Review: Brands Hatch Indy Race 1

Podium Finish
Podium Finish
Lap Timer
Lap Timer

A number of us had been testing the previous Thursday and/or Friday and in such dry weather, times of sub 57 seconds were coming in from many and myself too, happy with the increase of such consistent 57’s and with one 56.93 I was pretty much ready for the weekend ahead. The problem was sunshine, or lack of it especially for Sunday. The forecast was changing for the weekend and with Friday’s BBC weather girl stating Sunday would be “really rather wet”, we were hoping for a scatter of dampness on such test days to get used to Brands in the wet. Test days came and went with no rain, with Friday evening consisting of a few beers when the family arrived at the poker evening and then an early night.

Saturday morning came and the plan was to re-read the Blue Book and Final Regs over breakfast. I was 95% sure of the flags but wanted to revisit the black/orange/disk and black/white/diagonal flags as to the action required. I noted that a race number would be shown on production of each of these two flags. As the Regs were also taking about safety cars, I wanted to appraise myself of this too, albeit there was a mandatory safety briefing at 1.00pm.

Like the previous sprints, I wanted to get to the circuit early. Although the car and trailer were in situ from the previous night, as per norm I didn’t want to rush. Some of the guys had signed on the previous night, though there was plenty of time for us. Paul was staying at the same hotel, so he drove me to the circuit as planned and as we parked up, it seemed no-one was around. Perhaps they are all still in bed with a sore head from the previous night’s poker we thought?

Sandra and the children turned up a short while later and we made ourselves comfortable with table and picnic chairs while Paul and I looked over the car. I was still conscious that the VBOX should not be recording data, so that meant installing the ‘no data recording’ scene and that Peter was going to re-check the ride height. I had also purchased some yellow wheel arches from Caterham in case of bits flying off so now I had two chores, find my box of yellow bits and find Peter before a 11.35am sign on. In addition I wanted to give the car a wash before scrutineering and remove the tyre marks.

The topic on everyone’s lips was the weather and both Metcheck and XC Weather were being constantly viewed on the iPhone with eager smiles as it was becoming clearer that the chance of rain was diminishing.

Roadsports Qualification
Roadsports Qualification

I looked at the clock and we had half an hour to sign on, so the children and I popped over to the circuit to watch the Roadsports qualify. My rationale here was to try and see some of the lines these guys were taking. Qualification complete it was back to the car while Paul still tinkered with the tyres, with two of them off while he bantered with Ade. There was some fixation as to which tyres to use and at which pressures? Speaking to Peter the previous day, we had already tried much lower pressures than I would normally run, which in my opinion made the car become more of a jelly and hence I was happy to be back at the 30 PSI mark. Adding another pound here and removing half a pound there seemed all too complicated for me as at the end of the day, they are not the best tyres though we did have a second set in case the clouds opened.

Time started to fly and it was time to sign on. Sign on was a short walk away from the trailer and I wanted to get the car scrutineered at the same time as the scrutineering bay was next to sign-on, however Paul was still dorking around with the wheels and tyres so Grace and I walked over to sign on,  a very simple process then back to collect the car. Still the wheels were off and without too much fuss, I popped my race gear into the passenger well while the wheels were put back on, Paul finishing clicking the torque wrench just as I pulled off.

Although looking a little manic, scrutineering was a breeze. I did think there would be just one or two people and queues, but there must have been at least ten chaps in an organised albeit looking hectic environment. Brake lights, rain lights and master switch checked and fine. Engine bay all fine. Fire pin works then helmet and suit checked and all in order. Sticker presented and job done, then back to the trailer where Sandra was asking me to give directions to Alison and Jason who had just arrived at the circuit. It was at this point when I knew everything was just about to get manic, that gut feel of “the shit is gonna hit the fan soon” moment.

Jason and Alison arrived. We had not seen them for a couple of years and their daughter had grown up a lot.

@NoisyPaul Pumping Tyres
@NoisyPaul Pumping Tyres

The sun was coming through though there was still an unease of rain and I chatted to Paul saying if it rained, I wanted the ‘wet’ tyres though he was still whispering to me about PSI pressures.

