On the Friday morning practice we decided to use the tyres from Oulton Park. I spent the first part of the session getting used to the track in the G50 as there is no testing allowed due to noise restrictions at the circuit. After that, I started putting in times and ended up stretching away from the rest of the G50s, by the end of the session I was 0.6seconds ahead of my nearest rival, which was a very encouraging start to the weekend. During the session I found that I started having oversteer issues, and we changed a few bits on the car which helped.
Going into the second session I thought I wouldn’t be too fast as it was decided that I wouldn’t run on new tyres, which everyone usually does on a Friday to get a benchmark. However, the team and I decided that we should focus on race runs, especially on old tyres, and we would do shortish runs so that we could make changes to the car based on what I could feel out on circuit. Initially the car felt ok, there was slight loss of rear grip due to the tyres being old, inducing oversteer, which made it quite interesting out the back of the circuit through the Jim Clark Esses and Barcroft, but I felt more comfortable with it an at ease than the understeer we have been suffering with all year. As the session wore on and the tyres got worse, the oversteer became more of a problem, but the pace did not drop off as badly as my competitors. Despite that, I ended up just 0.3 off the fastest time, everyone in front of me having to put new tyres on to get ahead, so overall a very encouraging start to the weekend.
Going into qualifying on Saturday I was quite confident of a decent grid position after the pace shown the previous day. There was slight doubt about the weather but it was decided that slicks was definitely the way to go. However, we were unsure of if or when it would rain during the session so decided to go out at the front so I didn’t get held up potentially on an early lap before any rain came down. I steadily improved my times over the first 4 laps but then the tyres went off, like they dropped off the edge of a cliff. There was suddenly a lot less rear grip, so I decided that I couldn’t do any faster and came into the pitlane to save the tyres. My qualifying position was 3rd, 0.4 off the pole position time, which was a good base to start the first race of the weekend.
At the start of the first race, I got a good start and managed to maintain my third position. However, after a couple of laps, the car seemed to go off and Aaron Williamson closed me down. He got past and pulled a little gap, but after a few laps the car came back to me and I started to reel him back in, eventually closing right in on him, but couldn’t manage to get past due to his rather robust defending. Even in this race though, I wasn’t completely happy with the balance of the car, the oversteer coming back, not as badly as it was on the older tyres in testing, but the decision was made to make a fairly major change to the car overnight, as we have to effectively do our testing over the race weekend, so a major change would be easy to feel and we could see if we were going in the right direction.
The second race, the first on Sunday, was the most interesting one weather-wise of the whole season. When we arrived at the track in the morning the track was wet and all the way up until our race there was drizzle all the time, however, if some cars went over the track it may dry it up a bit, as the rain was wet enough to make the decision tough, but cars would dry the track. With the touring cars out before us it made the decision even harder! We left it until the last minute to go down to the assembly area, and when we got there some cars had actually already gone out! I managed to make it in time though and take my grid spot, on slicks. Some of the people who had gone down to the assembly area early had wets on and came into the pits to change onto slicks because the track was drying quite quickly, although it was by no means completely dry yet.
I managed to get a good start, despite starting on the wet side of the track, minimising traction los at the start being the key! I managed to keep ahead of Andrew Richardson, who started to the inside of me on the drier section of track down to the first corner. I ended the first lap in third place in class, and set about chasing the leaders. I passed Tom Ingram into Tower on lap 3 to go into second in class and set about the leader. On lap 4, suddenly coming into the Jim Clark Esses/Barcroft sector of the track, there was very heavy rain, so I slowed down, but it was quite weird as there didn’t seem to be rain anywhere else round the track, and that carried on for a couple of laps, affecting the laptimes slightly. I caught the leader up by 0.7seconds in one lap before being taken out going into the left into the complex. I turned in and got hit off the track, and with the grass being so wet, the car didn’t slow down, and I hot the tyre wall with some force with the back of the car. Luckily there was no damage, but it took ages to get off the wet grass and back onto the track. With a gap in front of me, I set about chasing down the massive gap to third in class. With 5 laps to go I was 33seconds down on the leader, and set about reducing that gap. I was consistently much faster in the tricky conditions and managed to reduce the gap down to 25seconds by the end of the race, setting the fastest lap of the race on the last lap, some 0.5seconds quicker than anyone else, the big change seeming to have worked, although slightly hard to know as the conditions weren’t completely dry.
For the last race, the car was left the same as the previous race so we could gauge more accurately whether the change was going in the right direction. This time the tyre decision was easy, but there was still rain in the air. Luckily it didn’t come down very heavily and the whole race was run in completely dry conditions. At the first corner on lap one, I got spun round after touching another car as I got on the kerb on the inside of the corner, unsettling the car and spinning me round. It was just one of those things but nevertheless a bad start to the race! There was a gap to the back of the pack and I set about reeling them in. On lap 4, just before I caught the pack up, I once again set the fastest lap of the race, this time by 0.2seconds. I caught up the third place car of Lee Pattison and easily got by, and was catching the second place car when the safety car came out. For once the safety car worked in my favour and it meant I got right onto the back of Jake Hill. When the race restarted I managed to get by him through the long right-hander at Hawthorn. Coming out of the hairpin, however, there was a car spun on the inside, meaning I had to take evasive action to the outside. I had to go onto some damp track and the rear tyres spun up, meaning the person behind could get a run on me. They managed to get through before the first corner, and from there I wasn’t able to get back through. It all closed up on the last lap, but I had pressure from behind so I couldn’t take the optimal lines to try and get a run on second place. I therefore finished in third position, which, considering the start to the race, was a very good result, and with the fastest lap as well, it was very good.
Overall a very good weekend, halving the gap on the championship leader, and getting 2 out of 3 fastest laps for the weekend, confirming that the changes made seemed to work, and a very encouraging way to go into the second half of the season. Unfortunately though, it’s a long wait until the next round at Snetterton!