Formula Woman Silverstone Challenge – Saturday 30th September 06
Having been the Championship Coordinator for the inaugural Formula Woman Championship back in 2004 I was delighted when I got the opportunity to race with the 2006 contingent. The Formula Woman Silverstone Challenge also had an added appeal in that it was to be the battle of the sexes! One novice male driver, Autosport Journalist Richard Asher, versus 15 novice female racers! Most of the woman taking part had competed in this years’ Formula Woman Championship. I was really looking forward to competing with them after hearing some great reports about how competitive the Championship had been.
On the morning of the race a foggy start to the day was followed by bright sunshine and things looked good for a dry qualifying session and race. Having never driven a Caterham before Friday afternoon’s test I was hoping for a dry session. The day before I’d had three 20 minute sessions in the car. One in the dry, one in slippery conditions and one in a monsoon! In all three the car had felt good but I’d enjoyed the dry session most.
It felt very like my Locost under braking but was much twitchier under acceleration due to the extra power. In the dry and slippery conditions I’d been on the pace reasonably quickly but I’d struggled with poor visibility in the very wet final session.
Just before qualifying started we had a short shower making it track damp and slippery as we took to the track. I had a joke with Simon my mechanic for the day about what to put on my pit board if I held pole. After the first full lap my board showed P8 and one second to find but to my surprise and delight the next lap it showed P1. Was this going to be my first ever pole? No! As the track dried times began to tumble, I held pole for a few laps more but then began to slip down the order. In the end it was all down to the final lap of qualifying which was to be everyone’s quickest. My time was very respectable for a newcomer and put me eighth. Not quite the P1 I’d briefly seen a glimpse of but not a bad place on the grid for my first ever Caterham start either!
As the lights came on I gently squeezed the throttle and kept the revs low worried that the circuit may still be slipy. It was strategy that worked and as the lights went out I was able to rocket all the way from eighth up to fourth. The elation was short lived and under braking for the first corner several people overtook me. It seemed that whilst I could hold my own in qualifying I hadn’t yet got the hang of racing the Caterham and over the next few laps my places continued to tumble. I was being overtaken on both sides at some corners and eventually began to wonder if the car was broken! It wasn’t, it was just me! I had slipped all the way down to twelfth and decided that drastic action was needed. I dropped another gear lower for two of the corners and prayed that it wouldn’t mean the revs were bouncing off the limiter. If the aggressive limiter cut in half way round a corner I was fairly convinced I would have my first ever racing spin and end up last.
My strategy worked and holding the revs just below the 7k limit in third round the slower corners saw my race dramatically turn around, and not in the way I’d feared. Suddenly I was catching the car in front and it wasn’t long before it was my turn to slip stream and over take my way back up the field. I was battling with 4 or 5 other Caterhams through each of the corners and it really made me feel at home. It was just like Locost racing and just like the men I normally race, the women (and lone man) were battling hard in a clean but very determined way. My progress continued and by the time the chequered flag fell I was hunting down the car in fifth!
What a race. I was very pleased with it overall. I’d battled with over half the field, completed the unspoken female objective of beating the only man in the race and finished higher than I started. In the official results it would stay started eighth finished sixth but what a rollercoaster ride getting there! In short it was “Great fun”!