I love Donington Park – but it hates me!
So far at Donington I’ve managed 3 corners before the engine seized in my first ever Vee drive, qualified badly after a spin losing my fastest lap plus my last one, caught a few feet of air in a crash and demolished my wrist in the first race, and then ran out of petrol whilst flying in the second race.
So this year had to yeild a bit of luck, right?
I’ve never done the National track layout before, so studied many hours of onboard footage to find braking and turning points, and decided to dial them right back to get my required 3 minimum safe laps in to qualify.
I cruised out onto the track, easing back into things as I tried to get a feel for some of the changes we’ve made to rear ride height on the car over Winter, and to just generally get my head back into driving a racecar.
Straight away I was moving past people not yet even thinking about getting my tyres up to temperature on the out-lap. I came onto the back straight and as we approached my newly learned braking zone, Ian Buxton passed me, I hit the brakes nice and early to follow him through the chicane, but as soon as he slammed on his brakes in front of me I knew I was in trouble.
Maybe he’d got his tyres and brakes up to temperature, but I could tell there was no way I was possibly going to stop before I smashed into the back of him. I was at that ‘floaty’ point on the brakes – after exceeding traction but before locking up (which is where you want to be on a fast lap on the limit) – but maximum braking is pretty useless when your overall traction levels are about half what they should be.
I threw the car to the right hoping I could pull it up before he came across on the racing line, or hoping he’d run wide himself, but Buxton didn’t stand much chance and my left front hit his side, spinning him around as I carried us both deep into the gravel trap… Not even one lap completed.
Understandably, he wasn’t impressed, and probably assumed I’d made a crazy dive down the inside. As I undid my belts I heard footsteps pounding through the gravel towards me.
Ian had a bit of a (well deserved) shout at me and then stomped off where the marshalls led him to safety. I got out and took my helmet off (this might not be the wisest move under the circumstances!) and tried to diffuse things with an apology as we waited for the snatch vehicle to drag our cars out of the gravel.
When they did, both cars looked relatively unscathed, other than being full of gravel. In hindsight, I should have jumped back in and got back on track to try and get the laps in to qualify, but didn’t think of that.
I drove the car back and legged it up to race control to see what I could do about getting the laps in so I could race, and they said I could follow the course car around during the lunch break, and then be allowed to start from the back of the grid for both races.
I went back down to the garage to pick gravel out of the poor pebble-dashed Sheane and then heard my name over the tannoy being called back up to see the Clerk of the Course. Uh-oh.
Remembering school time visits to the Headmasters Office, I slunk into the room and was asked to explain what happened.
I held my hands up to it all straight away – said exactly what had happened, and reiterated that I wasn’t trying to be stupid and was still cruising around, as far as I was concerned, but cocked up.
Then they moved on to the events after we were in the gravel trap – and it became clear that they Do Not Want any fisticuffs or threatening at the track side! This was clearly big no-no, so make a big note of that in case you end up tangling with another car!
It wasn’t anything to do with Ian Buxton, and I fully understood (and deserved!) his reaction, and so made sure they understood that I wasn’t threatened or intimidated by him etc. He had a few words in anger – I wasn’t scared for my life – there was no harm done, as far as I was concerned. I was just glad I hadn’t killed his car or hurt him!
I heard them call Ian up to the office after me, and we were both allowed to race, so I think I handled it all ok for the both of us.
We then just had to do a Drive Of Shame behind a pace car for 3 laps at hot road hatchback pace…
Oh, and Ian absolutely stormed through the grid in race 1 to finish in 6th with the fastest lap. That probably helped smooth things over for when we did shake hands later in the day.
Although he did still quip that he could have won that if it wasn’t for me!
Fair point, well made, Ian. Sorry…