Brands Hatch 2nd In Class!
Life has been slightly crazy since my podium appearance at the British Grand Prix and I had no idea how I would top such a wonderful and slightly life-affirming weekend. Until I raced at Brands...
The weekend after the British Grand Prix, I was racing at Brands Hatch on the Indy circuit. Brands Indy is one of my favourite circuits, but leading up to the weekend I was nervous. The last time I drove that circuit I had a big mechanical failure which caused by first big crash in motorsport. The crash made me question everything I loved about the sport and the season that followed almost saw me leave racing for good. I couldn't wait to be back racing there in the CSCC however, I couldn't help being apprehensive. What if I choked? What if my podium at Silverstone had been a fluke? What if Paddock Hill Bend bit me again?
I had a test day there on the Friday and thankfully my air conditioning was once again fully functional. However, after my bump at Snetterton, my door was a bit bent which meant it was difficult to open. As I sat in the car ready to go out for my first session, I tried to open the door and couldn't. I had a complete meltdown, telling Andrew that I couldn't drive a car that I would be trapped in on the circuit. After calming me down, he showed me that I could open it in my exit position (seat all the way back) and I could in fact open it from the driving position too with a bit of elbow grease. After a few practices of me opening and closing the door, I was happy to go out onto the circuit and start my testing.
I'd never driven Brands on treaded tyres before the Friday, only slicks and wets. In my previous season testing at Brands on slicks I'd managed a 53 second lap WITH a wheel bearing that was about to collapse so having to correct a lot of oversteer through Druids and Clearways. I suspected the car was capable of a 54 on treaded tyres so was fairly happy lapping in the low 55s in very hot conditions during the course of the day. My braking into Paddock was conservative and I tried to train my brain out of regarding it as problem corner. However, without the bite of slicks, I wasn't willing to push it into the braking zone and reluctantly accepted that I would need more time to coach myself back into braking on the limit at the end of the Pits Straight again.
Not as many drivers turned up to Brands as my Silverstone round in the CSCC so there were only four cars in my class. I'd say pound for pound, the Cayman S PDK cars driven by myself and my good friend Simon Evans were probably in the bottom four slowest cars in the race given their weight and lack of mods. Simon had a PDK related problem (something I'm all too familiar with) and I qualified 17th, one place ahead of Simon and 3rd in class. It wasn't a great time and I'd qualified a few tenths behind the 2nd in class Astra so knew it was all to play for in the race.
I'm used standing starts but CSCC run rolling starts and I really enjoy them! As we rolled around onto the Pits Straight, I knew I'd get a good start against the turbo cars ahead and overtook the Mini and the Astra into Paddock. I kept up with the M3 class and on the second lap in I was fighting with the two M3 cars in front of me. The leading M3 out of the three of us left the fight and I was being hassled by the Mini behind as the remaining M3 was slowing me down. He had good gas on the straights and I struggled to make a move stick so as soon as the pit window opened, I dived into the pits for my mandatory 3o second pit stop. As I rejoined the race I was on my own for a couple of laps until the Astra in my class popped out of the pits right behind me. I spent the next 20 minutes driving in my mirrors fighting to keep my second place position. Every lap I hoped for the flag to be out and the race seemed to last forever! Finally, after a short code 60 for a broken down M3, I took the flag in second place with the third place Astra crossing the line 6 tenths behind me. Starting from 17th, I finished the race in 8th place overall. It was the hardest fought race I've ever driven and I was absolutely elated when I crossed the finish line taking 2nd in class.
I've learned so much from the Brands Hatch Indy circuit over the past three years. It was the circuit of my first ever race where I realised I could actually do this racing malarkey. It was my first proper result in the Porsche Club Championship in the wet where I actually started to believe I could be good at this. However, the crash there last year also made me question whether I could carry on racing at all. Brands Hatch forced me to make a choice: I either focused on the crash and let it destroy my passion for racing, or I focused on the fantastic achievements that the circuit had allowed me to accomplish. I don't think I need to explain which one I chose. The reward was one step up on that podium and a belief in myself that is stronger than from anything else I have ever achieved. I know I use this phrase often but honestly: I'm paralysed from the chest down with impaired hand function with no experience in racing up until just over three years ago and I'm beating other racers with far more experience than me. Believe me when I say that in Motorsport ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE.