Season in Review – Brands Hatch Indy RD 9 – 10
I like Brands, not everyones favourite track for several reasons but I quite like it. On the face of it pretty easy but mastering some of the critical corners lap after lap still requires time and skill. I’ve only raced there once before in October 08 and before the friday test session that was the last time I had been there. In fact I had no intention of testing let alone racing….I was over in Kent on work on thursday and on the way dropped in to see how the thursday test was going. As I was leaving I heard they still had testing space for the Friday and it got me thinking that maybe a bit of track time would be good. The only problem was my car hadn’t turned a wheel since the Rockingham podium and it was at SPY HQ, and they were already setup at Brands for the weekend. However, thanks to Peter and the rest of the SPY Team I arranged to meet Peters Dad at the unit and picked the car up around 8pm Thursday night.
The real problem I had though was the car had a pretty alien setup on it for Anti Clockwise circuit and having not been touched, and with SPY already busy and not expecting to have me as well getting my car sorted was going to be a challenge. We only had 4 testing slots of the Friday, and everything I tried in the first two were getting me no closer to the ultimate pace. I think by the end of the second session I was still about a second and a bit off the top pace. I was all set for doing one last session before packing up…I hadn’t entered the race at this point but during the third session Jimmy and Peter had conspired to come up with something in the breaks that made a big difference to the car. The car was more consistent, the massive lift off oversteer was less and we were finally going in the right direction. In that session I found over 0.5 second consistently. In the last session with a few more tweeks we found another 0.3 seconds which meant at the end of the day we were still 0.3 off the quickest times being posted. Normally thats pretty good, but Brands being such a short track thats still a country mile. Still, it was close enough to the front to enter…….
Saturday qualifying went pretty much as expected. I knew we could alter the car a bit more but you don’t want to risk going too far and ruining the qualifying slot so we left it was was. I posted the same time as I did in the final test session, which qualified me 8th, 0.3 off pole…. thats how close it was at the front. My team mate Paul Fleury had got his maiden pole position and had put something like 5 laps in quicker than my best effort. He has been quick throughout testing and was certainly looking to mix it at the front.
I was around all the people I needed to be, just behind championship leader Trevor Fowell. The start was good and I slotted in behind Trevor but coming out of Druids lap one I got boxed in momentarily and that allowed Ollie Taylor to have a run down the outside into Graham Hill. I tried hard to defend but he already had his nose infront and we went 2 abreast through the corner Ollie was always going to have the run on me into Surtees and I dropped back a place. Lap 2 and Ollie was already feeling impatient and put a good move on Trevor into Graham Hill. Fortunately I could see it happening so I made sure I slowed the car down and got on the gas well before the apex. With Trevor off line I was able to overtake him coming out of Graham Hill and set about trying to get back in front of Ollie. By this time I think we are running 6th, or something like that. Up front Paul Fleury was busy battling with Jon Walker for the lead but pretty much all the front pack were together battling on 52 second lap times trying to find a way past one another.
It was probably lap 7 or 8 when things really started to happen…. Firstly Jon Walker tried to sell Paul Fluery a dummy on the left hand side on the run up to druids for the lead. Consequently Paul wasn’t defending the inside that much and Jon saw his opportunity to absolutely nail the brakes and make a move down the inside. It was one of those moves where you need to defending driver to concede otherwise contact will follow. However I don’t think Paul even saw the move coming, and to be fair under braking into druids I don’t blame him at all. Paul moved onto his normal line on turn in and bang contact. Jon was launched into the air at a strange angle and Paul spun. Whilst all this is happening, and slightly unsighted Trevor is still busy trying to get back past me. As we got round druids Paul is well out of the way, but Jons car starts to roll back on to the racing line. I know I have enough room to miss it, but I know Trevor is on the outside of me. The coming together between Jon and Trevor is now unavoidable and it puts both of them out of the race.
I managed to get past Andy McMillan in the next couple of laps, and then I’m sitting 4th…..behind the cars of Ollie, Jamie Ellwood and Mark Shaw…..10 minutes out of the 30 had past…there was still more than two thirds of the race left and the pace was relentless. The next couple of laps changed everything and I have to admit I couldn’t really believe what I was seeing. Drivers were making tiny driver errors at duids, not quite getting the apex, and the others were taking it as a queue to open the door with their car, quite literally. Ollie was the first to suffer…Jamie Ellwood turned him around on the exit…. Ellwood now led with Mark Shaw second and I’m in a podium position….. 3 laps later Mark Shaw tries the same thing on Ellwood….it doesn’t work and Mark loses ground and I nip through to second….however within the lap I would be leading. The contact between Shaw and Ellwood damages his rear suspension. I can see its damaged and its just a case of giving him room, the last thing is I want to get taken off by him having a crash as a result but on the run into paddock sensibly he eases up and I’m through into the lead. Now Brands is very difficult to overtake on, probably explaining the contact heavy nature of the first 13 minutes….there is now 17 minutes left on the clock, probably 18 laps in total and I’m in front determined not to let anyone past.
