It’s only now that I’m looking back through my camera footage (as I make the compilation video) that I realise what a terrible first half of the season I had!
I’ll post my long edit video first for those who don’t want to read my long edit blog:
And I also must thank my sponsors JooVuu for supplying the best action cameras and accessories from a UK company, and Primrose Hospice who have been there and helped several people close to me in the last few years.
So what happened to me in the 2017 Formula Vee championship?
Oulton Park International
OK, so I drove really well at Oulton Park, but as I left the pit lane in qualifying my engine spat out a spark plug with the thread still attached, leaving me trundling around to qualify at the very back. If not for that, I’d have undoubtedly got my first class win, and quite possibly done the double.
I love the track and have done hundreds of track day laps on bikes, so it didn’t really surprise me that I was quick there. When I was on a charge with the recovering Dave Leniewski at the end of race two, we were about two seconds a lap faster than the cars ahead of us – even getting in each others way – and the speed I closed in on Jamie Harrison into the final corner I actually put two wheels onto the grass and was going to put all four off and pass before the braking zone before Common Sense kicked in!
I still think I could have pulled it off, too…
Brands Hatch GP
So from that high of my first ever second place trophy, we went to Brands Hatch for an amazingly expensive and rare go at the full GP circuit.
In terrible conditions with relentless rain, I lost the back on the exit of Paddock Hill in qualifying, correcting the slide no problem… but then the rears hit the outside camber and it launched me into the gravel so fast I got my first taste of how big an accident you can have there. Luckily I stopped before hitting the wall, and Paresh Kumar and Chris Whitehouse both helped massively getting the tonnes of gravel out of EVERYWHERE to get me out with seconds to spare before the start of the race.
With the rain still pouring, I had gear selection issues and started from pit lane, and under a first safety car experience, I found myself trapped behind a struggling Peter Cann who couldn’t catch up to the main pack as his own car was handling like a nightmare. I got in Trouble for pulling alongside him to motion him to catch up – which was a bit harsh, if you ask me!
And then a circlip on the gearbox popped off leaving me to retire, stuck in second gear, anyway…
Race two saw me lose it going into Paddock Hill as I locked the rears (still wet) and put it straight back into the gravel.
It took weeks to strip the car and clean and get all that gravel out. It was terrible.
What I did learn there was that I’d crashed by not pushing. Leaving it in fourth gear for Paddock meant I had less engine braking than when I’d normally drop to third. This meant rather than my rear wheels slowing me and stabilising the car, their momentum pushed the rear on… The physics all make sense in hindsight – and I was only leaving it in fourth because I was trying to keep everything safe and in ‘survival mode’ to just finish in the terrible conditions…
I put it all behind me for a sunny Croft, where I always go well but am usually hampered by being unable to get second gear out of the hairpin. Not this time, though, as we had all four definite gears!
After a sensible qualifying I shot off the grid (something I’ve been getting a name for this year!) holding a tight line through the first corner. With 15 cars right up my exhaust pipe, I was then pretty committed to staying inside through turn two, but Mark Egan didn’t see me and cut to the apex through my front left wheel as I got hit from behind trying to brake a little more to avoid the inevitable…
Race over with my first contact-induced DNF. I still say Mark should have left me racing room as I had nowhere else I could possibly go (other than block-passing him), but it was also a ‘racing incident’ so I couldn’t really blame him, either.
And as the marshals pushed me off the track with a snapped steering arm flapping in the breeze, it also started to rain on me. Yeah, thanks.
Going out for the second race I could tell instantly that the car felt all kinds of wrong. The steering wheel wasn’t straight, for a start. A red flag saved me from dropping back further in the field, and I convinced myself I was just being a wuss, and the car was fine.
On the restart I ignored the handling issues and gave it everything, closing down Colin Gregory at the fastest part of the circuit… but as the steering wheel wasn’t straight, when I straightened the car up ready to brake into Sunny In, I’d actually put my left rear onto the grass just as I hit the brakes hard.
This was an amazingly fast spin that wasn’t entirely unpleasant as I mowed the grass to the inside of the track (seriously, I had grass get inside my damned helmet, somehow!?), but then realised I was going to go back across the track. Bill Garner did well to avoid me, but I’d blown it and was down to the back of the field again.
I scrabbled a few places back in the couple of laps we had, but it wasn’t great. Another lesson: If you think the car is doing weird scary stuff it’s probably not just in your head.
With Glenn Hay working his magic, the car was in top shape as we went to Wales.
