I’d driven the Snetterton 300 circuit twice over the past couple of months, which had included the ‘100 infield’ section but only in the R500 so had a pretty good idea of the circuit layout and although I had the opportunity to drive the 100 circuit a week prior to the event, again this was in the R500 as Miss Daisy was still in the workshop awaiting repair. Whether this was a good or a bad thing is debatable as for sure, brake points and stopping distances were a lot longer in the R500 and driving dynamics were certainly different. Whatever the opinion or consensus, one thing was apparent from the beginning, I would have two practice and three timed sessions at this third and last sprint, all of which would be a steep learning curve as I had never driven Miss Daisy on the 100 circuit before.
Luckily enough I had collected Miss Daisy from Caterham Midlands the Wednesday and had the opportunity to drive the car on a Bookatrack Brands Hatch GP track day the following Thursday, four days before this Snetterton event. This ‘track day’ was perhaps more of a shakedown or indeed ‘breakdown’. From the initial sighting lap and ascending into Druids, there was no throttle. Recollecting a similar issue at the Nürburgring, I guessed the throttle cable was not seated correctly. Traversing the whole GP circuit was an interesting phenomenon at snail speed. Back it the pits and a cable tie later, the problem was fixed but an interesting thought on my mind was, where was the post build checklist? This small issue was not the only breakdown on the day, other problems included the exhaust rattling loose from I assume not being tightened correctly and the whole steering rack pretty much falling to pieces, an interesting tribulation while heading full tilt into Paddock Hill Bend later that afternoon. Other misdemeanours included ‘gaffer tape’ over holes in the bulkhead firewall and a poorly fitted water hose was rubbing on the alternator were also addressed. “Better happen on a track day than perhaps the last sprint” was my positive thought as at least all problems were identified well beforehand.
It had been suggested in the past that the Academy would be very much a social event as well as a competitive one and Elliott Norris invited everyone to attend his hog roast on the Sunday. I was a little late in attending but the topic of many discussion was ‘the weather’. Both Metcheck and the Met Office were showing that Sunday morning that Monday was going to be very, very wet. This forecast had already dictated that ‘wet’ tyres were already placed on Miss Daisy, bearing in mind the near ice rink conditions at the Thursday Brands Hatch track evening during torrential rain.
Up early on the Monday morning and multitasking, I was trying to digest the Regulations for the event, making coffee and watching the BBC TV weather at the same time which confirmed all my iPhone weather Apps that Snetterton and Norwich would experience white cloud and sunshine all morning and way into the afternoon, rain appearing around 4.00pm. This new information dictated that one of the first jobs when in the paddock was to change the wheels and tyres back again, which upon arrival was also foremost on the mind of Mark Cox too.
One of the reasons for being late to Elliott’s was the pre-event checklist. I had already spent the Saturday washing the car from all the rain from Brands the previous Thursday and placing all the stickers and decals back onto the car post rebuild plus of course, already changing the tyres for ‘wets’. Sunday morning was going to be a breeze, but work commitment tasks and emails took their toll, meaning I left home four hours later than expected and dictating there were jobs to do first thing Monday at the paddock. Picking the car up on Wednesday, Aaron said he would need to give the car the ‘once over’ as we knew the ‘boot’ needed to be fire sealed and I also needed to collect my race numbers before the scrutineers arrived.
Tyres changed, pre-event checks complete and all signed-on, the scrutineers appeared on mass with a rather ‘chirpy chap’ assigned to me. The first task was to check the brake lights and rain light, ensuring all turned off at once when the electrical master switch was turned off. Pass! Second was to check the fire pin and that the extinguisher was in situ correct. The only small problem were the clips that held the extinguisher in place which was fixed with some Gaffer Tape. Pass! Next off with the bonnet and the only issue was that the battery terminals were showing as for some reason, the terminals were exposed on the battery as the plastic covers seem to have broken off. A piece of back Gaffer Tape on the positive terminal and yellow on the negative and pass! Lastly my helmet and race suit was inspected alongside the seat harness and again, pass!
It was around 08.45am and with the briefing scheduled for 09.00am, now was a good time to change into the race suit and congregate near sign-on for said briefing. After the opening address and welcome, it was explained that this weekend was the very first time any competitive event had been run on the 100 circuit. The Clerk of the Course explained that yesterday’s event had ran without incident or problem which quelled many competitor anxieties of how three cars can be run consecutively on the circuit. Rules and format of the day were explained and with a slight re-schedule of the running order, the Academy group 1 was first out, pretty much straight away.
Promptly back to the car as I did not want to be rushed getting ready. Although I have the checklist in my mind, I always remember to connect the Hans clips to the helmet once gloves and arm restraints are fitted. Comfy and secure it was off to the Assembly area in numerical order and quite promptly compared to Aintree and Curborough, just a short while later and post noise check, I was on the start line. Unlike the previous two sprints where the driver could start in his own time when the lights went green, the Snetterton Regulations stipulated that once the light turned green from red, you had 5 seconds to commence otherwise your run would be void. I assumed that was simply because with three cars on track concurrently, start timing was critical and I simply took this as good practice knowing in race start conditions, quick reactions would be necessary for a fast start.
