They say that qualifying is everything in a one make series and we’d done everything right in preparation for this event. The usual, turn up and drive philosophy had gone out of the window, we’d been to the circuit on the Wednesday before the event and messed about with suspension settings and learned the circuit. Although on the track day we weren’t allowed to time ourselves, we were aware that we were doing speeds that would get us to the pointy end of the grid. One unfortunate incident was that Matt Coggins blew a head gasket so had to pull out of the event, there being insufficient spare time before the event to comfortably put a new one in. You may say it was better to let go on the track day than at the race, however.
Qualifying is a bit of a lottery what with 32 cars on the circuit and everyone trying to go as fast as possible and yellow flags being waved vigorously as people were visiting the scenery. My opening couple of laps were, as usual quite steady, working the car and the tyres up to temperature whilst trying to find a gap in the traffic for a few quick laps. Towards the end of the second lap, I was considering dropping back to avoid a group of slower cars that I was catching but as I approached them, the blue flag waved and I could see a good patch of daylight in front of them. I passed the last of the bunch as we hit the start finish straight and the road ahead was completely clear. The next four laps were all quick ones with an empty track but eventually I started to catch traffic, the rear gunner of the bunch being Richard Avery who promptly spun directly in front of me on the exit of Charlies, the start of park straight thus ruining the lap completely. Cruising round the remainder of the lap and waiting for a substantial gap to appear in front of me, I noticed the chequered flag being waved at the finish line so exited stage left content in the knowledge that I could do no more.
Race 1 saw me take the highest place I have ever occupied on the grid, the qualifying session albeit shortened substantially had put me in fourth place and on the second row of the grid. Alex Gassman (48) in his now customary pole position had pipped Sarah Wherry (4) into second with Ross Stoner (22) alongside me on the second row and other regular front runners Chris Shackle (77) Adam Lockwood (51) Aaron Pullen (26) and Mark Scott (40) headed the remainder of the capacity grid and were all snapping at our heels as the lights went out to signify the start of the race.
All got away safely albeit I was engulfed by the following pack after a massive bout of wheelspin off the line but we exited Charlies pretty much in grid order. Adam Lockwood had overcome Chris Shackle and was putting me under pressure and I was able to pull alongside Ross at the end of Park Straight. Ross promptly put me on the grass which put paid to my buffalo girl manoeuvre at Park Curve. I regained the circuit in time for Chris Curve but was unsettled so took to the grass once more and then enjoyed further attention from Adam as we rounded the Gooseneck and we watched Ross take a mad lunge at Sarah into Mansfield which he somehow made stick. We completed the lap and headed round Coppice, Charlies and onto Park Straight once more. I checked my mirrors and there was no sign of Lockwood and however he exited the circuit must have hindered the rest of the field as I was a handful of seconds clear of my nearest pursuer.
Somehow, Sarah seemed to have the legs on me and I think this made me try harder and go slower, as is usually the case. I steadied my pace and calmed down and started putting the laps in and the gap was coming down gradually, too gradually in fact.
On lap six, we rounded Charlies to discover that Steve Woolfe (88) had managed to put it in the barriers, I backed off but started to reel Sarah in before the inevitable red flag came out and the results wee declared. 4th overall and my best result to date, not counting the B race at Mallory.
Race two and there was no way I was going to mess the start up this time and I fled the line like a scalded cat leaving Sarah in my wake and hot on the heels off Ross before Alex impolitely came across the front of me and slammed the door. The lift was not enough to allow Sarah past but we rounded Charlies and the two orange cars seared into the distance. Late braking into Park and a good line round Chris and the Gooseneck and I was back with them but my bad technique round the mountain saw them pull away once more and it wasn’t until the hairpin that I was back with them.
The gap was yo-yoing from 200 yards to nothing for the first two laps but on the third time down the start straight, I had a good run out of Barn and as the car gathered momentum, the gap to Alex was dwindling. Alex moved right and Ross went to block him and I could see straight up the inside. I didn’t know if Alex was expecting me and I didn’t get fully alongside so the split second decision was not one of bravery and I backed out of it.
A bit later in the lap, I thought I’d try a different approach to the mountain as I always seemed to drop a few yards but on this occasion, I dropped even more and Miss Wherry didn’t need asking twice and was alongside me. Again, bravery not being an option, I opted to slot in behind her and wait for one of the now leading trio to make a mistake.
My strong point on the laps was at the end of the long straights, the power of the Cogsport engine in evidence (blatant plug). I could exit Charlies and Barn quite well and had the straights been longer, a podium would have been inevitable but so evenly matched are the cars that passing is very difficult, especially with my lack of experience.
With three laps to go, the dashboard lit up like a Christmas tree, the main engine light being the most obvious of the plethora of illumination. Backing off and checking the gauges lost me time and concentration and some lairy moments were had whilst trying to evaluate the situation and keep up with the leaders and I took to the grass dropping back by a couple of seconds. By the time I had decided to “drive round the problem” I had a large deficit which I set about regaining and after a relatively short period of time was back in the hunt and making opportunistic but alas unsuccessful dives up the inside and outsides of the corners. The three leaders maintained their positions and I was stuck with another fourth place albeit only 1.4 seconds adrift of the lead and extremely satisfied with myself for upping my game and being there to mix it with the big boys and girls.