Rockingham is a pretty cool track. It is not peoples favourite but the driver and actually car can make a significant difference. It is far better to come here for the final round then the tow fest of Silverstone International South as we did in 2011.
The job this weekend was simple on paper. Don’t balls it up. We had two races and simply put we needed an 8th place in one of the races to get the job done.
Qualifying was on a drying track I have to say is one of my favourite conditions. The ability to go faster and faster as the session progresses is such a brilliant challenge it was without doubt my highlight of the weekend. We sat in the pitlane for a minute to get clear track position and then went for it instantly going quickest and pretty much holding that position for most of the session despite coming across other cars which burn your lap. With 5 minutes on the clock I had slipped to 3rd place and I really took a lot of time to get track position with nothing behind or infront of me and hooked up two laps quick enough for pole in the end taking it by 0.8 of a second. The video is below; you cannot really appreciate how damp the track is especially the second part of the oval.
So, my 5th pole from 7 meetings. A pretty good return by all accounts and one that set me up nicely for the race. Flick Haigh lined up second with Aaron Head (Supersport Champion) in 3rd, Mark Shaw 4th and Ian Payne 5th. The start of the race took forever to come round but fortunately the start was good and we rounded the first corner in the lead. Mark who had waited for 3 years to get a blinding start chose a good time jumping straight into 2nd behind me and we set about trying to break the pack. 5 laps in or so there was a small gap back to 3rd and Mark was closing in little by little on me. I really didn’t want to get into a fight slowing us both down so waived him past out of the first corner thinking we would tow each other clear whilst I looked after my tyres. As it was Mark was shifting at such a pace I’m not sure he wanted me back in front. Racing him seemed like a crazy thing to do given my position so I sat in behind him waiting to see if his tyres went off but they didn’t, or rather if they did no more than mine. The half an hour shot past and Mark took the chequered flag for his second victory of the season. I followed him home giving DPR another 1-2 finish in 2012 but more importantly my first championship title. Ian Payne finished 3rd some 10 seconds behind.
So, that was that….job done, finally champion! The last two round were really about not making any mistakes and taking the points which isn’t the most enjoyable way to race but the season aim was to win the title and sometimes you need to drive with your head more than you would like to.
Due to the way the rules work on dropped scores competing in the second race of the weekend isn’t a wise move so we watched that one from the pit wall. An epic battle ensued between Mark, Ian and Aaron Head with Ian taking the flag followed by Mark and Aaron. Another fantastic and clean R300 race. Mark Shaw just held onto second in the championship from Ian Payne, both of whom had fantastic seasons.
Not really sure what to do with the blog now……it has technically served its purpose charting the highs and lows of trying to win a championship over 2 years. Its with huge pride to say I’ve achieved my ambition and done it the right way. We finished the season from 13 races entered on 7 wins and 3 second places, the highest ever return in a single season of R300′s and in doing so raced and beat the R300 champions from 2009 and 2011 in one off appearances, touring car drivers and other highly respected racers from different series. It was been a massive effort for sure.
So that is that, 2012 is over! Wow that shot by. It only really leaves me to say thanks in equal measures to my wife who has had to put up with me, my Dad who has done so much to enable me keep the costs as low as possible as well as providing endless useful and also not so useful tips but not least the teams that supported me. SPY Motorsport in 2011 and DPR Motorsport in 2012. I couldn’t of done it without you.
I finally emulated my Dad who won his championship back in 1978. Happy days!
The plan for Germany was simple, get back to winning ways. Ian Payne had done a great job with 2 wins at Brands and Mark Shaw was hot on his heels both scoring excellent points. The top 3 in the table were close and there was no room for mistakes at the ring.
Testing had gone very well despite track temps of 42c, frequently a second or so quicker than most of our key rivals and over long runs even stronger, but you don’t score points for testing. Come race day the predicted change in weather arrived and the rain that R300′s had successfully dodged all year had caught us full on. Out on a wet track for the first time in qualifying we all had to find the grip, the lines and the times within a short 20 minute spell. Fortunately the car was hooked up and for the 4th time this season scored pole position this time with a comfortable half a second lead over Speed Series Driver and Caterham Instructor Darren Burke.
The weather was so bad for the first time our race was started behind a safety car. Darren made a move up the inside towards turn one as the race got under way and as I gave him room moving back across the track the car was braking on the blend line and not stopping as quickly as I would of liked. A run very wide conceded the position but fortunately that was all. The next few laps were spent building the lead over James Sharrock in third to the point where I was about a second behind Darren. Realistically to attempt to overtake Darren in those conditions would of required full commitment which was crazy considering we are not fighting him for the championship. Instead it was far more sensible to consolidate the points after Brands Hatch and give ourselves a good chance of race 2. Midway through the race the conditions worsened to the point there was standing water in several places and it was just the job to bring the car home in one piece. Still valuable points in the bag and over both Shaw (14th) and Payne (4th) with Sharrock taking the last podium slot.