I had just made the decision to get into race gear when a rumour started quite quickly that the programme had just been brought forward twenty minutes. This was interesting as the aforementioned mandatory safety briefing had not taken place and we would be called to Assembly in 10 minutes or so. Indeed there was a pit announcement and recalling the Regs that if you are late, the race will not be held open for late arrivals, a number including I got ready and made our way to the Assembly area. Just as I was moving off, those on point were on their way back stating the Clerk of the Course was coming back to the paddock to make the briefing. A little disorganised perhaps for such Rookies?

Briefing complete, it was again back in the car and onward to Assembly via the noise test. Paul had decided to come with me and was talking last minute ‘strategy’ en route and there was spots of rain on the windscreen. At Assembly we all lined up in queues and once all together, were let into the pit lane for the qualifying.

Interestingly there were green flags at the Marshall posts on the first lap. This had not been explained and I did not recall from the Regs or Blue Book that green flags would be shown on an out lap on qualifying? Nonetheless I was behind Mark Cox and he over took though I was not sure if this was correct protocol? Nonetheless and recalling one must complete three laps, there was no rush as I wanted to ‘warm up’ the tyres and breaks. Inducing a little oversteer and understeer at all corners for the first two laps, it was clear that I would need to overtake half a dozen cars to find some clear space thus from lap three this was the objective. Finally I did find some space and for a couple of laps, got back into my ‘test day’ mode, though being aware that surface conditions may change with the spots of rain? I’m not sure if I found qualifying exciting and satisfying or just frustrating? The reason was that as soon as I found some space, I was behind slower cars again and it became quite apparent that to find space to get a fast lap, one may have to drop back away from a bunch of cars in front rather than overtake and try to complete a ‘fast lap’.

Rob and Barbie
Rob and Barbie

I had my T200 lap timer which presented a time of 57.35 seconds which I was happy as the fasted lap. Excited when I returned to the pits I asked Paul as to my position which would have been broadcast from the public address system. Alas no, he did not hear as was observing from the race control tower. Feeling confident we arrived back to the pits to be told I had qualified in position 4, better than the 5th to 6th I had expected. I was over the moon and hence a celebration with Auntie Stella commenced.

That afternoon we watched the rest of the races and chatted among ourselves and other competitors as to the speculative strategy for tomorrow’s big race and indeed the weather was hot on everyone’s lips again. By this time, Rob, Elmo and the children had arrived and had already erected their tent up near the Kentagon. The sun was warm again and it was a nice couple of hours watching the racing and having a beer.

There was a curry evening planned in the Kentagon later, but we had decided not to attend as Rob had brought his BBQ. While Rob and Elmo retreated back to the tent to spark up dinner, the rest of us packed up the car and bits into the trailer and headed over, just after the last race.

Sippin' and Chillin'
Sippin' and Chillin'

We could spot them a mile off, the billows of smoke could be seen for miles around though when we arrived there was come cold Cobra and some nibbles to feast upon. Although the wind was a little chilly, chairs were moved closer to the fire to keep warm and I for one was happy that I would be retiring to the warm comfort of a hotel room a little later than under canvass on a night were the temperature was dropping fast. Feasting and munchies over and all credit to Rob, talk turned to strategy as how to start tomorrow’s race. Apparently position four was the better position from where to start as the other three would have an incline ahead from the start line and it seemed logical to keep left and wide, holding for a late turn after braking late tucking in behind Achille and keeping right down Paddock Hill Bend to protect Druids.

I didn’t want to walk the track, but wanted to get a view from position four before Sunday’s race and hence the party decided to pack up the BBQ and head for the grid. It was getting cold and although some fancied walking the track, that was not for me. Sandra took one look at the decline over Paddock Hill and into the gravel trap and thought I must be crazy. Standing on the grid, someone had some bright idea that I should take my position while Rob, Paul and James took those of Elliott, Charlie and Achille. Someone then shouted “go” and the four of us sprinted off towards the top of the hill to the cries of laughter from those behind then standing at the top of Paddock Hill, I was trying to figure a later braking point as this was surely to be later being speeds from the start were would be much slower than full throttle down the straight.

On The Grid
On The Grid

Saturday evening drew to a close back at the Kentagon with a couple more beers (and that reminds me Jenny, where was my free beer tokens eh? eh? eh? eh?), allowing Rob and the children to retreat back to his tent and the rest of us back to the Premier Inn.

