I like the thought of it more than actually doing it.
Many people have told me I’m no good at it .
It’s a waste of time and money, and I can barely afford it, anyway.
I’m socially anxious at the thought of having to talk to 40 other drivers and their crew.
I have some physical problems at the moment that will stop me doing it.
We’ve had so many false starts to get back racing in the last few years, it’s just not meant to be.
There is just too much against me.
I’m just letting everyone down.
I don’t deserve it.
All of those thoughts have gone through my head since I last raced in 2018. Some of those were even eating away at me before then, if I’m completely honest.
Which is all a bit alien, considering that I’m a very positive person who strongly believes that every one of us can live our dreams. Most people also know how chilled out I am about life in general, even under the heaviest of pressures in the most dire of circumstances (“I’m so laid-back, you can see the soles of my feet when I’m walking” as my Dad would say).
I know mental health has become a much more open and acceptable topic over the last few years, but it’s still something racing drivers aren’t expected to get into – unless you have a ‘real’ diagnosed condition with a fancy name you can put to it. The rest of us are just sort-of left to fend for ourselves… and writing that I realise I am assuming anyone else out there ever feels anything like this?
Maybe they don’t, but I’m pretty sure most people do, whether they race or not.
I guess my main issue is self-doubt. Imposter Syndrome.
But despite any of these thoughts creeping into my head in the past, I can guarantee one instant cure for it:
When I drop that visor down, this is my moment.
This is the best I can be.
This is my chance to push myself to the extremes and show myself what I’m capable of.
This is life and being alive.
And you know what?
I am good enough.
I can do it.
I love being a racing driver and I’ll always have that in my blood.
My time to do this is limited, and I don’t want to have any regrets about what I was too scared to do.
I’m not the type to be scared, and I’m certainly not the type to give up if others don’t think I’m good enough.
By the time you read this, I will be at Donington Park GP circuit on an Easter Monday in the year 2022.
Whatever the rest of the day offers me, I’m going to take it with both hands.
The format called for three heat races, with every car racing in two heats. Then a ‘Last Chance’ race before the fastest car gridded up for the Grand Final, which would decide if the UK or Irish cars were fastest from almost 50 total entries.
Festival Heat Race 1
There is a bit of a fear amongst the UK Vee racers that some of the Irish are more willing to ‘make contact’ on track. Having taken careful note of their steel wheels my plan before dropping the visor was to play it safe – as soon as my world turns blue irridium, it’s a different story, though!
Starting from a random tenth place, I made up four places before the first corner, and then to my dismay couldn’t get second gear again! I’d tested it on the short slow run to the holding area, but I guess race speeds changed things…
The UK cars definitely had the legs on the 1600cc Irish, but their cars pulled much better out of the corners. This made things very interesting, but without being able to get off the corners at all I was just a sitting duck as they all dived up the inside as I swung wide to keep the speed up.
I dropped steadily back down the order (picking up a few places as Stephen Morrin had a spin with another car getting caught up) until Bill Garner put in his inevitable appearance as we got a three car scrap on the go with Nicholas Mulhall.
With Bill getting bulked behind Mulhall on the start straight, I passed them both into the first turn, but then my tighter line meant the car wouldn’t pick up off cam. They both came past me as I hung onto the back of them.
Bill was in front going into the Esses but Mulhall went for the inside of the right hander, over the curbs in a move that was never going to be on, and tangled wheels with Bill.
Bill’s car was catapulted up into the air, going almost totally engine over nose and actually having all four wheels off the track in that position momentarily. Somehow he slammed back down the right way up and I was left avoiding them both as Mulhall carried on.
I chased on, both of us putting a wheel off the track and almost heading into the pit wall, and then we weirdly took the chequered flag on the next lap as if we’d won!
With neither of us sure what had happened, we had a very awkward lap where I was sneakily trying to edge closer to Mulhall to take the place, and him realising exactly what I was doing and flooring it away until we got back around to take a definite flag!
That left me in 17th place of 22 runners, but I was really reaching the point of exhaustion by now. I guess not breathing properly was taking its toll…
Festival Heat Race 3
Starting from 16th in this one would make it all much tougher.
