Archive for the ‘Rhys Bennett’ Tag

Donington 2012 – testing times   2 comments

noise test

“Sorry mate, I can’t hear you”

August 2011 seems a very long time ago now. My unplanned attempt to destroy the car at a Silverstone test was the prelude to a stagnant period in my racing programme, so you can imagine my relief and excitement when the opportunity arose to get back behind the wheel of the Storm Formula Vee with Osport this June. I’ve already missed the first half of the season though, so I’d be joining the fray at rounds 7 and 8, ironically at Donington Park, the circuit where I last finished a race almost twelve months ago.

In the meantime, the 2011 title had been settled in favour of Martin Farmer, and Osport team boss Jake Oliveira had committed to a full season in the second Storm for 2012. Jake’s results so far this year have been impressive, including a win at Cadwell and numerous podium finishes. He’s well placed in the title hunt, and is giving both the Osport colours and my company branding some useful exposure. My contribution, however, has so far been to turn up at a few races with my camera, make some coffee and pick stones out of the tyres in the pit garage.

Watching as a bystander has proved eye-opening though. It’s really hit home to me how utterly useless I am mechanically, and I’ve come to realise how much of a disadvantage it can be not knowing what really makes racing cars work. Honestly, when I stand and look at bits of engine and suspension lying on the floor, It looks to me like they’ve disassembled R2D2. Stick a spanner in my hand and all I’ll be able to do is stir my tea with it. I’ve made it a personal mission to learn more about these cars, and so should anyone like me who wants to get the most out of this sport.

Nonetheless, I have a licence to race and I intend to use it. Donington would be a good place to re-introduce myself to the old girl, since it’s my favourite circuit. Circumstances away from racing have taken up much of my time and energy over the past few months though, so I would have to accept that there would be no opportunity to test the car before the meeting.

The Donington double-header would take place over the Saturday and Sunday 23rd and 24th June, with just the one qualifying session on Saturday morning. The format is simple. Your fastest lap determines your starting position for race one, and your second best lap deals with race two. I had more pressing concerns though, and yet again needed to use Qualifying to get used to the car. It’s not too bad as long as you stick to a plan. You only need two quick laps to get a good grid position, and so with a fifteen minute session there should be time to get in the groove and do something meaningful.

Beer, curry, football

I arrived at Donington on the Friday evening, and found Jake in the pits. We took a stroll round the circuit and discussed it corner-by-corner. It all looked very professional, so eager to continue the theme we behaved like true racing drivers the night before a race and went to a pub in Castle Donington for a few beers. With the Germans playing Greece on the telly in the background, a good night was had by all, and it culminated in a chinese takeaway at Jake’s mates house nearby.

After sampling the delights of Sam Oliveira’s Clio on the way back to the circuit, we turned in for the night. I love my little tent, but only in the garage. I wouldn’t dare use it outside unless I want to be found in the branches of a tree frozen to death the next morning.


I woke up in a good frame of mind on Saturday, despite the fact my airbed had gone down overnight and I smelt of petrol. The usual routines went without drama – signing on, scrutineering etc. and at 10:00am we were in the cars and off to the assembly area. Jake suggested we get there first to get a clear couple of laps. He would drop his pace at first and I would follow to speed up the familiarisation process, after which it’s every man for himself. The two black and yellow cars sat at the head of the queue, and I glanced across at Jake. He was focussed and ready, so I decided to mentally drive the track, recalling my better laps from last year.

As if to snap me from a dream though, a steward knelt beside my car with a noise-testing instrument that looked like a microphone. I instinctively wanted to lean into it and go through the opening verse of Copacabana, but thought it might be more useful to rev my engine to the required three-quarter limit. This is all part of the noise-test procedure, and has never been a problem before.

This time however I was puzzled to find him coming back round to the front to tell me I’d recorded 111db, above the required limit. He went off to test the other 30-odd cars in the queue and came back to re-test me some 15 minutes later. I was again recorded too high and became seriously concerned. The stewards stood around me having a secret chat the way people in orange coats do, and they agreed that I couldn’t go out to qualify without quietening the car. I set off at the head of the pack and peeled immediately into the pitlane, whereupon Tony fiddled around at the rear and sent me back round to the assembly area for a re-test. This alone is not the work of a moment, and involves driving to the end of the pitlane, turning sharp left through the scrutineering area and out through the car park amongst other traffic and people going about their business. I drew up in the assembly area again expecting to be given the green light to join the qualifying session, only to be re-directed down the pitlane – still too loud. This time Tony spent longer working on the car. All the time I could here the others go by at racing speed, and it slowly dawned on me that I was running out of time. Eventually we got round to the assembly area again, but the re-test once again showed us to be too noisy. I gave the steward puppy-eyes, and it must have worked because he allowed me to join the session to get my mandatory three laps in, on the strict understanding I should have the noise sorted before the race. Starting from the pitlane I floored it onto the circuit, but had only enough time to record one timed lap before the flag fell.

