Caterham Academy - Oulton Race 2 Oct 2004

A fabulous race ... even if I didn't finish it. Terrible qualifying in mixed conditions, but then I got up with the leading four before throwing it away. Fastest lap of the day, though...


Oulton Park Circuit - image courtesy of BMRC
No video - Mr Palmer wants 25K for me to put it on my website.
Email if you'd like a private copy (95MB)

Preamble

Did I mention I got pole at Mallory Park? No? Ah well, I did, you know, even if I managed to throw it away half way through the race.

After Mallory, with its four corners, Oulton is whole new bouilloire de poissons. It's long, three-dimensional, and complicated. To be honest I never felt I was really getting the hang of it during the Friday test day. I kind of wished we were doing Mallory again, even though Oulton had been my all-time favourite circuit on the bike (albeit one that I crashed at almost every time I went).

Qualifying

click to enlarge
Peter Earnshaw tucks in behind during qualifying at Mallory
(well, it would be boring without ANY pictures)

Uh oh. Saturday dawns wet, and by the time we get out we have a drying - but certainly not dry - circuit. The conditions I used to hate on a bike, and sure enough I'm rubbish in the car too. I was doing well on the wet bits, faster than most of the others I met on circuit, but really slow on the dry bits as I failed to make the "mind-switch" necessary to go from gentle-wet-driving to balls-out-dry-driving.

Qualified tenth, considerably worse than my pole position at Mallory (have I mentioned that at all?)

Tim Skipper took pole - a remarkable achievement since he's never been to Oulton in the Caterham.

Race

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Leading the race on lap one
(OK, that was at Mallory again, sorry!)
We're lined up, and the front cars look a long way away. I'm determined not to wheelspin as much as I did at Mallory. I expect to bog down instead, but actually it's not a bad start. Of course everyone's taking the classic line round the first corner, so I nip up the inside line and comfortably cruise past Keith Chanter. I think about an inside line through Cascades, but Jamie Mackrill's already there and it doesn't seem worth the risk. But they all line up obediently on the entry to the hairpin, whereas I leave my braking late and nip past two cars on the inside. Sadly I forget to change down into second as I'm worrying about getting cut up. Guy Harrington and myself go round the hairpin two abreast, and kiss wheels lightly.

Being in the wrong gear slows my exit, and the five cars left in front of me pull a bit of a gap. Guy looks desperate to get past Kevin Dodd, and as he ducks and dodges I catch back up with them. I think about an overtake at Clay Hill, but it's just too fast there - the consequences of getting it wrongcould be catastrophic. Oborting the overtake costs me time, and I remain some way behind the front pack for the remainder of the lap. I'm determined not to lose the tow (the mental tow, that is, I'm not close enough to slipstream) and keep pushing myself. At Knickerbrook I screw up: a wheel on the grass at the entry sending me into a slide from which I only just recover.

That leads to a dice with Charles Bateman who took advantage of my misfortune, and we swap places several times until I'm finally able to break the tow and leave him behind.

About this time I see that Tim has fallen back from the front pack, and I'm beginning to catch him. This gives me a great incentive to push hard and I'm feeling really good about catching up the pole position man. Probably best that I don't realise the reason - his engine is sick and down on power as he's now running with two cracked pistons.

Past Tim with what I hope is a fairly gentlemanly dive up the inside at the hairpin. There's only four ahead now, but they're a long way ahead - half the straight away.

The next few laps are just a dogged fight to catch up. Two of them (Peter and Guy, I think) go onto the grass exiting Lodge, which I think will help me, but it doesn't seem to slow them down!

Another lap, and I've caught them. There's now five of us in a few car lengths. Coming onto the start-finish straight, it's three abreast as both Peter and Guy think of a dive up the inside. They both think better of it and slot back into line. I can't resist the temptation, and dive through thinking I might get both of them. It almost works. But I'm too tight - too close to the Apex when I turn in, and there's just not enough road left. On the exit my wheels go over the kerb onto the stuff outside - not grass, but clearly not grippy. I spin, across the track and backwards into the tyre wall. I can see it coming but can do nothing - my hard-on brakes are having zero effect.

The impact is less violent than I expect, and after the ignomy of the Mallory spin I get it restarted and moving very quickly. It seems to take an age to wheelspin off the damp grass back to the track, and I lose three places. Off down the hill to Cascades - but the car won't turn in. I'm on the grass again, and decide the car is clearly too damaged to continue. In fact, I think it was just the mudguard wedged under the nearside rear wheel - had I continued it would probably have broken away and I'd have been OK.

Conclusion

Damage to the car wasn't bad - a bit of cosmetic damage and a couple of rear lights. Damage to the championship also not too bad, as I'd already put in a dismal performance at Mallory.

Consolation was that while catching up with the cars in front four who were holding each other up, I set the fastest lap of the day, and quite possibly the Academy lap record for Oulton (though that's not yet confirmed).


Next Round: Brands Hatch Saturday 9th October.


Photos copyright Sharon Curd. With many thanks.