At the time of writing, Donington is a full 3 weeks ago (!) and I’m fully aware that my blogging has dipped over the summer, but to be honest I’ve been having a great holiday, so I have no regrets!
Casting my mind back though, I think it’s fair to say that Donington was an incredibly frustrating and disappointing weekend for me. In the run-up to the race my car was almost completely refreshed, with a new engine, new brakes and new setup installed by some of the best people in the business. I finally had a car to challenge for a place in the “A” race. But instead, I suffered what is surely my worst weekend to date.
Why was this? Well, my subsequent analysis has drawn out a couple of reasons. Firstly, the handling of the car was completely different from the last time I drove it. Better, yes, but different – and I hadn’t had enough seat time to get on top of it. Secondly, I was race-rusty. Aside from a karting endurance race, I hadn’t raced anything in 3 months and that certainly showed in the opening laps of Race 1. And thirdly – I genuinely dislike Donington as a track. I don’t know what it is, I just have never gelled with it in the way that I have with other tracks.
The weekend started positively enough. Heading out into Qualifying, I could instantly feel the difference in the car. It was pushing on up the hill, rather than dawdling like it did before, and the turn-in to particularly the high-speed corners was so much sharper. I was optimistic of a good session.
Alas, on only my second lap, I braked far, far later for the Melbourne hairpin than the driver in front of me, who looked to be a little uncertain of his braking point. I took to the grass to avoid him and spun the car, ending up sideways beached in the gravel. How embarrassing… A few minutes later, a tractor arrived to unceremoniously haul me out and set me on my way again. After a few laps of clearing the gravel out of the underside of my car, I was able to knuckle down and set some decent lap times.
I was half a second off my target, but it was still good enough for a nominal 6th on the grid in the ‘B’ race, which would have been my best ever qualifying result. However, the day was about to get a whole lot more interesting.
50 of the 63 registered MX-5 drivers had been penalised for track limits abuse in qualifying (I was one of the good ones, I hasten to add!). Many people had times deleted, and seven drivers were actually disqualified from the session outright, meaning they would have to start from the back of the ‘B’ grid in Race 1. On the positive side, this promoted me to 3rd on the grid! However, I knew I would have a swarm of angry, fired-up quick drivers charging through from the back of the grid, and that didn’t bode well for a clean race.
In the end, it wasn’t the seven disqualified drivers who were my undoing. After a moderate start I was running 5th on the opening lap when an over-zealous rival made a lunge at me down at the chicane, making contact and pushing me off. I rejoined quickly but had lost momentum, and over the course of the next 3 corners I was mobbed by the chasing pack, dropping 10 positions and ending the first lap in 16th. A nightmare start!
After some good battles and some nice overtaking, I eventually finished 16th. A decent result in the context of my season so far, but given the car I now had underneath me, I really should have been higher.
Race 2 was an unmitigated disaster. At the start I made a decent initial getaway, but then I found 5th gear instead of 3rd, then 5th again, then finally into 3rd before changing into 2nd instead of 4th. I’ll admit it, I was flustered! After sorting myself out I was almost right at the back. Two corners later, it all kicked off in front of me as 3 cars got together and disappeared in a squeal of tyres and bodywork. It was only my lightning-fast reactions that saved me from an early retirement.
The first half of the race was spent picking off some of the drivers who had sailed past me as I floundered around with my gear stick off the line. Then, mid-race, I spun at 80mph coming down through the Craner Curves, not doing any damage but losing all of the places I had fought so hard to gain.
I finished Race 2 in 22nd place. Clearly, I was not on top of the handling of my nice new car. Like I said, I really don’t like Donington!
I had consigned myself to trying to make the most of a scruffy weekend in race 3, but that didn’t work out either. I was only a few laps in when I got caught out at the Melbourne hairpin again by the differing braking points of those around me, and as I tried to outbrake a rival I locked up and slammed into the car in front of me, damaging my front left quarter and tyre, meaning I had to pull into the pits to retire. My first ever DNF.
So this was definitely a weekend to forget. All racing driver have them at some point, it was just unfortunate that mine happened to be on a weekend that started with so much optimism.
Before the next (and final) round of races at Silverstone in early October, I will be practising as much as possible to make sure I know the car well in advance of Qualifying. Surely it can’t go any worse!