donington park, epic battle, final race, final round, formula vee, joovuu, Primrose Hospice, scrap, tactics
With the track now bone dry and warm, it was set to be a very different second race.
I talked over my tactics with Glenn Hay – I was going to go for it, but if Colin Gregory was showing he was much faster, I’d just let him go and make sure I kept a safe finish to secure third place in the B Class championship.
I stiffened the front anti-roll bar back to dry settings, but left the dampers soft in the hope it would help me find the last of the grip from the worn rear tyre.
I felt relaxed but totally focused as we took the grid. I was in 18th place with Colin just to my right, his second best qualifying time 0.04 seconds faster.
Andrew Cooper was directly in front of me on the grid with Jack Wilkinson a few rows ahead – I was expecting Jack to disappear but thought I might be closer to Cooper in this one. Not that it really mattered, as all I had to to do was beat the white Sheane of Colin.
With the championship won and pressure off, I thought Jamie Harrison might come through strongly, but I knew I’d been faster than him here before.
I slipped a fingertip under my visor to wipe away my condensed breath one final time, as I inhaled twice deeply to oxygenate my blood and slow my pounding heart.
The lights went out and the Sheane shot forward instantly. I slammed it into second gear thinking I should give drag racing a go, and then Cooper was drifting across the track to cover the outside line as I pushed the lever forward into third gear.
I had to feather the throttle slightly with nowhere to go before we turned into Redgate, but we’d all got away well and I could see I had space behind to take a decent line – Colin was still behind but I had a few car lengths plus Phil Waterhouse slotting between us.
Cold tyres down the Craner curves was always a hairy moment, and as I opted for the slow-in, fast-out line into Old Hairpin Colin passed Waterhouse with two wheels on the grass around the outside.
I was totally focused on the red and white Challenger of Cooper as he went through the final chicane all over Mark Egan’s Ray, and as Egan checked up on the exit all I saw was clear track to the left and had a run down the straight.
I still didn’t think I’d have the speed to stay ahead of Cooper, but was alongside Egan into Redgate, settling behind him with Cooper a few lengths behind me as I realised I was second in class and holding my own!
I put a tyre half over the curb as we came back onto the pit straight, watching as Cooper picked up a tow off me and Egan pulled out another car length over me.
I snapped the gear lever into fourth as fast as I could… and got a big bag of nothing!
Cooper shot past me with inches to spare, followed by Colin. I finally got fourth on the third attempt as Ross Price also blasted by.
I’d lost momentum, but tried to hold onto them, knowing I was strong up the hill out of Old Hairpin.
Colin and Ross were side by side into McLeans, but Ross had to lift as he went wide. Taking the corner well I took advantage and passed him, but Colin was still a fair few lengths ahead, drifting a wide line around Coppice.
I love Coppice. The apex is blind and it takes balls to commit to it over the blind crest. I nailed it and was close enough to catch a slipstream down the back straight.
I took a dive up Colin’s inside at Redgate from a long way back, but never got close enough to force the issue as he closed the door – then I nearly jumped out of my skin as Ross went around the outside of me! Nice sneaky move!
This time he got the better of Colin into McLeans, but ran straight over the curb on the exit, showering me in mud (seriously, there was a splatter right over my left eyeball on my visor for the rest of the race!), and we both passed before Ross was back on the tarmac.
I closed right up into the chicane, but Colin had his head down and started to pull away. Ross slid up the inside into Old Hairpin and I thought he might be able to drag me back to Colin. Christian Goller also came through on a crazy charge from the back of the grid (he’s going to be seriously quick next year), but I wasn’t concerned as his Challenger is A Class. I tried to come back at him into the chicane but backed out rather than taking him and potentially Ross out as well.
What was concerning me was watching them all drop me as Christian passed the other two B Class cars and I failed to claw my way back to them.
By the end of the lap, Colin had at least four or five seconds over me and I was starting to think what could have been as I checked the empty track in my mirrors.
