Caterham Academy - Mallory Race 19 September 2004

Pole position! The boy does good in qualifying, then throws it away in the race...

I never really liked Mallory Park on the bikes. I was never committed enough into the ultra-fast Gerrards, and hated the "Bus-Stop", the chicane between Shaws Hairpin and the Devil's Elbow.

In a car it's all rather different (not least because cars don't use the Bus-Stop) and on the test day I was thoroughly enjoying myself. I could tell I was as quick as the faster boys there, and was hoping to improve on my disappointing 10th place qualifying position at Snetterton.


Mallory Park Circuit - image courtesy of BMRC
Click on image for a 40MB video of the first few laps
(Broadband only - not recommended for modem users!)

Preamble

While we were all setting up, championship leader Jeremy Ellis got a call to say his wife was ill. With a two-week old baby, he didn't have much option but to pack up and head for home. While this would even up the points a bit, I don't think there was anyone who would have wanted him not be out there.

Qualifying

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Peter Earnshaw tucks in behind during qualifying
I wanted to get a clear run at the start of qualifying, so resolved to get out early. Guy Harrington had the same idea, but couldn't figure out how to get to the collecting area, so I was out first. Guy was determined to come past ASAP, and I was determined to stay in front, such that I nearly came a cropper round the Devil's Elbow on the first lap: the cold right tyres failing to grip and sending me into an evil slide.

After that I was gradually knocking the laptimes down, until on lap 8 I spun at the hairpin through trying to brake to heavily and too late. This put me into "peed off" mode, and I banged out five 55 second laps in a row, followed by a tremendous 54.868 on lap 14 of 16 (according to the official timings).

I knew it was a good session, and hoped it would be good enough for top 5 on the grid. Maybe ... maybe ... top 3?

Whilst hanging around in scrutineering having the length of our lift-grunions checked (or something like that), Guy's dad brought over the qualifying sheets. YES! Pole position! I was over the moon. What an improvement - from 10th place at Snetterton to pole!

Race

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Leading the race on lap one
The start of our race was delayed by an MX5 driver who rolled his car after launching it off another one; and almost ended up in the lake. They sent us around to the grid behind a pace car - quite lucky as the pace car had to stop to let cars leave the paddock via the hairpin! Then we had our three minute, two minute and one minute boards held up at five second intervals (what on earth is that about? What are they for?), then the green flag lap.

Leading the green flag lap I tried NOT to treat it as a full-on warm-up lap, since this doesn't seem to be the way things are done in this world.

We gridded. Red lights, off. I got a terrible start. My wheels were spinning wildly and it just didn't seem to want to go anywhere. Kevin Dodd next to me on grid spot two took the early lead, but Keith Chanter must have got a blinder as he eased through from behind Kevin to lead into Gerrards. Tim Skipper was ahead on my left and Peter Earnshaw trying to sneak up my inside to the right.

I think Keith was nervous of his cold tyres after his Gerrards crash during practice, and perhaps wasn't going flat out. This worked to my advantage as he was blocking Kevin, and I managed to work my way through the various gaps to lead the race by the end of Gerrards.
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Tim Skipper takes a tight line through the hairpin

Tim Skipper followed by through, and for the next couple of laps he was all over me: slipstreaming on the straights and pressurising me in the corners. I held him off until lap three when he tucked up the inside into the Esses. He took a tight blocking line through the hairpin, but the lack of exit speed made it easy for me to slipstream and overtake on the run-up to Gerrards.

He tried to take it back at the Esses, but couldn't get through, and I knew that a pass attempt at the hairpin was inevitable. I didn't want to do what he'd done last lap and use a tight blocking line, as I knew it would give him the same advantage as it had given me on the exit. So I tried a wide line, but leaving my braking as late as humanly possible.

Or not, in fact, possible. All four wheels locked, and I went into a spin without any steering input, probably from the camber of the road.

The car was facing the wrong way, into traffic, with cars passing on both sides of me. I had no choice but to wait until the bulk of them had gone before trying to extricate myself.

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This is where it goes horribly wrong

By this time I've ruined it, but I proceed to make it worse. When I do figure it's safe to move, I find the engine's died and have to restart. Then I fail to get it into reverse, and after I do manage to reverse I fail to get it into first. Some practice in high-pressure gear selection is needed, I think! But this time everyone and his dog have gone past, and I've got no chance of getting back with the leaders again.

I did gain a few places to get back up to 12th, but this is hardly what I was hoping for!

Conclusion

The spin was a great disappointment, but I'm still hugely pleased with having qualified in pole. I felt very comfortable with the car at Mallory, driving it right on the edge of grip, and balancing cornering and acceleration forces. I don't know if I'm going to be able to do the same at Oulton Park for the next round, as it's a whole lot more complicated as a circuit - and also a whole lot more scary! Nevertheless, I'm looking forward to trying.

For what it's worth, I'm back to seventh in the championship. I'm no longer worried where I end up this year - in championship terms I'm now looking forward to Roadsports B next year, where we will be able to drop two rounds to allow for disasters like this one.


Next Round: Oulton Park Saturday 2nd October.


Photos copyright Sharon Curd. With many thanks.