Well here we are almost at the end of another amazing year and all I can say is that you should never say “never” and never ever give up on something if you want it badly enough.
Despite an amazing 2011 things were looking pretty bleak at the start of this season until Patrick Cullen made me a great offer to compete in the Protyre Formula Renault BARC Championship just a few days before the opening round. But we didn’t have a car and even if we managed to get our hands on one we would have no time for any pre-season testing or any car preparation. But with a very willing spirit and nothing to lose a car was acquired and we were on the grid for the first round at Snetterton on Easter weekend.
It was almost the perfect start to the season as well, as I led the first race by a comfortable margin with just a few laps to go until a problem with the gear linkage caused me to drop back. But we did show our potential by winning that weekend and taking a fastest lap, which was also a new lap record. More wins were to come at Thruxton and Donington along with more fastest laps (7 in all) and 2 more lap records at Rockingham and Silverstone. In the end we were able to clinch the championship at Silverstone in front of a large crowd and with live TV coverage supporting the very popular BTCC.
I already knew that, despite my success on track, I wouldn’t be eligible for selection as finalist for the third time for the McLaren AUTOSPORT BRDC Award due to a lower age limit than has been set in previous years. While this was very disappointing there is no getting away from the fact that these days those in power seem to think that if you not in F1 by your mid0-20s you are not going to make it. Naturally I strongly disagree with this point of view and many others share my opinion, and if you look at even recent history and apply today’s reasoning then many drivers such as Ayrton Senna, Nigel Mansell and Damon Hill would not have got there chance in the sport, and surely that is wrong?
That said my achievements were at least recognised and I was nominated by Autosport magazine for British Club Driver of the Year and the standard of the competition was very high with other top drivers such as Carl Breeze and Ben Barker in the running. I was delighted to come out on top and be presented with this award by the Legendary three-time F1 World Champion Sir Jackie Stewart at the Awards Dinner in London on Sunday evening. It is an honour and a privilege to add my name to the list of previous winners including Dario Franchitti, David Coulthard and Lewis Hamilton.
Since my final championship round I have been far from idle; in fact it literally doesn’t feel like there are enough days in the week. As well as the regular day job I have done several days with Jamun Racing on coaching duty at both the Formula Renault BARC Winter Series and general testing as they evaluate potential drivers for next season in both Formula Renault and Formula Ford. I was also fortunate to get behind the wheel again myself for two days at the great Hungaroring circuit near Budapest in a Formula Renault Eurocup car for the Manor MP team. I have of course already worked with Sarah Shaw of Manor this season as she was my engineer for my final two championship events and we struck up a very good working relationship, so when the opportunity came to work with her and her husband Tony at the test I jumped at it. I’d like to say a big thank you to them and to Sander Doorsman of MP Motorsport for a great couple of days. The Hungaroring is a fantastic circuit to drive and although a permanent venue has many of the characteristics of a street circuit. I really enjoyed myself and set some pretty decent lap times in the process as well.
I also had a great day at The Henry Surtees Karting Challenge. Although I had bad luck again at the event it was still a very enjoyable day and raised money for the very good cause of Kent Air Ambulance in dear Henry’s name. John Surtees put a great selection of prizes together and a truly memorable event once again and I sincerely hope that this day is a regular feature on the calendar for many years to come. I also hope that her Majesty had John’s name in mind for a well-deserved knighthood when she was thinking about her New Year’s Honours List!
Well that’s about it for now accept to say a big thank you to everyone who has followed and supported me this year in any way. I really appreciate it. May I wish you all a very Happy Festive Season and a most Prosperous New Year.
All the best,
Hanging onto my title of Jaguar Saloon champion was always going to be tough having missed three rounds and registering one DNF in the first eight rounds of the season, but I was encouraged after my first saloon win at Castle Coombe in August.
At the end of the month we went to Mallory Park for another double-header and whilst we were mixing with some much quicker machinery, namely the XJ-Ss, I was fairly happy to qualify 9th overall and 2nd saloon, just behind Kevin Doyle’s coupe but ahead of Pearce who had been leading the saloon series since the first round. Frustratingly, when an errant V12 engine dumped all its oil during the green flag lap, the race got canned until first thing the next day.