The first lap was all a bit rowdy, so I made sure I had space and found I had gears again but the positioning of the lever is very tricky to set up, and wasn’t quite at the sweet spot.
I got caught out behind a car that seemed to be blowing his engine, and hung out a little around Bridgestone, but was still in the mix.
Coming around the first turn I could see dust being kicked up, and then cars were sliding everywhere coming off the left flick onto the straight. The car to my left locked up and got dangerously close (I couldn’t see the huge oil slick at that point), but I had a much bigger concern.
Ahead were cars at all angles, sticking out of a Beano comic-style dust cloud that was across the track and grass from barrier to barrier.
I couldn’t slam my brakes on as I’d have been clattered from behind by everyone, and so stuck my right wheels off the track with left ones on it, guessing what might be a clear line through.
The dust was so thick I couldn’t even see my steering wheel, and then sudden;y there were stationary cars sat both sides of me but I’d made it through!
Fully expecting a red flag, or at least for the survivors around me to be a little more careful after making it through, I two corners away from the carnage, turning into the Esses, when a car slammed into the side of me.
Spun onto the grass, I wasn’t happy, keeping the car going and then weaving to make sure I had all my wheels on and nothing was going to fall off. I was dead last.
I came around to the scene of the carnage to see the dust cloud gone and red flags out, but what looked like a bunch of new cars involved. I couldn’t really work out what was going on, but one driver was out of his car and aiding another who was still in his broken wreck in the middle of the track.
I believe that no red flags were out as the field came around again, and not even an oil flag. The cars that had missed the accident hit the oil full speed and went off, hitting a few of the already stricken cars… Luckily no people were seriously hurt, but a good few cars were….
I’d been hit by Jack Byrne – who at least did come and apologise after. As he said he just lost the front and it wasn’t some mad dive I put it down to a ‘racing incident’ and let it go. But look at where he hit me!
Could he have aimed for my ribs any better if he’d tried?!? Luckily the impact hadn’t rattled my rib cage and the trailing arm and my air duct had taken the full brunt rather than me.
And though I could have made the restart, the Last Chance, and the Grand Final, I chose to call it a day there. I’d survived without any more damage to my ribs and had pushed my body as far as I could.
It was a shame to have to cut the day early the discomfort was now overriding the fun for me, and I felt I’d more likely be a liability out there than taking the fight to the Irish.
Overall, it was a brilliant weekend at a a great little track that’s far more challenging than it looks. It was awesome meeting some of the Irish legends and the racers I’ve been reading about since before I started racing myself.
I was confident going into the second race, pretty sure I had more speed in me even as the day grew hotter.
I was still really learning the track as I went, and had noticed some of the Irish like Jimmy Furlong were taking were totally different in places to what any of us UK guys were doing.
I got away ok, but Steve Ough, two rows ahead had stalled on the grid. I had to make a split second decision and threaded the needle between him and the pit wall armco barrier on full throttle. It’s probably best not to think about how I actually made it – I guess I’ve filtered through tighter gaps on my bike, though!
I was right behind Sam Engineer and Rik Lanyi and held a tight line to follow Sam out of the hairpin.
My Class B rival, and the car leading that class (with James Harridge out with engine problems) was Bill Garner – and he was just up ahead.
For the first time ever I dropped to second gear for Bridgestone, hoping to get more pull up the steep exit and onto the next straight.
A few cars ran through the dust causing everyone to bunch up again as I caught Sam into the final turn, and Rik dived down the inside and didn’t have to drive up and down the grass bank, as if taunting me!
I suddenly had bigger problems, though, as I was in fourth gear instead of second, the engine chugging away off cam and me going nowhere as I fished around for second gear.
By the time I got any gear at all I was only half way down the pit straight and the entire field had passed me and gone through the first turn. When I finally got there it happened all over again, and I lost even more time trying to find gears…
I knew I still had power, and third gear worked. I could just about get around in third everywhere, so decided to attack the empty track and at least try and catch someone before the end of the race.
Unfortunately things got worse as I then lost fourth gear, and then couldn’t find third again. I pushed on trying not to change at all, knowing it was pretty much all over…
Surprisingly, I did catch Rik (who had managed to spin at the last turn!) and then caught and pass ed Dave Wallis, who was struggling with the track.