No alarm was needed for Sunday morning as I woke at stupid o’clock with everyone still sleeping. Not being able to get back to sleep, it was a quick update with Twitter and FB then onward to read the Regs and Blue Book again. As aforementioned, I did not read the entirety yesterday and again wanted to familarise myself with Safety Car protocol and those more ‘unusual’ flags. I had a text discussion with @Roaders about tickets and agreed to meet him at 09.45am by the paddock entrance, based on the previous night’s agreement that Paul, Elmo and I would meet at 09.30am. As per norm, Paul was late and looked like he’d just spend the night on the tiles, with baggy eyes and a blurry comatose look and while checking out of the hotel, started to give feedback of a poor night’s sleep with sympathy from the reception. However for his polite complaint, he had a full refund and got the night for free and I wonder, is there a moral in this story somewhere?

We arrived at the paddock entrance some 15 minutes later than I agreed with @Roaders and after a quick ‘Hello’, gave them tickets and settled around the trailer while deciding what to do next, though the topic on everyone’s lips was again, the rain. We were still conscious about fuel and how much to add. Pumping about 2 litres in to the tank, the fuel gauge needle did not move and ditto, another 2 litres and again, nothing. I was now worried that the gauge was wrong which engaged a debate with Ade that there was a problem with the fuel pump, which did not go down well so I asked Paul to add a measured two litres from his measuring jug and again, no movement. The problem here was that I could not correlate that six litres did not make the gauge move. During test days we figured that 30 minutes would take a half full tank to the red and this was confirmed on qualification yesterday that quarter tank took again into the red, but why did six litres see the needle remain static? The consensus was to add another two litres and the needle began to move and with just one more, the needle was back at quarter a tank, suggesting we used more than expected yesterday.

James in the Paddock
James in the Paddock

Sandra and the children arrived about half an hour later while Elmo went off to find Rob and his two, arriving a lot later than expected. We were watching the RSBs again when Rob turned up, not looking too different from Paul just a few hours ago, sporting comments of “It was bloody freezing camping” and not too far behind was Jason and Alison, the ‘Camp Daisy Posse’ had arrived and looking at my watch, we had an hour to go before we would be called to Assembly.

As we were called 20 minutes earlier yesterday, I wanted to be ready in good time and retired back to the trailer to change. I had already been discussing with Paul about which tyres to use and albeit rain was firmly in the air, he was certain that the part worns would suffice. Although I argued I wanted ‘wets’, he was adamant the part worns would be fine though I still have Radillion etched in my mind and that rain is not my friend.

It was time to go and unlike yesterday, the Posse was quiet as a mouse, you could hear a pin drop which was nice as I could concentrate on the sanity check. The fire pin was already checked and out, bonnet catches firm and wheel nuts torqued.  Crutch straps on, harness on, Hans on, balaclava on, helmet on, Hans attached, gloves on, wrist restraints attached and I was ready to go.

Oil On Track
Oil On Track

At Assembly we were positioned into grid order and with Paul there too, I was trying to relax and concentrate at the task ahead. The rain was now falling, not heavy but enough to make the circuit certainly wet. Looking to my right and onward to Surtees, I could see smoke coming from the exhaust of a car of the previous race, where the cars looked a little old. Having previous track and test day experience of older cars spewing oil into the track, I chuckled to myself and saying to Paul that I hoped the smog spewing car was not dropping oil. This could be further from the truth!

That race over and we were called to the circuit for the first time, only to see a vision that sent a shiver up my spine and an image that will haunt me for a long while. There, just in front of me was a young lad, some 14 years old or so in an orange viz vest and a hand written sign stating “OIL ON TRACK”. Already shit worried about wet, this oil warning was the last thing I wanted to see as we drove onto the grid. The next thing I could see was a Marshall on the left with a huge ‘Slippery Surface’ flag and one more to the right.

We all knew this was not only to be an exciting first contest, but with the weather forecast now come true with rain and then oil being dropped on circuit from the previous race, this excitement turned to thoughts of self preservation as we were waved into the starting grid for the first time. Ahead I could see a distinct line on the circuit which I thought must be the oil. I could see slippery surface flags and it was like a feeling of fear with trepidation of the task ahead. I was beckond to my start position 4 and waved further to the left and once in situ, the Marshall came over and leant down. “That oil like that, it’s gearbox oil and all around the circuit” he said. The only thought on my mind was, how the heck am I going to keep high, brake late and then dive on the inside of Achille with all that rain and oil?

