After a winter of hard work, stress and not enough seat time, the moment I had been waiting for had arrived: my very first race weekend. I was delighted to be supported by Go4itMX5racing, who had committed to keeping my car running over the weekend. However, none of us realised that their first mission was to get the car started in the first place.
Yes, having paid over the odds for some Friday practice track time at a circuit I had never visited before, the car spent most of Friday refusing to fire up.
I managed to complete 20 minutes of the first session, during which time I got my eye in and learnt the track. The plan was to spend the next three half-hour sessions refining my line and my setup to improve my lap times. That was the plan. Unfortunately, my car had other ideas.
I managed 5 minutes of the second session before checking in with the team in the pits. I stopped the car to talk to them, and then couldn’t get the thing started again. With the pit lane at Brands Hatch being quite a long way from the paddock, I suffered the ignominy of being towed back by a recovery vehicle. Somehow through all of this, I was staying positive and counting myself lucky that the car hadn’t stopped on track.
So, back to the awning and a full postmortem with the team. Something seemed seriously wrong with the car and it wouldn’t start at all. So that was the end of my running for the rest of the day, meaning that I was still desperately short of track time. So, whilst my team-mates were honing their best lap times, I set to the important task of applying all of my championship and sponsorship decals to the car with my own fair hands. And, even if I say so myself, the end result looked SEXY.
Just as the light was fading at the end of Friday, the team managed to fire up my engine. Relief! With a bit of luck I would be able to take part in the Qualifying session on Saturday morning.
So, after a poor night’s sleep, I turned up on Saturday with just 25 minutes of running at Brands Hatch to my name, knowing that I would have to get to grips with the track during Qualifying itself – not an ideal scenario!
Following the team’s heroics the night before, my car was now running and made it out on to the track for my very first competitive session. I immediately got on it, knowing that I needed to set a minimum of 3 lap times to be allowed to start the race.
The first time I went through Paddock Hill Bend, the engine blipped and lost me a load of time up the hill. Same again on the next lap. Something still wasn’t right. On my third lap, it cut out temporarily going round Druids. Uh-oh. Still, I made it to the end of the lap and set my 3 lap times! I was in!
I managed a few more laps just to be on the safe side, but the car was getting progressively worse and was in danger out cutting out completely on track, which would have brought out the red flag. So I came into the pits, at which point the engine died again and curtailed my session.
Another ignominious journey back to the awning, and the team had another job to do to get my car ready for race 1. At this point all I could do was watch and pray.
Thankfully, the problem was fixed (or should that be “patched up?”) and I was able to make it to the assembly area for my first race. The goal here was simple: Just get to the end! I hadn’t had sufficient track time to be competitive, I was starting at the back, and my car seemed to hate me. Anything other than a DNF would make my day!
Lights out: Race 1! I made a good start, and stayed on the outside through Paddock Hill Bend. Having watched previous Mazda races at this circuit, I had a sneaking suspicion that there would be contact at Turn 2, Druids. So I stayed to the very outside. It turned out to be my best decision of the weekend.
Just ahead of me, 2 cars got together and both of them spun round, blocking the track and causing carnage. By staying on the outside, I avoided the worst of it but nevertheless got tagged into a spin, with a big dent in my door for good measure.
However, I managed to get the car running again and set off on my way. The safety car was out and I had a few laps at low speed to get the measure of how the car was handling. Unfortunately, I think the rear wheel had taken a knock because the steering was all over the place.
The safety car restart was one of the highlights of my weekend. I reacted quicker than the guy in front of me and as the green flag waved, I dived up the inside at Paddock Hill Bend to complete my first ever racing overtake! Even with a damaged car, I was quicker than the guys immediately around me and managed to make up another 2 places before the chequered flag fell.
Yes, the chequered flag! Despite all the trials of the weekend, I made it to the end of my first race!
Back to the paddock, and another lengthy repair job for the team to contend with. Unfortunately 4 of our 6 cars had sustained some degree of damage so it was all hands on deck. My door wouldn’t open, so they simply gaffer taped it up and I learnt the art of getting in and out of the cockpit via the top of the roll cage.
Race 2 wouldn’t be until Sunday, so it gave the hard-working lads of the team chance to catch their breath. For me it wasn’t good news – the alignment was so badly out that it was not repairable trackside, meaning I had to drive the car as it was for the remaining two races.
So I went in for race 2 with no expectations, looking to have a bit of fun. And boy, did I get my wish! Despite a car trying to kill me through the corners on occasion, I had some good battles, overtaking a couple of cars, and ended the race 1 place higher than I started. I even got some great onboard footage, so you can see for yourself what the race was like:
Two races, two finishes. This was going better than expected, despite the chronic lack of performance.
Race 3 was a short affair. I lost a few places on the opening lap and seemed to be even worse through the corners than in race 2, so spent a lot of time defending. 10 minutes later, the red flag was out and the race was ended early. A low-key finish, but a finish nonetheless. Against all the odds, I had finished all 3 races.
So, not the debut weekend I had hoped for! But there are plenty of positives to take – I made no critical mistakes, I showed good pace despite a sub-optimal car, and I completed all 3 of my debut races. Given the issues I was having on Friday, I’ll take that.
Now it’s time to reset, regroup and put this one down to experience. There’s a bit of a break before I’m next on track in anger at Cadwell Park in May. Plenty of time to sort the car out, and I should be much more on the pace. The only way is up!