Rules and regs

Every race in Formula Vee has been over-subscribed this year, and while this is great news generally, it does mean that some of those entering later on get placed on the reserves list. For Donington we had three, and unless someone dropped out before the race they would not get a start. However, they are allowed to (in fact they must) take part in official qualifying, and since all of them recorded three timed laps, it left me in no-mans land. The rules dictate that in such circumstances I will be ‘bumped’ by the reserves, effectively becoming the third reserve driver, and while this was music to the ears of James Millman, it spelt disaster for me.

I had brief respite when I lined up with the other drivers for a lunchtime photocall on the startline, but when we got back to the business of race one I had to suffer the frustration of sitting in my car at the pit exit waiting for a red flag in the race and a subsequent call-up to the back of the grid, assuming there are cars that cannot take the restart. The red flag duly came, but only after three laps had elapsed, and the rules state that after this time no reserves can take the restart.

Saturday was a crushing disappointment, not just for me but for the team in general. Jake had led the race for much of the time, but ended up in the gravel after a clash with brother Sam on the very last corner of the race. The resulting back pain almost put paid to his weekend, but a good night’s rest and a few painkillers seemed to do the trick, and he was clear to take part on Sunday. I was cheered a little by the prospect of getting a race too. A few cars looked unlikely to make the grid the next day, so I kept my fingers firmly crossed.

Before I leave Saturday I would just like to mention the barbecue put on that evening by Pete Belsey and Ben Miloudi of the Veecentre comittee. They put a huge amount of effort into getting it organised for the benefit of the drivers, their families and friends, and I’d like to place on record my thanks for a great evening.


For many people Sunday is a day of rest, and unless three cars withdrew from the race it would be for me too. The truth is I would not know until we joined the assembly area as to whether I’d take the start, but as I rolled up to the markers I was directed to row 18,  outside berth. I was in! Plum last, but at least I’d get a race. The noise test was passed comfortably now – a new silencer had been fitted on Saturday night, so all I needed to do was focus on getting a good start and make my way through the pack.

The start itself was fine. As the lights blinked out I got a little wheelspin but short-shifted to second and got away clean. Our engine seems to be performing nicely at the moment, and by the time we’d got to Redgate I’d cleared about four cars. I went in a lttle deep though and had to back off. My confidence was a little low after the nonsense of the day before and in retrospect I might have kept my foot in a bit more.  But this was literally my first meaningful lap in the car for a year, so I needed to keep a sensible head on and build up my pace.

Throughout the first lap I drove conservatively and crossed the line about fifth from last. I shaped up Sam Engineer for a pass having got good drive out of the chicane but had to pull out of it. There were waved yellows warning of a car (Tim Probert?) sideways on the apex of Redgate. I should have tucked underneath Sam’s gearbox, then the pass down through Craner curves would have been easy. Instead I backed off too much and found myself playing catch-up. I got angry and frustrated – I could see the pack putting more distance on us and I needed to get at them.

We streamed under Starkeys bridge and towards McLeans, a slightly uphill but fairly easy right-hander which is taken in third. I left my braking late for this one and slotted it into third, but crucially came off the brakes too early and locked the rear wheels. Using the heel-and toe technique would have balanced the revs with the road speed of the wheels, but I didn’t do it here. I usually heel-and-toe only when going from third to second, and more frequently in the wet, but this time I simply got it wrong, and the car protested by spinning to the right across the kerb. I kept the steering lock on, hoping I could loop it through 360 and carry on, but I’d scrubbed off too much speed and found myself broadside across the track. I had just enough time to glance left and see the AHS of Rhys Bennett about to collect me amidships, and as he did so my body strained against the straps and the impact left me dazed. I unbuckled and started to climb out, but found it awkward because the chassis rail had folded in on my left leg. To add insult to injury the onboard extinguisher had decided to empty it’s contents into my face, so I hopped out and away from the car. Poor Rhys was beside himself. He’s suffered more than his fair share of bad luck this year and I hope good fortune smiles on him soon.


I’m getting fed up with crashing to be honest. I’ve only had two significant ones but they happen to have taken place the last two times I sat in the car, and it’s getting a) expensive b) annoying and c) painful. I don’t doubt my ability to drive the car, and I put it down to simply not having enough practice/momentum/track time, whatever you want to call it.

Racing gets under your skin, so I’ll be back for more. In between times though I shall continue picking stones..

Onboard footage can be viewed here