As a racing driver or even as a fan, we’ve all dreamed of taking the lead at the death, after a race long battle and crossing the line in a photo finish. And it so played out that way for me at Donington. The difference is in the dream you’re normally the winner…
For all the Sunday action as the TV saw it, go to 750MC WEB TV for full Sunday highlights!
After the usual Friday night drinking and track walk business, qualifying was going to be the first chance for most of us to run the full Donington GP circuit, adding half a mile to the layout as well as 3 extra corners in the form of the Melbourne Loop. The chicane is surprisingly fast, depending on whether or not you use the circuit or the run-off, and the hairpins offer their own challenge although fly in the face of the National Circuit’s much faster feel. The loop really does feel ‘tacked-on’ as indeed it was to increase circuit length back in the 80’s, but it does at least provide a couple of extra overtaking opportunities. Anyway, the session was an awkward one despite the good conditions. Numerous yellow flags, and coolant on the circuit towards the end made it quite a scrappy affair. I was quite surprised to have set pole for both races, albeit by a scant 0.15s given that I aborted 3 laps to traffic and surface deterioration. On the one relatively clear lap I had I used all of my track limits “allowance” (receiving a warning as I came around a lap later) and that blatant flaunting Dr Palmer’s rules was enough to produce my 2nd and 3rd poles from 4 attempts at Donington in this car – despite an ass-clenching trip through the gravel on the final lap after understeering on Thorpey’s coolant at McLean’s. The grid was otherwise fairly jumbled with some expected front-runners towards the bottom of or outside the top 10, and a few neat runs from drivers like Marcus Ward and Ryan Clarke putting them at the sharp end.
During the break to race 1, I was interviewed by Turn8 for Car Mechanic magazine (which will be available in the new year), as well as stickering-up the car to reflect the new tie-up with their motorsports PR arm. You can read more about that here.
Race one and I made a rancid start, making it to the first corner in 4th. I’ve been struggling with starts in this car, and yet to pin it down to any single reason. Anyway, I had spun the wheels and was keen to make up time on the run down the Craner Curves for the first time. Thorpe made a brave run down the inside of Ward at the left-hander, and both lifted out. MacMillan in 3rd did the same, and in a bid to regain lost ground I kept my foot in a bit longer. I left my move a bit too late though, and tagged MacMillan’s 205 just beyond the apex where the cars are still loaded up. It was enough to pitch his car into an irreversible slide, sending all the way through the gravel on the left and into the wall. Less than 30 seconds into the race and it was perhaps the most amateurish display of my racing career so far. Apologies were made post-race, and later accepted. Sorry Gordon.
As Thorpe completed his move on Ward at The Old Hairpin, it spoiled his momentum enough to allow me a run up through Starkey’s and I was 2nd by McLean’s. From there the three of us drew away from the field and despite a few instances of side-by-side the order remained unchanged until the penultimate lap. Ward drew alongside a couple of times and waved at me. I wondered if he was trying to convey some sort of message, but he later explained “I just do that sometimes.” Throughout the race I had been able to check the Nova’s weaknesses against the Ford and Citroen I was fighting. I seemed to be good on the brakes and quick through The Old Hairpin, The Esses, and Goddard’s, but weak out of Redgate and Melbourne. One of the nuances of having so many different types of car is that they are all geared and set up differently, so while in some corners I had better gearing, others I was worse off – and Melbourne was a prime example. I had to run that corner at about 3000rpm in 3rd gear, while Thorpe and Ward could launch out in 2nd. It meant they struggled at Goddards where my gearing preferable though – but it also meant that any move I made on Thorpe would have to happen well in advance of the loop.
On the penultimate lap, I finally got enough of a run on Thorpe through Coppice to be able to draw alongside on the straight before the Esses. I was on the outside and braked as late as I dared… maybe if I hadn’t already been warned about track limits (again) I could’ve opened up the steering and straight-lined over the concrete on the right – but as it was I dabbed the brakes. Enough for Thorpe to scarper back through and Ward to follow him. Bugger! From there the order remained until the flag. I would sooner finish 3rd having gone down swinging than settle for 2nd, but 3rd was still a good result, and meant I could remove 20kg for race 2.
