As I stood at the back of the trailer, being pelted by raindrops bigger than the umbrella I was hoping to shelter beneath, a river of water ran off the ramp and filled my entire ‘waterproof’ shoe within seconds.
It was like starring in a sad French film, so I shrugged, waiting for Glenn to bring back another wire to bypass the right running light – the latest in a chain of disasters that morning.
By the time our woes had been sorted, and we’d changed the battery on the Land Rover which had gone flat as we worked, FIVE HOURS had passed over our expected leaving time.
With our luck this season, it was hard not to get depressed. Plus, as we loaded the Sheane up the night before we saw the top suspension arm was bent. It had taken Glenn every spare moment to repair the damage we knew about from Brands Hatch (bent steering arm joint, holed side panel, side chassis tubes all caved in, bent rear axle tube etc) and so we’d be using the gutless and untouched engine we’d struggled with, only this time on a power circuit.
At least I got my first attempt at towing the car as I drove part of the way on the long trek to Croft in North Yorkshire through Bank Holiday traffic.
But when we got there, with the shadows drawing longer, it was sunny and dry! And that’s how it stayed for the weekend, as the Midlands suffered horrendous thunderstorms!
I’d found a last-second way to attach the brand new RTV gazebo to the trailer, and so we set about getting that up as Michelle and Mark arrived to help out for the weekend, and things were definitely looking brighter as the sun faded over the fields.
Expecting the car to try to kill me at the first corner, I was surprised to find it felt very balanced. It pulled slightly to the left, but I could live with that if it was willing to play ball in the twisty bits. Glenn had strung it all up and set it as it was, and so we’d pretty much compensated for the bits that were still bent.
For once, I started pushing a fair bit straight away and got a few slides from the car that were very controllable. Slowly scrubbing memories of last years top speed spin from my mind, and a very tense moment watching Martin Snarey spin in front but managing not to collect me, I qualified 14th and 14th for the races.
Not bad considering I still had absolutely no idea where to brake for a good few of the corners! All I did know was that I’d watched my footage from last year and knew I should be braking later and carrying more speed, well, everywhere.
I stayed out wide on the first turn (memories of getting taken out on the inside last year!) but was on Coopers tail, when Bill Garner slipped up the inside. As soon as we got through the chicane he began easing away on the straight.
I closed in again around Tower and kept it pinned all the way to Sunny In – where Bill had had to brake hard to avoid the backwards me last year! This time I’d mildly locked my front right over the bumps and hung onto his tail as I took a tight line through.
I knew I had a great run but just wasn’t making any impression, and I could see cars all over my mirrors jostling for position behind me. I closed right up again into the hairpin, lighting up my tyres (I’ll come back to that later) as I got the power down and hoping he’d be one of the unlucky ones to miss second gear.
He didn’t, and again was eeking out time on the straight as my lack of power began to get frustrating… As he eased away into the complex again, I was a sitting duck as Jamie Harrison drove up the inside and was out of reach before I even had a chance to put up any fight. I recaught and tussled with him a little but couldn’t make it too much of a scrap.
As Dave Leniewski got alongside and passed unchallenged as well, I realised I’d have to seriously push it in the bendy bits and see what more I could reach for. A few things started to click in my head as I got the car sliding more, controlling it on the throttle rather than steering, but I still had a long way to go, and Sam Engineer and Mark Egan shuffled me back one more space at a time in the pack.
I knew I was much faster into the first corner and Sunny In than the herd of cars around me, but without the grunt to stick my nose alongside anyone I just couldn’t use it. Even when I got a great exit they’d soon pull it back and drive away again.
And, of course I had to keep it all clean to get some much needed points on the board. “Don’t spin” had been Glenn’s advice, and the lairy slides I was having might have been slightly at odds with that advice.
But I was learning all the time, and enjoying it, and eventually got Egan back (much to the amusement of our respected crews, who were stood watching after Glenn had helped solve a few problems with Egan’s Ray before the race!).
It’s hard to appreciate how difficult it can be to race in a tight pack. When you go for a move on one car, the cars behind you will take advantage as you get blocked, and sweep around you even as the disappointment of your own failed pass sinks in.
Following Sam through the flat-out back section, his car misfired and I had to brake (yes, not even just lift off!) for two crucial corners up to Sunny In, and on Sunny Out, putting myself out of position on the exit. Mark didn’t need an invitation, and drove past me at my weakest point on the run towards the complex.
I tried to find a way past onto the finish straight, but had no chance as I saw the chequered flag being waved up ahead. I’d been shuffled all the way to the back of our pack, but still finished a respectable 16th and 5th in class.
And now I had a few lightbulbs clicking on in my head…