I looked for Glenn and my sister Michelle on the pit wall as I passed, settling in to bring it home for third in the championship… and it was about then that I thought:
“I can’t have that.”
Screw the slipping clutch and screw the balding tyres – I wanted this! I might never be in this position again, so what sort of racing driver was I if I didn’t try and do it?
I’d been consciously using every inch of the track and the curbs all weekend, and hitting my lines almost robotically. I cleared my mind and went for it, and by the end of the lap was totally in the zone.
Ross and Colin started getting more scrappy ahead, and when Ross again ran over the curb exiting Old Hairpin I blasted past up the hill.
I carried my momentum, taking seconds off Colin through McLeans and Coppice, even making enough to pull out of his tow into the chicane to force him into a defensive line.
He held me off down through Craner, but I was all over him up the hill faking a move to the outside braking into McLeans that he had to cover, going in too hot. I simply cut back and drove past him on the exit!
Thinking I was clever, I forgot to brake into Coppice, flying straight over the crest and heading directly towards the fence. And I still didn’t want to scrub off too much speed and let him back through!
I threw the car hard right, the back end stepping out over the curb, but caught it instantly with a twitch of opposite lock.
But I was wide, and saw a flash of white and then black as Colin went through along with Ross!
My refusal to scrub off speed had left me close enough to catch their slipstream onto the straight, and as they went side by side into the chicane I waited to take advantage of the contact…
By some miracle they kept their wheels apart, but they’d lost speed and I hadn’t. I held the left apex a split second longer to bring me to the left hand side of the track on the exit, and had already passed Ross and was alongside Colin before he could move across to block me.
Silverstone and Anglesey had taught me about over-defending, and instead I just drove, taking a mid-track entry into the final chicane to discourage Ross from making a dive as he’d got past Colin and was in my tow,
He still had my tow down the pit straight, pulling out to go inside me into Redgate – but I was never going to defend that move! I braked as late as I dared, trailbraking to the apex as Ross overshot the line in front of me, and I cut back again on the apex carrying full speed.
They had no chance after that. I set my fastest lap of the race even though I braked early into the chicane knowing I was safe.
I punched the air over the line as the realisation hit me that I’d done it!
I was screaming in the car all the way around the lap, and it was an amazing feeling knowing I’d not only done it, but came back through after dropping back. I’d won it fair and square, and there’s no finer way to feel alive!
People were cheering me! I jumped out of the car and it was all hugs and handshakes, and excited chatter as I shook hands with Colin and Ross (who’d finished between us).
I hugged my sister and even Glenn (a very rare moment for me!) knowing I’d done it and got second in the championship for RTV!
I knew I was third in class, so also had another trophy but didn’t even care where I was overall (17th), as I’d done everything I had to do.
I’d been told to take my camera footage to the Clerk of the Course, so did so happily, knowing I’d had a clean race and hadn’t seen anyone else do anything dodgy, so wouldn’t really be able to help much.
And then they took it all away…
When I’d overtaken Cooper at the end of the first lap there had been a yellow flag out for a stationary car on the grass on the right hand side (I couldn’t see anything as my view was blocked by other cars). Even though the safety risks were minimal, and I hadn’t gained an advantage (having dropped back four places within a lap), they decided to ruin the championship and decide the final race and championship results with a 10 second penalty against me rather than just give me points on my licence.
This dropped me to sixth in class, meaning I’d lose second in the championship… and third… and would end up fourth.
I paid £250 to appeal the penalty (not the reason for it) which was all a farce where the stewards refused to even discuss the penalty, and while all this was going on I missed the awards ceremony and everything.
I’m trying not to let this bitter ending ruin it for me but it’s hard.
I know I did it. I did it fair and square on the track, and everyone else knows I did it.
And that’s what I’m doing it for – to prove myself on the track.
Whatever the stewards say they can’t take that away from me.
You can view the full onboard video here: