Round 2 – Snetterton
Before the start to the race weekend, I had already done a few laps around this track. This mean’t that my teamates and I wouldn’t be on the back foot at the start of practice. Throughout the next two days I would see myself comfortably in the mid-pack (roughly 7th). Which mean’t that as a team and as a driver I was improving, motivating us for positive results in Qualifying and in the races.
Overnight, the temperature had dropped and no sun was visible on that gloomy morning. As a team we were not sure what the track would be like, so we ran identical setups to the day before. Once underway I noticed that grip levels were lower and the wind direction had changed dramatically, causing snaps under brakes in corners 8 and 12. Furthermore, there was dramatic understeer in corner 7. Although it is easy now to realize these changes, while driving it wasn’t crystal clear. As a result I moved the braking bias towards the back in hopes of less snap in turns 8 and 12. But later I would figure out that it had induced more oversteer instead of helping. As a result my laps were quite inconsistent (as were many others’), placing me in P9, a direct reflection of Oulton Park. Though I was disappointed with the result we knew that I was faster than that position.
With similar conditions to Qualifying, everyone knew that the track would be slow and lap times would be dramatically less to yesterday’s lap times. Build up to the green flag was fairly stress-free as I was behind where I should’ve been. And after a poor start I was near the back of the grid towards the run up to corner 1. With cars all around me and partly up the inside, I decided to go deep into the fast right. But due to cold tyres and a slower track, I lacked the stopping speed and ended up in the grass. A silly mistake waiting to happen which caught me off guard. Once out of the slippery grass, I was 16 seconds behind the last car. And with 13 laps or so left, I was sure that this was going to be a boring race. But nonetheless I pushed to the finish line and ended roughly a second behind the last car. Still distraught after the mistake, Carlin was proud of my comeback and determination. And it turned out that my pace was good enough for 6th place which was very promising.
Once everything had dialed down, the realization came that for tomorrow’s race I would start in 1st position. This would be the first time I would be above 9th position an outright 8 positions behind where I was now.
Throughout the night and the next morning I couldn’t help feel nervous as I new that my career needed this more than ever. Going over start multiple tiomes in my car before the race helped as it formulated muscle memory in my feet. Because those who were fast were at the back of the grid everyone knew that if I could get a good start I would be gone. Attempting to get into the zone prior to the race, something I rarely do, I got into the car, started the engine and began the formation lap. Approaching the last marked line before the long run to the first corner I remember feeling numb and weak. Then the adrenaline kicked in as I watched the cars behind me line up. I felt as if everything had instantly tightened, my belts, my helmet – I knew that the next ten seconds would decide the race. As the lights turned on I focused all my energy to getting off the line. I placed my right foot where I think it should have been, and found the biting point. Lights off. My insticts took over and I made my best start yet. I remember saying to myself before Turn 1, “Thank god!”. From there I controlled the pace and managed to get a hefty gap half way through the first lap. From there I focused on my driving and reminded myself to stay calm by repeating “Calm” to myself a few times a lap. But to my dismay, the gap I had built meant nothing, because the safety car was out. Since it had been the first time I would lead a field under the safety car, I focused on two things. To keep the tyres warm and to focus on myself, not the others behind me. Once the safety car’s lights turned off (fairly late in the lap), I took it nice and slow in order to get a proficient run towards corner 1. With the restart under way we were all bunched up and the car behind me had was catching down the main straight and was just about close enough to make a move. Therefore, I turned early to corner 1 closing the gap before he fully commit for the move. Through his failed attempt he had to focus on the car behind him as I charged away and increased my lead. As I rounded the final corner I was ecstatic, and raised my hand in the air as I passed the jubilant carlin team. It took about 3 corners for my consious mind to take over again, and thats when I wrapped my head around the fact that I had won. Getting out the car I cheered and ran towards Chris who I could see was happy for me too. Hugging and shaking hands with my engineer (Mike) and mechanic (Dan) had sealed the deal on the fact that I had won my first race in BRDC F3. On top of that I had produced the fastest lap of the weekend which was resembled through the Sunoco Trophy that was given to me.
Once things had settled from race 2, race 3 had approached my mind. I wanted this race to mimick the success I had in Race 2, and knew that in order to replicate the last race I was to get a good start again (from P9). But to my disappointment I had reacted late to the lights and lost a place off the start and was swamped once again. For the next lap I focused on the car ahead while defending for position from those behind. But then there was another Safety Car due to the crash in corner 2 off the start which happened with some of the leaders. On the restart I collided with another car, flicking him into the air and damaging my right front. I would later get disqualified for this incident because it was made prior to the Safety Car line which was on the main straight. With this damage I was under-attack from the car behind over the course of 4 laps. Eventually he would get a good run towards turn 8 and attempted to brake around the outside. Despite his attempt I was still there and made contact with my front wing. Because of this, he went off the track and I continued to the finish constantly losing positions with my broken front wing. Since it was a pretty straight forward race, all we could extract from it was the need to improve my starts.