I got off to a flyer and quickly made up two places, importantly one of which was on Doyle. Not that you ever wish for bad luck to strike a rival, but when he shot off into the barrier on the next lap it relived a huge amount of pressure and so I spent the rest of the race holding off the very much improved Rodney Frost in his XJ-S with a gaggle of saloons including Bye, Lewis, Connew and Pearce just behind. I finished 7th overall but 1st saloon and with fastest lap; Pearce could only manage 3rd saloon. What’s more the weather looked like it would stay dry for the second race later in the day.
This too got delayed after the same XJ-S dumped oil in the pit lane as we went onto the track from assembly! When we finally got going my start was reasonably good but I could not quite get past Webster’s XJ-S which baulked me going into Shaws hairpin. This allowed Bye to go round the outside and so I began to chase him down. A leaking head gasket was spurting fluid over my screen whenever I made a move on his nearside so I changed tactics and tried a move going into Gerrards on his offside. Unfortunately it didn’t come off and as he turned in I collected him in his drivers door; we both spun off into the outfield allowing several saloons through, including Doyle (who started from the back) and Connew.
Luckily I regained the track and took up the chase and was much quicker than Connew down the main straight. In fact we nearly collected each other when he braked, seemingly for no reason, as I was inches off his rear bumper. I moved outside and shot past him to see waved yellow flags, but no obvious incident. I lifted off the throttle nonetheless, though somewhat confused about the warning flags.
Still going well over 100mph I suddenly noticed an object, returning to earth from a great height, directly in my path. It was the complete bonnet and front grill off the Doyle coupe that had parted company from the rest of the car, probably due to damage suffered in his early morning off! At the last second, literally, I took avoiding action and missed it by inches forcing Connew to act equally as quickly to avoid tagging me as I cut across his line. A chill went through me later, when I thought about what might have happened if it had landed on my car and potentially gone through the screen. Still, it didn’t, and I took up the chase of Doyle who was still going with Pearce hot on my heels by now. 7th overall and 2nd saloon was how it finished though had I thought about it a protest of the Doyle car would surely have revealed it was well under weight!
We went to Donington Park, one of my favourite tracks, in September and a good-sized 26-car grid lined up for qualifying. However after just seven minutes as I was getting into my rhythm a loud bang followed by a total loss of control and collapsed rear nearside, the result of a sheared wheel hub, put me into a spin. I managed to avoid hitting anything or anybody else and the session came to a premature end.
I shot off to Coventry after being recovered to the pit lane to get the hub and brakes replaced and was back three hours later ready to go for the last race of the day. It was well worth the effort as I discovered I was 5th on the grid and 2nd saloon behind Lewis. I felt my car was competitive and kept him under pressure right from the start but then missed my brake point at the chicane and had to go through the gravel, dropping down the order. He got away and Pearce got past too as did several others.
The Webster XJ-S was a moving chicane that I could not better and so after regaining several places I had to settle for 9th overall and 3rd saloon. With Pearce finishing 2nd he had done enough to take my saloon crown with two races still to go. I could still finish as runner-up if I got good results and beat Doyle so that became the aim for the final races.
A strong drive the next day and a bit of luck too, when Doyle once again suffered mechanical woes and a DNF, saw me recover up to 4th overall and 2nd saloon, once again behind Lewis moved me up to 2nd in the saloon table by a few points.
I was determined to finish the season well at Oulton on October: it’s my favourite track and I won my first Championship there back in 2006. The weekend got off to a poor start though when the exhaust, that had been damaged during the hub failure spin a fortnight earlier, fell off as I loaded up onto the trailer! It was my own fault, as I hadn’t properly checked the car over after Donington, so a quick repair (thanks Andy) and I was off.
