It’s been an emotional, expensive and totally unforgettable year. My debut racing season came to a close last weekend at the legendary Silverstone circuit, home of the British Grand Prix, and it was a memorable send-off.
We were using the International circuit, the track where I had first driven an MX-5 race car nearly 12 months prior at the inaugural MotorsportDaysLIVE event in 2018. Whilst I had never raced there in real life, it is one my favourite circuits to drive on the simulator and the experience was made that little bit more special this year by virtue of the fact that we would be using the International pit garages – as used by the Formula 1 teams – as a base.
I had got my act together well ahead of time for this one, and had booked my place on the Friday test day. It would be the first time all year that I had got the benefit of a full Friday test, not counting the frustrating day at Brands Hatch earlier in the year where my car failed to start for all but one of the 30-minute sessions.
Friday was damp, and I looked to have fairly promising pace in the intermediate conditions. That gave me confidence going into Saturday, but on a fully-dry track for Qualifying, I was only able to improve my time by a tenth and a half, whilst others took a full second off their best Friday efforts. Disappointingly, that saw me qualify in the lower half of the B race grid – which is where I had been all year.
Clearly, with the car now performing somewhere close to its optimum, there is still a lot of time to find in my own driving technique.
Race 1 on Saturday afternoon was a mixed bag. After a tardy start I quickly regained some places in the first half of the race and was happily battling away with some other cars when I braked for the final chicane, went to change down into 3rd gear and my gear stick couldn’t find it. I kept my left foot planted on the brake whilst I scrabbled around for a gear, any gear, and eventually managed to get it into second. At the very next braking zone, the same thing happened. It seemed I had lost 3rd gear.
The second half of the race was spent trying to adapt to running the whole lap in 2nd and 4th – definitely not the quickest way round. I could hardly believe it – despite all the work we’d done on the car this season, reliability gremlins were still rearing their ugly head.
Heavy rain overnight meant that Sunday dawned damp and cold. It was reminiscent of the conditions in which I’d been quick on Friday, so I arrived at the circuit with a lot of optimism. The team had checked out the gearbox on Saturday evening and couldn’t find anything amiss, though they acknowledged that changing gear wasn’t always smooth. My team boss advised me to “just ram it into gear” and we agreed that no changes were necessary.
However, taking the car to the assembly area for Race 2, something didn’t feel right. I couldn’t get it into reverse initially to back into my assembly spot. Then, on the green flag lap, I lost first gear. Disaster! This meant I would have to start the race in second, and whatever you read in car magazines about dropping the clutch and flooring it in 2nd gear, this is NOT the fastest way to get from 0-60. I went through the first corner dead last.
However, in the uncertain conditions I was in my element and was immediately quicker than many of the drivers ahead of me! What followed was my finest drive of the season, fighting the car at every gear change and braking zone but slowly picking off my rivals to move up the order. By the end of the race, I had done just enough to make it into the points positions, to score my first Championship points since round 3 back in May!
I was buzzing when I came back to parc ferme, but my elation was short-lived, as on the slowing-down lap I appeared to lose all but 3rd gear. I just about got the car into the paddock, but then couldn’t get it going again, and had to be unceremoniously pushed back to my pit garage.
The Go4it Racing team leapt on to my car like crows to a carcass and started pulling apart the underside of my car to try and figure out what had gone wrong. The answer soon became clear – my clutch was in several pieces, and none of them very well-formed! It looked like it had been chewed up and spat back out – no wonder I had struggled to find any gears!
There then followed two hours of frantic activity as the team raced to extract the bits of broken clutch from my car, fit a new one, reconnect the gearbox which had also been pulled apart to check for damage, and change all four brake pads that had worn down to the plates under the strain of my last race.
We made it to the assembly area with literally just minutes to spare. What an effort! Thank you so much guys – truly some of the best mechanics in the paddock.
So, with a fully repaired car, what could I do in Race 3? Conditions were back to being fully dry, and either my setup isn’t optimised for that yet or my technique isn’t quite right, because my pace wasn’t as good. Nevertheless, it was probably the most fun I’d had in the car all year. I was embroiled in battles for the full 20 minutes, rarely ending a lap in the same race order that I’d started it.
It all came to a head on the final lap, when two battling cars in front of me pushed each other wide out of the final chicane. I made a dive up the inside through the last corner and all three of us crossed the line separated by less than a tenth of a second – with me splitting the two of them!
What a way to end the race, and the season! It might not be the headline results that I was hoping for when I embarked upon this journey almost a year ago, but it was an absolutely epic race that was a pleasure to be involved in. And at the end of the day, that’s really what club racing is all about.
I left Silverstone with fond memories and wishing that I’d had even more time on track. This has been a good one for me – I’m absolutely certain I’ll be back.