And it did all feel good – I was in tune with the car, and drove the best I ever have done, under the sun, by the sea.
It was also some of the most entertaining racing as I diced first with Martin Snarey and then with Colin Gregory, and beating both to the flag.
I stayed right with the lead pack for the whole first lap in the seconds race, which was another first for me, but although still driving well was unable to keep Jamie Harrison behind me in the closing laps, as I missed a gear as we diced and then just couldn’t catch him again!
Another track where I’d normally go well, but in qualifying a faulty seal was leaking oil onto the clutch, resulting in much slippage. Some hasty bodge repairs got me out for the first race, but sadly didn’t hold and I had to crawl around to make the finish.
This did mean I had to try and over compensate in the corners, resulting in my most awesome video moment to date – a huge filthy great drift through Vale performed almost to perfection!
I had a brilliant fight at the end of the race with Martin Snarey, swapping places several times in the closing laps, and getting a great cut-back on the last corner, only to be foiled again as I was unable to get any power down and he beat me by just under a tenth of a second at the line!
A late night from Glenn, with help from James Harridge, Jake Hockley and Michelle Berry meant I started the second race with a fresh clutch. This sorted out the worst of the problems, but some slight clutch slip remained for the rest of the year – something we aim to fix by fitting stronger clutch springs.
The race went well, and I showed a fair pace and was running third in class for most of the race, after brief dices with Colin Gregory, Bill Stenning and Mark Lawton. All the time in my mirrors I was watching Jamie Harrison charging ever-closer, and thinking I’d covered the line well enough I slowed a little too much into Abbey, only to have him slide to the outside, blocking my exit and getting through in a terrific sneaky move, and knocking me off the B class podium by a tenth of a second!
Opting to save our tired car and not do the practice session meant I was at a disadvantage going into qualifying, but at this stage saving the car was more important, and I knew the track from bike trackdays. Or thought I did – except we were doing a slightly different layout!
The race was pretty terrible with everyone terrified of hitting the wall in the downpour. Everyone spun and went off everywhere, but I found myself ahead of Pete Belsey and Paul Taylor and doing ok – only to run very wide on the last lap and have to spin around to get back on the track. That was a bit disappointing as it would have been a great result, but at least I hadn’t hit the wall!
Race 2 was cancelled as even the safety car didn’t like the conditions out there – I would have still been happy to go out and have a crack, though!
Donington Park National
Surprisingly, despite the number of disasters over the season, it turned out I was a mere 1 point behind second in the B Class championship going into the last round. Jamie Harrison just had to make it to the grid in one race to win the title, which left me and Colin Gregory fighting for the rest of the podium.
My left rear tyre was down to the bone, the clutch slipping on every upshift, and the engine just very tired and down on power – but I decided that I could still do it!
After a safe qualifying session the first race was in heavy rain, and in the first few laps a few cars dumped oil all over the racing line. I opted to play it safe with cars going off everywhere, and thanks to Colin having a nightmare start ending on the grass and all sorts, I did just enough to stay ahead of him with no dramas.
Race 2 was dry, and it was calculated that on drop-scoring I was actually still 1 point behind Colin in the championship – so had to beat him again!
Nothing else out there mattered more than my mirrors after I’d made another good start and got ahead of him. I was managing my race nicely behind Mark Egan and Andrew Cooper, but then he caught me when I missed a gear shift, and went through along with Ross Price.
Kicking myself as they pulled into the distance, I was ok with nursing the car home to a safe 3rd place… but then something came burning up inside me and I decided I had to win!
I clawed Ross and Colin back in, and then we traded places in an epic battle – we were all fighting very hard and giving nothing away, but also all safe around each other. A proper battle.
As I lunged to the front of them I missed my braking into Clearways and as I managed to hold it all on the track they both came back through, but then almost touched wheels into the chicane. I’d stayed just far enough back to stay out of trouble but be ready to pounce, and out dragged them both up the pit straight.
Ross had one last attack into Redgate but had to go in far too hot, and I just let him sail by and then cut back under him on the exit. I got my head down and pushed hard, dropping them both off to a safe distance, braking early and softly into the final chicane to make sure I came out on top.
It felt like one of the greatest achievements of my life!
I realise it was only for 2nd place in a B class championship, but in my opinion if you don’t get excited by that then what are you even doing it for?
Then of course the bubble burst and I became the first driver of the weekend to get a time penalty for passing under yellows (despite many being called up and mine not giving me any kind of advantage) – which dropped me back so far in the race I lost everything to finish only 4th in the championship. Still not bad, but it does take the shine off things.