This is the final race of the year for me, mainly due to lack of time, family commitments, holidays and a depleted bank balance. So off to Donnington Park I went with my friend Mark. This was a race meeting with the CSCC rather than the WSSCC. The format being 30 minutes practice/qualification and a 40 minute race with mandatory 60 second pit-stop. I was in the ‘Magnificent Sevens’ Group 1, which is for cars up to 185 bhp. Group 2 is for cars above 185 bhp.
I was really looking forward to this one having been at Donny for trackdays in the past. I even started weight training to build up my lower arm strength for this 40 minute race.
I knew from the Forum that another WSCC member was racing. Lee Morey or ‘Iowlee’, albeit he was in Group 2.
We stayed at a pub with rooms near to the track, which wins the award for the most sticky tables in the Midlands... At least the bathroom was clean. This turned out to be an important fact.
Marks snoring was quite frankly, unbelievably loud. I have always managed to avoid sharing a room with mark as I knew this and I forgot to pack my ear plugs. Damn. This meant at 2.30am and not having slept, I took matters into my own hands and moved the matress from my bed into the bathroom. This along with earplugs made of toilet tissue helped, but I didn’t really sleep until about 3.30am. Up at 6.45am, it was not the best preparation I was hoping for. Still nothing a gallon of strong tea, Lucozade and adrenaline could not sort out.
Scrutinering was a non-event and only took a matter of minutes.
Looking at the entries prior to the day, I was very concerned that I would be off the pace with a field almost exclusively of seasoned racers driving Caterhams. I knew I had lapped Donnington Park earlier in the year at a trackday in the low 1.22s and this didn’t bode well given the times of the entrants who were there the previous year. So out I went for the 30 minutes practice and quali, determined to not come last. We were qualifying with the Group 2 cars as well so it was busy. Some cars in Group 2 have 2.3 duratec’s and full pit crews, so it was an exercise of watching your mirrors whilst setting a time that I would be happy with. Lee followed me round for a few laps then overtook me, only to have a bit of a moment and end up running thought the gravel at McCleans – no damage done thankfully and he carried on (we both had a laugh about that one). I managed to set my best time on my penultimate lap, before I got the dreaded fuel surge again and had to come in 2 minutes before the end of the session. Lesson learnt. I posted a 1.21.5 which was good for 5th. I was more than happy with that. Lee managed a 1.19.9 which was a great time considering he had not even been to Donny before.
So now we had a near 6-hour wait until my race.
I managed to fill some of the time by helping Lee out with his race (Group 2). I offered to time his pit stop and give him some water. Mark was going to take his tyre pressures. The race turned out to be quite eventful. Lee pitted early as agreed but it was clear he had a problem. His front wheel arch had come loose and was rubbing against his tyre. We spend a very frantic 2 minutes trying to get a spanner and tighten up the nut. It was a blind panic as there was not a tool box/mechanic to be seen – blooming typical. We watched Lee go round for a few laps only for him to then start frantically pointing at his front arch again. Turns out it was his other arch rubbing this time. We prepare for another pit stop which the race commentator picked-up on but Lee decided to stay out. Having given me the thumbs up we monitored it from the pits for the rest of the race. Towards the end of the race Lee had another moment going straight on at the chicane, hitting the raised kerb and taking off skyward (the airport is next door Lee!). The floor was looking a little second hand but all was good. We also had more drama as one of the leading Caterhams managed to break his propshaft. The carbon firbre propshaft with CV joint still attached (well who doesn’t have a CF propshaft on their car?) came to a rest in the middle of the start/finish straight, being collected by one car which lost it’s rear arch as a result. Luckily no one was hurt. The safety car was called out and the Marshals grabbed it.
So after a nervous wait, it was finally time for my race (Group 1). We were caller earlier than scheduled so Lee kindly stayed on, delaying his long drive home to help with my pit stop.
I got a good start from the rolling grid. This was despite the 6th place Caterham being in front of me prior to the lights going out. At one point the grid was so messy I thought the start would be aborted. I held position in fifth despite grabbing some oversteer into Redgate and again at Craners (not something I want to repeat). Annoyingly I fluffed a gear change and didn't defend well going onto the back straight and lost two places as a result. It was that close running. My pain was made worse when I just could not find third coming out of the Foggy esses. This reined my speed along the start/finish straight. Fortunately, the two cars that overtook me continued to battle and I began to reduce the gap. One caterham span having lost the back end at McCleans and I managed to get clear of him for the rest of the race. Then at the next corner, the Westfiled of the Mowbray father/son team had a coming together with a Caterham and with bodywork all other the track, both retired from the race. This was a shame for the only other Westfield in the race. They were both quick too. Surprisingly, the safety car was not called out. I soon caught the car in front and we traded places for about 6 laps. This was sevens racing at its best with very equally matched machinery and plenty of drafting on the straights. The racing was hard fought, very close at times but clean and fair. I lost one of my front wings going down Craner Curves at some point was well. Shame really as it was CF.
At about 23 minutes I pitted. This went as well as could have been expected. We know from the race organisers that the minimum time you can do a pit stop is 76 seconds and I managed 79. That helped a lot - thanks Lee and Mark!. The lap after pitting was ‘exciting’ to say the least with tyres not quite up to temperature. Pitting late meant the pit lane was virtually clear and there was no traffic in the pit lane or on the track as I left. This allowed me to put in 8 consecutive laps (after the pit exit lap) in the 1.22’s with a 1.21 on my penultimate lap. That Lucozade during the pit stop really did the trick!
With about 6 laps to go Mark put out the pit board. This was really helpful. The pit board said ‘Mike 14’ (my race number) ‘30’ and ‘P3’. I though great I only have 10 minutes to go as I must admit I was very worried about my fuel level (I finished with virtually no fuel but with no fuel surge either).The following pit boards said the same but this time with ‘35’ and ‘37’ and I prayed that the safety car would not come out. I know this was the time remaining/counting down but refused to believe I was in third – ‘P3’. We had not agreed to put positions on the pit board. With two laps to go I saw a Caterham approaching fast and I could just not keep him behind me. Had I just lost out on my first podium?
Again, I could see cars in my mirrors on the straights and I really dug deep to keep my concentration until the chequered flag came out. I was so relieved. I went round on my cool down lap, thanking the Marshals on the way. When I came into the pits I was pointed towards the winners section, I still didn’t believe it until Mark confirmed it – I was third and took my first podium! I was over the moon. What a result, even if I was a little lucky. I was interviewed by the race commentator, but quite frankly I didn’t know what to say! Interview practice was not on my training schedule! What a race and one I won’t forget in a hurry that’s for sure.
Thankfully I remembered to collect my upgrade card and with my previous 4 races plus marshalling, I now have the 6 I need to upgrade to National A next year. I ceremoniously ripped my yellow cross off the back of the car.
What a great journey this season has been. It’s been such an experience and I have enjoyed every moment. I cannot wait until next year now.
Thanks for reading.
Mike - No. 14.
(My internet at home will finally be working next week so i'll try to sort some video)