Thursday, April 24, 2008

Rockingham - 2008 Round 2

So it's the second meeting of 2008, and this time it's Rockingham. Hardly my favourite circuit, impressive though the track and facilities are. But there was no way I was going to miss a round after Oulton, so I paid up some vast sum for a day of practice and a day of racing at the sadly-underused Midlands circuit.

Practice went pretty well. I was clearly slower than the top guys - especially Tim Go - but consistently maintained a slight edge over friend and rival Charles Elliot.

Come qualifying, I was a bit off my practice time until Ed Benson came past. I got a tow off him, and that knocked half a second off my time. I qualified 10th, which I was very happy with. Charles wasn't quite so happy with 14th.

So race time. The usual interminable delays, but eventually we're out on track, warmup laps completed. Something went wrong at the start - I think I was waiting for the red to go to green rather than just go off. Stupid, as that hasn't been the case for years. Either way, there was that crucial fraction of a second which ruined my usual good start. In the end it didn't seem to matter to much. I'd been worried about the first corner, but managed to get a clear line round the outside and ended up in ninth - with Charles in front, he having got a blinding start.

The racing was really close. The nine of us were all bunched up close and I'm sure it was the same behind. There were a few accidental nudges, but in general everyone seemed to be driving very fairly, with nobody trying to squeeze anyone and leaving space where necessary. I made contact with Gareth Thomas after I went round the inside at the hairpin, and was looking in my mirror for him and completely failed to realise he was right alongside as I tried to move across. Fortunately no damage to either party.

I followed Charles for much of the race. I screwed up badly on one lap in the crucial chicane before the long banked straight. Forced by traffic to drop to second, I bounced off the rev limiter and then stupidly tried to go straight into fourth. The engine bogged and I lost one place and a big gap appeared between me and Charles. I gradually caught back up, and was eventually able to get past with a lunge into the centre hairpin. Not sure I'd have tried it with many drivers, but I trusted Charles not to turn into me. You're just too nice for your own good, Charlie :) :)

By this time the group had spread out somewhat, and I had my work cut out to get any further.
On the final lap, I managed to get a get a great tow around the banking, and managed to get up behind Trev and another car at the entrance to the hairpin. I knew from watching Trev's qualifying race (it's a long story!) that he favoured the outside line at the hairpin, and figured he'd miscalculated and had that line blocked. I went for the inside, and made it through. The next corner was under yellows, and I then managed to hold Trev off to the end of the race.

I'd finished sixth! I was ecstatic about that, and particularly pleased to have beaten Trev.

Unfortunately, that elation was brought down with a thump when it turned out the hairpin had been under a yellow flag as well. I confess that with several cars around me and a tricky overtake to contemplate, I hadn't seen the flag at all.

Trev was not pleased, as I and someone else had gone past him, losing him two points, which as a championship contender he could ill-afford to lose. There was much to-ing and fro-ing with the Clerk of the Course. In the end, myself and the other driver received written repremands and two points on our licences - based on our own "confessions" rather than any actual evidence. The Clerk refused to alter the finishing positions, even though we did ask that Trev be given his places back.

But now the case for the defence.

The "Blue Book" says that you may not overtake between the post where the yellow flag is first displayed, and the following post where a green flag is displayed. Therefore, if you haven't yet come alongside the flag, it must still be legal to overtake. By the time we passed the post where the flag was displayed, my nosecone would have been in front of Trevs. Thererfore, one might argue I was leading at that point, and no illegal overtake took place.

It's not much of a defence - I hadn't even seen the flag, and Trev was clearly (in retrospect) waving his hand to warn us there was a yellow flag and we shouldn't overtake.

Meanwhile, the other driver now thinks that the flag wasn't actually being "shown" in any case - that it just being held ready to put out if necessary - but I'm not convinced.

Anyhow, I'd rather have taken seventh or eighth place completely fairly, but the results say I was sixth and that's what we have to go with. I just hope it doesn't make a difference to either my or Trev's championship positions at the end of the year.

It doesn't make any difference to the current championship rankings - and I'm rather surprised and very pleased to see that I'm in fifth place. Let's hope this short run of good luck turns into a long one.

Meanwhile the race was won by Tim GO, his first podium and his first win. I have a feeling we'll be seeing a few more of those this year. Jos Sibbert was second, and David Shaw third. The full results are here.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

2008 First Race - Oulton Park

The rain in Spain may well fall mainly on the plain. In the North of England it seems to concentrate on Oulton Park.

Actually it did tease us a bit with some dry periods, but come our race it was bucketing down.

Off we went, at a cracking pace. I could barely see the car in front and had to really steel my nerves just to drive fast enough to keep it in view. There was standing water everywhere and I just didn't feel I could go any faster. And that was just the warm-up laps.

The visibility was appalling. I'd taken all the precautions I could - Rain-X'd windscreen, contact lenses rather than glasses, and a chamois-sponge to wipe the inside of the screen. But nevertheless we had to brake by faith and circuit knowledge rather than being able to see the corner ahead.

I think most of us considered pulling out after the warmup laps (two, in wet conditions). Some did so. Others were sure the race would be scrapped, but lined up on the startline in case that had some effect on the points. But no - the race was on.

I did my best. The usual policy of "stay on the track and wait for enough people to fall off in front" was working quite well. Chris Rome was driving better than me, and overtook me into Knickerbrook. I was almost holding onto him until he decided not to bother with the Knickerbrook chicane a couple of laps later, which gave him a couple of seconds and put him well out of reach.

I concentrated on staying on, and keeping ahead of Andy Skinner, who I could see approaching - but still some way back.

The conditions were actually improving by now, and some dryer lines appearing. I was beginning to enjoy myself, but I couldn't help feeling rather relieved when Martin Kay parked his car in the deep gravel at Druids, causing a red flag. It does seem daft that one car in the gravel at the slipperiest corner of the track can stop the race, but that's the way it is. As we were over half-distance, the race was declared, and the "count back" mechanism meant the official race was a mere three laps long.

I'd qualified ninth, and made up one place to finish eighth. I was happy just to have finished in one piece, and extremely happy to get eighth.

Oulton had been pretty miserable up until that point. We'd been huddled under awnings in the pouring rain and howling wind, and I'd been thinking "it's cost me about three grand to be here - why?". But after the race it somehow all seemed worth it. I'd raced, the car had survived, and I was in the top ten. I couldn't wait for Rockingham.

So much for that...

Well, it wasn't quite "that's it for the season" but it was close. After all that prep, loads of things went wrong, culminating with me trying a desperate overtake, and getting squeezed off the track and into a tyrewall at high speed. Not a lot else went right with the season either - although I survived all the carnage at Donington I only did so by driving like a wuss. Then at Angelsey, some valve components made a bid for freedom. My brother was heroic, driving half way across the country and back to get me a head, but the car was well down on power which screwed up the next couple of meetings. My high point was Mallory, where I qualified third and made it up to second place in the race - only to bin it at Gerrards with a couple of laps to go. Then at Spa I had severe braking problems (eventually traced to a seized bias adjuster - basically I had no rear brakes at all).

Maybe you can see why I haven't been over-keen to keep the blog up-to-date.

2008 wasn't looking too good either when my front suspension collapsed on the Oulton pre-season track day, launching myself and a rather surprised passenger into the tyres at Druids (fortunately he's an Isle of Man TT Racer, so rather hard to scare). That made two-grand dent in the finances before I'd even started. Fortunately, it starts to get better after that.