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Snetterton 300 – Rounds 13 & 14

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We had a new engine sat on the bench for next year, so with the disaster at Silverstone it was easier to salvage all the internals from the wrecked engine and get next years engine in the Sheane early.

Glenn did all the work in time for us to have a non-running car on display for the SPEAR (Sue Pike Equine Animal Rescue) charity open day. I’m not sure rescued animals would have fully appreciated a running engine, anyway, but the day went well with dog and horse shows and lots raised for the great cause.

However, when small children are jumping in and out of your racing car all day long, they apparently want to flick every switch in sight, and be warned if you have a brake bias adjuster in your cockpit at such events… I’ll come back to that point later…

A lot of other drivers either tested the day before the race at Snetterton, or took advantage of a 30 minute session at the start of the day on Saturday – unfortunately our preparation meant we could only be loaded up and on our way (very) early on Saturday, and so couldn’t test the new engine.

Qualifying

Knowing so many others were already warmed up and dialled in to the circuit, I opted to try and tag onto one of my usual sparring partners whilst using the bits of track information I’d gained from playing Project Cars, watching YouTube videos, and reading track guides.

The sun was shining and the track grippy and warming up as we headed out.

It’s surprising how well you remember a track you haven’t been on for a year, and it doesn’t take long to drop into the groove – however, you have to make sure you get 3 laps in to be able to qualify for the race, and with such a long lap this is half the session!

To make things worse, just as I was on my second lap and starting to push now the tyres were getting warm, the red flags came out to stop the session.

I didn’t see any of it, but Neil Aldridge had put a wheel on the grass on the exit of a corner, getting it sideways, and Bill Stanier had nowhere to go as he came off the corner behind. It looked like a pretty hard contact with both cars badly damaged and out for the day, but both drivers were unhurt.

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The clean-up meant we sat in the pit lane for 20 minutes before we were finally let out again – but as this was only for another 2 laps I’d barely got up to speed again before the session ended. This wasn’t too terrible timing for me, as when I came into the pits for the red flag the car was stuck at 2,000rpm. Glenn checked it over and worked his magic with the spanners, and I still managed to get out on track with everyone else.

I tagged onto David Leniewski, sneaking past him but not able to shake him, and held him up twice at the hairpin as I struggled to find 2nd gear again (it was fine before!).

I was trying to get a bit of a move on, throwing the car into a few corners, but for some reason it didn’t feel like I was going very quickly.

After my 11th place overall finish last year, I was a bit disappointed to qualify 22nd and 21st for the races, but given the circumstances and lack of track time figured it wasn’t too bad.

The engine was making a few funny noises but the throttle problem wasn’t anything major. All my suspension settings seemed ok with the time I’d had, so I left it all the same, thinking any improvement would be more likely to come from me for the race.

Perhaps more seriously, I had Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” stuck in my brain, and was sure there’d be 3 seconds a lap improvement if I could just get the damned tune out of my head!

Race 1

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They lined us all up on the grid extremely closely, so I knew straight away it would be tough to find any sort of gap even if I got a good start.

The lights went out, and I blasted away with another great start, but then had nowhere to go. Finding some space around the outside, I made up 5 or 6 spaces on my second attempt, but then got hung out around the outside of the first turn as most of them got back up my inside.

Sam Engineer must have got an absolute flyer as he passed me into the hairpin – but now Dolly Parton had gone, and I got my head back in the game.

I passed Sam on the brakes into Agostini, locking the front wheels up all over the place as I pushed harder than I had been all day, and I remembered the brake bias adjuster, and all those inquisitive hands twisting it as they sat in the car. I made a mental note to tip the balance back towards the rear as soon as I got chance.

Jamie Harrison also had a bit of a lock-up in front of me, with Andrew Cooper sandwiched between all the tyre smoke somehow keeping out of trouble.

I tucked into Cooper’s slipstream down the straight, slipping through on the brakes into Brundle, chasing down Harrison to go down his inside into the hairpin. It seemed I had found the sweet spot with my brake balance again!

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I also decided to take the hairpin in 3rd gear, rather than trying to find 2nd, as I couldn’t see a massive difference between the two.

I tried to tuck in behind a James Harridge as he worked his way back up the grid after a spin, which lasted all of 20 seconds – but did pull me onto the back of Darren Lomas.

