Knockhill was a long trip up from my base south of London, but it turned out to be a fairly successful weekend with a lot of positives to take away despite a bit of disappointment, especially in the third race of the weekend.
The weekend started very wet as first practice for us was in the rain. In the early stages I was quickest overall, in front of all the G55s, before eventually they started to go faster. During the session, we made a change which turned out to be a wrong move, meaning I wasn’t able to set a time representative of my pace as the rear end of the car would tend to move around into the corners, but we knew what way to go instead, which would stand us in good stead if it was wet again over the weekend. I did, however, manage to record the fastest overall last sector, which was very encouraging!
For the second session of the day the track had dried up and the team and I decided to go out on older tyres to start with to see what kind of time I could do and also to just bed myself back into the track when it was dry. The car was moving around, but this was expected with the kind of rubber we had put on. I didn’t manage to get a representative time in that session as, when we tried to go out on the newer tyres, the red flag came out and I wasn’t able to complete my run. I knew there was more to come from the better rubber, so I would be able to go quicker in the third and final session of the day.
Due to the Renault series not competing at the weekend, we were able to have 3 sessions instead of 2, even though it was divided up so that we had the same amount of track time as normal, it meant we could do more major changes to the car if necessary between sessions. The 3rd session was not without its disruptions as there was a red flag near the end, but we had managed to get in the running that we wanted, so it was not a major issue for us. On my initial runs I went fastest, with a time of 54.311 would have been enough to keep me at the top of the times for the rest of the session, but I knew there was much more time to come out of the car. We made a couple of changes which helped, then put on the better tyres, although not new, and went out to see what the car could do. I managed one lap before the red flag came out, so didn’t set a time. We were released with just a few minutes remaining, meaning the pressure was on to do a good lap straight away. I managed it on the last lap of the session, posting a 53.879, 0.6secs quicker than any of my G50 rivals. This underlined that I had the pace in the wet or dry, and the forecast for Saturday was changeable – I was happy either way.
Qualifying turned out to be in absolutely torrential conditions, with the rain being worse than it was on Friday. It got worse through the session, at one stage it being very hard to see just a few metres in front of the car, but there couldn’t be any lifting off – there was a qualifying time to do! Initially, my pace wasn’t that good, even though I was third or fourth, and when I came in to the pits we made quite a big change and on my first lap out I went 0.5secs quicker than my previous fastest lap. It’s a shame we couldn’t do this while the tyres were a bit newer, but nonetheless I still qualified just 0.3secs off the fastest.
For the first race the weather was dry once again, and I was confident of my pace after the encouraging times on Friday. I managed to set fastest lap of the race up until the last couple of laps when Aaron Williamson nicked it, but this was very good as I hadn’t expected to be quite as quick as that in this race. I ended up finishing in 4th position, and was confident heading into Sunday, when we were the first race on track.
The weather for Sunday was bright sunshine, and I was starting fourth, where I finished the previous day’s race. I made a good start, maintaining fourth position, and started rapidly closing in on the leaders, setting fastest lap on the way, which was at the time much quicker than anyone else. I then started to pick the guys in front off, starting with Tom Ingram, with a move into the hairpin. The car just felt great and I felt I could put it anywhere and I would still be able to go fast. Then I came up to Jake Hill on the next lap (lap 6) – he made a mistake coming out of Clark onto the back straight, and I was able to go around him on the run to the hairpin – I was now after the leader, Aaron Williamson. I spent 6 laps chasing down Aaron, each time coming up to the hairpin not quite close enough to make a move. I then got just about close enough for a late move on him into the hairpin; I braked very late and put it up the inside of him going into the corner. He tried to shut the door but I was already there, I stopped it on the apex and defended down the start/finish straight. I then managed to pull out enough of a gap so I didn’t have to defend, and could get my head down and concentrate on pulling away. After a few laps I had pulled out a small lead, but then Aaron had to defend from Tom Ingram, which helped me to pull away even more, eventually finishing 4.6secs ahead of the rest of the G50 field and fifth overall.
Race 3 is always a reverse grid race. Luckily for me (on my birthday!), I got put on overall pole, meaning I would have the faster G55s breathing down my neck, which would be interesting to say the least! Due to the G55 cars being that much quicker than my G50, I expected them to come by me quite quickly. What actually happened I don’t think anyone would have predicted! I managed to get probably my best start of the season and pulled a gap on everyone before the first corner, meaning I didn’t have to defend. I had 1.8second lead at the end of the first lap, and got caught a bit, as expected, by the G55 of Tom Sharp behind me, but it was not really anything significant and I felt comfortable in the lead. I managed to hold the overall lead for 6 laps before the safety car came out for Carl Breeze’s car being in the gravel at the hairpin. The car was eventually removed, but unknown to me, the marshals had left gravel on the track where the car was pulled out. I planned to go into the hairpin deep, to get a cut back and good run up the straight. The gravel wasn’t there on the last safety car lap and I was the first one to come across it – I went in deep and slid wide on the gravel, but kept it on the road. By the time I had gathered it all up, I had been passed on the run up the straight by several cars and I was second of the G50’s. I was looking to get the lead back but found that the car started behaving weirdly, snapping into oversteer on corner entry, and I started dropping down the field, eventually ending up fourth. After the race, I chatted to my mechanic who checked tyre pressures and found that the left rear was significantly lower than the rest – this must have been caused by a slow puncture from the gravel at the hairpin, as the car had been great up to that point. This was extremely disappointing as I had set the fastest G50 lap of the race before then, which remained the fastest for the remainder of the race.
Although the final race was disappointing, the pace that I had over the weekend is very encouraging and a good way to go into the next round of the championship at Rockingham. Another bit of exciting news is that the Sunday race at Rockingham will be 30minutes in length and include a pit stop for everyone, which should spice up the action a bit! I am now 9points off the lead of the championship, so it’s all still there to play for, hopefully I can whittle that deficit down and get into the lead by the end of the race weekend.
Photo Credit: Jakob Ebrey (http://www.jakobebrey.com)