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Rounds 1 & 2: Donington Park National

I had to put the earlier mistake from qualifying out of my head, but also make sure I got in a solid and safe finish to get some points on the board.

‘Safe’ was the key – nobody wants to get a reputation as a crasher, or especially as someone who takes other people off!

For this weekend we’d also got the help of Chris ‘Vard’ Vardon – who, unlike me, actually has some mechanical skills that can help Glenn, as well as get stuck in with lifting, carrying and pushing stuff around.  It was Vard’s first ever time in the Vee paddock, and I think he enjoyed it – we may even see him on the grid himself, some day.  So a massive thanks to him!

Race 1

On the green flag lap I found the car was pulling heavily to the left after the earlier collision.  Not the end of the world, as I could drive around it – but more importantly I still hadn’t pushed the Sheane into a corner in anger since we’d changed the engine mountings and rear ride height. 

We had also found that the font dampers have 21 settings, which could explain some of the issues we had with our suspension being too soft – I’d thought there were only 10 settings, and so was being rather conservative with my changes to harden it up.

I pulled up to my spot right at the back of the grid, but when the lights went out it all got very strange as nobody else seemed to move!  I sped away and then eased off seeing a couple of slow and stationary car, assuming I’d missed a red flag.

I still picked up a few places into Redgate, and settled in to feel how the car was going to handle.

I had a brief tussle with new racer John Hartin, pulling alongside him down to the Roberts chicane.  Truth be told, I sold him a bit of a dummy there!  After the qualifying crash there was no way I was going to risk taking anyone out on that corner again, and unless he’d hit the brakes very early I was always going to let him go through first.  As it was, he braked late in defence – too late – and locked up, leaving me to dive back down the inside and take the corner.

Being honest, my driving was pretty poor.  I was being far too cautious, and nowhere near as committed as I was last year on the GP circuit layout.  I was easing off the throttle at the bottom of the Craner Curves, where I should have been keeping it pinned. 

The revs were spiking as I changed gear – something that’s never happened to me before, and not necessarily from my shoddy gear changes!  After my Drive Of Shame earlier behind the pace car I did notice the revs stuck at 3000 rpm when I went to switch off – and my car doesn’t normally idle at all.  This could also simply be the clutch pedal, as we literally got the car back together the night before, and so hadn’t had a chance to test anything.

I was carrying more speed through Old Hairpin then last year, but was still nowhere near the edge.

My favourite corner was still Coppice – you jab the brakes quickly and hard about halfway down the curb on the left before throwing it hard right over the blind crest.  You have to be brave.  I also found that keeping a tight line through the double-apex seemed a lot faster, but the back end starts to swing around, and you just balance it there, letting it bring you around without any opposite lock, hard on the throttle all the way out to the exit curb.

Even then I was too hard on the brakes for too long.  The same problem at Redgate, where I was also fast last year…

There wasn’t a single corner where I wasn’t well away from how hard I should be pushing it – how hard I KNOW I can push it – and still be within my own safety zone.

I managed to go from 24th up to a 14th place finish – which was pretty good, considering, but a bit disappointing when I’d been hoping for top 10, and I never even got close to catching Snarey and Harrison and my usual playmates.

I was lapped by the leaders at Old Hairpin, seeing them nice and early and getting well out of the throttle and offline to wave them all through.

Paul Smith lapped me a full lap before the gaggle fighting for second place, and unsurprisingly demolished the rest to win, with Graham Gant and Craig Pollard finally securing the rest of the podium.  James Harridge got 5th overall to win the B Class ahead of Mari Snarey and Colin Gregory after Jack Wilkinson had problems and couldn’t capitalise on his fastest lap in class.

Race 2

Starting from right at the back again, as soon as I pulled away from the start I knew something was wrong.  I got a few places, but the rest of the field simply drove awy from me into the distance even before I’d made it to Redgate!

I drove a bit better, pushing harder through the turns and knocking 2 seconds off my lap times as I tried to make up for the loss of power.

A few laps in I head a sound that I thought was the power cable to my camera hitting the roll hoop… then it got bigger and louder, and with everything else seeming normal (and no smoke) I figured the exhaust had come loose somewhere.  That would explain the power loss and why the sound only seemed to be when I was at certain revs in 4th gear.

There was no way I was going to rock the headlines in this race, so I latched onto the back of Francis Twyman (having his own issues) and decided to just bring it home behind him, changing up nice and early and pressing on as much as I could through the corners.

In hindsight, that’s where I should have pulled into pit lane for Glenn to have a quick check of things, but I stayed out one more lap, and inevitably I saw smoke in my mirrors as I crossed the start line.

The first part of the track is very fast and flowing, and it’s very hard to find anywhere to pull off safely that won’t affect everyone else’s race!  I cruised through Old Hairpin and pulled right onto the grass to park it up by the wall, shutting it down and jumping out for a look and to make sure nothing caught fire.

When the car was put on the back of The Wagon Of Shame and taken back to the pits, we found a big bloody hole that definitely wasn’t supposed to be there!

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Paul Smith dominated the race with another clear victory (so much so that I thought he’d had problems as he was so far ahead of the rest!), with John Hughes a distant second after an amazing scrap, and Harridge 3rd overall and taking the B Class victory again.  Jack Wilkinson claimed 2nd in class (and 5th overall behind Harry Webb), with Colin Gregory claiming another 3rd in class.

As bad as my weekend may have been, there was a huge and scary incident for Tim Probert.  There was a lot of oil on the circuit from several cars, and Tim went into the gravel at Roberts, and then Ian Buxton also went off in the same place, head on into and launching over Tim, giving him a good clout on the noggin as he did so.  Luckily Tim was shaken up but ok – the car not so much so…

New racer Harry Webb also had a scary incident as his steering arm snapped at high speed, and Martin Snarey had his own brown trouser moment when his wheel bearings collapsed!

Hopefully my engine issues will be a simple fix, and we should be out for Brands Hatch in a months time – and this time I’ll keep reminding myself that if I’m not on the edge in every corner then I should be pushing harder!

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