Heading into the Oulton Park weekend, I felt quietly confident that I could find some good pace. A test day there, earlier in the year, gave me an idea of the pace I could achieve. But what was playing on my mind, was a feeling almost of regret. I realised that I hadn’t put enough effort and attention into some previous weekends, and that had definitely impacted my results. So, this weekend I aimed to change that.
Testing… building confidence and qualifying in third
The Friday test day was a good one. I focused on putting some good laps down and looking at the Vbox data to understand where I could find time to gain. Having stayed with fast drivers, such as John Langridge, in testing, I carried that confidence over to Saturday morning qualifying.
During the first qualifying session, I was on the pit wall with the team, to see what times people were getting down to and also to see what I needed to produce on the track. My time to qualify came, and I headed out on track. In front of me, I had Jack Moody, in front of him were Adam Bessell, Jason Greatrex, Steve Foden and John Langridge. I knew if I could dispatch Moody quickly, I would be in the tow of Adam and the others, helping me to set an even better lap time. I got past Jack early on, allowing me to latch onto the tow of Adam Bessell. I put a lap down early stages which put me on pole.
I kept on pushing though as I knew drivers like John Langridge wouldn’t move over easily. A few laps later, I improved my time by 2 tenths, however both Adam Bessell and John Langridge improved theirs too. This then put me in 3rd fastest, a position I was still very happy with, although the longer I saw the number 1 on the pit board after each passing lap, the more I wanted it. Qualifying ended with me still in 3rd, with a 2:05:053. This was the best I’d ever qualified, and I knew I’d be able to take the same pace into the races.
Race 1: on the third row of the grid and a massive moment!
At Oulton Park, instead of qualifying and three races taking place over two days, it all takes place over one day (due to noise regulations). This not only demands a hell of a lot from a driver, but also from a team, especially one running multiple cars, like AB Motorsport. However, I had full confidence that we would see it through.
Starting on the third row of the grid at 10:50am, I was ready to go, knowing I had the pace to back my position kept me in a good state of mind. Off the line could’ve been better, as I wasn’t 100% ready as the out lap from the pits was the green flag lap, which isn’t usually the case. Nevertheless, I persisted, and the second stage of the launch was good enough. Will Blackwell Chambers came down my inside though as I’d been so focused on almost repairing my start that I’d forgotten to close the door. Once Will was past, I turned in, immediately even though I received a hit on my right rear quarter. I threw the lock on to keep the car straight and carried on with the race. I then had a buffer between the cars ahead and behind, albeit a small one. With fellow AB Motorsport driver Matt Luff ahead, I latched onto the back of Luff for the next lap and a half.
However, heading into Druids, the 3rd time around, I would have a massive moment, one that I was very lucky to avoid having a big accident. Following Luff into the corner, I committed to full throttle early to get the run, as it had worked before. Midway through the corner though, the car started to get loose on the rear. I turned into the slide keeping the throttle pinned. This had worked in testing, as the car settled easily. This time was to be different. The slide, by the millisecond, gained more angle, I put more steering angle in to correct it, and it kept rotating. Towards the end of the long double apex Druids corner, there is a crest. The car went over the crest sideways and that was it, the rear got light and the next thing I knew I was fully broadside heading down the track, knowing it was going to snap back with my corrections, I instinctively let go of the wheel to let it correct itself. I was now on the grass on the inside, under the Oulton Park bridge. Still sideways now the other way, with less angle, I brought it back onto the track. Moment over and dealt with, I had to claw back the positions I had lost.
With Jack Brewer, Adam Bessell, Martin Tolley and Marcus Bailey coming past me, I knew I had work to do, but again, I knew I had the pace to do it. The next lap on the second corner Cascades, I made my move past Marcus Bailey down the inside, forcing Bailey to move wide to avoid contact. I then had a gap to Martin Tolley to close. A couple laps later, the gap was closed. I tried a move into Lodge corner but Tolley was wise to it. One lap later I tried the same move but included a dummy beforehand. This worked and I was down the inside. Bailey behind also took advantage of me opening the door. The next car ahead was Jason Greatrex; again I had to close the gap. A few laps later I had reduced the gap, Ollie Allwood came into view battling with Jason, Ollie had a gearbox issue slowing him down…having no 4th gear doesn’t help! Ollie let me through down Lakeside straight so I could continue my recovery. A lap later Greatrex made a mistake exiting the Brittens chicane and I got the easy run past. Another position gained, more needed. Yet again, I faced a similar situation, closing the gap created by trying to get past the previous car. This was made easier by Adam Bessell and Jack Brewer coming together slightly at Lodge corner. I got the run up the inside and closed on Brewer almost immediately. Matt Luff in this time had created a substantial gap the cars behind but unfortunately suffered an engine failure so he had to retire, another position gained but not the way I wanted it.
