The time between Round 3 at Knockhill and Round 4, returning to Mallory Park, simply flew by. I’d spent so much of my spare time getting the car sorted in one way or another that actually getting back out to race was upon me once more in a flash. I’ve learned a lot this weekend just gone. Not least that spending more time actually mentally preparing my approach to the actual race weekend would do me some favours. Sod the car!
Everything ran smoothly and to plan initially. I’d picked up the trailer on Friday night having needed to replace the two rear light clusters I’d damaged the previous weekend. My new seat mounts had arrived from Cobra and they needed fitting. Nothing like last minute, but I’d simply left ordering them too late. Maud was already prepped for the trip, and my race checklist is now well established, so the thought of forgetting something wasn’t weighing on my mind.
Saturday went well. I was up early, refitting my Evolution Pro seat into the car, checking positions, tightening everything up. Seatbelt adjustments could wait. I then had to finalise my trailer light repairs, load the car, strap it down, get the tools, jack, gazebo, spare wheels, etc. etc. into Maud or the car boot and leave some room for the family. This weekend we had the whole crew – Sarah, Isaac and Hannah coming up to support me which was great!
At late lunchtime, we headed off up the M1 and arrived at Mallory around 5:30pm. Maud was soon off the trailer, the gazebo erected (at last, the weather was good!) and tied down. We had a brief catchup with Graham who had come up with Kris and headed off to the hotel. Exhaused and after a dirty burger and a few pints, we hit the sack.
This time we chose a Premier Inn, and overall I had a much better nights sleep, but the feeling of not being at the track makes me really apprehensive. None the less, feeling nauseous with nerves, we got packed up by about 7am, and headed up to the track.
The two hours before practice are pretty manic. I have to get all the tools and other paraphernalia out of Maud, go and sign on, take the car to be scrutineered, get and fit a recharged transponder (the thing that registers the car’s lap times), adjust my seatbelts, check the tyre pressures and wheel torques, and attend the driver’s briefing at 9am. There was no time to walk the track, but I wasn’t too worried – we raced here only two months ago and the circuit was to be the same.
So at 9:30am, we all lined up for practice – race day business as usual. All the other Swifts were ahead of me – except one. This weekend we were to have none other than British and European Rallycross star, Liam Doran, line up with us. He was behind me lining up for practice.
We headed out, and as I dropped back to give myself some room from the car in front, and Liam dropped back from me. Steadily through the first, long right hander of Gerard’s I was happy. Down the back gravel section, I opened it up and felt confident with the familiar sensation of lack of grip and ongoing bumps.
It was the pesky chicane coming off of the gravel which caught me out. The rule to keep your foot in when the back end goes left my brain momentarily, and coming out of the chicane I lifted too much and the back end came around. Sod it I thought, but I hadn’t hit anything. A few moments passed as I went to check for Liam coming by and moving off myself, but then something hit me. Liam Doran.
The impact felt massive, but I felt completely safe. He hit me (I still don’t know at what speed) square on into the driver’s door. Of course the door is fibreglass, and I’m protected by a rollcage, but I was certain there would be damage to both our cars which might end our day.
Looking out of the driver’s door, I was looking straight at Liam and simply couldn’t believe that I’d managed to drop it again. He reversed back, and we both headed back to the pits, uncertain of damage. Maud drove OK, but I was concerned that there may be something out of alignment, or that there was front end damage to Liam’s car which might put him out. I quickly got out of the car, verified a significant dent in the driver’s door sill of my car, saw that the door was cosmetically damaged, and headed up the paddock to see Liam. He looked concerned about the car, but I knew I had to break the ice ASAP.
“Hi Liam”, I said, sticking out my hand, “I’m Rob – the guy you just hit.”
Something along the lines of “Oh, right” concealed his true feelings I’m sure, but he didn’t lay into me. Instead he said not to worry about it – that’s racing (well, practice, but I wasn’t going to put him right). I had to point out that I am, certainly compared to him, a complete novice, and that I was sorry if I’d ruined his day. However, it appeared that the damage to his car on my account was also only bumper-cosmetic. Nick was already busy investigating clutch problems which would prevent him lining up for the first heat. I wouldn’t want to suggest for one minute that this was a contributory factor – I can’t think why it would be…
The least I could do was tell Liam that I would go to race control and urge them to let us out to complete our practice laps. We’d not passed the line once! Gladly, Willie Woods (I think on the basis that I dropped Liam’s name into the conversation) was very amiable, and urged us to get back to the end of the pitlane ASAP.
I ran down the control tower stairs, told Liam we had another chance and to get moving. I jumped back in the car, and within 5 minutes we were both back at the end of the pitlane waiting to go out. I urged the lady who controls access to the track to let Liam go out first and heard her inform him of my wishes. I reckon he probably guessed why…
The day got better – I’ll follow up later with that. But figured my first contretemps with Mr Doran was unfortunate enough to labour on! To his credit, he asked me how things were going later when he was up and running and we’d done a few heats. He was clearly more relaxed with the car seemingly sorted, and he’d already driven some storming races, with one particularly spectacular first lap.
I know this, because I had a great view of him coming past me and several of the others…!