Before the weekend, I was looking forward to another strong showing after the pace I had at Knockhill, but the weekend didn’t turn out quite as I had hoped!
In first practice on the Friday, as soon as I went out the car was not handling at all like I would have liked. Every time I turned the steering wheel the back end wanted to come round and the car was really bad out of the traction zones, notably the two hairpins. There was no way to make the problem go away, and It was traced to the set of tyres I had – the rear tyres were basically bald and nearly down to the canvas! We had some slightly better tyres, which we put on, but they had still done a few laps. At least we found a solution to the problem though, so knew there wasn’t anything wrong with the car. From then on however, we realised that traction was going to be the area of setup to concentrate on. Despite the troubles though, I was still able to post the third fastest time.
For session two the decision was made to start with the slightly better tyres initially to go and try set a representative time before putting better tyres on at the end to simulate a qualifying-style run. This meant that I set about the same lap time as in the first session initially, before putting the best tyres on and setting a time. I managed to do this, going 0.7seconds faster than everyone else, which I was really happy with after being slightly off the pace during the first session. After that I set a few more laps seeing how fast the tyres went off.
From that data, we planned our strategy in terms of tyres as there was due to be two 30minute races over the weekend, the one on Sunday including a pit stop where two tyres would have to be changed on the car. This dictated what we would do for the qualifying session. Because of that, I didn’t go into the session with the setup for ultimate lap time, as it was decided that it was better to save some pace for the two races. I still managed to qualify 4th though, which was encouraging for the races. However, after qualifying, the goalposts were changed somewhat when we were notified that the races would be shorter – 18laps instead of 30minutes, a reduction of about 20%. Although not a complete disaster, this meant that our tyre strategy would not necessarily be as advantageous as originally hoped when we decided it before qualifying.
At the start of the first race Jake Hill and I found ourselves behind Aaron Williamson, but I managed to follow Jake through when he passed Aaron at the hairpin. He dived for the inside and I was close enough behind to make full use of it, making sure there was no room for Aaron to turn in. After that Jake and I pulled away and with a few laps to go caught the two leaders. There was a big scrap, where no positions were exchanged although it looked like there may be a crash a couple of times! I kept a watching brief but wasn’t able to capitalise on anything happening ahead. This meant that I finished 4th, a solid result to build on in the Sunday race, although being a bit further up would have obviously been preferable. In the race I didn’t seem to have the pace of the leaders either, as I had a lot of oversteer especially through the long left-hander on the infield. With this in mind, we made a change overnight, which we hoped would cure the problem.
On the Sunday morning the pit stop parameters were changed again – we were now able to ‘side’ the tyres during the pit stop race, meaning swapping over the left and right tyres and not necessarily having to use 2 extra tyres. This would offer an advantage due to the tyres being hot and not losing time when going out the pits due to having to heat the new, ‘cold’ tyres up and also there was now no need to have six tyres in reasonable shape. However, our carefully planned strategy was already set for the race (and weekend) and it would not now be as effective.
We decided to come in on lap 4 (first opportunity once the pit window was open), and changed our tyres as planned. As the pit stop had a set minimum time, I was sat on the pit lane for a while as the clock counted down. Once I was waved out, the tyres took about a lap to come in, losing me valuable time but after that the car felt about the same as before the stop. However, in this race, Saturday’s oversteer had turned to understeer through the corners and I was struggling for pace. I ended up finishing 6th in the race, not what I had expected.
One interesting note is that I was fastest through the speed traps both on the start/finish and through the second sector speed trap – two places where the exit of the previous corners are traction critical, meaning that we concentrated on the right area of the car, but maybe it was to the detriment of the other areas – all part of the learning process for me.
So overall a solid weekend, but not with quite the pace I expected or wanted. I am planning to return to the front of the field at the next round on the Brands Hatch GP circuit, which is my favourite track on the calendar and where I took my first car race win last year. Hopefully it brings me some more good results!
Photo Credit: Jakob Ebrey (http://www.jakobebrey.com)