Hi everyone and welcome to my first blog for The Checkered Flag. Firstly, let me introduce myself.
My name is Nicolas Hamilton, 20 years old and this year I am competing in my second season of racing in the Air Asia Renault Clio Cup as part of the BTCC support package. Last year marked my first year in the sport, which was really a roller coaster ride but importantly ended on a high with my first two top ten finishes at Brands Hatch. Going into 2012 my focus was to continue to develop my race craft, using the knowledge and understanding I gained last year as a strong base.
The Clio Cup grid this year is incredibly competitive with twenty-four confirmed entries and eleven different teams all fighting it out for victory. I'm happy to be competing with Total Control Racing again this year, which is a team who played a massive role in supporting me through my first year of racing. With three race weekends already completed and the midway point of the season fast approaching, it is a perfect time to reflect on the season so far.
The first race of the season took place at Brands Hatch on the Indy circuit layout. Having just celebrated my 20th Birthday and ending up 8th overall at the Media Day, I was heading into the weekend feeling chilled and relaxed, looking forward to starting a new season. Qualifying proved just how competitive the championship is this year with the top twenty drivers covered by just a second in qualifying. Only using one set of tyres in qualifying and not quite hooking up my ideal lap put me 15th and disappointed.
In race one, I was able to get a great start and make two places before the first corner, which I held onto for most of the first lap. However, going into Surtees I was chasing the rest of the pack and hit the kerb, which on cold tires unsettled the car forcing me into a spin. I think I fell back to around 22nd but I made sure I didn't give up and started to work my way back up the field. I ended up finishing 13th passing seven cars in the process. Even though it may not sound like much, it was actually the first time I had properly overtaken someone in a race, so to do it seven times left me buzzing for race two. Unfortunately, the second race only lasted one lap after being collected in a multiple car crash on the back straight which caused significant damage to the car.
The next event was at Donington Park in the East Midlands for rounds three and four of the championship. Donington is one of my favourite circuits on the calendar with its fast sweeping Craner Curves being taken flat in the Clio Cup car. I qualified 14th. I had mixed feelings about qualifying, as I had gone one second quicker than last year, but was disappointed as I felt I had at least another two tenths in me which would have put me inside the top ten. The first race took place early Sunday morning when the temperatures were very low making it difficult to get any grip from the slick tyres. I managed to keep my position at the start and take advantage of other people's mistakes to cross the line in 11th.
While the result was good, I was disappointed with my lack of pace as I struggled to get any tyre temperature which made the car feel nervous to drive. I put it down to lack of experience in cold weather driving and focussed on race two later that day. With the afternoon sun shining the track temperature was significantly higher for our second race so I felt confident of a strong result. I got a decent start and remained in 13th for the opening stages, before starting to move forwards passing three cars in four laps to put me 10th. Unfortunately, while making a move for 9th I got hit sideways sending me flying off the circuit at the top of Craners. Luckily there are no barriers nearby and I was able to rejoin in 17th. After a further two laps I had managed to retake one position, but on the last lap made a mistake going into Coppice and ran wide into the gravel dropping me to 21st. While the result was obviously not great, I personally felt it was my best race so far. For many drivers on the grid the result is all that matters but for me and my limited experience, I have taken a different approach this year which is to continue learning and improving as a driver, which that race certainly helped to do.
Next up was Thruxton, a circuit I didn't have particularly fond memories of from 2011. Nevertheless this year I went into the weekend knowing I was more prepared than the previous year and that weather forecasts suggested a near certain chance of a wet weekend – conditions I knew I could be competitive in.
An altered format to the weekend meant we went straight into the 30 minute qualifying session on a wet track. I felt comfortable in the car straight away and was able to post a time that put me 4th for much of the session, but due to drying conditions I wasn't able to improve on my best time resulting in me slipping to 7th. Considering the difficulties of last year, I was pleased and shocked to have got my best ever qualifying position at Thruxton. The news got even better after qualifying when I was told I had qualified 6th for race two on Sunday, which is decided by the drivers second best lap times in qualifying.
By the time race one was due to start the circuit had dried enough to use slick tyres. I got a great start but was boxed in going into the first corner loosing me a position by turn two. I maintained 8th up until the last corner where contact with another car spun me round dropping me to the back. It was certainly a case of dÃ©jÃ vu, having to fight back through the field again from 20th to finish 14th.
Race two started behind the safety car due to the extremely wet conditions, but was allowed to go green after only three laps despite the rain getting heavier. As soon as the field got up to speed visibility was almost zero, even in 6th I couldn't see the cars in front which was another new experience for me. Sadly, I was the first to be caught out by the standing water at turn one and aquaplaned off the circuit. Somehow the car slowed enough to only lightly hit the barriers allowing me to continue in the race. From there it was just a case of keeping the car on the black stuff and seeing how the conditions changed lap by lap. Towards the end of the race the rain had eased and the track started to offer more grip, but for me it was too late as I crossed the line 18th. Considering my wet pace in qualifying.
I left Thruxton massively disappointed as I truly believed I had the pace to fight for a podium. Still, in those scenarios all you can do is look at the positives and the fact I was able to gain new experiences, which will all help me in the future.
The next event is at Oulton Park in Cheshire on the 9th and 10th June – I cannot wait to get back in the car and go racing!