For the next couple of laps Brewer and battled for position. I tried round the outside of Lodge but Brewer defended well, I also had to be careful as Adam Bessell was lurking behind just waiting for a mistake to open up. A lap later at the same corner, I decided to try a cut back manoeuvre. This worked as I kept the racing line and then cut back to the inside, gaining the inside line. We ran side by side to the first corner, but as I had the optimum line I took the corner and came out ahead of Brewer. I now focused on creating a gap to the following pack. Annoyingly I did this until the last corner on the last lap, I dipped a wheel on the outside on the exit of Lodge corner. This gave Jack the run alongside me. He would get back the position by mere milliseconds. This was frustrating but I was more than happy with how I’d fought back to 7th place. Again, it showed I had the pace.
Race 2: Another top ten finish
Starting 7th for race 2, I was confident I could do the same, just without the “moment”. My start wasn’t the greatest as I got a whole load of wheelspin. I’d got on the revs too much and too early. This allowed Adam Bessell past and almost Jason Greatrex, whom I fought off round the outside of Cascades. Ollie Allwood had made good progress off the line and was sat behind me. Ollie passed me into Lodge corner but I wasn’t too bothered as it was early in the race and Ollie is fast so I could follow him around for a while. The next few laps consisted of the most intense consistency from the whole leading train, the pack bumper to bumper from 1st place to me in 8th. Any mistake made, would be very costly. In time Ollie found a way past Jack Brewer who was now ahead of me. I fought for a while trying to get past Brewer, but again Brewer’s defensive tactics proved too good. In my attempts to pass Brewer, Jason Greatrex closed up to me. Now I really couldn’t afford to make a mistake. I shrugged the pressure off though and created a decent gap to myself and Greatrex. Up ahead Steve Foden had fallen back and Brewer had found a way past. I closed in to try to and find a gap. Something I was finding in the higher echelons of the A races, is that the drivers know how to defend a lot better than others. Steve held his ground and again I was forced back into the clutches of the cars behind. This time the car to challenge me from behind was Martin Tolley. Tolley tried getting past but I put up a strong defence to stop him getting past. After this he dropped back and a buffer was created between Foden ahead and Tolley behind. I finished the race in 9th position, I was still happy with another top 10 finish but wanted more.
Race 3: My best finish of the season… 6th!
The last race of the day was at 16:50, so there was a decent gap to relax and think about how to improve in the last race. In the assembly area, Jack Sycamore gave me some advice about it being the last race of the weekend. He said to just stick to my own race and to just let other people fall off. As it was the last race, drivers were more willing to commit to risky manoeuvres. Before the race started I was really focused on the job at hand.
Off the line and this time my start was a good one. I latched onto the back of Jack Brewer and settled in for the last race of the weekend, waiting for drivers to fall off the track. The first driver to do this was Steve Foden who went off the outside of Shell Oils hairpin. One place gained already, on the first lap. A good number of laps went by very much similar to the last race, the front train bumper to bumper. This ended though when Brewer tried a move on Martin Tolley at Knickerbrook, contact was made and Brewer had to take to the escape road. Another position gained. I now had a gap between Tolley ahead and Greatrex behind. Time to close it again.
In my attempts to close the gap on Tolley, I dipped a wheel on the outside of Knickerbrook, Greatrex came past. Position lost. What this did do was close the gap to Tolley as Greatrex seemed to be quicker. However, a lap later into Cascades, Tolley was fighting with Adam Bessell up ahead, he exited the corner with a slide turn tankslapper; Greatrex moved to the inside lifting off to avoid contact; I stayed to the outside with foot still on the throttle. Passing both of them, progress was made. This also allowed me to get up to Adam Bessell as he was then battling with Ollie Allwood heading into Island bend. Later on that lap, I was following Bessell into Lodge corner, ahead of us were John Langridge and Ollie Allwood having a scrap. Two wide into Lodge they went, which gave Adam and I the run down the front straight. Now a three car train heading down the straight, with Ollie to the left side. I tried to follow Bessell and Langridge down the inside of Old Hall. I was on the brakes well and had the position for a second, Ollie with his experience held the outside line and came out on top as he had the inside line then for Cascades. This also allowed Greatrex through again.
Again, later that lap, there was more action, Greatrex found a way past Bessell, which then opened the door up into Lodge. I was deep on the brakes into Lodge with Bessell on my outside. I thought I had the position done and dusted but Bessell refused to back down easily. We carried on to the first corner side by side, with me now on the outside. I cut back to the inside mid corner and took the position. By this time big gaps had been created by between drivers. With Greatrex far ahead, I put my head down and tried to gain time. On the second to last lap Greatrex made a mistake, exiting the Brittens chicane again running wide and sliding side to side. I was through into 6th place. With light rain coming down towards the end of the race, I aimed for pure consistency to keep it on the track and bring it home. I finished the race in 6th place, I was ecstatic with this result as I’d made significant ground and good moves were made.
The weekend ended as my best yet in the BRSCC Mazda MX-5 Championship. I look forward to Donington. Now I know I have top ten pace.