There were lots of niggles however the next morning prior to and after scrutineering and the wet track and well-worn tyres (I didn’t have a set of wets) resulted in my worst qualifying in over five years: 12th on the grid (3rd saloon), though it was a depleted grid of just 15 cars.
Later in the day the track had dried out and my head was where it should have been, focused on racing. I had a brilliant first lap (if I say so myself) making up numerous places with some fairly assertive overtaking moves so that half way round I was up to 5th and 2nd saloon. Four laps later and I was up to 4th and leading saloon and that’s how it finished, the leaders having made their getaway early on.
In the end I lost my title by just 15 points having completed one less race than Pearce but with a hat-trick of wins, seconds and thirds at least I was fairly consistent and never off the podium so I can’t complain.
There is just the Birkett 6 hour relay race at the end of the month and then I need to think about next season, getting some more sponsors and deciding what to do with the XJ40, which is a bit tired and needs improving to remain competitive. If I can get the money together I might also get my V12 XJ-S back on track in some historic races too.
A weekend that no Caterham Graduate racer will ever forget. Firstly because, it’s an amazing opportunity to be able to race at the worlds best, most famous, iconic racing circuit; secondly, because of the poor weather conditions. I know that Spa is famous for having its own climate and that it could be raining at one part of the circuit and dry at the other, but no Caterham Graduate was quite prepared for what challenges were lying ahead of us.
With only 2 x 30 minute practice sessions to learn the circuit the challenge was on. Friday’s session was damp and I soon learnt how and why Eau Rouge has been the scene of some famous and nasty accidents. Luckily I survived (just) to tell the tale. Thankfully second practice was dry and this was a much more enjoyable experience.
Qualifying was dry and even this session was eventful. Still learning the circuit but having fun at the same time, I managed to get an amazing tow from ‘Caterham Grad Super’ driver Barry White up Eau Rouge and down the Kemmel Straight. Unfortunately a couple of corners later the car began to splutter. Thinking the worst – ‘Oh no, I’ve stressed out the engine too much’ – I slowed down and entered the pits to get McMillan to look at the car.
They quickly got to work and couldn’t find anything too serious and let me back out with only enough time for a couple of laps. The chequered flag seemed to come out quickly. I had no idea where I had qualified as most of the session I was sat in the pits. Back in the paddock the car went back to McMillan and they retuned the carburettors. After talking with Andy Mac about the problem he also kindly cleaned the fuel filters. While cleaning the filters he found a massive clump of fluff and dirt. No wonder the engine was spluttering, the fuel couldn’t get in past the clogged up filters! To then find out I had qualified 3rd in class and the fastest classic driver that had never driven the circuit before was a great relief. The car was ready for racing.
An hour before the race the clouds started to become greyer. The main question on everyone’s lips was “What will the weather do?”. Many people were getting on their phones for an up to date weather forecast. The real thought was “It doesn’t really matter what the weather man says – this is Spa – It is more than likely to rain”.
With the weather still dry we were getting close to being called for assembly. Decision time. Dry or wet tyres. I looked at Graeme Smith and copied the rain master by going for for wets. I get to the assembly area and it starts spitting. We get to the grid and it starts raining. We start our green flag lap and its now heavy rain. We grid up for the race start and its now monsoon weather. F1 drivers get paid a lot of money NOT to race in these conditions! It was utter madness. This was my first wet race and what a place to have it! It was the most frightful experience of my life. 65 Caterhams starting on the same grid and I am unable to see more than 3 metres in front of me! Driving only with the guidance of the rain light and brake lights in front of you. You could only just see the marshals post to the side of the circuit.
At this point I had one goal – to finish. I was a pansy! I didn’t push the car, I had to bring it home and I had to finish. I could not afford any damage. Somehow I achieved this and I managed to finish 10th out of 11. My worst result in racing but an achievement to finish! Unfortunately many cars did not and there were some very sad and battered Caterhams at the end of it.
With race suit, helmet and gloves, dried out from race 1, the weather looked like we might be lucky enough to have a dry Race 2 – and we did. Starting from P3 again in class but towards the back of the Caterham Grad’s grid the dry start was still pretty hairy with so many cars piling into La Source. The first lap went ok, however there was a bad accident at the front that brought out the red flags and the race was stopped.