With Sam Engineer limping it home with engine problems I was catching him hand over fist, with Rik also looming in my mirrors – I took at pretty futile last corner dive at Sam but would have needed just one more corner to pick him off before the finish.
This left me in eleventh place overall, bagging another second in Class B – proving it pays to push on even if you have major problems!
I could see straight away that a nut had come loose on the gear shift assembly, so also knew it was an easy fix. I’d pushed my body about as hard as I could with the actual racing still not hurting my broken rib any more, but with constant pain from whatever I did I was starting to struggle.
However, with the gear problem fixable for the Irish Vee Festival races the next day, and having dropped my lap times by more than two seconds, I decided to enter. I was never going to win anything, but it would be good to put in an appearance to show my support for the Irish lads.
With us missing out on the free BBQ by working a bit late on the car, we headed to the local ‘chipper’ for a very tasty burger, back to see the auction raising around 7000 Euros for Laura Lynn Childrens Hospice, and a few pints with the drivers and crews.
Incidentally, the night before we’d been to the local pub and had some amazing food there, too along with lively banter with racers and locals. And found you CAN get six people into a Nissan Micra hire car if you use the boot.
I’d invested in an inflatable mattress for the night to try and support my ribs, but didn’t really sleep as the slightest movement left me wide awake in agony, but I got enough rest to think I’d be able to have a crack at the Festival…
As I flew through the air shouting a rude word at the car driver who’d hit me, my thoughts were already turning to Mondello Park.
My helmet slammed into the road, and then I was trying to pick my battered Honda VTR1000 up with the aid of a couple of people as I realised my ribs were broken. As they moved the bike out of the road I knew that with the race only a week away, I was in trouble.
Fast forward through a week of trying to play down my injuries, a random allergic reaction swelling both eyes shut, not taking pain relief so I didn’t build up a tolerance, and not even being able to climb into the Sheane Formula Vee, I helped Glenn Hay load up with my left arm still as weak as a kitten.
He headed off for the ferry and I had one more day for my body to recover before I was on a flight hours away from having to race.
I turned up the radio on the hired Nissan Micra as I crawled in traffic out of Dublin towards Naas on the N7, amusing the woman behind as I blasted Rick Astley at an uncouth volume because I thought it was funny.
Arriving at Mondello Park I ran up to sign on for the free testing, noting all the other UK Vee’s had driven 6 test sessions already, spoke to Glenn as I donned all my race kit, and dropped myself with only a slight scream into the driving seat, just in time to catch the last session.
I agonisingly tightened the six point harness and found the race seat gave me enough bodily support that I actually could work the steering wheel with just my arm muscles.
I rolled out of the pit lane, acutely aware that if my rib fracture was unstable, with my increased heart rate (around 170bpm at full race pace) and breathing, I’d soon find out if it would puncture my lung…
The run-up to Mondello had not gone smoothly at all. It seemed like one cost had been piled on the next – ferry prices and a mix-up with offers with some paying £800 (we got it for £260)… Then we found Ireland only has 95 RON petrol, so we would have to pay around 200 Euros more for 99 RON fuel to be delivered to the track… Then we found we all had to wear full fireproof underwear (thanks to Giles Groombridge and James Harridge for helping out with this)… Then we were told the ‘free’ festival races would cost another 100 Euros…
But we were racing at a new track, in a new country, and it was about time we gave some support back to the Irish racers who’ve raced with us in the UK.
Saturday was to be a UK championship round for us, with the Irish Vee’s having their own races for their championship, and then Sunday would be the Irish Vee Festival to raise money for the Laura Lynne Childrens Hospice, and where we would mix it wheel to wheel with the Irish cars in a series of heat races.
Now flash back once more to the test session – I heaved myself out of the car and took a few paces, swallowing down the pain. It was a very tricky circuit, but the important thing was that I’d be able to race. I expected to be at the back of the grid, but not too far off the pace.
I was on brand new tyres, and in even in the heat it was good to finally have some rear grip in the car once again!
I concentrated on trying different lines, watching what everyone else was doing, and trying to decide whether to use second gear at the three tight corners, or to keep it in third.