Making use of a good exit onto the finish straight, I held onto his tow to get around the outside before we got to the first turn, and then tried to hang onto the rapidly disappearing Harridge hoping the horde of cars behind would trip each other up.

Alex Jones must have also gone off somewhere, as he passed me into the chicane, and I could see Lomas, Cooper and Harrison all very clearly in my mirrors again.

To my surprise, I was also catching European karting champion Harry Webb – who must have been suffering some problems – as Harrison overtook Lomas in my mirrors and piled on the pressure.

As I powered out of the hairpin I saw a thick line of oil (Alex Jones had hit Craig Bell, damaging his oil cooler) on the racing line all through Palmer corner.

It was one of those spills that was impossible to avoid, as at some point in the corner you had to either brake or turn on the oil. All you can do is adjust your line to minimise this, and hold on for the ride!

I got through alright with Harrison still on my tail, but could see that Lomas had dropped right back.

With the hard-braking into the next corner at Agostini, I had to make the choice to either slow down and risk Harrison overtaking me, or go for it and risk being the first one to spin off into the wall.

Being a bit of an idiot, I quite enjoy sliding around on oil, and managed to keep the nose at the right end of the car. As I slithered over the exit curb I saw a flash of blue and yellow as Harrison went off backwards – not hitting anything, but being unable to restart and so ending our battle.

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Going into Hamilton – a small lift or even flat out but only one line through – was always going to be an interesting experience, but I somehow held that one, too, after several stages of lurid slide!

I could see Bell pulling onto the grass after the next corner, so was pretty sure that was the end of the oil, and got the hammer down, braking a little earlier and shifting a few rpm sooner knowing I now had a considerable gap over Lomas, with nobody within my sights ahead. There’s no point crashing out of a sure thing, but you also don’t want to lose your rhythm and slow too much or make a mistake.

The last lap board came out and I knew I just had to manage that gap and keep it safe on the oily bits, still getting it pretty sideways but virtually crawling around Hamilton successfully back onto grippy tarmac.

Driving out of the last corner towards the finish line I realised I must be well up the pointy end of the B Class, and began to suspect I was in the top 3!

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A quick count of the cars in the holding area confirmed the B class was won by Jack Wilkinson with James Harridge 2nd – and some newbie called James Cater had finally fought his way to a trophy!

Race 2

Phew – that was long, wasn’t it? Fortunately (for you, the reader – not me) this one will be a lot shorter.

I made up a couple of places off the line but got blocked again and had to lift right off.

Within a few corners I’d edged past David Leniewski and caught the tail of Darren Lomas and Mark Egan, so all was set to resume the scrap with the big group before the oil in the first race.

On the second lap Jamie Harrison (after a terrible start) passed me down the back straight, followed a few corners later by Andrew Cooper.

I was driving much harder through the corners – for example, where I was dabbing the brakes hard into the first turn in the first race, in this one I was just giving a small lift… and yet I just couldn’t hang with anyone!

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I managed to retake Cooper and stay ahead for a lap until he re-passed me and pulled out a little, and then he managed to hold that gap until the finish. I was clearly missing something, and think we’d lost some engine power.

Alex Jones somehow came from behind me once again (I don’t know how he keeps getting behind me like that!), but other than that my mirrors were empty.

I brought it home a fairly lonely 18th (perhaps appropriately for the final race of the season?) and 5th in Class B, but did enjoy the drive!

After the flag a mixture of lack of concentration and “I wonder if I can take the corner like THIS” into the first turn meant I clipped a high part of the curb and ended up all kinds of out of shape on the grass on the exit. My main thought was that if I spun after the flag I might get into Trouble with the Clerk of Course, so that motivated me to save it somehow as I bounced wildly over the mud!

But nobody saw that bit, right?

I think hitting that curb bent something, as the car was pulling left as I came in – oops!

Up front was titanic as ever, with Paul Smith winning a controvercial photo finish over Dave Hughes, and Adam Macaulay a tenth of a second back from them!

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So I have my first B Class podium after so many 4th places, and I’m chuffed to bits!

No doubt I’ll do a year review – but for now I’ll be looking forward to getting back on track for the Vee Festival at Brands Hatch on the last weekend of October. It’s cracking value for track time, and I hope a lot of UK cars turn out for it, because I know the Irish will come over in force again!

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