Donington – parked   1 comment

The majesty of Donington Park

Rounds 5 and 6 of this years championship looked tantalising. My first meeting at the Donington Park circuit on the Leicestershire/Derbyshire border began on Friday night with a leisurely drive from my home in Essex. On arrival at the circuit I wasted no time and set off walking the track. Round the first turn at Redgate, then through Hollywood, the track opened up to reveal a swooping, plunging ribbon of tarmac that disappeared into the distance. I knew instantly this was going to be a huge challenge, and started photographing as I went, recording every kerb, camber and surface change to try to understand the quick way round.

The car was yet to arrive, and it would be around 10:30 that evening when Tony drew up in the Osport truck. In the meantime, I’d used the time to catch up with some of my fellow drivers who’d also turned up – Tim Hill, Alan Swain, Aaron Trigwell and former team-mate Fraser O’Brien amongst them.

A fitful nights sleep followed, camped in the marshalls pitch nearby. I was kept awake by an assortment of aircraft noises from the adjacent airport, and by burps, farts and snores from every direction.

Saturday dawned blistering hot, and it would stay that way throughout the weekend. For double-headers like this, you only get one qualifying session. Your quickest lap determines your slot for race one, and your second fastest lap places you for the second race.  The pressure was on then, and I sat down with team boss Jake to discuss our approach. Jake went through the corners one by one, and also made it clear I needed to ditch my bad habits and adjust my driving style if I want to be competitive. First things first though, and we decided that since I’d never been here before, I should spend the first three or four laps learning the lines, picking my turn-in points and generally getting used to the circuit. After that I should work on my braking, taking less speed into the corner and getting on the power early to get a good exit. This is the fundamental rule of a quick lap – slow in, fast out. That would leave four or five laps to go for a time.

Qualifying

At 11:20 the boys had checked the car, got me strapped in and off to the assembly area. I felt slightly more apprehensive than usual, probably through recalling the magnificent rollercoaster that lay ahead. As we were sent out onto the track I thought hard about my game plan, and the first three laps went accordingly. Already my confidence had grown, and as I approached Redgate for the fourth time I decided to push a little harder. Down through the Craner Curves, I jabbed it into third for the old hairpin, and found instead I had no gears. The lever just wouldn’t engage, and it felt like I was pushing it through a bag of jelly. I managed to find second, but it was clear something was wrong, and It was all I could do to get it back to the pits. On inspection, we found the gear linkage tube had sheared off, and it signalled the end of our qualifying session. This meant we would start both races at or near the back, since all I’d had were effectively sighting laps. and I felt a huge sense of anticlimax.  Tony and Jake set about repairing the car, and with the help of Dave Jordan and his welding kit, we had it patched up in plenty of time.

Race one – Saturday

Lining up 24th of 28, I had it all to do, but I felt if I used my head I could still get into the top 15 or so. The red lights went out and I nailed it beautifully. Starting from the outside actually turned out to be an advantage. Many of the cars ahead had hugged the inside line, squabbling amongst themselves, and this left a huge inviting space around the outside of Redgate, and I wasn’t about to pass up the opportunity. By lap three I was about 16th, and the car felt great, but I threw it all away midway through the race with a schoolboy error – taking too much speed into Redgate and getting wide on the exit. Usually, with two wheels on the dirt, I would relax my grip on the steering wheel then ease the car back on line. This time though, I was being harried by Jack Wilkinson’s AHS, and in my eagerness not to give him track position I kept my foot in. The car looped across the track backwards onto the large grassy infield. By the time I got going I’d lost about 30 seconds, and the red mist descended. I drove hard for the rest of the race, determined to rejoin the pack of cars I’d lost with my spin, and by the end of the race I’d caught them, passing one of the train at the very last corner of the race. I was classified 20th, with a best lap of 1 minute 23 second dead. It was ok, but I felt mad at myself for spinning away a certain top 15 finish.

Race two -Sunday

Sunday’s race would start at 3:40 pm, and with no qualifying to get through, I joined the rest of the drivers in moping about waiting for things to happen. I spent some time with regular sparring partner Matt Tiffin. Matt’s another young driver from the karting ranks who’s joined Vee this year and shows early promise. It can be hugely frustrating at a race weekend, particulary if the car needs no work – I was delighted with the set-up of the car on Saturday and asked the team not to change it. It’s actually quite difficult to sit around all day, then have to go straight out to the grid with your head in race mode, and I suspect this is why some drivers say they’re always slower on the second day.  Nonetheless, that’s what we had to do, and I lined up full of confidence after showing some good pace the day before. I started fourth from last, and as the lights went out I had my sights set on the cars immediately ahead. I knew we were much quicker but it would be important to clear them early to get at the midfield pack. I accelerated away and short-shifted to second, but couldn’t find the gear, so de-clutched and tried again. I got it into fourth and tried to settle down, but going into the old hairpin I struggled to get third gear. Down the long back straight I comfortably passed a couple of cars, but under braking for the chicane I once again struggled to get third gear. My heart sank. Surely not the qualifying problem again? The car seemed to behave for the next lap, and I  began to wonder if I’d simply been too agressive with the shifts, but at the end of the third lap I lost all but fourth gear, almost coming to a stop at Coppice. I retired the car, where Tony confirmed the re-occurence of the fracture in the gear linkage. It was hugely disappointing for me, and poor Tony was mortified. I desperately want to do well for the team, and I genuinely thought this would be a breakthrough.

Reflection

I should have been driving back to Essex with a heavy heart. My first non-finish in nine races was a milestone I wasn’t in a hurry to reach. But I’ll let you into a secret, I spent nearly three hours on the Road to Colchester with a grin on my face. Donington Park is an experience to behold, and I think that’s the essence of why I’m in love with this sport.

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Posted July 5, 2011 by Paul in Race reports

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One response to “Donington – parked

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  1. Hi Paul,
    Im currently in the middle of my final year project and would like to use your image of Donington Park in the 3D modelling side of it. If you could get back to me about it I would be extremely grateful.
    Yours
    Joe Woodruff

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