You can see highlights of Race 1 here:
Race 2 was the really exciting one, with the wildcard of Matt Stubbington’s rolled 205 sharing the front row. As it was, his car was too badly damaged to put up a fight at the front, but he hung on to 8th which was impressive in the circumstances!
I made a better start this time, but Thorpe and MacMillan still made it around me before Redgate. I backed out of an eerily similar move on MacMillan at The Old Hairpin (see, racing drivers DO learn!) and from there the three of began to pull away from the chasing pack. The first 3 laps were relatively calm, with all of us setting our best laps on the third tour. I took the fastest lap of the race, albeit almost half a second slower than Stewart Place’s lap record from the previous day – sadly he would retire from this race early. From lap 4 it began to get tense, and Thorpe’s defence was backing MacMillan towards me. I could make it through the chicane with a good advantage on exit, but no matter how late on the brakes at Melbourne, I couldn’t make enough advantage to hold it all the way into Goddards. Twice I had moves made, but frustratingly I lost out on the exit both times – I’m sure it was as much to do with my driving as the gearing.
The third time I got to the inside of MacMillan I left my braking a touch later to try and make a bigger gap on the exit, but instead washed out wide and lost about a second. This relief in pressure allowed MacMillan to attack Thorpe without me on his tail for a lap, and he made a decisive move at Coppice. As the two drifted wide, I pulled the Nova tight into the exit hoping to occupy the space before they came back across – which is sort of what happened but they kept coming over. Thorpey had a wing in MacMillan’s door, and I had wing in Thorpe’s! With nowhere to go I kept my foot in and straightened the wheel to make myself some room. With most of my car on the grass and with a decent overlap, Thorpe feathered the throttle to avoid an accident and we just about arrived The Esses in single-file. Thorpe was able to get alongside me on the run between Melbourne and Goddards but on the wrong side to make a move as we moved on to the last lap.
I don’t think me or Gordon will be able to rank the last lap as the best lap we’ve driven, but as a race ending it was great, scrappy stuff. We both got wide out of Redgate, drifted over the inside of the kerb down the Craners, and I had a big moment at The Old Hairpin but kept it buried and fortunately Gordon had bobbled too. Up to McLean’s and I braked late to bring myself back to Gordon’s bumper in the hope of getting him worried. I wasn’t quite close enough to make a move but with a decent drive out of Coppice I was close enough to make myself a nuisance. I sat in his right hand mirror all the way down the straight and he move half a car width to cover me at The Esses. It was enough to drift him over the gravel on exit and with a decent drive I nipped around the outside! If only I had been able to work out how much I’d cleared him by… the TV coverage showed I actually had about 3 car lengths – enough to take the normal racing line – but I covered the inside anyway to be safe. It compromised my always-weak exit from the Melbourne hairpin and MacMillan nailed the exit to drag up past me on the right towards Goddards! By rights he should have been clear but as he started to pull back across to the left, I held the wheel straight and made contact with rear quarter. Enough to kill his momentum a little and keep my inside line albeit with the smallest of overlaps. We both braked late and I tried to cut the corner to gain some distance back – two wheels on the grass, two on the inside kerb. It’s always tough to get these cars to accelerate on a tight line so I tried to open up to the exit knowing the white 205 would have momentum. We touched again and it slowed him… but not enough. On the drag race to the line the timing screen logged a dead heat (later manually corrected to 0.01s) but Gordon had taken it by a nose. Fair play, it was a great race and he deserved it. Thorpey was only another 0.24s back in third. Breathless stuff!
After a trip to the Clerk of Course for me and Thorpe (they wanted to confirm that our lap 6 battle hadn’t left us at each other’s throats!) the positions were all confirmed and the 2015 season was over. It’s been up and down for me. Just three rounds entered, and none more competitive than the “perfect weekend” showing at Croft way back in May, but I feel like I’ve made improvements as a driver and certainly made gains on my braking and qualifying performance. Time to sort those starts out for 2016!
You can see Race 2 IN FULL HERE:
Fastest Laps: 3
Other Podiums: 3
Lap Records: 1