A completely dry track awaited for race 2 and normal standing starts, albeit on a staggered F1 grid. We had run through various scenarios about where we might end up after the first corner and what to do; the most appealing option was to get the holeshot and checkout. As usual easier said than done. Fortunately it went according to plan and instead of looking in my mirrors for the first few corners we could drive the car flat out. By lap 2 the danger had passed and a healthy gap to Darren Burke was established which was continued to build over the first few laps until the safety car came out.
Apart from the safety car start to race one I had never had to restart the pack in all these years although I’ve been behind a few good and bad ones. As it turns out that too went to plan catching the pack slightly unawares before the final chicane I didn’t need to overly defend down the start finish straight and then set about putting in a qualifying lap to brake them again. On the first lap I pulled a 2.15.1 and probably one of my most committed laps ever gapping Darren Burke by 1.4 seconds.
From there everything went to plan driving consistently to bring the car home for my 6th win of the season. The usual fight went on for second place with Mark Shaw recovering up to second for a time before a last lap fight saw him overhauled by Ian Payne and James Sharrock. Burke finished 4th ahead of Shaw in 5th.
Having scored a fastest lap from race 1 the weekends haul was 49 points which put us back in the lead of the championship from Mark Shaw by 2 points, however the dropped scores position which is the one that really matters extends from 7 points to 12 with 4 races to go.
Snetterton is up next……
Brands Hatch was one of the fixtures looked forward to most when the calendar was published; Track time, or rather racing time is very limited and again the Caterham R300′s were supporting the British GT/F3 grid. Last year scoring two wins at the same meeting I went into RD4 of 2012 optimistic we could carry on delivering strong results.
Qualifying was interesting, the tyres took a couple of laps to come in and I had only just hooked up my first quick lap to put it on pole when on the next lap another car dropped coolant through Sheene and Stirlings. I immediately pitted as there was little point continuing with the track as it was to effectively park the car. The next 10 minutes none of the top drivers went any quicker and that was qualifying done and my third pole position of the year.
However there was a problem; I had a nagging doubt that my car was not as crisp as it normally is. The car was running in the tow of another car who itself was in a tow but it was merely holding station on the straights. I put it to the back of my mind, after all I had just run my quickest ever time round the GP circuit by several tenths and scored pole position. Its fairly difficult to convince anyone you have an engine problem and even I wasn’t sure.
Ian Payne had qualified well again, scoring P2 demoting Mark Shaw to third. The stage was set for a good race.
Race one got underway but I never make the best start from pole at Brands. You are just slightly too much in the dip on the right side and Ian Payne with his rocket ship engine took the holeshot. As always I wanted to get into the lead as soon as possible and Ian didn’t get the best drive out of Surtees and we went onto the GP loop side by side. As we approached Hawthorns I tried to take Ian round the outside, ageing my Dad by about 10 years. We had discussed at length the craziness of the Ginetta G55 crash there previously yet when the move presented itself you don’t think twice. Fortunately we both made it round putting me on the outside approaching Westbourne. The cars were neck and neck so I had no choice but to give way but as soon as I lifted off the car went into massive oversteer. At the time I put this down to cold tyres but it cost me places as Mark Shaw and James Sharrock took the opportunity to overtake. Unfortunately I didn’t have the perfect setup for race 1……
It was shortly after this I started to think all was not right with the engine. I was in the tow of other cars and simply not catching anyone. Mark overtook James with relative ease and I was just hanging on. For sure part of this was down to the handling of the car which was very loose at the back but unmistakably the engine was down on power. It took several laps to get a move lined up on Sharrock when he cut across me at Westfield forcing me off the throttle; the back stepped out and Terry Langley guesting in series overtook me and then the next lap drove straight past James with relative ease.
Still, the plan was to try and salvage a podium and make a couple of setup changes before the next race but within a lap or two I was watching the race from the gravel trap at Paddock. Sharrock got the entry wrong into clearways so I dived down the inside for the easy run down the pitwall, however James moved over and we banged wheels. I presumed he hadn’t seen me because at Paddock he went up high as if to offer me the inside line into Paddock. I still have no idea if this was his intention or not (probably not!) but as I went down the inside he then turned in, fearing yet more contact I jumped off the gas which instantly made the car swop ends and this time there was no saving it. As I sailed backwards down paddock hill Flick Haigh come over the top and with nowhere to go collected me as we disappeared into the gravel. My first DNF since 2008.
Luckily the car was not badly damaged, the sum total of a new exhaust but it meant I would start race 2 at the back of the grid. Ian Payne had held on to win his first R300 race beating my DPR team mate Shaw into second place. Congratulations must go out to Ian, but also Peter Young and his SPY Motorsport team, their first R300 win of the season and the team to end DPR’s 100% winning streak in 2012.
