The start of the new 2015 season of the Porsche Championship would begin at a track that I was already familiar with albeit, on a different configuration to what I raced on last year. Oulton Park Fosters although much shorter will still provide a stiff challenge, especially having been out of the car for so long.
I decided to test on the new circuit not only to get familiar with the slightly different configuration but to also give the car a shakedown after the engine rebuild by Fudge at Victoria Garage in the off season and to install a few upgrades. This meant a very early 03:30 start on the Friday morning to pick up the car from storage and drive up to the circuit in time for registration and the first sessions. It’s not all glamour this racing lark….
I took the opportunity to try out different suspension settings and bed in front brakes and rear brake shoes in each of the four different sessions that I would participate in. This was mainly due to the experience I had last year with brake fade as well as a very long conversation I had with the co-owner of Leda. The maker of my race car’s suspension. It was an eye opener to say the least.
Testing went very well with no issues with the car. The engine felt strong and responsive. More importantly, I felt very quick on the circuit and was hopeful of a good qualifying position. It was also refreshing for me to know exactly what I was supposed to be doing and where I was supposed to be at any particular moment. It certainly was a vast improvement on last year where I didn’t know whether I was coming or going most of the time. The one thing I learnt from last year was that preparation was key. Fail to prepare, prepare to fail!
That night, we had one of the traditional PDA dinner events that some of the racing drivers’ wives organise on the friday evenings before the racing begins. It really is a lovely feature of our championship and shows the camaraderie and friendliness of the paddock that we are part of. It was really good to see a lot of the very friendly faces that welcomed me in the championship last year. Off the track, it’s all smiles and hugs. On track, elbows are out and no quarter is given. That’s how Racing should be.
Qualification was a steady affair. There wasn’t that many cars and even though we were on the shorter circuit, I had a clear run. I gradually built up speed and started putting in some quick laps. My fastest was a 1:14.619 which placed me third on the grid. Although I was almost 1.3 seconds off pole which was a blistering 1:13:346 set by Simon Hawksley. This is definitely an area that I need to improve in the coming races although I wasn’t too disheartened as my strength has always been my race pace.
My experience from last year was paying dividends now and helped me stay much calmer in the build up to the race than previously. I developed a routine that I now stick to religiously which helps me organise my thoughts and keep my focus on the upcoming race.
As we exited the assembly area next to the paddock for our green flag lap, I immediately felt that the car was not behaving as normal. First and second gear were fine but anything higher and there was simply no power coming from the engine. The first words that came to my mind were very choice ones as the disappointment of having to come into the pits dawned on me.
After my third visit to the pits, it became clear that the problem was a permanent one and was later diagnosed to be an Alternator failure. A very frustrating start to my season. A DNF in my first race.
As Race 2 was not on for a few more hours, at least Fudge had time to get the Alternator replaced so that I’d be out for Race 2. I very quickly put the disappointment of Race 1 behind me and started my preparations for Race 2.
Due to my DNF in Race 1, I was lined up at the back of the grid. Alongside me should have been Jamie Callender, the new rookie 924 driver in the Porsche championship who unfortunately also didn’t start the first race. He was hoping to make it for Race 2 but his engine was still suffering a few gremlins that meant he wasn’t able to start. I can’t imagine his disappointment but at least it was only the first race meeting of the new season and there’s a few more to go.
The starting lights at Oulton Park that day were not working for some reason and instead they were using the Union flag to signal the start of the race. This I felt was rather quaint.
Frankly, I wish they’d use the flag for each race as I had my best ever start! After Old Hall, I was already in fourth place with Kirkham, Rossin and Hawksley leading at the front but the smile was nearly wiped from my face as I ran wide down Cascades and nearly dropped it going into Fosters (1:00). I managed to gather it up and then overtook Kirkham at Knickerbrook. Up to third, yes! Adrenalin was really pumping at this stage but I needed to calm down and concentrate on getting to the two leading cars up ahead.
I pushed very hard and and finally managed to get on to Rossin a few laps later and waited for my chance. This arrived after Karl went a bit too wide at Druids (09:10). I managed to out brake him going into Lodge but he went for the undercut and was ahead as we crossed the start/finish line onto Old Hall. I decided to brave it round the outside and made it through into second place. Not without going wide at the exit though. I’ll tell you why this is relevant a bit later….
I started pushing now to catch up to Hawksley. A combination of me pushing too hard and brake fade, led to contact at Fosters (12:30) but luckily it was minimal and we both carried on. I was shown the black & white driving standards flag for it. Oops…
A few laps later, I manage to catch up to Hawksley at Druids (15:25). Into Lodge, Hawksley defended the corner on the inside and I decided to go for the under cut but with my brake fade, I didn’t slow enough and had to go round the outside (15:40). Another drag race over the start line and I tried to repeat the same trick of going round the outside at Old Hall but this time unfortunately it didn’t come off (15:55).
That would turn out to be my last chance as by the next lap, the race leading Boxters had caught me. I therefore had to concentrate on trying to keep out of their way but still try and catch Hawksley. Unfortunately, this all went very wrong at Fosters corner as I ran wide (17:30) due to a combination of the Boxters braking earlier than I thought and my brakes deteriorating badly. This off saw Adam Croft overtake me for second place which meant I was now into third and is how the race eventually finished.
It later transpired that as I ran wide at Old Hall too many times, I was given a five second penalty for exceeding track limits which when added to my race time meant that I was relegated to fourth place overall behind Rossin.
To start off my season with a DNF was not exactly how I’d been dreaming things would turn out at Oulton Park. But I was very happy with how I recovered from the early setback and kept my focus for Race 2. Although a trophy would have been nice, I need to learn to respect the track limits. I can only do that by managing my race better and this is something to take away from this weekend and learn.
Overall, I had a lot of fun and thoroughly enjoyed myself over the weekend. Bring on Rockingham!