 

Off we went for the Green formation lap and over Paddock Hill bend, I could still see the oil line traversing the racing line and onward up to Druids. The pace was rather slower than I expected as Elliott seemed to be feeling his away around the circuit. Through testing I found that I needed to scrub in the tyres on the first lap to warm them up a little, so I was hoping a little weaving would obtain the desired effect, but with the slow speed and slippery surface, this was not going to happen. Out of Druids there was oil all over the place and around Graham Hill Bend, it looked as if BP had popped another cork as what only can be described as a ‘slick’ was spanning right around the corner and one thing was for sure, the racing line was going to be difficult and indeed in my opinion, out of action. The oil was on the racing line while entering Surtees but then tended to disappear. Was it still there and around Clearways or simply could I not see it? Back to the grid and the oil appeared again, right along the outside and right under my car and start position.

 

With the 30 second board out I started to raise the revs, maybe a little premature and then the 5 second board was shown although I could not read the number from my position and the rain on the windscreen. The red lights came on and within seconds, we were off. I remember the wheels spinning and had to relax the acceleration to get more grip though quickly snatched second gear to gain more traction. I could see Elliott was out and away and I had past Charlie who seemed to have a bad start. Up and over into Paddock Hill and I could now see Achille to my front right. Obviously I had turned earlier and slower than I had planned as although I kept a tighter right line on exit, he and Elliott were pulling away quickly. Keeping right and tight into Druids, Achille went high and left and I wondered if this was an overtake opportunity, though backing off as I could see Achille was a little out of control. I could see that Glenn was close in my mirror and then down into Graham Hill Bend for the first time, keeping to the right of the slick I found grip though Achille span on the slick and weaved. My line I felt was correct.

First Corner At Paddock Hill Bend
First Corner At Paddock Hill Bend

Although I could see Elliott and Achille to the right I could also see they would need to cross the oil line later and into Surtees and hence I crossed to the left earlier as I thought that any oil pick up would be scrubbed off before Surtees. Out of my left vision, I could see Glenn was trying an overtake maneuver to my left, so I maintained half a car width from the left edge of the circuit dictating he would need to pass on the potential slippery curb at Surtees. Glenn backed off as I concentrated on a potential overtake of Achille at Clearways. Achille slowed down which in turn dictated I brake earlier too, which meant Glenn was a short distance behind. I tried to keep a tight line around Clearways but the traction was not there and it seemed Achille attained a better exit. Not far off my tail was Glenn as we accelerated along the straight and as I did brake into Paddock Hill for the second time, Glenn shot past on my right side, while Rob Chappell took the outer line for me to be past twice, pushing me back to 5th position.

This overtake by two felt embarrassing, but I was in one piece and still racing. That ‘Red Mist’ comment came into my mind and I recalled my daughter’s comment that “Slow and steady wins the race” from her Rabbit and Hare story telling. I figured the best way was to simply drive within my own ability and concentrate on smooth driving with the torrential conditions and take the previous advice that I should let the others make the mistake and that speed comes with smooth driving.

Out Of Paddock For First Time
Out Of Paddock For First Time

Back down into Graham Hill Bend for the second time and I could see Achille was slipping all over the place and that Glenn had pulled back due to this wobbliness. Like Malcolm McLaren’s lyrics, I went around the outside of the slick like a ‘Buffalo Girl’ again which felt good again that there was good grip. Again I pulled to the left of the circuit to keep off the oil line, not knowing that Charlie Bowmont was right on my tail and came tight to Glenn again for a potential overtake, though having to back off early as not wanting contact as I knew I could not get through on the inside without traversing the slippery curb. Perhaps this was my first error and I should have taken the outer Surtees curb to go high and wide into Clearways?

Nonetheless, I was slow out of Clearways and losing a little concentration, I failed to hit 4th gear early enough, only to see Charlie overtaking to my left, placing me now in 6th position.

From here and in 6th I pretty much followed Glen for the next few laps, buy which time I have lost all lap count though the little egg timer on my steering wheel is counting down the time.

