It’s fair to say that the week before my first race was quite stressful. Justin was working flat out to get the car fixed and I was starting to stress about whether this was in fact a good idea. To top it all off I’d still I not even spent any time in the car, I didn’t know what all the ruddy buttons did not that I couldn’t figure it out, but considering the race weekend was going to be a steep learning curve it would have been nice to remove a few things!
So on Easter Sunday I headed down to Justin’s to collect the car. Needless to say with the new ramps the car was loaded on without any major troubles, though it is fair to say, that the steepness of the ramps still feels like you are going into orbit.
As we approached Oulton Park, with Justin behind me (that will be the only time for a considerable time!), its fair to say that one of the most epic storms I have ever witnessed struck! A down pour of rain, which became hail and even some sleet struck. Visibility was down to metres and flashes of lightning lit the sky – wow!………was this an omen!
Having pulled up at the circuit there was no way I was going to start unloading in this weather and when the hale and sleet stopped, it’s fair to say it was bloody freezing. Even with a ski jacket on, gloves and a hat, sat in the heated van, I was cold!
Having unloaded the car, my good friends Jon and Jade collected me from the circuit as we headed back to Manchester for the evening. My alarm went off at 6am the next morning and once we had all showered, we started the short journey back, arriving at a very wet and cold Oulton Park just after 7.15am.
To be honest, the morning was a complete blur. We had a race briefing, and then before I knew it the other cars were heading to Parc Ferme. I got into my racing gear, jumped into the car and went to buckle up. Shit, with all of the problems we had faced, we had not adjusted my new belts! Fortunately, one of the Cooper Poole Racing team jumped in and helped me, but I had missed the first 5 minutes of qualifying and the green flag lap, not good, not good at all!
I felt immediately comfortable in the car, though it’s fair to say that conditions were anything but easy; with some very old tyres I was struggling with both ability and grip! I got a couple of laps in, and then started to push a little more, and was on a quicker lap, as I approached Lodge Corner. As I approached and started to break for the corner I spotted the Red Flag. In sheer panic I stood on the brakes harder than I should have, which put me into a spin and whilst not leaving the track, it was probably not a great way to introduce myself to racing. Unfortunately, we did not get back out, so qualifying was done. I was 20th out of 21!
Coming off the track I went into scrutineering and had the car weighed. I was significantly underweight, so we would have to install some ballast before the first race. At that point a ‘Race Official’ approached me and asked me to come to Race Control – oh god, what had I done!
To be fair, the ‘Clerk of the Course’ was great and he mentioned that my transponder wasn’t working (ooppps – forgot that I needed one!) and he just wanted to know why I had spun under a Red Flag. I explained the situation to him and he was fine with my explanation and wished me well for my first two races.
In between qualifying and the first race, the team installed some temporary ballast (a spare wheel and tyre), and before we knew it, it was time to get back into the car and head over to Parc Ferme!
Race 1 – With conditions slightly better than qualifying, I was looking forward to getting some track time, well to be fair, my first ever track time in a race car!
My objective for the weekend was just to finish and learn the car. When the red lights went out, I deliberately reacted a little slower; the last thing I wanted was to get caught up in any first corner drama. The race went well. I had one spin (again staying on track) at Old Hall on lap 3, which was just me trying to find my limits, though the official race report saying I had a “wake up call” seemed a little harsh!
Despite being lapped, I was pleased with my start. My lap times had dropped dramatically and I was starting to feel more and more comfortable in the car. As I pulled into the paddock I have to say I was thoroughly delighted and I definitely felt I had been bitten by the bug! Race 1 Result – 16th / 21.
Race 2 – Finishing 16th in Race 1 (mainly down to others not finishing) I was certainly out of position on the grid for the start of the second race. I contemplated starting from the Pit Lane, as I just wanted lap time, but decided against it and opted on getting out of everyone’s way and just concentrate on my own race.
Despite dropping down to last by the end of Lap 1, I then started to build my pace up, and overtook a few cars. I had one choreographed spin with Mark Noble, but again didn’t leave the track and was soon on my way to finishing 18th.
It’s fair to say I was absolutely delighted with how the weekend ended up. Despite some significant teething issues I had finished, gained some experience and even scored some points. Though it was fair to say I could not have done it without the help of the Cooper Poole Racing team, and it was also apparent I was going to need some extra help to prepare the car before the next race meeting and to assist on race days.
I left the circuit happy, but without any doubt that there was a lot to do!