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Vee Festival Brands Hatch Analysis

You can read the race report on the RTV team website.

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Let me get this out of the way first: I don’t like Brands Hatch.

OK, so that’s not entirely true – but it’s my least favourite track that I’ve done so far.

There are some corners that I just cannot get right, and watching others going through them at twice the speed irritates me.

That said, I do like the non-championship Vee Festival that MSV kindly put on for us, and it’s great to see some random Vee racers entered, and to have the Irish racers come over (even if they are all the quick ones!). It’s also where I’ve scored my best ever 9th place overall result, as well as the next best 10th place.

At least this year was set to stay above freezing, be mostly dry, and so not carry with it the abject fear that I would freeze to death overnight in the camper van, like last year.

Arriving early on Friday, we got to watch a few of the Vee’s testing, and they seemed to all be on it straight away.

Our aim for the weekend was to try and survive in one piece, if possible, so we can concentrate on getting the Ray out on track for next season. We were also testing Tesco Momentum 99 super unleaded for the first time, knowing we were still down on power for reliability.

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Qualifying

I tried to look after the car for this one, steadily upping the pace. With 3 races to go, and only the grid for the first one being decided on qualifying times, it was more important to stay safe.

I was settling into a rhythm despite the car feeling very sloppy, when Tim Probert dived into the kitty litter at Paddock, and we had red flags.

This was perfect, as whilst we were sat in the pit lane I asked Glenn to stiffen the dampers 2 clicks front and rear, and then I went out again a second faster straight away. Then I took another half a second off that.

Then the car jumped out of 3rd gear going into Clearways.

I thought I must have messed up the shift, and carried on – but then as I hit the apex curb at Graham Hill it popped out of 3rd gear into neutral again, when my hand hadn’t been anywhere near the gearstick since braking for Druids.

The following lap it jumped out again, and this time I couldn’t select any gears at all. I rolled towards the rear pit entrance and pulled off the track, thinking the worst.

When I was towed back into the paddock, Glenn also thought the worst, especially with the rhythmic clunking as we pushed the car.

I thought it was the end of the weekend, but Ben Miloudi stepped in and offered his spare gearbox – which would at least give us the chance to get out for the 2nd race the following morning. This is very much the spirit of Vee, and it’s rare that you’ll be left to retire if there is anyone else in the paddock who can possibly loan you tools, parts or experience to get you back out there!

With some relief, however, as Glenn began stripping the car down, he found the circlip had jumped off the end of the shaft (don’t ask me what shaft – just the one that sticks out the back!). The problem now became how to get the shaft out far enough to get the circlip back on.

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John Bowles advised getting a lever into the gearbox and trying to hoof the shaft back from the inside, which after much heaving, hammering sockets, and head scratching eventually did the trick! Of course we still didn’t know WHY it had happened, or if it would just happen again…

No matter – we had just enough time to get it all back together (I’d have liked to do a few laps of the paddock to test it, but sadly time was that tight!), and we’d be able to take our 12th place on the grid for race 1.

Race 1

Everything felt good on the out-lap, and I was getting all gears well enough to make a go of it.

I made up a couple of places before the first turn, but it wasn’t too long before Jamie Harrison and Gavin Buckley (his first time trying an English Vee) came back past me. Hard as I tried to hang onto them, they carried on easing away, leaving me in a bit of a gap on track.

I took advantage of the track space, concentrating on braking less and throwing the car faster into the corners to try and carry more speed around.

I must have improved quite dramatically at Druids, and was turning in and getting back on the power much earlier at Clearways. Unfortunately, I just could not get a grip on Paddock Hill – braking far too much, too early, and getting the line wrong every time.

Graham Hill I felt like I was doing well, but for some reason was still a lot slower through there than everyone else, whatever I tried!

For all my pushing, the car was still like it was on rails, for the most part – so I clearly wasn’t pushing it hard enough!

I’m definitely getting faster, but until I’m drifting it in on the brakes, drifting through the corner, and having to fight oversteer on the exit in every single corner I know I still have to keep forcing myself to go faster. It’s a mind thing, now, because I’m pretty sure I do have the skills to be able to sort it out if it all goes pear-shaped, so there’s no reason why I can’t be pushing that hard.

Oops – rant over! Back to the race:

I hammered it down the start straight and saw red flags and lights everywhere, so eased off to about 80% as I went over the crest to drop down into Paddock Hill… which is where I suddenly saw cars sideways on the track right in front of me!

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Ian Buxton had hit Charles Merrill as he went to lap him, leaving an unlucky Ian Jordan nowhere to go as he ploughed into Charles, ripping both cars apart and ending their weekend, but not injuring either driver.