As you will see from the race video above, at 06.05 someone is in the gravel trap at Paddock Hill but there is no yellow flag as yet. Not far of Glenn and Achille’s tail, we enter Surtees at 6.35 I manage to overtake Glenn who is tight on my inside rear at Clearways with Achille right in front, I have to take a wider line and Glenn manages to sneak back and with no-one else in close proximity behind, this is a most exciting race. At 07.29 into Graham Hill Bend, Andrew Cross who I assume is a back marker spins in front and Achille is sent off road too, dictating I now move into position 5. At 8.00 I am getting a nice tow from Glenn and as I see his brake lights come on, I dive down the inside to jump into 4th place.

At this point I would like to pause for a moment as after the race, Glenn did comment that I overtook him on yellow. Indeed and post race with the overlay commentary, the commentator states that I overtook Glenn under yellow and that I should give him back the position. However if you review the footage, the Marshalls post is to around 11.00 o’clock on the clock in the distance prior to the entry to Paddock Hill at which point I have already passed Glenn. So my question is, when a yellow flag is shown, do you negate any overtake maneuver as you see the flag of as you physically pass it?

Where Am I?
Where Am I?

At 8.15 and with Glenn right on my tail, I can see Elliot, Charlie and Rob ahead getting tied up in the back markers but not being able to pick out who is who. As I exit Surtees it is plain that I get held up with a back marker and Glenn takes the opportunity to regain 4th position. As he and I squabble around Clearways, Glenn sees and takes the advantage and pulls away overtaking Ade on the left, still with myself in 5th.

Traversing Graham Hill and Surtees again, the leading trio are not that far ahead while Glen and I play catch up.

At 9.50 you’ll hear the commentator state there is a Drive Through Penalty for cars 66 and 3, Ade Barwick and Paul Lewis though as I pass the start/finish line there is no black flag and at 10.20 we see Rob Chappell spin, promoting myself again into 4th position. This is a close race for sure as Glenn and I enter Clearways not far behind Elliott and Charlie and I am certainly excited to be again in position 4, exactly as I started on the grid.

At 10.05 as we come to the start/finish line, I can see a black flag. However as there is a car behind I am not sure if this is for him or I? Reading the ‘Lap Chart’ today, this is lap 10 and the car behind is Oliver Lymington who has a ‘moment’ at 11.15 at Paddock Hill.

I love the commentator comment on lap 11 that “Mark Lewis has a big slide though Graham Hill Bend” at 11.36 as that”ll be the oil then!

At 11.58 Oliver spins at Clearways and although Glenn has managed to pull away, there is nothing behind and I am happy for 4th position.

Passing The Finish Line
Passing The Finish Line

This is where the problem lays and the biggest mistake I made in that I can see the black flag is out again at 12.09 at the end of lap 11 I assume it is for me. As such I back off from Glenn and turn into pits on lap 12 at 13.05 with just two minutes of the race left.  As I enter the pits I am told to slow down and as I reach a Marshall you’ll hear:

Marshall: “Yes”
Me: “Black Flag”
Marshall: “No, it’s not for you”
Me: “Oh F*kc”

I have never, ever exited the pits at such a speed and the red mist comes down as I ascend into Druids, not knowing where I am and how many positions I have lost. My other favourite comment from the race commentator is at 13.52 as I come into Druids as he states, “These Caterhams, they’re very good cars for inexperienced race drivers because even though they slide, they don’t bite, they really don’t fire you off into the barrier and it’s a very cost effective way of going motor racing.” He obviously hasn’t been to Aintree! Indeed, look at the footage as David puffs up the gravel with Samantha Finn on the grass at Druids and I spin as well for the first time.

Podium Finish
Podium Finish

Although passing Samantha on entry into Surtees, she is right on my tail out of Clearways and it obviously getting a cracking tow along the straight. I remember seeing her in my rear view mirror closing the distance and thought she was going to come around the outside. At 18.22 I have another slippery moment at Graham Hill Bend and recall the egg timer is now at zero, dictating this must be my final lap and as I pass the line at 16.55, I see the checkered flag for the first time ending a real race and not stipulating it is lunchtime at Bookatrack!

In summary, a most enjoyable first race and although finishing a disappointing 11th in the end from position 4, I have learnt by silly schoolboy mistake a most valuable lesson and that is, RTFM and remember that black flags are shown with car numbers in races!

Nonetheless and congratulations and well done to Charlie, Elliott and Glen and I promise one day, you will be in my mirror!

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