From the ‘off’, it was one and three quarter laps of the 100 circuit starting from ‘Agostini’, finishing somewhere along the straight just after ‘Palmer’. Time for the first practice run was 106.16 seconds giving a 4th position to which I was very happy being I had never driven Miss Daisy on that circuit and after a quick cup of coffee and chat with the others as to the slipperyness of the track, it was time again to start getting ready for the second practice. For sure the day already seemed to be very well organised and if we needed to be getting ready so soon, maybe all timed runs would be complete before the rain was forecast?
Off for the second practice then straight back to the paddock to see how @NosiyPaul was doing. It was more an 11th hour decision as to whether he would come to Snetterton as he had family commitments that weekend and after all, it was a Bank Holiday, with Snetterton being a four hour commute for him. I had already left a ticket on the gate for him and there was a text on my phone stating he would arrive somewhere around 10.00am, being en route from Derby with pouring rain.
Already by now it seemed to be the regime that straight after the run, it would be off to the timing hut to see results. Quite quickly times were published for the second practice which although finishing with a quicker time of 105.52 seconds, the time demoted my result to overall class position 7. A great improvement though by now, Elliott has placed a stonking time of 102.62 seconds and such demotion stipulated that others were running quicker too.
The schedule was moving fast and yet again it was time to get ready for this, the first timed run. Lining up for the third time, I was conscious that although a better performance, where could those other seconds be picked up? Still recoiling from the sardonic whit of fellow competitors that ‘corners are flat’ post Aintree, I felt time could be made up at both Hamilton and Palmer. Having seen brake lights at Hamilton from other competitors, I was doing this too, but could there be a ‘lift’ there rather than a brake I wondered? Ditto for Palmer, though one would need to be accurate on the entry point but “let’s have a go” I thought. Off for the third time, it was a lift at Hamilton rather than brake and the car seemed settled. In and out of Oggies and a hard brake into the Firmans Hairpin was a little too late, dictating a tighter turn into the corner and with a little too much gas, gave the photographers something to point their lenses at. Car in control again and a light lift into Palmers again seemed settled. Again a hard brake at the 50 yard marker and late into Agostini unsettled the car with some rather loud screeching noises and missing the apex by a mile. Hamilton was again fine and Oggies too but again Firmans was causing a problem. In and out of Palmer and finish.
Back to the paddock and by this time @NoisyPaul had arrived albeit a little jet lagged from his early morning start. It was time for lunch, so we headed back to the timing hut and a chat with others while grabbing a coffee. Topics of discussion were diverse but slippery circuit and chance of rain were always on the foremost of people’s mind. There was a problem however and that was, Frank Coldwell’s car was still not starting. He had already missed practice two and the first timed run and if I read the Regulations correct, each competitor would need to complete two practice runs before any timed run. This meant that with three runs already complete before lunch, even if Frank was able to get out for the fourth run, this would count as a practice and hence he would only have one timed run. To this end I offered my car if he needed.
Times were again posted and my 106.09 placed me joint 11th in class alongside Mark Cox, obviously down to the turmoil at Firmans where @NoisyPaul was eager to point out that such ‘showboating’ would not gain time. Though I smiled with a rhetorical remark that I hoped Rick and Rachael would have some great footage that would make a nice ‘desktop’ wallpaper!
Fun aside, I was conscious that I had dropped from 4th in class to 7th and now 11th which meant there was no improvement and that I would need to be more assertive and concentrate. There was already banter about whether Agostini should be second or third gear and Oggies too? Personally I was taking both in third, trying to keep momentum rather than dropping to second and short shifting back to third post apexes. Let’s remember that although I had driven the 300 circuit twice and the 100 once, both were in the R500 with no data logging and I still had not found the sweet spot with Miss Daisy. So let’s try Agostini and Oggies in second was the consensus.
There was gossip too that all would be summoned to see Derek the scrutineer at Parc Fermé, so off I popped. Sat in car with suit, helmet, Hans and 1/8th a tank of fuel and I was 622KG. This excited me as I had already spoken to Paul Thacker earlier who announced that the four bolts in his passenger footwell were holding down lead weights as he and his car are underweight. Why the excitement? This mock scrutineering was to see if any car would be under the 615KG minimal threshold for racing, our first at Brands Hatch in a fortnight. Back in December, Nick Potter suggested the optimal weight for a driver is 90KG as any less, weights may need to be added to the car, exactly like which have been added to Paul Thacker’s car. So I am 7KG over, just enough to run to empty on fuel if needed and lost a wing or two in a race. Absolutely spot on and with my personal weight presently fluctuating between 89KG and 90KG, this optimal target weight loss was set back in December and achieved earlier this month. The only dampener on the scrutineering was that the ride height was too low, probably due to the low tyre tread, with the suggestion I should go up a centimeter.
