I’ve been trying hard over the last few days to find the time to write this blog but as usual I’ve been rushing around non-stop. I was up before 4am this morning to catch an early flight from Gatwick to Cologne and now it’s evening and I’m in my hotel which is literally trackside at the Nurburgring. I’ll be assisting Ryan Cullen and my friends at Jamun Racing in the Formula Ford EuroCup event this weekend. I’d also love to have a look at the legendary Nordschleife if I get any spare time!
It was certainly an eventful last weekend at Croft in the Protyre Formula Renault BARC Championship and whilst on paper it may not look like a particularly good result for us, when you look at all the circumstances surrounding it actually didn’t turn out too bad at all. In fact for a while I wasn’t even sure that I would be driving at Croft at all.
Unfortunately a few days before the weekend we parted company with Cliff Dempsey Racing so we virtually ran the car ourselves with some very welcome and valuable help from some of my old friends from Jamun Racing, with the race entry going in under the banner of Cullen Motorsport. I’d really like to thank Patrick Cullen for pulling out all the stops for me and for all is help to date this season. I’d also like to thank Cliff Dempsey Racing for all their hard work in the first half of the season and I was pleased to see that they were able to secure the services of James Theodore last weekend.
As I’d never raced at Croft before we knew that we would be up against it this weekend as I had just the 15 minute warm up to get to grips with the circuit, and even this was cut a little short because of Seb Morris’ unfortunate accident.
We had a small problem in the first qualifying session and that limited our running somewhat, although we were in 2nd place when the red flags were deployed with less than 10 minutes left. Unfortunately the track must have become a little quicker later on as I watched my qualifying position tumble from 2nd to 5th in the last couple of laps before the session ended. We did get out for one final lap to try improve our time right at the last knockings but unfortunately there was a second red flag so that was that.
For qualifying session two we were in much better shape and up to third. We then set a lap time late in the session that our data told us would have set pole position. Unfortunately I was just metres from the start finish timing beam when the red flags were again deployed so the lap didn’t count and I had to settle for third. We spent the rest of Saturday removing the differential, which the officials kindly asked for an inspection of, scuppering any hopes of an early finish!
I made a decent start in race one, which was held early on Sunday afternoon, but was unable to get past Seb Morris who in turn was trying to move forward. I did pass him around the outside near the end of lap three but Walsh decided to try to follow through and there was a coming together between him and Morris which just caught my offside rear, putting a cut into my tyre. I was able to continue ok but the incident had slightly delayed me and I had a lot of ground to make up on third placed James Fletcher and 2nd placed Kieron Vernon. I worked very hard to bridge the gap and by the end of the race was right on Fletcher but we’d run out of laps. I had a look at the inside of Fletcher at the hairpin going up to the chequered flag but just couldn’t get alongside.
I felt very confident for race two. I’d now had enough running to learn the circuit properly and I felt sure that some changes we had made to the car would improve things. MGR Team mates Wagner & Webster had a front row lock out and I would start on grid 3.
I made a good start and was up to 2nd, past pole man Wagner who slipped back to 3rd, with his team mate (and race one winner) Josh Webster grabbing the lead. Josh was able to build quite a gap over the first few laps – in fact he was 1.5 seconds to the good. But I knew my game plan and it began to work splendidly when I reeled Josh in bit by bit, setting a sequence of fastest laps in the process. At just over half distance I was on Josh’s gearbox and with plenty of time left to make the all important pass when, unfortunately, the safety car was deployed. This really wasn’t what I wanted to see! I knew that Josh had over worked his tyres and now both they and he would have a breather and a chance to recover from the relentless pressure I was placing him under.
When the safety car pitted Josh was able to gap me again but this time by only 0.8 of a second. I was soon on him and thought things may go my way at one stage when Josh had it all sideways, but unfortunately I was too close to take advantage and had to brake to avoid hitting him. As we began the final lap I was right on his tail when Josh ran over some debris, which turned out to be front wing main plate. It smashed into smithereens and sent carbon fibre shards flying in all directions. I actually received a face full of them and a nasty chip was put into my crash helmet and even bigger hole into my front nose cone. Somehow or another Josh managed to avoid receiving a puncture and was able to complete the lap to take the win with me a close 2nd in pursuit. I did however have the consolation of fastest lap of the race, as I did at Thruxton, which isn’t too shabby considering I hadn’t raced at either circuit before.
A journalist asked me at the weekend if I was enjoying my racing as much this year and I had to answer with an emphatic yes! Of course it’s been a completely different season to last year where we were lucky to settle our deal early with Jamun Racing, did a fair amount of pre-season testing and quite a bit of in season as well. From that perspective we were far better prepared and organised and, with the exception of Spa and Zolder, I’d competed at all the circuits before and even at those we did some pre-event testing.
This season has been far more disjointed and seat of the pants but it keeps the adrenalin running and if you aspire to be a professional race driver then you have to cope with many different sets of circumstances. To be honest I’ve just been grateful to be able to keep racing at all because as late as the end of March it looked as though I would be sitting out much of the year.
My goal for the remaining events is just to try to win some more races. I was unlucky not to win first time out at Snetterton when the gear linkage broke and of course looked set for a win double at Thruxton when Webster ran into the back of me near the end of race two. I also feel a win was definitely on at Croft last weekend in race 2 but for the safety car. So naturally I’m not happy that two or three good opportunities to win have been snatched away from me but then show me any racing driver worth his salt that would be! As Ayrton Senna said “When you are fitted in a racing car and you race to win, second or third place is not enough”.
The Protyre Formula Renault BARC Championship has really been going from strength to strength this season and has proved that if you have the right product you can buck the trend even in these harsh economic times. It was great to see such a healthy grid of cars again at the weekend (as it has been all season) and long may it continue.
As well as racing myself, things have been incredibly hectic elsewhere as I have been to Spa and Zandvoort helping Ryan Cullen in Formula Ford EcoBoost. Now I am off to the Nurburgring and next weekend we are at Snetterton. In between I have been doing my usual day job with the kart team so it’s been busy, busy, busy as usual with barely a day off! But I realise I’m lucky to be in demand and even luckier to be racing.
I’d like to say a big thank you to everyone who helped in one way or another this weekend and for the support shown. A Special thank you must go to Cullen Motorsport and SDS as well as Stephen, Tom, Andy, Lewis, Marcus and Josef (you are the best) and last but not least to my loyal supporter Lynne Baines (Baines Leasing) for sorting out my hotel arrangements for the weekend. I couldn’t do any of this without all your help!
I’ll be back blogging soon!
All the best,
Images courtesy of Darren Hurrell photography