner Ed Pither. It was time for Cheshire Cat impressions again!
THE FINAL (Started 13th, finished 16th)
Luckily the number 13 has never caused me any bad luck so I wasn’t fazed by starting 13th for the final – just delighted really!
I made a terrible start and dropped all the way to 20th! Slow round the first couple of corners I then lost another place to Gary Brandon and finished the lap in 21st. The first lap was very slow but somehow I just couldn’t find a way past anyone! I think I’d set my tyres pressures a bit low and I just couldn’t get close enough to Jason and Gary ahead of me to make a decent move. Then Samir on a flyer came sailing past. This was going from bad to worse I was now down in 22nd!
Luckily it was now lap three and everything was warming up very quickly. Suddenly I had my speed back and was able to retake 21st albeit briefly as we went in to McLean’s as we got to the straight Samir passed me for the second time but now I was right on the back of his, Jason and Richards cars. Some confusion and a bit of a traffic jam at the top of Craner Curves allowed me to sweep left and overtake three cars in one go. Things were looking up! Gary Brandon came back past as we exited the Essess on the same lap but that still left me in 18th and right on the back of Gary, Michael, Matt and Samir who were battling for 14th. One the next lap I stalked Matt through the Essess and managed to make a move stick on the start finish straight. 17th!
Over the next two laps we were all tightly packed and I made several unsuccessful attempts to get past Michael, the group was battling hard and places kept changing frequently. Some problems higher up the order meant I was now running in 15th and in the elevated points although I had no idea. All I was thinking about was how to find a way past the group ahead. Suddenly it looked as though I could get two cars up the inside of McLean’s, too late I spotted the yellow flags and let them both back through, unfortunately this also let Jason through and dropped me back to 16th!
Trying to get my place back I drove the car far too hard and nearly lost it at Coppice in a fantastic tank-slapper! Luckily the car is very forgiving and I caught it before we erred off the tarmac, unfortunately this cost me a second and I lost my tow. Without it and with tyres that were now getting pretty hot the group ahead had pulled out a three second lead by the flag.
What a race from 13th at the start down to 22nd by lap two and back up to 16th by the flag to get my first ever elevated points finish!
POST RACE THOUGHTS
WOW! I love Donington and the car goes very well here. I’ve still got Dickie’s Set up which the car won with and they clearly work. I’m very pleased to go home with my highest ever qualifying result, heat result and my first ever elevated points. Think I’ll be smiling for a long time after this weekend.