During the first lap I had felt a small vibration in the steering and was concerned that I hadn’t felt this before. Thinking the worst (again) I thought that a wheel was going to fly off. When the red flags came out I decided to go into the pits to get it checked. Given the all clear, I waited at the end of the pit lane for the restart. I was going to be dead last and the weekend was turning into a nightmare. The race was restarted behind the safety car. The safety car was in after one lap and the battle was on! I managed to gain one place at La Source, but by this time the next cars were already some way ahead of me.
Head down I managed to catch up with the next pack. I get past the next two and manage to get behind the 6 way queue for 4th. I then had an amazing battle on my hands. Some awesome slipstreaming saw me go from the back of the pack to the front. The video really is worth a watch. On the last lap I was in 4th and made a mistake going into Pouhon and I ran wide. Two cars past me. Doh! By Stavelot I was lucky enough to be in their tow and managed to pass both of them again at Blanchimont. Keeping a tight defensive line into Bus Stop I managed to cross the line and finished 4th. What a great race.
What a final weekend of the season. Follow my blog @ www.amandablack.co.nr
What a great weekend! When you have good times in motor racing you have to savour and enjoy the moment as much as you can. Winning is why we all do it. It becomes habit forming. The more you win, the more you want to win! It’s an appetite that can never be satisfied.
When I entered the Protyre Formula Renault BARC Championship at the very last minute back in April I didn’t even know if I’d be doing the full series. It wasn’t really the championship that most people expected to see me sign up for. But it was very important for me to stay active, race sharp and in the shop window. This game can be very cruel and it can be a case of “out of sight, out of mind”.
At the end of last year I expected to be entering the FIA F2 championship. I had a good offer on the table and with experience of the car was confident of doing a good job. But as we know, nothing can ever be taken for granted and when the deal collapsed it looked like I would be left high & dry. That was until Patrick Cullen and his brand new Cullen Motorsport outfit came to me with an offer at the 11th hour.
These are tough times for motosport in the UK, particularly single-seater racing. But if you have the right product and the right niche then you can buck the trend and that is most definitely what the Protyre Formula Renault BARC Championship has done this year. To be fair it’s been strong for a few seasons now but it’s really hit a peak this year and the great thing is there has been quality as well as great quantity. An amazing full grid of 32 cars were entered at the BTCC support round finale on the Silverstone National circuit last weekend and because of the great popularity of the BTCC we had an amazingly large spectator crowd in attendance to show off in front of and live TV coverage which pulled a viewing figure in the hundreds of thousands. Truly amazing!
Reports of the two races are well documented elsewhere so I won’t quote them chapter and verse again here but I will say how much I enjoyed the weekend. On reflection I did not get the best out of the car in qualifying, partly due to set up and partly due to me not getting myself track position on a very busy circuit and also the rapid evolution of the track which, especially in qualifying session one, was changing every lap as it was drying so quickly. But everyone’s times were incredibly close and though I would have liked to have been higher up the grid than my brace of 4th places I was still confident, but not complacent, that I could get the job done from there.
The races themselves went by quite rapidly and in both I made good starts, settled into a rhythm quite quickly and ran at a very good pace. I probably could have pushed Seb Morris harder in race two on Sunday – we definitely had the pace, demonstrated by the fact that I set a new lap record in the latter stages of the Sunday televised contest. But in truth the second safety car period late on scuppered any chance I had of grabbing the win and lets be honest, there was no need to take unnecessary risks. Two podiums (a 3rd & a 2nd) plus a new lap record was a great way to sign off the season and seal my second national single-seater championship title in as many years and my third in four years – and even in 2010 I was a runner up and the highest championship points scorer before dropped scores. All in all not a bad record!