Then back to the paddock and @NoisyPaul was pulling out the T-Cut and busy polishing out the green tarnishes from the front wheel arches as left from the green plastic chain link fencing from Aintree. Then Jenny arrived, sporting a new pair of name stickers for the side of the car. Other than two rather splintered front arches which I am sure will be replaced sometime later in the season, Miss Daisy was now nearly as good as new.
All competitors are always focused on Paul Lewis as he is front runner in the group, thus when Paul saddles up, it’s time to go! Lunch over and it was back to the assembly area. Recalling some of Gavin’s psychology techniques, visualising each corner with a lift at Hamilton and Palmers rather than a dab on the brakes together with Agostini and Oggies in second gear, I was good to go for the second timed run.
Exactly as planned, the course was traversed and I ended back at the finish in what I perceived to be a good time. Eagerly expecting @NoisyPaul to have noted the result, he did not. So back to the paddock, hop out of the car and quick march back to the timing hut to wait. Times published and 105.63 seconds, a rather demoralising result as second gear seemed to have a negative than positive effect on the time. Perhaps more caffeine was the answer and while making a brew and answering Nick’s question of how I was doing, he asked if I had any onboard footage? Pensive that this maybe a trick question as Nick already had accompanied Derek the scrutineer around the paddock checking differentials and recalling Derek’s check at Curborough for data logging, I answered ‘yes’. Nick’s kindly suggestion was simply to “go and review the footage”.
Back to the trailer and popping out the SD card (and for the record if anyone is listening, data logging has been turned off on the VBOX), @NoisyPaul and I reviewed the lines on the laptop. Recalling David Szymanski’s comment from last year that he only used second gear for the Shaw’s Hairpin at Mallory, which is akin to Firman’s but in reverse, I felt Agostini and Oggies were better in third. As well as data logging turned off, there was no speed data to review, but two things @NoisyPaul commented on quickly was, firstly I was too tight out of the corner at Oggies on all footage and secondly, I was too early into Palmer.
The scar of Aintree still etched on my mind, but could I take both Hamilton and Palmers flat? I can hear you all now “Mark, for crying out loud, don’t try it!”
Nonetheless, Elliott had already logged a 102.36 and some of the guys in group two were sporting times in the 101’s and indeed a 100 dot something too. What are they doing that I am not?
Both @NoisyPaul and I were of the consensus that I should not try anything daft. Not only the stigma of a second crash, but we wanted the car for Brands in a fortnight. However, ‘flat’ was on the agenda if I felt comfortable, a decision I would make in situ, depending on the speed and position of the car on track. Four things were for sure for improvement for this fifth time of driving Miss Daisy on this circuit. Firstly, Hamilton would be flat in third. Secondly, Oggies will be in third with a wide exit as similar as if I were driving the 300 circuit as from the footage, I was not straightening out the car on exit and could not get the power down. Third, the Firman’s Hairpin would much slower in as not to overshoot the entry point with heavier braking and a late change to second gear. Fourth and lastly, a much later entry to Palmers with the apex at the end of the left curbing, be it flat or lift.
The final finale was here and it was back to the start for the last time. Lights to green and immediately off in first, then second and short shift to third between apex and end of exit curb at Agostini then accelerate towards Hamilton, not comfortable with flat, a light lift and turn at the marshals post, hugging the curb and wash out to the right. At somewhere around 6,500 to 7,000 revs by now, just waiting for the limiter to kick in. Heavy brake for Oggies and straiten the wheel to get the power down. Traverse over to the right for Firman’s and heavy on the brakes, second gear and into the corner. Snatch third on exit and onward to Palmer counting one, two, three. Hold breath and flat, running curb for late apex. Down straight to Agostini for last time and at 50 yard marker, hard on brakes for late turn. Left into Agostini in third with no screeching to hit late apex and onward to Hamilton exactly as before, with Oggies and Palmers following same trajectory and crossing the line with the engine still screaming in third.
Hands shaking like a leaf, it felt fast. Not as fast as I have driven Miss Daisy and to the car’s limit, but a perceived improvement all the same. Slowly off circuit to see a ‘thumbs up’ gesture from @NoisyPaul who I assumed had noted the result this time. Picking him up and back to the trailer I could hear him shouting “104 something” which was music to my ears. Speedily packing the car away and changing as the clouds seemed to be moving in with an increase in wind, it was back to the timing hut with the final results posted. Net result, 104.39 seconds with an overall class finish of 5th, narrowly beating Duncan Cundall-Curry at 104.50 seconds and behind Paul Hawthorne with a 103.56 seconds.
Awards and prizes for group one winners were:
- Elliott Norris – 102.36
- Robert Chappell – 103.02
- Matt Lowe – 103.40
- Paul Hawthorne – 103.56
At time of writing, I do not have the results for group two, but congratulations to them all and of course the aforementioned Paul, Matt, Robert and Elliott and especially Brad Smith who I assume set the first lap record of 100 dot something.