Of the 19 UK cars registered only 15 would make it to the grid, and predictably I’d qualified in thirteenth place. It’s probably also worth noting that it was all the quick drivers who’d made the trip over, and so I wouldn’t be gifted many places ahead of where I’d normally be!
I stiffened the front anti-roll bar to get some better turn-in for the slow corners, and decided I wasn’t going to enter the Festival races unless I knocked at least two seconds off my lap times.
The lights changed very quickly, and I mildly fluffed the start but didn’t lose out too much.
I locked a front wheel and ran a little deep into the first hairpin, but recovered it well to still pass Sam Engineer on the exit, and suddenly I was looking at Bill Garner and the chance to take second in Class B from one of my usual rivals.
I ran over the edge of the curb on the very next corner and Sam slipped by me again as I twisted my brake bias dial a little more to the rear.
The car felt good and I stayed with Sam, diving to the inside into the first corner on the next lap and pulling a small gap as I concentrated on chasing down Bill.
The races were timed 15 minute sessions, which was great as you knew you were getting full track time, and could actually see the clock counting down by the start line.
I steadily increased the pace for the next few laps, but Sam was still with me and sticking his nose alongside, but I was drawing in my B Class target.
I saw Bill go in hot to Bridgestone, and as he slid wide I was alongside him on the exit and had the line into the Esses, where I knew I was faster.
I stayed in front for the next two laps, but he was soon onto my trick into Bridgestone – braking before the right kink then getting back full on the power for a moment before braking hard for the right hairpin – and was all over the back of me with the orange of Sam still there in the mix, too.
He got a great run onto the start straight, and although I covered the inside he had enough to sneak by under braking and cut my front off, gently tapping my front wheel with his rear as he went through (I don’t think he even felt it and it didn’t do much but turn my wheel slightly).
I chased on, with so little between our cars we were regularly alongside each other, sliding around and having a great scrap.
I still had a slight advantage through the Esses, and outbraked him into the final hairpin over the very tricky crest and seeing five minutes left on the clock.
I started swinging wide and onto some extra tarmac on the entry to Opel, screaming it in third now down to Bridgestone with the extra speed, but I couldn’t shake Bill, and Sam was only hovering just behind ready to take advantage of the slightest mistake.
Taking a very defensive line into the Esses and staying inside into the first hairpin were enough to hold Bill at bay, although it was slowing us both up. One minute left.
I came out of the last hairpin with relief, but then to my horror saw there was no chequered flag out!
It was the one time I’d stayed to the left, and I swore to myself as he edge up my right hand side down the straight.
We glared at each other as we approached the braking point, neither one wanting to give in.
Sliding into the corner, drifting through it and then kicking the back end out as we got back on the power, we were inches apart but not touching.
We were still locking eyes through Opel, twicthing the steering wheel to correct, and alongside all the way down towards Bridgestone with me on the outside line.
I pushed Bill late into the kink, watching him sail past too late into the braking zone for Bridgestone as I cut back in tight, getting alongside him with my right wheels just kicking up the grass at the edge of the track.
At the Esses he wasn’t suckered into the same move quite so easily, but I still cut back and used my advantage to get a good run down to the final turn, both of us braking impossibly late, but me even later as I dived to the inside as I had done earlier.
This time I locked my right front just slightly, and Bill had to delay his turn in whilst I tried to gather it all up and get my own car turned. I let off the brakes and got straight back onto the power to drift tight up the inside, snatching full opposite lock and staying hard on the throttle.
I was at an obscene angle but I’d got through the corner, but then couldn’t wind off my opposite lock as the car was still rotating, rotating, and then I had a grass bank directly in front of me!
I floored it in second, blasting up the dusty incline and spinning the rear up again to do a full circle, a flash of orange parting the dust in my mirrors as I spun the car back around, down the bank, smashing my nose cone into the tarmac and still fighting the wheel with my foot in.
As I headed for the line Justin Chatten added insult to injury by just pipping me to the post as well!
I was mad with myself for a few seconds, but then the epic last lap sunk in and I had to hand it to Bill for a great drive and a battle I won’t forget!
That sort of scrap is the whole reason why I race, and when you’re involved in something that close it really doesn’t matter about your overall result, because it feels like a win either way.
