2012 – RD7&8 Brands GP Race Review
Brands Hatch was one of the fixtures looked forward to most when the calendar was published; Track time, or rather racing time is very limited and again the Caterham R300’s were supporting the British GT/F3 grid. Last year scoring two wins at the same meeting I went into RD4 of 2012 optimistic we could carry on delivering strong results.
Qualifying was interesting, the tyres took a couple of laps to come in and I had only just hooked up my first quick lap to put it on pole when on the next lap another car dropped coolant through Sheene and Stirlings. I immediately pitted as there was little point continuing with the track as it was to effectively park the car. The next 10 minutes none of the top drivers went any quicker and that was qualifying done and my third pole position of the year.
However there was a problem; I had a nagging doubt that my car was not as crisp as it normally is. The car was running in the tow of another car who itself was in a tow but it was merely holding station on the straights. I put it to the back of my mind, after all I had just run my quickest ever time round the GP circuit by several tenths and scored pole position. Its fairly difficult to convince anyone you have an engine problem and even I wasn’t sure.
Ian Payne had qualified well again, scoring P2 demoting Mark Shaw to third. The stage was set for a good race.
Race one got underway but I never make the best start from pole at Brands. You are just slightly too much in the dip on the right side and Ian Payne with his rocket ship engine took the holeshot. As always I wanted to get into the lead as soon as possible and Ian didn’t get the best drive out of Surtees and we went onto the GP loop side by side. As we approached Hawthorns I tried to take Ian round the outside, ageing my Dad by about 10 years. We had discussed at length the craziness of the Ginetta G55 crash there previously yet when the move presented itself you don’t think twice. Fortunately we both made it round putting me on the outside approaching Westbourne. The cars were neck and neck so I had no choice but to give way but as soon as I lifted off the car went into massive oversteer. At the time I put this down to cold tyres but it cost me places as Mark Shaw and James Sharrock took the opportunity to overtake. Unfortunately I didn’t have the perfect setup for race 1……
It was shortly after this I started to think all was not right with the engine. I was in the tow of other cars and simply not catching anyone. Mark overtook James with relative ease and I was just hanging on. For sure part of this was down to the handling of the car which was very loose at the back but unmistakably the engine was down on power. It took several laps to get a move lined up on Sharrock when he cut across me at Westfield forcing me off the throttle; the back stepped out and Terry Langley guesting in series overtook me and then the next lap drove straight past James with relative ease.
Still, the plan was to try and salvage a podium and make a couple of setup changes before the next race but within a lap or two I was watching the race from the gravel trap at Paddock. Sharrock got the entry wrong into clearways so I dived down the inside for the easy run down the pitwall, however James moved over and we banged wheels. I presumed he hadn’t seen me because at Paddock he went up high as if to offer me the inside line into Paddock. I still have no idea if this was his intention or not (probably not!) but as I went down the inside he then turned in, fearing yet more contact I jumped off the gas which instantly made the car swop ends and this time there was no saving it. As I sailed backwards down paddock hill Flick Haigh come over the top and with nowhere to go collected me as we disappeared into the gravel. My first DNF since 2008.
Luckily the car was not badly damaged, the sum total of a new exhaust but it meant I would start race 2 at the back of the grid. Ian Payne had held on to win his first R300 race beating my DPR team mate Shaw into second place. Congratulations must go out to Ian, but also Peter Young and his SPY Motorsport team, their first R300 win of the season and the team to end DPR’s 100% winning streak in 2012.
Race 2 like many of the races this year looked like an absolute certainty to be a wet one. Half of me wanted a wet race; a good chance to make a lot of places but on the flipside you are hindered by poor visability and the unknown….. As it turned out yet again, completely dry! From 27th on the grid you have to take nearly every opportunity presented to you. My start was good and the plan to get up high from the inside line worked and I was up several places on the run to Druids for the first time. At this point I was nearly taken out by a BookaTrack driver forcing me two wheels onto the grass on the run up the hill, I took a wide line around Druids and then saw contact between Trevor Carvey and Ian Anderson forcing Carvey into an early retirement; that could so easily of been my car just wrong time wrong place for Trevor.
Unfortunately the same could be said for Flick a lap later following me through the pack I drove round the outside of Mark Farmer at Surtees. Mark then got it wide going up the hill spearing across into Flick and ending her race. The first few laps trying to get through as many cars as cleanly as you can are daunting as you are mindful of not getting held up unnecessarily but you need to get past to salvage points. The setup changes made to the car were perfect and Caterham and DPR had both spent time on the engine and happily it was back on good form; infact on both counts completely transformed.
There was plenty of carnage going out over the 30 minutes, Sharrocks race 2 was ended when he drove into Peter Ratcliffes car holing his radidator at clearways. Being one of the first cars to encounter the spilt fluid put me off the road into the gravel but fortunately with enough momentum to drive out. The next cars through of Madg Mohaffel, Jonathan Ramsey and Paul Manyweathers were not so lucky; their races all ending in the clearways gravel with Sharrocks teammate Ramsey unfortunately hitting a stationary Mohaffel.
When the chequered flag finally fell I had achieved what I set out to, scoring 5th place but with the added bonus point of fastest lap and a new lap record to boot in clean air on the penultimate lap (I went quicker in clean air race 2 than I could achieve in qualifying in a tow) I only dropped 2 points to Mark who had again finished behind Double Winner Payne. Congratulations to them both.
What does this do for the championship? Well Mark now heads the leaderboard with Ian just behind me but rest assured we will be going all flat out next month at the Nurburgring!