In testing my car setup was killing the rear tyres meaning towards the end of the session the only thing I would win is best slip angle at a drift works meeting. Out of clearways I would sometimes have it on the bump stops. Fun, but certainly not quick. Also with everyone so close behind…Ollie has recovered as has Mark Shaw and one bad drive out of clearways onto the start finish straight and you’ll wave goodbye to the lead. I had to take it easier than I would of liked, keeping it neat and tidy and trying to get a good drive out. In the closing stages this meant Ollie pretty much had a run on me every lap over the start finish straight. I’ve seen a couple of people go round the outside of people at paddock, and in an R300 its possible, but very ballsey. It also requires, imo a certain degree of co-operation from the other drivers otherwise you are going into the kitty litty or worse. I had no intention of being co-operative to Ollie who was now all over me. Two or three times he got his car ahead of me on the run down to paddock but each time only by a foot or so. I’ve always been able to break really late and so thats what I did, defended very very hard into paddock and then get across and defend going up the druids.
A couple of times we banged wheels going into Paddock under braking but it was fair on both sides. I have to admit it was a long 17 minutes or whatever it was leading, but 24 hours after entering, at the last possible minute I had won my third R300 race. The other race wins I had always been quickest, or on the ultimate pace, this time I was a bit off it although with more time I would of found it, but by driving not trying to win the race in the first ten minutes I’d ended up keeping my nose clean and bagging the spoils. Even after banging wheels I still had all my wings on. It was good to be back on the top step having barely raced in 2010 and I was looking forwards to race 2…..
Race 2 would prove to be a shorter affair, although I saw the chequered flag and the car was in one piece. I didn’t make the greatest of starts. The track was drying and initially I got good drive but hit the loud pedal a bit too soon and spun the rear wheels. I entered paddock third behind leader Ollie and Mark Shaw. I got a good drive out of clearways lap one and took back second and had a good few laps battling with Ollie for the lead. Unfortunately I got clearways wrong one lap on the damp line and that let McMillan past and Jon Packer all over me as well. On the following lap I was defending Packer into Paddock and I thought I had done enough. The inside line up to druids under the trees was still damp and everyone was giving it a wide birth. In true JP style he caught me knapping and threw it down the inside. I only realised he was there when he shot by me. It felt, at the time very very do or die…I’m pretty sure he was all locked up trying to slow it down as that was what alerted me to his presence, so I either gave him room or had an accident. I made sure I had the car slowed down to try and get him back, but he was subsequently very slow on the apex. It was a bit of surprise to suddenly then get a hit from behind from Paul Brannan, quite why I’m not sure but he apologised afterwards for it. I guess he was also surprised at the lack of pace round druids. Being so close it speared me onto Packer’s right rear. Now you get nudged from time to time in Caterham racing. Its unavoidable in 30 identically matched cars from time to time. The hit wasn’t bad, just unfortunate in the way I got a front left puncture when I hit Packer as a result. The chances of that happening again like that are slim.
In the cockpit the impact felt pretty big, although the reality was it wasn’t. Instantly the car felt terrible straight away. I was convinced it was rear suspension damage, or dedion tubes etc…… I limped the car back to the pits expecting to retire. The SPY team ran around the car, giving it a good going over to report the only real damage apart from a bit of panel beating at the back was a front puncture…..had I of known that I would of tried to get back to the pits a bit quicker, not that it would of salvaged anything from the race podium wise. I went back out and used it as a test session trying to set fastest lap in clean air on a drying track which I had for a while, but was ultimately pipped for. I came in 18th, 2 laps down, or something non important like that.
Who won….? Well, the champion elect Trevor Fowell. His team Fauldsport had done wonders repairing some chassis damage caused by the impact the day before and had come through from the back of the grid (!!). Aided slightly by the damp conditions and the fact everyone at the front was taking turns in the lead and slowing each other down a bit Trevor had patiently picked his way to the front. A true champions drive.