Race 2 like many of the races this year looked like an absolute certainty to be a wet one. Half of me wanted a wet race; a good chance to make a lot of places but on the flipside you are hindered by poor visability and the unknown….. As it turned out yet again, completely dry! From 27th on the grid you have to take nearly every opportunity presented to you. My start was good and the plan to get up high from the inside line worked and I was up several places on the run to Druids for the first time. At this point I was nearly taken out by a BookaTrack driver forcing me two wheels onto the grass on the run up the hill, I took a wide line around Druids and then saw contact between Trevor Carvey and Ian Anderson forcing Carvey into an early retirement; that could so easily of been my car just wrong time wrong place for Trevor.
Unfortunately the same could be said for Flick a lap later following me through the pack I drove round the outside of Mark Farmer at Surtees. Mark then got it wide going up the hill spearing across into Flick and ending her race. The first few laps trying to get through as many cars as cleanly as you can are daunting as you are mindful of not getting held up unnecessarily but you need to get past to salvage points. The setup changes made to the car were perfect and Caterham and DPR had both spent time on the engine and happily it was back on good form; infact on both counts completely transformed.
There was plenty of carnage going out over the 30 minutes, Sharrocks race 2 was ended when he drove into Peter Ratcliffes car holing his radidator at clearways. Being one of the first cars to encounter the spilt fluid put me off the road into the gravel but fortunately with enough momentum to drive out. The next cars through of Madg Mohaffel, Jonathan Ramsey and Paul Manyweathers were not so lucky; their races all ending in the clearways gravel with Sharrocks teammate Ramsey unfortunately hitting a stationary Mohaffel.
When the chequered flag finally fell I had achieved what I set out to, scoring 5th place but with the added bonus point of fastest lap and a new lap record to boot in clean air on the penultimate lap (I went quicker in clean air race 2 than I could achieve in qualifying in a tow) I only dropped 2 points to Mark who had again finished behind Double Winner Payne. Congratulations to them both.
What does this do for the championship? Well Mark now heads the leaderboard with Ian just behind me but rest assured we will be going all flat out next month at the Nurburgring!
Donington is without doubt one of the best circuits in the UK. Fact. There is nothing else like driving flat out down the craner curvers in 6th getting it absolutely spot on and it never fails to make me smile. RD3 of this years championship was held on the GP loop, which if you listened to half the paddock is a bad choice as all it is is a chicane and 2 hairpins. Utter rubbish, the Melbourne loop is a challenge for any car and any driver and Goddards when approached uphill from Melbourne is off camber and very difficult to get right lap in lap out. Definitely separates the men from the boys. Being fortunate enough to get pole and both race wins last year and coming off the back of defeat at Oulton to my team mate Mark I was eager to make sure the car was 100% and we could fight for victories again.
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Frankly I’m not sure of the value of meteorologists in the UK. In the fortnight leading up to the race according to any source the only thing that was guaranteed was Oulton was going to be wet, the question was surely just how wet? Therefore most people got quite a surprise when it was dry, give or take for the whole day. Still, Oulton is a fairly unforgiving circuit in either condition as the number of people who successfully destroyed their cars on the friday dry test demonstrated admirably, several not making the Saturday races.
My lead up to the event had been good, I had been quicker than my team mate Mark Shaw by a couple of tenths a few weeks previous but really not a lot in it and the Friday test was frustrating. We had very little running due to the amount of red flags and come the last session of the day the car started developing gear selection issues. We felt we had fixed those for race day though. Mark on the other hand was flying and at least the equal to me or quicker.
Qualifying went very well, I ran a great time in clean air but for the second qualifying in a row when trying to go quicker didn’t get the right tow at the right time. Going into the last 2 minutes I was still 0.4 quicker than Mark in second before he got some great times in end up taking pole by 0.4 second. The stage was set for a great race then!
In race one I got a great start, but not as good as Fauldsports James Sharrock was had his nose ahead of my car at the 15 meter point in the race! Unfortunately for him that would be it as his throttle cable snapped and he cruised to a halt with the rest of the grid taking avoiding action around him. As I reached turn one in the lead I had SPY Motorsports Ian Payne right behind me with Mark back in 5th place. The only thing I try and do in this situation if you believe you have the pace is to try and break free and so I effectively did a qualifying run trying to ignore the attentions of Ian behind. By lap 6 I had edged the lead out to 1.3 seconds and most importantly out of the tow window. Also Mark had caught Ian up and those two were now battling however Mark had demonstrated how quick he was in qualifying there was no way I would be easing up and carried out flat out until the last couple of laps. Mark couldn’t shake Ian off his tail until the last 5 minutes when Ian made a small mistake but by which point I had a 4 second lead and wasn’t going to give it up. I took the chequered flag by just over 3 seconds in the end having lead from start to finish. Mark managed to get fastest lap by 8/100′s of a second. Frustrating but there you go! Still, I’d now won the first 3 races of the year so I can hardly complain! The only slight concern I had was the gear selection issues creeping back in for the second part of the race. I half put it down to how hard I was having to drive the car and it isn’t really an issue until mid race. SPY’s Ian Payne scored his maiden podium in R300′s, a just reward for his pace given the lack of seat time he had after his RD1 Silverstone damage.
