Donington Park GP 03/10/15
A year on from my first ever time sitting in the Sheane Formula Vee race car.
A year on from the disappointment of paying over £100 per corner to test, only to get 3 corners in before the engine seized, and it was all over.
Of course, I’ve managed 2 race weekends since then – and finished 4 races, so this time coming back to Donington was greatly different.
Leaving the holding area, I gave it a big hoof of throttle and did a big rolling burnout up the track which was completely planned and intentional and in no way an accident. Ahem. We were the first session out for the day, and it was a bit slippery, then!
Perhaps understandably, I was a bit tentative going through Old Hairpin, but as soon as I got through that, I started building my pace up.
I’d been watching a lot of YouTube videos to prepare. Not just the top racers videos, either – I’d also made sure that I watched the onboard footage from the slower cars, to try to understand what they were doing differently, and what my margin would be.
One thing I did notice was that almost everyone was changing down to 2nd gear for both hairpins – something that is still a problem, and I’m not sure if it’s me or the car that won’t allow it! I opted to stay in 3rd gear as long as I wasn’t losing too much time…
I had done a trackday here on a 600cc Kawasaki ZX6R years ago, so knew the layout of the track quite well from that. Both of these things helped me!
I latched onto the back of Tim Probert and Pete Belsey as they came past just at the right time, as I’d found some confidence.
Coming into Redgate, I made a slight mistake that I think resulted in a bit of a block pass on Patrick Leidke, who I’d just watched get very sideways around Goddards, and with a wave of apology put in a fast lap.
It was all to no avail, as I got back around to Goddards myself to push a little too hard and do exactly the same thing myself, spinning off backwards onto the grass.
As I readied myself to get back on the black stuff, Paul Smith came around, and I could see the chequered flag being unfolded ahead, ending the session and meaning I lost out on not only my fastest lap, but one more lap to improve further!
This left me qualifying 15th for race 1, and 19th for race 2 – but I knew I was a fair bit faster than all the cars around me on the grid!
I was confident that if I could get past a handful of cars ahead without incident, I could drop back into my own pace and pull away. It’s easy to hit the back of a group and then settle in to their pace.
I wasn’t as aggressive as I should have been, allowing a few people to come past me in the first few corners, but by the back straight I was catching Alex Jones, and knew one of my strongest zones was the entrance to Foggies chicane.
I passed Alex just before the braking zone, but he was braking very late to try and defend his outside line. I turned in, but getting twitchy on cold tyres meant I’d made a rookie error and hadn’t dropped to 3rd gear. As I straightlined the chicane, clipping a cone, Ed Lowndes flashed between me and Alex and into the gravel, and my mirrors filled with carnage as cars spun.
I overcooked it into the Melbourne hairpin, went wide, and spun, rejoining right at the back of anyone left running.
Then the red flags came out as Patrick Leidke was beached in the gravel!
As I came back around prepared to start at the back, I was chuffed to bits as the marshals waved me back into my original place on the grid for a total restart. Let’s try that again…
I made another good start, passing a slow moving Jesse Chamberlain on the grass, and did exactly the same move into Foggies on Jamie Harrison – only this time I remembered to change gear!
I worked my way up to Steve Bailey, catching him down the pit straight quickly, but didn’t think I was close enough to dive up the inside.
I broke a few feet early and committed to running deep and turning late for a cut-back pass, but he ran very deep and stayed on the brakes without turning in. I locked up my front right wheel and then it slid into Steve’s rear left, launching me a few feet up in the air. I felt instant pain as the steering wheel wrenched my wrists around, and a blinding snap in my left shoulder.
I smashed back into the tarmac, damaging my front left wheel and smashing my left elbow into the chassis, as my head, neck and back also took some punishment. Perhaps more seriously, the car veered to the left as something Not Very Good had happened to the suspension/steering.
I crawled around the rest of the lap carefully, expecting something to break or at least the tyre to go down, but as I reached the pits only a few cars had come past me. I decided to stay out and try and pick up some points.
Every time I was on full lock out of Melbourne I could feel my left wrist grinding and cracking, but it wasn’t so bad on the rest of the lap.
Alex Jones came past me as I tip-toed down Craner Curves, and I could see a pack of cars behind me with Bill Stenning. Could I at least stay ahead of them?
Yes, as it turns out! I almost caught Alex again through my strongest section (McLeans to Melbourne) and then saw yellows on the exit where Tony Mitchell and Ed Lowndes had come together.
I limped it back in 18th place.
We found a bent steering linkage was the worst of our problems, borrowing one from (I think) Sam Engineer, and Glenn set about trying to reduce the positive camber we now had on our front left wheel!
Starting from 19th in this one, I was careful through the first few corners as we had no idea how the Sheane would handle, but it was soon clear that I’d be able to manage the handling problems and do what I could.
I started charging through the field with a pass between Tim Probert and Martin Snarey into Redgate, then battling with Tony Mitchell before eventually shaking him off to attack Mike Oldknow and Jamie Harrison.
After nipping by Jamie into Melbourne, I nearly followed Mike straight on at Goddards, but just made it around to stay ahead.
Edging away from them, I saw the last lap board and gave Glenn a thumbs up, knowing nobody was going to catch me, but also seeing I’d need a few more laps to get on the next car that was in the distance.
Throwing it into McLeans I suddenly had no power.
My instant fear was that I’d blown the engine, but quickly realised, as a few cars streamed past me, that I was out of fuel.
I faltered through the Foggies chicane – two corners to go – before the engine died, and I had to pull onto the grass.
My first ever DNF. My second time being towed back to the pits at Donington.
Perhaps surprisingly, I’m not mad about the fuel cock-up. Sure, another £1 would have probably got me to the flag, but I showed that even with a damaged car (and wrist!) I could be fast. Jamie Harrison was 2nd in the B class championship, and is certainly no slouch, and this was the first time I’ve been faster than him!
I know I still have a lot to learn, and the car is much faster than I am. The positive to take away from an unlucky weekend is that I’m confident I can improve to be close to the lap times of B class Champion Jack Wilkinson, and that means I should be aiming at the top 3 of the B class for next year!
As long as I can keep all four wheels on the ground…