As it happened, with James Harridge having engine troubles and dropping out, it turned out that last battle scrap was for the B Class win – so I couldn’t be too unhappy with a crowd entertaining second place!
Better still, my ribs were still in place, and with every painkiller I could get inside me, I just had to wait until Race Two to even the score…
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…
After the usual last minute rush to complete the over-Winter work on the Sheane, we braved the threats of snow by using a Land Rover Freelander as the tow car in place of the trusty VW Camper.
With limited space in the paddock, we were in the overflow car parking, slowly sinking into the cold, wet mud as the rain continued to hammer down.
There are a lot of newcomers to Formula Vee this season, and I find matching names to faces to cars to be a bit of a struggle, so tried my best to get around most of the old and new drivers and crew for a quick chat. Hopefully I’ll get to meet the few stragglers at the next round – if I make it there…
I wasn’t really feeling it, getting up early, travelling to the circuit, messing about in the cold and wet. This seems to be becoming a common thing with me racing. After the long Winter break I was even thinking that maybe I like the idea of racing more than I like the racing itself. I’d even had some thoughts of hypnotherapy to focus me a bit more…
All that went away as I slid into the trusty Sheane, though! I felt relaxed, excited, and really wanted to get out there!
I’m putting my doubts down to a stress reaction, for now, but will be keeping an eye on that.
The car was pulling to the left which is probably due to straightening the front beam a bit more. It wasn’t anything I had to fight with force, but if I took my hands off the wheel it veered off. We were keeping the old shot tyres (especially the balding rear) from last year, as we decided against putting the new ones on just yet. And other than sorting out the oil leak onto the clutch, the tired old engine was still plodding away behind me.
When we filed out of the pit lane it was my first time ever around Castle Combe, which can be quite intimidating, but we were behind the safety car – a rare thing for us to experience but one that I’d welcome regularly for managing races.
Even at greatly reduced speeds the spray following other cars made it very hard to see anything and was getting a bit cold as it drenched my chest.
I’d watched a few onboard videos and found a mod to play the track on Assetto Corsa, but the two didn’t seem to match up entirely – at least I knew which way the track was likely to go.
I was also experimenting with a visor modification that could totally eliminate fogging for me which would be a massive advantage in these conditions – I will do a separate blog about that one soon!
After one lap the safety car disappeared (not that I’d been able to see it since it left the pit lane!), and green flags were waving.
I was behind a few cars who seemed (perhaps rightly?) a bit scared of the conditions, and I would have chosen a much quicker pace if I was on my own.
Just as I decided to get past and set my own pace, Ian Buxton slipped past and I decided if I followed him but went slightly slower I could get a good solid pace to get my standard three laps in, and then see how much more I could push.
I passed a few cars as I felt out the grip levels – not bad really save for a few patches of standing water – not getting anything seriously out of line despite the low tread on my right rear tyre.
Rory Melia appeared out of the spray ahead into Camp – a corner I really wanted to try out hard in the dry – and I had enough closing speed to go around his outside and tentatively power away down the straight.
I eased into fourth gear past the pits and was pulling around 5000rpm when the engine note suddenly changed. I quickly pressed the clutch pedal and the Big Red Light Of Doom glowed up from the dashboard ominously.
I knew it was all over as I coasted to the nearest marshal point on the grass, expecting to be leaving a wake of oil and engine bits behind me. I may have had a little bit of a swear, but if that doesn’t come out on my video then it never happened, and I was calm and collected.
Jumping out of the car I couldn’t see any holes in the engine case or oil pouring out, so figured it to be a bearing failure and engine seizure – much like my first time ever in the car.
I watched the rest of the qualifying dejectedly from under cover of the marshals post, then jumped back in to be towed home on the Wagon Of Shame.
When replacing the gearbox seals Glenn had found the end float to be 0.12000 which we thought was far too loose, having previously set it at 0.8000. The problem here is that the bearing also has some sideways movement, so you can get a false reading. Set it too tight and it’ll seize up – too loose, and well, no harm done.
It could have been this or it could have been this combined with the old engine, but we’re pretty sure we’ll find a rear main bearing failure. As I switched off so quickly, hopefully this will be fixable if the rest of the internals are intact.
