The weekend really started for me a week before on the Wednesday, as I had my first track day at Cadwell. I wasn’t happy with both my performance & the car’s performance at Snetterton so wanted to get ahead of the game for the next round at Cadwell Park.
The first track day went well with no hiccoughs and with me acclimatising to the circuit. Skip forward one week and I’m back on the Thursday before the race for another track day. As I was now used to the track, I could be more committed through some of the more demanding corners on the circuit, particularly The Gooseneck. My times came down and I felt that I’d learned a lot in the two track days I’d done. The Friday of the Cadwell Park meeting was the first test day I’d done and it was very much the same except for many more fellow MX-5s around. This allowed me to get a baseline on how I was driving on track.
Come Saturday morning, it was time for qualifying. I was confident I could put out a good time as I had really got an idea of the circuit now and really started to enjoy driving it. My only worry was being stuck in traffic, as Cadwell is a very narrow circuit, originally built for motorbike racing. We came out of the assembly area as a train of MX-5s. I found on the early laps I was quicker than the cars ahead, but I couldn’t find my way past as it’s a very narrow circuit and drivers, in all fairness, aren’t willing to give up space in qualifying. I decided to let some cars past me as I realised I wasn’t getting anywhere being stuck behind slower cars. This gave me some space and I could put out a competitive time. Qualifying ended and I made my way back to the AB Motorsport paddock area. My goal for the session was to get a time that would put me straight into the first A race. I achieved that goal, qualifying 21st to secure a place on the grid for the A race. I was happy with this as I could see everything happening in front of me and maybe pick off a few stragglers.
When the race came, I was in good spirits as the rain that was heavily forecast stayed well away which meant I could really drive at my full potential. My start in the race wasn’t my greatest as my view of the lights was blocked by the car rollcages in front of me. The lights are quite low at Cadwell. This meant I had to judge my start on other drivers… this is never a good plan of action. So with a botched start I chased the pack into turn 1.
Because the circuit is such a narrow one, I was able to catch right back up to the pack at turn 2. I was closing onto the back of Paul Tucker and Martin Tolley who is usually further up the grid but car troubles had held him back. Early into the race, I was able to pass Paul Tucker on Park Straight, as Martin Tolley had gone off the track at Charlies 2 and come back onto to the track almost taking out Paul, Paul took evasive action onto the grass, narrowly avoiding the wall and a marshall’s post.
After this Martin Tolley escaped from my grasp as he was just faster, having raced for much longer than myself. This meant I was defending from Paul Tucker. Initially, I wasn’t that worried as the gap was probably just over one second, and I’d already fended off a move into Park Corner a few laps before. However, a poor sector from me brought Paul Tucker right into my slipstream coming onto to Park Straight. I held a defensive line coming into the braking zone of Park Corner. Paul came alongside my car and coming into the braking zone his rear bumper was in line with my front bumper. Side by side in the braking zone, I tried to brake as late as I could. However, Paul started to come across into the apex of the corner, contact was made and I went on the brakes more to try and avoid any more damage. Unfortunately, however, in my efforts to try and avoid contact I went on the brakes too hard and locked up. I came off and on the pedal to stop locking and moved as far as I could to the inside, it was too late at this point. With my right front wheel on the inside grass and with the car simply not stopping, I sailed into Paul’s rear right corner sending him around and both of us into the grass. I recovered the car from the grass, feeling more than a bit crappy about what had just happened.
An apology and a visit to the clerk of the course!
The race ended and the first thing I did when coming back into parc ferme was to stop my car, turn it off, and get out and apologise to Paul. Paul was understandably frustrated but also knew that what had happened was due to my inexperience. We shook hands and moved on.
Later on, I was called to the clerk of the course. The stewards had reported the incident and the clerk of the course reviewed it. Paul was also there and said that he wasn’t bothered about and that he just saw it as a racing incident. With an understanding clerk and an understanding Paul, it was concluded that it was a racing incident and no further actionable taken.