Race 2 later on in the day I managed another good start from pole position and lead the pack round Old Hall, this time with Team Leos’s Peter Ratcliffe’s right behind me. Mark again hadn’t got the greatest of starts and had lost a few places in the run down to turn one. The problem though this time was Peter was really coming at me, on lap 3 out of druids I had to go defensive. My pace was okay, but certainly not as good as it was earlier and I wasn’t able to break free. Part of this was self inflicted due to the new tyre rules. My plan had always been to run the first 2 race meetings on the season on 4 tyres, and my back right literally had nothing left to give. I would of swopped it for my other rear tyre in my declared allocation but it was on the other side and by the time I realised Avon had packed up. Worried it might be wet I chose to simply leave it and make do but it gave me a wondering rear end and I was having to wait to fully get on the power out of important corners, noticeably Knickerbrook and Druids.
Still, I thought I got a break when through Druids when on lap 4 a load of water washed across my helmet. Were we finally about to get rain? I pushed on, the track still bone dry. Through Island I was a bit more cautious than normal but again still dry. Out of Shell Oils and on the run to the first chicane at Foulstones the track was now wet (despite 50m away and 10 seconds earlier Island was dry). I realised going in just how wet it was and got the car slowed down, but not enough and ran off the track on exit onto the grass. Fortunately I had slowed down enough, and despite losing several seconds the others were all struggling as well and I rejoined in the lead. Whilst I had “got away” with a little off track excursion at the chicane I was finding out by leading which corners were wet and which ones were dry. Having experienced rain at Druids a lap earlier I went in more cautiously (you don’t get second chances there) and it was dry…however Mark Shaw behind had been able to read my car’s behaviour and carried more speed in leaving me defenceless on the run down to lodge. Down to second then. Despite my rears the car felt really good in the changeable conditions and I was ready to take advantage. Through a now damp Island next lap Mark had run a bit too wide and I was able to get down the outside of him for Shelloils and then drive two abreast through the corner and somehow I made it stick on the outside, find some grip and I was back in the lead.
Now was my chance to break free and I managed over the next couple of laps to take the lead back up to 1.3 seconds with over half the race gone…and then the gear selection issues came back. I noticed them first on lap 7 and then once or twice a lap thereafter I couldn’t get clean shifts from 4th to 5th. My lead was coming down at an alarming rate and on lap 10 I didn’t get the change out of Druids and Mark was able to clean drive by me. The symptom was literally getting stuck momentarily between gears and could be clutch or gearbox. It was pointless defending as he would get through regardless and at that point of the race the last thing I wanted to do was hold us both up and others join the party.
I sat on his gearbox until the last lap waiting to make a move and got a great drive out of lodge over the start finish line. Mark went defensive but I wasn’t pulling out of it and I retook the lead at Old Hall with only the remainder of the lap to see out. Mark was straight back at me on the run down Cascades but I held the position through the corner but as soon as I exited the corner I had a massive sense of Déjà Vu. Here I was, having lead most of the race 2 at Oulton Park now on the run down to Island on the last lap defending from a DPR car. Last time it was Gordon Sawyer and I ended up spinning across the grass backwards and finished 9th. Gordon ended up wearing the tyres and a large bill.
So, was a repeat on the cards? Fortunately not. Not only was Mark very good out of the corner and going to have a run at me anyway as I was defensive going in, the gear change caught just enough for Mark to be past me like a flash. Back down to second, half a lap left. I tried to hassle him through the chicanes but knew my best chance was on the run out of Druids. As expected Mark went defensive and whilst I had a good drive it wasn’t good enough. On the brakes maybe into lodge? I’d say half a gap was offered to me…..some people would of gone for it, but to be honest there was no way I was going to get past Mark without significant contact damaging one or two cars and frankly thats never what my driving has been about. I probably wouldn’t make a very good touring car driver…..
So the win streak was over, I took second with Mark getting his first well deserved win of the season.
Still from the last 8 races I’ve taken 6 wins, a second and a third so I can’t be too unhappy. Mark took fastest lap which means despite us both getting a win and a second Mark has narrowed my lead in the championship to one point. All to play for then? Just a bit!