I entered the weekend with an open mind. As I drove down from Sheffield I thought of the results that I last had at Brands Hatch in FPA (3 wins, 3 poles and 2 fastest laps). Of course I hoped for something similar but realistically I knew this would be much more challenging than that.
I walked the track early on Thursday morning – I know right, surely having done so well here a few years ago why would I need to do a track walk? Well there are a lot of things you can pick up and remind yourself of, like the cracks in the track at the bottom of Paddock Hill and at Surtees.
My new team-mate Stephen Jelley arrived as I finished my lap but I decided to do another with him. This time he gave me his more experienced view, particularly when driving a Porsche, which I was really grateful for.
It was a relief when my alarm went off at 7am on Friday – this was a lay-in as I am normally up at 3am for my day job!!
I knew that once we started testing that we would really see where we were in terms of pace. I was running 4th on old rubber before looking to switch to fresh tyres. Unfortunately there had been an accident on track however, and the session was red flagged – I had dropped to 7th by the finish. The afternoon was a similar story on new tyres and I could only manage 7th again but the times were really close.
A few nerves kicked in at the start of qualifying on Saturday – It was going to be a big day as it was also the first round of the championship in the early evening. I managed to create a good gap for myself on the track (which is not always easy on the Indy Circuit) and I set off on my flying laps. I was extremely focussed, trying to get every section and corner right but I was suffering from pretty bad understeer. My engineer kept pushing me and we only needed to find two tenths to get 3rd! It might not sound like much but it is hard to find on the Indy Circuit and by the point I had used the best of my tyres, so I had to settle for 8th and 7th on the grid for the two races.
As I sat on the grid I realised that I had been waiting for this moment for more than 15 months. My heart was pounding but I had missed every second of being out there, although I was of course a little nervous. The lights went out, I lifted the clutch and went – this was the only start I had done properly in the new car! Thankfully it came off and I jumped by Michael Caine only for him to nudge back past at Druids. He showed all of his experience throughout the race after that and I couldn't get back past him. On the Indy Circuit it is just so hard to pass cleanly, so either make it stick at the start or you try to pressure your opponent into a mistake – Caine didn't really make any so I has to settle for 7th. I was slightly disappointed but I was even more determined to put it right on Sunday.
On Sunday I was sat behind last year's champ Tim Harvey on the grid. We all pretty much managed to get a good start and I tucked in behind Michael Meadows. Although I pressured and I was faster than those ahead of me, once again I just couldn't get past. I believed I could have hunted down 3rd place but it was just too tricky to make a clean move stick on the Indy Circuit.
I ended up 6th and I was still a little annoyed, but this was only the beginning so I suppose it wasn't too bad. I drove home after having a debrief with my engineer – he was happy overall and made me realise that I had done a good job, particularly after having a year out and with the level of competition in the Carrera Cup. Although for someone who had got used to winning I still felt that it wasn't quite good enough so I told my engineer 'I'll sort it for Donington!'
I'm now back at work on the fork lift truck – unfortunately this will only be my testing before the next round!