My grid positions for the heats suited me fine. They are drawn randomly, and I was at the back for the first heat which gave me race time to regain my composure on track and get some neat laps back under my belt.
I still pushed and my lap times went down by a second a lap – both in heat one and two. In heat two, I started on pole, and although I made a good start, Chris Mullen was past me by the first corner in a straight drag race. The problem with the swifts is that they’re so closely matched that if one gets ahead, you can quickly find a stream of them line astern. That certainly happened in that heat and coming out of the first chicane I was last!! That’s got to be a record!!
Looking back, I believe there were two reasons. One was simply that being on the inside of the chicane at the end of the first corner, having lost the advantage of pole, everyone just piled around the outside. Not wanting to lose my front bumper or worse, I felt that discretion was the better part of valour. Additionally, I still subconsciously feel my true position is somewhere towards the back. That’s my biggest mental weakness at the moment, but I know it so it’s something I have to work on.
The second reason was simply being overtaken! Mr Doran came from the back out of nowhere into the first chicane, right round the outside of everyone! I’m not sure he actually made the first part of the chicane and took a couple of the others with him. So I’ll take the moral high ground and say that I took the corner – but ended up plum last.
I was much happier in the second heat, and kept Kris more honest, only losing about a second a lap to him and, as I say, continued to improve my lap times. Next target became to get under the minute lap before the end of the day.
Heat 3 arrived. I started from the outside of the front row, to the left of Kris. I lost places at the start, but ended up on the back straight with both Aidan and Kris still behind me.
By the end of the first lap I had Aidan right up my chuff on the gravel, but I certainly didn’t give way. Into the first corner again, I was certainly gaining confidence with only a slight lift on the way in before powering through. That little lift is all the lost momentum you need in the same cars, and Aidan carried more speed down to the first chicane.
He pulled alongside into the braking area, and he made it a neat move, even giving me a cars width through the chicane and not slamming the door. What a young gentleman. Again I was pleased to have judged the close action and continue to fight on.
The next fight I knew was coming – from Kris. I kept my cool, and actually my lap times dropped slightly. I desperately wanted to maintain my position and beat someone for the first time on merit. We’d started alongside each other remember.
Sure enough, I kept calm, didn’t need to go as far as blocking, but kept to my lines. There was no way he’d get me, and although he closed into the braking areas and peered menacingly through the dust into my rearview mirror, I crossed the line ahead! My first real racing breakthrough!!
I returned to the pits and climbed from the car. Standing in the driver’s foot well, I spouted at the first person I saw – reigning Swift champion Chris Mullen.
“I didn’t come last!!” I yelled and banged the roof of the car like I’d won a championship! He smiled seeing how much it meant to me, but in the grand scheme of things he’s aiming slightly higher at the moment.
I was made up, cloud nine, reinvigorated that I can make it in racing. The morning’s mishap paled to insignificance and I went straight to Kris to compare notes and enjoy the moment. Of course, he was full of excuses as a racing driver would be! But I didn’t care – either way we’d both finished and I’d finished ahead. I was very proud of myself and Kris commended my composure and lines under the pressure with my limited race experience.
Sarah recorded the heat on video, and my son Isaac clearly says at the end:
“That was his best race ever!” The importance of that finish wasn’t lost on my 7 year old and at last I feel he may believe we can make it past some of the others, in time. He’s just very impatient, like me. He has, I think, come to terms with me running nearer the back than he’d have liked!
Now all I needed was that sub-minute lap so I was on the same page as the leaders. Dr Strugnell was a guest of the Swifts again this weekend, and we caught up at numerous points during the day. He pointed out there were some key areas I was visibly slower than the other cars and those were clearly the areas I concentrated on. Foot down on the straights is foot down on the straights, and I was doing that. It was that pesky chicane I’d spun at in the morning that I was losing most in – the perils of lost confidence.
The final arrived, and I duly lined up at the back following the aggregated heat positions. Again, the amazing feeling of holding the car and launching when the green light comes on wasn’t lost on me. The 5 second board adds ten times that to your heart rate, and the tension is palpable. Simply a feeling I will never forget.
Getting to the first corner all closely bunched, I dropped in at the back and was pleased to see no rolling antics like last time from anyone. Following Kris down the back straight was literally that – following him! All I could make out in the dust of the other cars was the beacon of yellow I held onto with very little peripheral vision to know where I was.
Of course, your braking points are thrown out of the window in that dust – but again that’s a rallycross skill which I intend to master in time. I used Kris as a visual aid and followed him round the first lap a couple of seconds adrift.
So then I concentrated on my race and getting clean, quick times in. I didn’t lose too much at all to Kris over the race of 4 laps. On lap 3, the tyre wall had clearly had a smack and it turned out to be Chris Mullen who’d pitched it inside Graham Rodemark and tried to abort at the last minute.
Chris continued to finish second, but Phil Sherwood was following behind and clobbered the displaced, conveyor belts wrapped tyre stack. He would retire. Hero with his first win in rallycross in heat 3. Zero in the final. That’s motorsport for you – all that prep, practice and consistency wiped out by a chance incident.
I’d inherited one position, but there was no way I was going to catch and pass Kris. We are both learning and moving forward so he was out of reach. I crossed the line at full tilt, and again felt the elation of a race day complete. In more or less one piece, some key improvements made and important lessons learned.
It transpired that Chris Mullen’s car failed scrutineering, so Aidan was promoted to 3rd on his return to rallycross, behind Graham and Tristan Ovenden. What a return after nearly a year away for him.
As we waited for the presentations and got Maud loaded onto the trailer, Sarah walked towards me with a “high five” hand in the air.
“Did I do under the minute?” I asked.
“Hell yeah!” she replied as our hands met.
00:59.296 to be precise.