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Croft Analysis

It’s amazing how a few poor results can affect you.

So far this season, things have not gone well.  I’ve been driving pretty badly, and combined with some car failures, I’d been questioning myself.  Questioning if I can afford to be doing this if I’ve got no chance against faster cars and drivers with bigger budgets.

There’s no question that the other Formula Vee racers are more skilled than me – even those that don’t have a background in trackdays and karting have more experience in Vee’s, more testing, or just have youth on their sides!

I’d been starting to enjoy the stuff in between races more – editing and processing videos, writing race/press reports, and the quest to find some sponsorship.  Learning to enjoy that is no bad thing, as it takes an ungodly amount of hours fo my time – but I’m supposed to be here to race.

When it was raining so heavily at Croft for qualifying, I was literally just following Tony Mitchell around for most of the session, eventually getting passed him but still just driving.  If Miss Daisy had been sat next to me she wouldn’t have even spilled her cup of tea.  Proper ‘meh’.

I’d lost any hope of testing out our all-new lower rear suspension mountings, or running in brand new brake pads for the first time.  What a waste of time…

I gave myself a bit of a shake after that, reminding myself of my Brands Hatch blog where I swore I’d push harder everywhere.

As if to try and break my spirit even more, the track was now bone dry for the first race, and so my first ever dry lap of Croft would be at full racing speed.

Except this time I was ready.

I knew that in theory Croft would suit me.  I’d watched video so I knew where to brake (although admittedly I’d watched James Harridges footage, which meant I’d know where to brake to get it ridiculously sideways and murder myself within three corners!), and now I could just about remember which way the track went.

So when those lights went out I just went for it.

Now, up to this point I realise I haven’t sounded like my own biggest fan.  I do have self-confidence, and have proved I can drive quickly at the end of last year.  More importantly, when you flip that visor down nothing else matters.  Nothing.  When I’m staring through my blue iridium tint I can win, and I’m there to win.

I still hesitated slightly before dropping the clutch and feeding the revs up, and the biggest gain I had over the rest was changing up to second, then to third.

In second I knew I’d got a bit of a blinder, because I was already a few rows forward, and everyone else was looking slower.  I simply drove through a hole up the middle of the grid, lifting off briefly as I thought I’d maybe stolen enough places, then getting back on it and diving to the outside to pic up a few more positions.

I just figured I’d do whatever the car ahead of me did, and trust I had the skills to hold onto the car.

When we came to the Jim Clark Esses I knew everyone said they didn’t lift off, and so I just kept my foot in and trust Glenn’s suspension work would help.  It felt great getting through easily, and then taking the first two flat-out right handers the same!

The brakes must have bedded in despite the wet qualifying, because they were sharper than they’d ever been.  I looked through the corners and pressed on, seeing cars in my mirrors but nobody close enough to make a move.

Then I hit the hairpin, and cars streamed passed as I tried to find second gear.  That’s something I have to work on, because I lost masses of time!

After that I just kept pushing a little harder everywhere.  There is a big twitch where the weld on the anti-roll z-bar at the back snapped, and I dropped two wheels over the drop of a large curb, which pitched me back across the track in 4th gear flat out.  I thought I was going to spin but caught it so fast, still keeping the loud pedal pressed down, that Darren Lomas behind me barely made up any time.

Of course I didn’t know that the z-bar had snapped until after the race, and so just kept going, and despite the flying Alex Jones also getting passed me as I fished for second gear at the hairpin again, I came a respectable 13th.

I knew I could take big chunks out of my time, but that wasn’t to be, as we had some of the worst race conditions ever seen for the second race…

I’d also been revving the car higher, and although Jake Hockley in his much newer GAC was able to pull away on the straights, he wasn’t pulling away all that much.  I have found that as I hit around 7000rpm the needle on the gauge starts doing all kinds of funky stuff except stay still and tell me what revs I’m pulling.  I was estimating 7400rpm for my gear changes, and the car seemed happy with that.