However fixable it is, I’m now conscious that Brands Hatch is only three weeks away, so whether we can make it will depend on Glenn’s day-to-day work and how much time he can spare. We were planning on putting a newly built engine in the car around mid-season, but that’s not quite ready yet so I think we’ll be looking at rebuilding this one.
It’s a blow for my bid to take the B Class championship this year, but the same could happen to everyone else, too, so it’s still early days yet.
James Harridge got pole by 2 seconds and won the first race after a fantastic battle with Ian Jordon, after Ian Buxton fell away from the scrap.
Race 2 was another huge scrap, but this time between Ian Buxton, Craig Pollard and Daniel Hands – with Buxton coming out on top.
I was very interested in watching the new drivers – the stand-out man for me being Richard Lanyi. He had the pressure of driving Paul Smith’s Dominator – possibly the most successful Formula Vee car ever – after amazingly only taking his ARDS test the week before, and flying in from Switzerland so qualifying was his first time ever sitting in the car! Not only did he survive this, but he finished 12th and 10th in the races – I think he’ll definitely be one to watch this year once he gets more seat time.
So rather disappointing as an opening round, but if there’s a positive to take away that very limited time in the car, and with everyone else doing the full session, would have still put me 16th on the grid!
Assuming we do get the car ready, the next one is Brands Hatch – my least favourite circuit. Maybe now is the time to force myself to love the place so I can claw some points back?
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.
We knew the only choice was to get the engine out and replace the oil seal. As I’d brought my fiancée in the car, I had to balance keeping her from getting bored out of her brain trackside and getting her home, with helping as much as I could. The delicate balance many of us drivers face!
Thankfully, and as is always the case with the helpful Formula Vee paddock, James Harridge, Jake Hockley, and my sister Michelle all got stuck in.
By the time I left, the engine was back in and Glenn doing his thing building it all back up. You can see how hot the flywheel had got with the slipping clutch!
I blasted back to the track on my ‘sensible’ Yamaha FZR600R on Sunday morning to find the car sat ready and waiting to go.
I had another good start, but being on the inside of the pack in turn 1 I was a bit cautious as I didn’t want to risk spinning into everyone else.
I think I am pretty good now at warming my tyres up before the start, and perhaps I should trust them more?
I lost out a bit in the jostle for position, but could see Andrew Cooper ahead who I thought must be 2nd in Class B, and Colin Gregory and Mark Lawton were also all in the mix together, with Bill Stenning, Martin Snarey and Jamie Harrison completing a monster battle of B Class cars!
On the second lap Ian Rea came absolutely flying past me and disappeared down Hangar Straight.
Unfortunately, he then misjudged his closing speed to a slowing car, spinning in the middle of the track on the corner entry.
This caused all kinds of havoc behind, as I slammed on the brakes and dived to the outside, and Bill Stenning came sliding through on the inside. There was then what looked like a car-width of a gap between Bill and Ian, and so I stamped on the throttle and got through the middle!
All the commotion meant I’d dropped off the back of the pack, and had become the new leader of the chasing group. I got my head down with clear track ahead and pulled out a safe gap.
It was at this point I realised something else wasn’t quite right. Normally I would get faster and faster – especially on my own with clear track – but despite pushing harder my lap times were the same. I actually set my fastest lap on lap 3!
I thought this was probably the tyres – they’re almost ready for the bin, so I’m sure they’re not giving great grip any more (they’ve served me well for 2 seasons, though!). I later found out the pressure is also quite badly down on one cylinder, so these probably account for the lack of pace.
Despite this I did chase down Colin Gregory, and then a few laps later was all over Mark Lawton’s Scarab. I braked late and went up the inside of him into Stowe and eventually survived his fight back and pulled a slight gap.
Still with clear track ahead, I could see the blue and yellow Sheane of Jamie Harrison cutting through the field behind.
I was watching and hoping he’d get tangled up in battle with Bill and Mark, but with 2 laps to go he must have caught sight of me and the final B Class podium spot, and caught me by almost 2 seconds a lap!
He got me going onto Hanger Straight, but I used the slipstream to glide back past him into Stowe.
Being on the inside line, I must have been on the brakes a bit too long, as he went in deep and got to my outside, meaning I couldn’t get back on the power or open out the steering for the exit!
