After staying at a nearby hotel to the circuit, I arrived with itchy eyes and a stuffed nose due to the high pollen count over the weekend. This was going to be a tough one. The team managed to book me a 30 minute practice in the morning before qualifying. This would be incredibly useful seeing as I’d only driven this circuit on simulators.
After 15 minutes I had found the limit of what I felt the car could do around the circuit and decided to save the tyres and pull in. Qualifying was right after. I was sitting for the remaining time, eyes watering from the hay-fever and was incredibly hot thanks to the great weather. Whilst waiting, Nigel told me that I was 8th fastest in the practice session. This was a surprise considering the amount of more race dedicated machinery on the circuit. The whistle blew for qualifying and the green flag was out. Peddle to the metal, balancing the car on the limit through the long right hander of turn one. Then curling up to the left for a heavy braking zone. Brake in the middle of the circuit pitching into the right, then the left, using the brake to lift the rear and rotate the car. Then max power, flat to the floor for the next few corners. Role it through the right, carry the speed out, spot a straight line, let the car run free, then angle the car for the double apex left hander, resisting the urge of lifting. Then spotting my braking point, the change in tarmac leading to the next corner. Light brake to pitch the car, angle it to the right and max the throttle, carrying as much speed as possible. Then, Church, the corner that I’ve heard so much about. Turn in on the throttle, slight lift at the apex, then bam, back on it sliding to the exit and carrying the speed towards the Club Chicane. Long right, quick left followed by a quick right. Straight line to the finish, setting a time of 1:37.08. Good enough for P5 and not far behind the Mustangs and Cortina’s around me.
The race itself was largely uneventful. Managing to get away well, making up a place or two and with a well timed, fast pitstop from the team, I was running third. However, I saw a sign we all dread “stop go penalty” followed by my number. I had accidentally sped in the pits. Damn. I was stopped for 9 seconds but lost around 24 seconds. When I emerged from the pits, I was running 5th, where I finished a few laps later, feeling slightly deflated. However, all a learning experience and I managed to replicated my qualifying time of a 1:37.08
After enjoying a delicious curry and Eton Mess with the team, we took a track walk. The track was stunningly beautiful at dusk. The team and I were sharing a few laughs over the abrasive nature of the surface and tyre marks drivers had left behind.
If I said I slept well that night, I would be lying. My hay-fever woke me up several times that night. But no matter. I was utterly focused for the day ahead. We had qualifying and the race later on in the day this time. When studying my laps, a stranger walked in admiring the car. I went over and introduced myself. This man simply introduced himself as Tony. He asked where I was struggling with the circuit, I admitted the chicanes were my biggest struggle. He asked to see my onboard videos. He simply said, “you need to widen your entry into the first chicane, take less speed in. This’ll open your line for your next corner allowing for more speed”. He gave me similar instructions for the final chicane too. I had my doubts, I’ve experienced the ‘know it all’ type of person before. However, on my out lap in qualifying, I noticed the Alfaholics Alfa Romeo doing similar things to Tony’s suggestions. I thought, let’s give this a try. First flying lap. 1:36.9. Second. 1:36.5. Third. 1:35.7. He was absolutely right. I reckoned that there was a few tenths in hand due to tyre degradation. This was good enough for P4 on the grid. Amazing. Especially on this competitive grid.
The start was rolling, meaning I’d be on the back foot against the lighter Cortina’s behind. Three went past me and squeezed me onto the grass. I thought it best to back out , managing to take one back into the chicane. I was now running 3rd to last. Plenty of work to do.
Thanks to consistent 1:36’s on my part, I stuck to the rear end of the beautiful pale green Cortina. I didn’t want to make a late lunge or a desperate move. I waited and watched to see where my advantages were. My strengths were definitely the fast corners of the back complex of the circuit. I stuck to the rear of the Cortina, keen to force him into a mistake. Then, the window of opportunity arose He went wide going towards Goodwood. I went for it. Side by side going to Goodwood, taking the inside line, the move was done. I set about making a good enough gap as I knew he would have a better run out of the final chicane than me, due to lesser weight. Alas, it was no good. He took me again into turn one. I saw the ‘IN’ board from the team. I needed to get past him again in order to hold him up as much as possible to help my undercut. I decided to stick as much as I could to his left rear, in order to narrow his entry into the chicane. He went wide for the left, and I went for it. He didn’t even see it coming. I backed him up in the chicane. Then bam into the pits, pulling up to the team for the longest minute of my life. Then bam back out. The rest of the race was uneventful. I spent my time making sure I was in the 1:36’s and below. Towards the end of the race the leaders were on my tail, ready to lap me. I decided to show them what I had. I decided to max the car out in the back part of the circuit. They couldn’t get past me until the final chicane. I let them past without defending.
After first and second place were firmly past I was wondering where the 3rd place car was. The team hung out the pit board saying P3. I was running third. A smile spread across my face. I crossed the line in third with a fastest lap of 1:36.2.
The leaders and race organisers came to shake my hand to say well done and say how impressed they were with my performance.
Thanks to HRDC and Motor racing Legends for a great weekend. Thanks to Retro Engineering for preparing the car so well. It was a blast.