It was also a great weekend for Seb Morris; congratulations on taking a double win and commiserations to the only driver that was fighting me for the championship, Josh Webster, who at least has the very nice consolation prize of being a finalist in the McLaren AUTOSPORT BRDC Award. Enjoy it! I certainly did and best of luck to all the finalists, though if I’m honest I am rooting for Josh Hill because like me he cut his single-seater racing teeth in Formula Ford and drove for the team that I have been associated with both as a driver and a mechanic Jamun Racing Services.
Of course I couldn’t have achieved any of what I have this year without a considerable amount of help along the way and now I’d like to say a very, very big thank you to Cullen Motorsport, Jamun Racing, Cliff Dempsey Racing, SDS, Stratos Marcomms, Pritchard & Cowburn, Baines Leasing, Jenner Group, MIR, Contract Lift Solutions and all my great friends and family many of whom have dug deep into their own pockets to help me out with expenses such as hotel bills, food and travel. You’ve all been truly amazing and I cannot thank you all enough!
My championship may be over but my season most definitely isn’t. Ryan Cullen, who made his Formula Renault Debut at the weekend, will be entering the BARC winter series so I will continue to help him with what has been an encouraging campaign so far and I also very much hope that I get the opportunity to test something before the end of the year. I’d love it to be a GP3 or F3 or perhaps even a trip over to the USA to have a look at the Road To Indy programme but we will just have to wait and see.
There are still some great end of season events to look forward to as well such as the Formula Ford Festival and the Walter Hayes Trophy and if anyone wants to make me an offer of a seat in either of these I’d be very happy to hear what you have to say!
Bye for now,
Photos by Emma Muir & Paul Clarke
Well here we are as the end of another amazing season fast approaches. I really don’t know where the time has flown to, but I suppose that is a sign of being very active and very busy and whilst I’ve actually had less seat time myself this year: the time I’ve spent working with other drivers as both a driver coach in Formula Ford with Ryan Cullen and a mechanic and all round team helper in karting has meant that I seem to spend most of my days at either a race circuit or a workshop.
I’m really proud of the progress that Ryan has made this season. Not many people realise that he was a complete novice at the start of the year and it was a very steep learning curve for him, but he has worked hard and it has paid off with two great podiums in the last two events of the season at Silverstone and Donington.
This weekend I will be back at Silverstone trying to win another championship: the Protyre Formula Renault BARC Championship to be precise. This has been a great series this year. We’ve had full grids all season and that is set to hit a capacity of 32 cars for our final two rounds supporting the British Touring Car Championship this weekend, where we also have live TV coverage. Some of the best and most highly rated young single-seater talent in the UK has been competing in this championship this season with drivers such as Josh Webster, Seb Morris, Kieran Vernon and David Wagner all battling it out, but now it is down to just two of us who can take the title – myself and Josh.
To be honest I’m highly delighted to be in this position. As is well documented, it was a very late deal, thanks to Cullen Motorsport, that secured my seat in this championship and we really made things hard for ourselves by not getting in any pre-season testing and having a number of reliability issues with the car at the start of the season; but this was purely down to circumstances. I was also warned not to expect too much. Josh being a third year driver in this championship with a number of wins already under his belt was rightly the title favourite and with all the other top drivers having done a pre-season testing programme we were clearly going to be on the back foot especially as were running in a new team with very limited data. One or two other people also thought that I would find it hard to adapt from Formula Ford but I wasn’t so concerned about this. Although I hadn’t driven a Formula Renault before I had already tested both GP3 and Formula Two so I felt I had some good experience of aero.
So I’m really looking forward to the weekend and whichever way it goes it’s been another great year regardless. I’m not particularly thinking about the championship, I’m mainly thinking it’s an opportunity to go and out and try to take two more wins which is really what motor racing is all about. I’d like to wish good luck (but not too much) to all the other competitors this weekend, particularly my new team mate Ryan Cullen who will make his “aero” race debut – hope you have a good one and let’s put on a good show for the TV cameras and demonstrate to the BTCC fans what they have been missing all season by not having any single-=seaters on the bill!
If any of you reading are at Silverstone this weekend then be sure to pop by and say hello.
I’ll be blogging again soon.
All the best,