It’s one of the tracks where I’ve done a few hundred laps with motorbikes, so it was going to be fine to jump straight in, avoiding the extra expense of testing the day before and on the morning.
Almost everyone else on the grid took advantage of the testing, and it was watching them in the morning session that I realised they were doing an extra hairpin on the infield!
This wasn’t in the plan! It also wasn’t in the BTCC track guide I’d had a look at to confirm my bike knowledge! Ah well, I’d just tag onto someone in qualifying and learn it then…
The first banked corner on the oval was also new to me, but I figured that was bound to be pretty much flat in the dry, and did it with a big lift to get up to speed. It was then that the front felt absolutely terrible, and the unstability made me think I’d gone far too soft on the front damping!
During a red flag (we had a few very paranoid reds due to cars spinning off the circuit) I peeled off in the pit lane hoping to get Glenn’s attention to give me another few clicks of front damping. Before he could get to the car, we were off again, so I blasted off figuring the track time was more important than fine-tuning.
The extra hairpin was amazingly tricky for me to try and get to grips with, totally upsetting the flow of the triple left I was used to. With the few qualifying laps we got in I didn’t get anywhere near familiar with it – but then I hadn’t with the braking points for the rest of the track, either!
Still, I somehow qualified in 14th and 15th place for the races – amazing as I was struggling and really expecting to be around 25th with everyone else having tested here.
Not that it really mattered…
…Because of course the skies opened just about an hour before we were due to race, and the track conditions were horrendous!
Rockingham gets slippery (like ice!) with just a few spots of rain, and for this you could see the standing water.
I’m still trying to love the rain, and with my limited testing time figured this was probably best for me to get me on an even keel. However – how fast can you take a banked oval turn in the wet?
It’s about 240mph in an Indycar in the dry, but then they don’t even go out in the wet! We wouldn’t have that luxury.
Weirdly, there seemed to be some unspoken agreement with almost all the drivers that we’d take this turn incredibly slowly to survive it, and then go for it on the rest of the lap. If you hit that wall in a Vee it’s going to hurt you, let alone seriously kill your car, so this rare sensibility from racing drivers was even more strange!
Anyway – the race! I loosened off the front anti-roll bar and softened the dampers at both ends – but not too much at the front as I still wanted some stability.
Slithering around the green flag lap, we could all tell how bad it was out there.
When the lights went out just about everybody span their wheels off the line, but I hooked up a decent amount of grip. Unfortunately I was on the outside braking into the turn 2 hairpin, and cars streamed up my inside before I could turn in!
When I finally got turned a car had spun on the exit, so I had to avoid them, too.
Braking gently into the chicane, I felt everything lock instantly, and cadence braking didn’t do a thing. Two or three cars ahead were also going straight on and bouncing over grass and gravel – I reluctantly chose the gravel and was promptly airborne as I crossed the thinnest pit on route back to the circuit.
The car still felt ok and wasn’t full of gravel, but then the red flags came out again and it was another restart…
On the restart I got another good – although sideways – start, but was again hung out to dry on the outside for turn 2!
To add to the déjà vu, Pete Belsey spun on the exit in front of me, followed by Dave Leniewski exiting the next turn, and Colin Gregory a few corners later!
Every time I brushed the brakes I locked up, and every time I eased the throttle down it spun up. It was brilliant but very slow! And somehow I was fighting with Jimmy Furlong with Pete Belsey and Paul Taylor behind me!
As the rain eased going into the final lap, it was watching these two that became my downfall. I left my braking a little later, having taken the banked turn a little faster, and locked up a little. As I ran deeper into the corner, I could have just clipped the corner of the grass on the outside and carried on, but as I aimed for it I saw it had become about a 12” drop off the tarmac, with a puddle of unknown depth below that!
I had to abort and turn right up onto the banking through the cones, turning around and then rejoining the track having lost 12th place and dropped to 16th behind Mark Egan in his Ray. It also dropped me to 5th in Class B.
With conditions on the infield still bad, and with oil spreading out at key spots, I was unable to catch Mark and had to sit behind him over the line.
After almost drying out, the skies opened again during the RGB race just as we were due to go to the assembly area. I’ve never seen huge rooster tails from the RGB’s before, and evidently neither had the organisers, as they cancelled their race due to weather.
This then left all us Vee drivers in an awkward place. We were all set to go out, but as the current race had been cancelled there didn’t seem much point to us all going to the holding area to get soaked through, and have water go into our open carb trumpets as we sat there.
I mean, evidently they weren’t going to send a single seater class out if they’d cancelled a race!
As I stood kitted up next to a marshal under cover of my garage, 3 cars went down. I then heard radio chatter saying they didn’t have enough cars to run the race, and that “Vee drivers are voting with their feet”!
Err, no we’re not! But as the rest of the radio chatter is calling for the safety car to go out to assess the track conditions – why do you want us to sit in the rain?? I asked the marshal to let them know we were all ready to go, but waiting for the track report, which he kindly did.
Even though I was raring to go out in it, as were many of the others, the organisers finally made the decision to cancel the rest of the days races. It was frustrating, but also definitely the right choice.
That wall is just too unforgiving, and us idiot drivers would have still risked it, albeit slowly…