Buxton wasn’t quite so lucky as he hit the tyre wall backwards hard enough to bend his flywheel – then being lifted off to hospital and cut out of his race suit with suspected back injuries. (Don’t worry – he was ok enough to be seen hobbling around on Sunday morning back at the track to watch the action!)

The race restarted for a 2 lap sprint to the flag before Paul Taylor lost it at Clearways and brought out another red flag and the result was declared.

Final position for The Cater Kid – 10th, alive and unscathed.

Not bad – but the realisation soon set in that Race 2 would be a reverse-top-ten grid. To spell that out – I’d be starting the next race from pole position at Brands Hatch!

Race 2

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James Cater, on pole position to start a race at Brands Hatch.

Now that’s one for the scrapbook!

Ok, so it’s not earned by being the fastest – but don’t discount the fact that I was the 10th fastest Formula Vee at Brands Hatch on that day – so that’s still pretty special!

I’d spent the previous evening psyching myself up for the start. I knew that I could push the car more in the corners, and if there was any time to try doing that it had to be when I was starting from the very front!

I was confident that if I got a half-decent start I could lead the pack into the first turn, and then would throw it into Druids faster than ever and just go from there.

Stephen Morrin was on the front row next to me in the 1600cc Irish spec Leastone with smaller wheels, so he’d be into the first corner like a stabbed rat, but I still thought I’d have the edge.

I slept well after a celebratory pint of Guinness in the Kentagon, some fine banter, and a brief stint being dragged up to dance with a lovely marshal (Ginette?).

So I woke up to this:

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Thick, freezing fog that was keeping the race track very far from the dry grippy perfection featured in my overnight self-motivation. Basically it was exactly the kind of conditions where I’d normally let someone past me just so I could follow them and let them crash first.

But I was still starting from the same spot that greats like James Hunt, Nikki Lauda etc had started from – and rather than being intimidating, it felt oddly relaxing to roll up to that start line. Like it was my home…

I was determined to get as much heat in my tyres as I could on the green flag lap, so weaved and stamped the throttle all over the place before stopping in front of the lights.

The red lights blinked off and I dropped the clutch – but bogged down as the revs I was holding hadn’t taken the crazy camber of the start line into consideration!

The car picked up again, but that had been enough for Morrin to charge past me into Paddock, and then on the exit Pete Belsey and Ben Miloudi flew out of nowhere around the outside before I got to Druids.

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The quicker cars mugged me down to 6th place at the end of the lap, and over the next few laps the rightful order reasserted itself, and I found myself back in a lonely 10th – unable to hang with those in front, but well clear of those behind.

In fact, I’d been dragged around at a pace another second a lap faster, and so actually lapped those behind me!

The race was clean for the full distance, and I brought it home 10th – having used my time to control my breathing, concentrate on not gripping the steering wheel, and pushing for faster lines and corner speed.

Race 3 – The Final

Back down the grid to start from my last finishing position in the final, I gave a wave to my dance partner as she ran down the grid, and was prepared for another lonely race, unless I could get my claws into Jamie and Gavin who were lapping about a second faster.

With another fairly decent start I was surprised to see the blue Hawk (called Harry!) driven by John Bowles all over the back of me.

This spurred me on, as there was no way I was going to let anyone else get away from me, and I turned in some decent laps (there goes another half a second!) until I dropped him.

Luckily, I then carried on pushing hard, as I saw a red car on the grass at Graham Hill, and quickly took advantage by speeding past the recovering Gavin Buckley.

As he got back up to speed and caught me, the leaders caught us both, and we had to lift to let them through, but I stayed ahead of Gavin as he tried to dive up the inside into Clearways.

Already lining up a defensive line into Paddock, as we blasted down the start straight I saw the chequered flag being waved!

I’d stolen it just in time, as I’m sure I’d have struggled to keep him behind me for another lap!

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And that resulted in a best ever overall result of 8th place!

Even better, although totally unofficial, it also made me the first B class car home, and so if the MSV Festival acknowledged the classes, I’d have also won the B class!

So all in all, it was a pretty good weekend, and very productive.  Congratulations to everyone there – especially to the winner John Hughes.  He drove so well all weekend there was never really a doubt he’d come out on top – even with his lack of time in a Vee this season!  Results are all on the MSVR website.

Do I like Brands Hatch, now? Maybe a little more…

Next year is the 50th anniversary of Formula Vee racing in the UK, and there is talk of us using the full and very rare Brands Hatch GP circuit. Combine that with the potential to see 50+ Formula Vee’s entered, some big names on the grid (Ian Flux? Tiff Needell? Ash Sutton and Michael Epps from BTCC?) and a lot of media coverage, and we could be in for something epic!

Imagine if I can get it on pole for that, one way or another?

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EDIT: Almost forgot the videos!

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