Blog #5 - 01/05/2011
Hmm, that didn't exactly go to plan. I really thought I'd finish on the top step of the podium in the opening race in the Champion of Brands series, instead I ended up in the gravel at Clearways on lap three.
I qualified third for my first race of the season at Brands Hatch, a position I would have bitten your hand off for last season, however my best lap was only a 50.8s, nearly half a second slower than my fastest lap from testing. Strong side winds were causing problems in the fast corners, especially Paddock Hill Bend, but that was the same for everyone. It seemed that the roll bar changes we made before the race weekend hadn't paid off, with the car behaving lazily and inconsistently.
Despite my problems in qualifying, I was confident that I could easily win the race, with all 15 laps planned out in my head before I had even lined up on the grid. Visiting British Formula Ford driver Neil Alberico was on pole (his fastest lap being a 50.3s) though I knew that with our car's set-up now sorted I would be able to lap quicker than the American's qualifying pace, I just needed to get a good start . . .
And I didn't. Our clutch problems from 2010 reared their head again. As soon as I took the car above 4500rpm for the standing the start, my Van Diemen would start driving away from the grid (at a reasonable pace). Fair to say, with the red lights still firmly on, this wasn't ideal - if I'd kept my revs up I would've been joining Alberico on the front row! To overcome the clutch drag I had to lower the revs, in turn making a poor start and losing a position to Mike Gardner on the run to the first corner.
For the first two laps, Alberico, Adam Quartermaine, Gardner and me circulated in close formation, however I knew that eventually the top two would start to pull away from Mike who wouldn't have enough pace to match them. I therefore needed to make a quick move on the car in front in order to get on terms with the leaders.
I had noticed that I was much quicker through Surtees and into Clearways, so on lap three I decided to dive up the inside and outbrake Gardner into the second-gear final corner. Unfortunately, as I went to change down into second gear my downshift wasn't particularly clean, meaning I didn't get the benefit of the engine braking. I entered the corner far to fast, but I thought (despite having full opposite lock on the steering) that I'd be able to hold it. It wasn't to be, and I was parked backwards in the gravel trap with my race over without even reaching quarter distance.
I was livid, but I had to try and make the move early in the race if I wanted to challenge for the win. It was still a missed opportunity though, with Alberico's fastest lap only a 50.811s. We should have checked the clutch before the race (something that become standard procedure last year) and I should have made the move on Gardner stick, but luckily we aren't competing for points in a championship, and something like this always just drives me on to make amends next time. The race is out of my mind now and I'm already focussed on victory on the 28th May.
I can't leave this post without mentioning that 17 years ago, Ayrton Senna was killed in his infamous accident at Imola, the sport losing one of its most naturally talented drivers ever. The previous day in 1994 Roland Ratzenburger was also killed in an accident at the Italian venue in, arguably, F1's darkest day. Both are heroes to many and won't be forgotten . . .