Yesterday. What a day. I can honestly say the most surreal blur of a day ever. My first drive of Maud and the British rallycross test day at Lydden.
I make no apologies for the detail I record about the day, and I’ll break it up into several blog posts. I hope you read them all, but I have written it for my own memories, so if it goes on a bit, just scan-read it! There are some juicy bits, and I can promise some personal insight if you’re at all interested in what goes on in the life of a racing driver! Ha!!
I started yesterday with a blog post, had some breakfast, packed the car, showered and got my race underwear and suit on. All with a bit of a fuzzy head from Luke’s 30th celebration the night before. But certainly not a hangover – the cold soon put pay to that and my head was soon clear and focussed. Then I headed off for Lydden on my own, with the rest of the family coming along later.
It was freezing cold all day, but by the time I got to the circuit just before 9am, Pete, Sarah and the rest of the Swift crew were there and set up. Maud was already running!
I quickly hooked up with Nick and Simon, who’d both been involved in the car build. They needed my steering wheel and belts, and to confirm my seat position before tightening everything up. I then had my first “drive” of Maud up the car park and back to check the steering wheel was centred correctly.
Nick told me how he’d set the damper settings in the middle, and the significance of the discreet knob to the left of the drivers seat. This is the brake balance knob which I was advised to leave all the way forward as more rear bias can make them tail happy. I’ll leave playing with that until later in the season!
During the day, I had absolutely nothing to worry about when it came to the car. Nick and Simon were all over it whenever I came in, making sure wheel nuts were tight and tyre pressures correct which I really didn’t expect. They really looked after me, and had a few other things to sort later in the day…
Johny and Charlie Bean, and Darren Scott were there – but only Charlie was driving in preparation for the juniors season. Johny and Darren both have heaps of experience and car problems at the moment.
Just before 10am when the circuit would open, I paid my money to Lydden, and filled out the paper work. Then there was the drivers briefing and reiteration of the fact there were going to be novices on the track. That reassured me I might not feel I was in the way so much!
There were lots of people I know due to come during the day, either just to watch the action (and me!) or have a drive themselves. But at that time of freezing morning, only the real petrol heads in the form of Trev and his dad, Dave, were embracing the weather and absorbing themselves in the moment. It’s fair to say they both had a great day. More of that later.
All very laid back and informal, I quickly realised that like at Pembury, it’s about listening to the tannoy and being in the right place at the right time. Practice just getting helmet and HANS, gloves and belts on was going to be as important as anything today.
So approximately 24 hours ago exactly as I write this, I strapped in and joined some of the other Swifts and non-supercars in the pit lane exit. I had felt extremely calm and collected all morning, and now was surprisingly no different. I didn’t feel confident as such, just eager to get going and get as much time in the car on circuit as possible.
I wasn’t nervous, but in hindsight I think I should have been. I’d waited so long for this moment, and I had it all clear in my head. I’d played it through in my head for nearly a year – this was simply the whole point of all that planning and waiting.
The Pit Lane Controller checked my wristband, and saw “Novice” so held me back a session. There was some confusion, but now I found myself at the top of the pit lane, due to be first out in the next 10 minute session. Basically, they ran the Swifts, retro and other rallycross cars seperately from the RX150s and supercars, but other than that it turned into an “if you want to go out, go out” type day. I’d expected far more rules and rigid timelines, but it seems they work the day on the fly to make sure it runs smoothly and everyone gets out of it what they need. It certainly worked well.
So the chequered flag was waved to the current circulating drivers, I waited another lap as they came back to the pits.
The Pit Lane Controller then made eye contact, and jestured with a single finger to proceed onto the track. Quickly into second gear and the first gravel section, I was tentative. I’d never been on the Lydden track, or driven Maud. Through the first chicane successfully, I opened her up and took 3rd, before braking on the tarmac for the long back gravel corner – inside Pilgrims. I’d seen hundreds of cars take this corner, loads of onboard YouTube footage and I felt like I’d already been round it many times before.
I didn’t make it round…