Lydden Hill is less than 10 miles from my front door. So the weekend was always going to be a bit less stressful from a logistics perspective. We got Maud loaded on the trailer in the rain of Saturday afternoon and my son Isaac and I went over to drop off the car, trailer and unload tools. I also wanted to get signed on and walk the track – for the first time ever – at the earliest opportunity. Two heats were to be run on the Sunday afternoon, with the third heat and final interspliced with Drift championship action on the Monday.
We headed out on track to check out the track surface, where it was breaking up, where the water was lying, where the stable ground was under the gravel. For the first time, I was able to appreciate the makeup of Lydden Hill through the soles of my shoes, and check out the merits and perils of different lines. Isaac was clearly excited about walking the track and took to the Joker section; very apt. I decided to face my nemisis and take on Chesson’s Drift. Worse case scenario would be a stumble and grazed knee, surely. I’ve wanted to understand that corner more than any other and I was keen to put the past to bed.
The entry is actually quite straight, if loose. Earlier in the year, I was braking on the track/concrete approach to the gravel because of my complete lack of confidence. This time, I wanted to put the loose tuition I’d had with Graham Strugnell at Silverstone to good use and attack that corner. It was clear that braking has to be done on the loose, and to ensure you’ve slowed enough to turn in and catch the single lane of tarmac on the inside of the corner so you don’t lose seconds scrabbling around in the gravel around the outside and momentum for the whole back straight.
I had a quiet word with the tyre barrier which tipped me over in February as I strolled past, even checking for a fleck of orange paint. There was obviously nothing there; a distant memory in motorsport. That summed up my mental approach from then on. That was history and I needed to move on.
Walking the rest of the track, the other thing which surprised me was the incline of Hairy Hill. This made it clear that maintaining momentum around Devil’s Elbow was critical, and that braking for the North Bend hairpin could be left impossibly late. I got signed on and we headed home.
It was a lunchtime start on Sunday, so there was no mad rush over to the circuit. I was still there early to ensure the car was scrutineered, and Kris, Master Strugnell and I took a race day walk of the track. Even though it had rained heavily overnight, the track was clearly draining well and with the forecast being improving sunshine for Sunday and Monday, sludge of the type we had in March wouldn’t be a problem. Dust might be.
We headed out for practice at late lunchtime, carrying out three increasingly fast laps checking lines and grip level. On cold tyres, it was still very slippery, but I was happy with the setup and conditions, also checking out the Joker section. I tend to find practice a little trickier than the races at the moment, because you can’t gauge your speed against more experienced driver’s very easily. None the less, uneventful practice was what I needed.
Unfortunately, Phil Sherwood blew a camshaft during practice, and that was his weekend over. A long trip and high expectations dashed, but he took it in his usual “these things happen” pragmatic way, packed up and headed off. I’m sure he was upset to be leaving, but there really wasn’t going to be a quick solution to see him back in action.
The first heat saw me start from the back of the grid. Alongside me was Graham Rodemark, and we would start next to each other in each of the heats. I figured that was a good place to be, enabling me to observe and try to keep pace with him, the championship leader.
I made a good start and with two or three drivers taking to the Joker section, I was third into the first corner with Graham behind me, Baggsy ahead of me and Tristan up front. I hassled Baggsy down the back straight, much to his surprise he laughed with me later, but didn’t have the speed or confidence to try a move on him.
I think it was another lap before Graham came past me into Devil’s Elbow, and after the Jokers had played out, I ended up behind Tristan, Graham, Baggsy and Kris. He was hassling Baggsy, and I was keeping a watching brief behind, keen not to get tangled in any hot-headed moves but close enough to capitalise. However, through the dust of the back straight on the last lap, I could see Buttsy coming at me. Up the hill on the approach to the hairpin, he made clear his intentions and came up the inside of me. I took my line and we rubbed, me assisting him with his corner from the outside. I got a lovely grind of black wheel and tyre down my driver’s side, and lost a section of my drivers door, later to be found lodged in a panel gap of Buttsy’s car!
Unfortunately, we’d both caught up with the battling Baggsy and Fruru, who were slow on the exit of the hairpin. In the chaos, I think it was me who nerfed Kris into a spin while he was at the limit of adhesion, and Buttsy went into his side. Kris spun to the inside of the track with rear suspension damage, and the two Monsters were ahead. Kris recovered to finish 6th behind me, but the net result meant I was 5th!
That set the scene for the weekend, beating returning Swift driver from 2010, Richard Elliot, convincingly in all the heats. The elation of “not coming last” at Mallory now seemed to be something I expected. It was clear that Kris and I were evenly matched, and the heats were a ding-dong between us. We didn’t have any close battles ourselves, but had the Monsters to play with.
Heat two saw me get an equally good start. Kris and I settled into some more playtime with the Monsters, behind the battling duo of Tristan and Graham. On the last lap, the leaders took their Joker, but Graham mis-judged a dive up the inside, sending Tristan into a spin with a broken driveshaft and Graham with bent front swing arm. With Baggsy and I taking our Jokers on the last lap, we picked through the carnage to find Kris in the lead with Buttsy behind. Baggsy slotted in between them on the exit of Chesson’s, and I tagged onto the back of all three.
Kris had reacted to the incident in heat one by putting in a storming performance and won the heat, closely followed by Baggsy, Buttsy and me all within two seconds of each other. A 4th place finish! I had been right in contention in terms of time, if not track position, with the ultimate winner! Clearly if Tristan and Graham had finished I’d have been 6th, but that’s racing. My confidence took another leap forward.
I’d already beaten Kris in heat one, and felt that given some luck and track position, the Monsters were mine as well. Who did that leave? Just Tristan and Graham. My objective at the end of Sunday was, in all seriousness, to get 3rd place. There was no reason it couldn’t happen given my laptimes. I’d just made some small but costly mistakes and been caught up in other battles. If the cards fell my way, there was no reason I couldn’t lead home the chasing pack come Monday afternoon.