Anyway – between races we got one of the AHS crew to re-weld the z-bar, and were ready to go.

I’d hyped myself up for the wet.

I knew it was totally pointless driving like I had in qualifying.  I wanted to use the dreadful conditions to get the car moving around a bit.  In the wet you obviously reach the limits of traction much sooner than in the dry – but when the car does let go it does so more progressively.  If you’re fast enough you can catch it and get the balance and drift.  In theory, this will happen in the wet exactly as it would in the dry, but be more controllable.

I hit the brakes about 4 times before we reached the first corner – because all I could see was spray from the 20 cars ahead, didn’t know if I’d be pushing my face up against their engines at any second in a surprise inspection, and couldn’t actually see the edges of the track to know where the corner was!

I knew people ahead would spin off, and sure enough some cars appeared out of the spray at funny angles through the first chicane and I picked a way through as best as I could.  My tighter line may have taken me passed someone under yellow flags, but as I couldn’t see more than 6ft away and didn’t even know which way any of the cars around me were facing, or if anyone was following me, I think I’d be forgiven for that one.

Feeding in the power down the next straight the puddles were tearing at the steering wheel and the rears were spinning up at the same time, making things ‘educational’.  As I gently eased the brakes on I could barely see if my wheels were locked up, and as I was aquaplaning anyway it was just plain weird.

I cadence braked whenever I knew my wheels were locked, but to be honest that’s not as obvious in those conditions as you’d think.

There were huge puddles on the inside of some turns, but already I was starting to enjoy myself.  I even started dropping my front wheel into some of these puddles to help me turn the car!

I wasn’t getting the power down as hard and soon as I’d have liked to, but I was pounding down the straights and braking pretty late into a few corners.  The wheels were still spinning up in 4th gear on the straights, then puddles ripped you sideways under braking, the car slithered straight on through the corner and then snapped to oversteer, then even more so as you got back on the power!  What a rush!

I was getting a move on when Ian Buxton overtook me (he was one of the first corner spinners), but unlike every other time he’s done that I realised he wasn’t disappearing – I was still on him and actually had to drop back a bit as I didn’t want to spear him into a corner again!

I knew it was treacherous braking into Tower, and so should have been braking much earlier with my new-found speed, but I either forgot where to brake or got too enthusiastic.  The wheels locked several times and I knew I’d have to run wide, so let off the brakes deep in the corner, ready to snap on the opposite lock to catch it for a spectacular drift, and something went *ping* and the back swung around.

I saw mud spray into the air as I hit the grass, and let the car spin 360 so I could get control in the right direction again, hitting the starter button and finding a gear to get me back on the black stuff.

But the ping had been the weld on the z-bar braking again – meaning the rear had dropped down and that lack of clearance beached me in the mud.

I tried rocking out in reverse before giving up and holding my hand up for the marshals to know I was stuck. 

I still had the engine running hoping for a push, but they pulled out the red flags to stop the race.  They said it was too dangerous, anyway, so don’t think the race would have carried on much longer either way… At least they did give me a push so I wasn’t towed in behind the Wagon Of Shame again!

So whilst it wasn’t great to end that way, psychologically the weekend was massive for me – in a very positive way!

I know I can still drive fast in the dry and hold my own – even on a track I don’t know, with a broken car.  And I know I can be properly quick in the wet.  I mean, I was 9th fastest when I went off, but was barely getting up to speed, and properly enjoying myself as I did so!

I didn’t think the weather was that bad!  My test last year on Silverstone National was a fair bit worse, so I’ve got that as my wet benchmark – and I survived that!

Mallory Park for the next race could be interesting, because I’ve done around a hundred laps around there on a Kawasaki ZX-6R B1H, but that was with the little bike chicanes in place.  And I could find gears at the tight hairpin.

One thing for sure is that I won’t be worried about it raining anymore!

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