I pressured him into the complex hoping to force an error, but he stayed strong.
I was stronger, however, taking a beautiful line through as I waited to take advantage, and as we came onto the pit straight I had a great run.
I dived out of his slipstream and powered past, the move done before the start line, and got through the first few corners until I saw a marshal wave again!
I’d missed the chequered flag again, and knew I’d got over the start line ahead – but again the finish line is before that!
Jamie had got me, much the same as Martin in the first race, by less than 2 tenths of a second, and he’d taken 3rd in class B from me!
After a race like that I can’t even say I was disappointed, though. Despite the dodgy tyres , power loss, and losing a podium spot on the last lap, I’d had a great race! It’s funny how that works out sometimes!
In fact I almost forgot – I finished 18th overall and 4th in class.
Next we’re headed to Rockingham on the infield track of the super speedway. It’s a track many hate, and it’s very hard on engines. Having done around 200 laps there on bikes, the place grew on me slowly, so I’m looking forward to trying it with 4 wheels!
Once you get a feel for the car that you’re racing – and that part is just down to getting laps in the seat – you’ll probably find that you have to have a bit of a think about how to get faster.
At first, it’s all your brain can take to be able to actually control your car at high speed, and try not to exceed the limits. This soon becomes a subconscious act, and you’ll find that you’re able to think about other aspects of driving – and here’s where you can improve.
In my experience, the most important things to work on:
Learn the racing line. The racing line will effectively straighten out every corner, allowing you to carry more speed through them. There is a natural line to most tracks that you’ll get a feel for quickly, but there are lots of exceptions where the racing line will be different because of bumps or the camber of the track. Playing games may miss out some of these things, but watching onboard videos and following other cars around will help you, here.
And it leads neatly into the next thing…
Use all the track!
If you’re ever more than a few millimetres away from the edge of the circuit, then you could have done it faster.
It’s amazing how even experienced racers will drive like they’re scared of the edge of the track – often sitting a foot or more away from the edge before turning into a corner.
If you concentrate on being as close as you can to the edge of the track, and follow the racing line, it will open the track up massively. Everything will feel less rushed, and you’ll be able to carry more speed everywhere. A few inches really can make all the difference!
This is the main thing I watch videos for. I want to know exactly where the fast drivers are slamming the anchors on, so that I have a reference point to do the same. Consistent braking is the key, here, because you need to spend time working on it to be able to brake at the maximum.
And I should say that I’m talking about straight-line braking – once you’ve got this down, you should brake even later and trail brake up to the apex of the corner. Not everyone trail-brakes, and I suspect a lot also trail brake without knowing they’re even doing it…
Getting the power down
This one is actually between straight-line braking and trail-braking. If you’re on the power early, you should be able to carry more speed down the next straight. You should get the power on early enough that it carries the car right out to the very edge of the track on the exit – if you’re exiting the corner 2 foot away from the curb then you could have got the power down earlier, and done it faster.
This is also the safest way to go faster. if you go slowly into the corner but are fast coming out, it’s better (unless you’re racing another car that will stuff it up the inside of you and do a block pass!). If you go into a corner too fast you’ll just crash, run wide, or naturally have to exit the corner slower to stay on the track, so this is a far riskier way to get faster.
If you go in nice and safely and then get on the throttle, you can get off the throttle again if it all goes pear-shaped, or save it with some opposite lock (or drift it around on the power and look like a proper hero!).
“Slow in, fast out” is a great mantra.
Break it down
Once you have all this, you’ll find you’re not doing it on every single corner. There will always be some corners that you’re slower in.
Take one corner at a time, and work on it. This is where testing helps a lot.
These are all the things you can do that can gain big chunks of time. There are a lot more smaller things that will chip away at those last tenths, and to be honest, even after a year and a bit of racing, I’m still not at a level where these smaller things are worth too much worry.
There are also the things that will make you smoother but not necessarily gain any time – heel and toe, anyone?
And so we’re nearly ready to kick off the 2017 season at Oulton Park on 01 April! I say “we” – my car still has no engine, but as I’ve said before, it wouldn’t be the start of the season if we weren’t still working on the car at midnight the day before the first race!
Good luck to everyone this year – let’s keep it safe and give everyone a great show of racing!