Once again we’re back to the track that I love – but it hates me!
I did my first ever Vee test here, making it three corners out of the pit lane before the engine seized… or there was the time I was winning B class until I ran out of petrol half way around the last lap… or the time an engine stud smashed through the case… or when I t-boned Buxton on the first lap of qualifying…
This time it was for the final round of the 2017 Ravenol UK Formula Vee Championship – and going into it I was third in the B Class championship and only one point behind Colin Gregory in second place!
After a year where I was sometimes faster than Jamie Harrison, he was more often much faster than me, and needed a single point to tie up the B Class championship. This basically meant all he had to do was make the grid for the start of one of the races…
To complicate things for me, fourth and fifth in the championship were the extremely quick Jack Wilkinson and Andrew Cooper – and they could both catch me and take my third place away if I didn’t finish high enough!
Because of the abandoned race at Rockingham, 750 Motor Club had give us all a free test session on Saturday morning, but with conditions slick and raining it was more of a chance to get your eye in for the track. I cruised around, changing gear around 6500rpm to save the tired engine for the races.
My left rear tyre was also now on the wear indicators, and seriously affecting grip. We swapped the left and right rear wheels over after the session, hoping it would bring enough grip back to make me competitive, although I was still setting some decent times. Unfortunately we’d also spotted some clutch slip changing from third to fourth gear, so had to hope that wasn’t getting any worse.
One more concern was that Andrew Cooper was clocked as second fastest overall! Some great driving, and confirmation that the pressure would be on me to get on his tail to minimise points damage!
The track was still cool but dry a few hours later as we rolled out. I left the dampers on the soft wet settings, trying to get a bit more rear grip, with a slight compromise on the front anti-roll in case the rain came back.
I still needed to get a decent place on the grid to be in with a chance of snatching second, but had to balance that with actually making the races.
I settled into a good rhythm, the rear wheel swap doing the job for grip, and although the slipping clutch was even more noticeable under almost full power, the car still felt pretty good.
As expected, Jack Wilkinson was the quickest B class runner, and Cooper second.
Colin was third, starting in 17th place on the grid – whilst I would be 18th.
Jamie had cruised around and then come into the pits, doing exactly what he needed to do, but unlikely to feature at the pointy end of the class battle in the first race.
Colin’s qualifying time?
My qualifying time?
It couldn’t have been set up any better!
Unusually, both races were to be held the next day, and so we all had the night to brood over tactics for the following day. We should have also taken note of Ross Price, behind us in 19th with a time of 1:24.23 – because he had no intention of leaving us two to scrap it out in the races!
Fittingly for this season, the heavens opened shortly before our early morning race began!
Here I’d like to thank James Harridge and Richard Rainbow who’d let RTV share their awning for the weekend. Personally I think it was the least Harridge could do, as he’d decided not to race but I could have done with him winning Class B to take points away from all the others!
There was a chance there would be carnage in the tricky conditions, and so my tactics were simply to finish the race in as good a position as I could. If that was ahead of Colin then even better, but there was still another race to go and he was my only real focus.
After two green flag laps, I’d felt that there was a surprising amount of grip on the track, and so believed I could push quite hard from the start.
The lights went out and I got an amazing start, blasting forward like everyone else was stood still.
Unfortunately Cooper saw my move to the inside of the track and moved over to block me – I’d got so much momentum already that I actually had to brake hard to avoid going into the back of him!
Paul Taylor snuck through around Redgate, but I was still on the back of Cooper, Mark Egan and a large pack. I’d left Colin for dead on the start line – as it turned out he’d got all kinds of sideways and ended up on the grass by the pit wall, and then had to fight his way back through!
The track conditions were deteriorating rapidly, and the car snapped sideways up the hill out of Old Hairpin as I changed into fourth – fair warning given and heeded. Steve Ough ended up on the grass ahead, but was back on track as I reached him, joining out pack, with Alex Jones looming in my mirrors.
I didn’t fight as he slithered through at Old Hairpin, but now there was a thick line of oil forming around the racing line of the whole circuit, and Alex was caught out at Coppice on the following lap, spinning but rejoining behind me.
I was slowly dropping off the pack, but with nobody behind me (where were they all??) and with lots of oil down at all the places you really don’t want any oil, I was easing off anyway.
A flying Christian Goller caught me after qualifying problems had left him at the back of the grid, and an eager Neil Aldridge followed him through. On the exit of Old Hairpin Neil found the huge patch of mud and gravel someone had dragged onto the circuit, and he predictably swapped ends, letting me retake the place.
I eased off even more as cars were going off everywhere, and a charging Alex Jones caught me once more. There was nobody behind him and no point in me fighting, so I stuck on the back of him in case he lost it again, and followed him safely to the flag.
I was 16th overall, and 3rd in Class B – Colin was two places behind but still got 4th in Class B.
Jamie Harrison had officially won the Class B Championship, and predictably Jack Wilkinson took the race honours from Andrew Cooper. In the main title hunt a third place for Ben Miloudi left him teetering on the brink of the of the title, with Ian Jordan taking the win from Craig Pollard.
Some quick maths from Steve Bailey after the race put me one single point ahead, and now second in the championship… but now the drop-scores would come into play.
As Colin hadn’t done every race, this meant I had to drop my two single point finishes from Brands Hatch.
So now, headed into the final race of the year, I was again just one point behind Colin, and the only way I could take second place was to beat him!