A week on, whilst catching up on some Blancpain GT, and I have this sadness. Already I really, really miss being out on the track! Any track, but Brands Hatch again would be ideal... So with that context, I'll try to summarise our second weekend in the Production BMW Championship this year.
We left Friday afternoon for the shortest family racing holiday ever, with the car packed and the kids' tablets charged for the 4-5 hour journey to Kent. The trailer has some nice new light clusters, the wiring is working 100% (not just most of the time), and it was a lovely day for a drive. We've been to brands 4 times now so we're getting used to the place, even Iwona thinks it's lovely to keep going back to. We had some company too from a work colleague who brought his son, and the kids appreciated the extra football players!
We planned to chill Friday evening and go to the beach Saturday, but we had an unplanned conjunctivitis inspired trip to the hospital instead! We had to make do with a short trip to Bluewater shopping centre instead - no complaints from Iwona - and the kids who got to play in the arcade. Sunday's race timetable was qualifying first thing, race 1 midday, race 2 practically the last session of the day. We got to one of our favourite holiday destinations, set up the tent and our new hardy Lidl's gazebo to give the kids a base in the paddock. Thank you to the Lotus outfit from the brown RV for the lend of a hookup extension!
I'd stripped out some weight (down from 1180 on the scales at Donington to 1165 at Brands!). The headlights were now perspex (and the originals will make some money on ebay soon!), and I'd found some heat proofing in the engine bay to remove. Oh, the horns have gone now too! I'd pushed like hell at Donington as I really wanted to find my own and the car's limits. I'd dial it back a bit this weekend, but with more confidence, and a slightly lighter car. I'd also had a good study of my notes over the years and decided on some new front damper settings. I'd been too soft at Oulton and Silverstone, too hard at Brands last year, so hoped to find a Goldilocks zone. More on the result later. I'd also got more (but still not all) of the car painted - this is like an agile project at the moment!
This felt like a good session, and what sticks in my mind is how much grip the front end had! It was a bit un-nerving how much it could pull around, to the point I was worried the back going to step out. Afterwards, I softened the rear dampers 1 click out of paranoia, as the traction did feel a bit absent. I shouldn't have done in retrospect, it was perfect from how one of the Bartley guys had set it to help me out. It was the first session of the day and the track was very green, others found traction an issue too.
I was stunned to come back and see I was ahead of 4 drivers! Admittedly the session was cut short when Jennifer Olive-Jones has a scary moment almost rolling in the gravel at paddock. Generally the car felt very good other than the traction. I was looking forward, certainly not dreading the races. I was also pumping myself full of nuts, fruit and energy gels which worked a treat at Donington. Mainly for brain food to keep up concentration through the day.
A trademark tardy start, but my first ever with correct gear changes! I got passed at the start, and after a lap was at the back of the field. Another lap later, and the cars seemed to be pulling away. A touch crushed, I thought of Donington and being able to catch cars back up, so got my head down. According to the laptimes (and surprised commentators) I had started too slowly, but got quicker and quicker. Sub-consciously that was the plan all along, but you can loose so much time - which is hard to get back. I started to catch the pack again, and caught up with Jennifer and passed at my now favourite passing place - Druids! I went in just a touch too hot, but kept the car tight on the inside, and eased slowly ahead over the next couple of laps. The race was ended early with a car in the gravel at Clearways, but I was happy not to finish last again! P22 out of 24!
My only permanent pass of the weekend...
I'd watched my Race 1 footage, and identified the forest section as something to work on. I could see it was relatively my strongest section compared to the cars just in front of me, but knew there was still more time. The rest of the circuit is the indy section which I'm already fairly familiar with, but probably a little slower than them.
I'd discovered (I think on retrospect, for the second time) that my handbrake button was perfectly fine, it was the sleeve that had come out to make it difficult to push. I could now use the handbrake at the start, which was actually my best ever! Right gears too this time. A few cars came together at the start at the front before we got to Paddock, and had to pick our way through stationary cars and debris. Hugely unfortunate for them, and somehow promoting me to 10th! I knew it wouldn't last, but a safety car for a couple of laps delayed the inevitable. I had a lesson in safety car etiquette to - at one point the accordion effect caught me out, and nearly caught out Ian Francis behind me too. Sorry Ian, and well avoided!
At the restart, I think I was too slow getting back up to speed (again), and whilst trying to let passed some drivers I knew were a couple of seconds quicker than me, I slowed down too much, lost momentum and lost even more. Again I got my head down and pushed, working on the back section of Brands. I started taking more and more chunks of the inside kerb of Sheene, not realising it was a track limit! I think it's this which got me a warning, which I took as a compliment. The following lap I gave it a wider berth, but I can only theorise that the limits system is delayed. I came around for the next lap and to be greeted by a 5 second time penalty!
I could see a silver car behind getting closer and closer towards the end of the race, and was gutted my 5 second penalty would cost me a place. I didn't in the end, as it was Ian Russel who was a lap down, having been caught up in the mayhem at the start. In the end, it was P15 for us, our best result! The bittersweet reality is it will be a few races before we can match that again, and only down to the unfortunate luck from the guys in front. We'll take it of course!
It's been a huge weekend of learning. Safety car procedures, tact amongst understandably pissed off drivers (sorry guys!), damper settings, track evolution,not being aggressive enough at the starts, it goes on... We thoroughly enjoyed our weekend (despite the eldest waking up with his eye glued shut with goop!). I'm also happy to get the Brands GP bogey off our backs. The last time here (our very first weekend) I managed 4 laps in qualifying before spinning and being t-boned, which put us out for 2 years...
The next step is Brands Indy - we hope! It's 50/50 at the moment due to budget and that weekend is tight because of family commitments. It's also http://www.deutschefest.co.uk which is a great family day out, so I'm trying to be optimistic. Not much money is left for the car right now, but I know it's handling reasonably well now and is slightly more competitive. That's major progress from last year.