I’m aware this is a late update to my Lydden weekend, but it’s got to be done before we head off to Holland this weekend for Valkenswaard. This post details day one of round 1 of the British Rallycross Championship at Lydden Hill.
I think you could say my ambitions for the first weekend of British Rallycross were high. The East Kent mercury had already run a piece on my desire for silverware. That’s my season aim, and through consistent finishing and looking after the car (mechanically – not necessarily cosmetically) I could go one better than my 4th place in 2013. Why not? I’d be hitting the ground running at Lydden.
I picked Maud up from the body shop the Saturday before round 1. Looking much more aggressive and meaningful, it reflects my mental state approaching the first race.
The rest of the weekend I finished all those other pre-race big jobs. Wheels off, final checks and clean. I also re-sprayed the interior black to bring back that cockpit fresh matt black to the foot well and boot where a year of stuff chucked in the back had left it’s mark. I spent the rest of the evenings in the week tinkering, polishing, applying new stickers on Thursday night before the race.
Friday arrived and I did a half day at work. I got home at late lunchtime, got the car loaded up and headed to Lydden. I settled in between 2012 champ Chris Mullen and 2013 champ Graham Rodemark. Maybe their proximity would give me an edge…? The latter also kindly offered me space in his newly converted removal lorry for my tools. His fitted out truck can carry and accommodate both him and his mechanic, and his car in the rear. Neat job and something I’d like in time.
I walked the track with Isaac, getting a feel for the damp track in early spring. I felt at home; felt good vibes.
I then had to raise Maud up on stands and get all 4 wheels off and take a trip to Ollie O’Donovan’s truck for 4 new boots to start the season. All I had to do before 9am on race day was retrieve the tyres, refit, set pressures and replace that pesky rear damper which gave up at the test. As well as the usual sign on, get the tickets to the gate for Graham and family, and attend the drivers briefing. All in time for practice at 9:30am!
Saturday, race day one, dawned. A perfect spring morning and just beautiful in the Lydden valley. I cracked on with my jobs, and only got a bit flustered towards the briefing. Everything was OK; I’d even done the rear damper on my own in 10 minutes flat. Mr Rodemark’s ever-helpful friend Kieran helped me apply the sponsor stickers and sun strip (not a one man job) and we were good to go.
I took practice easy at first, settling back into the rhythm and getting the tyres scrubbed and brakes to temperature. I had a couple of laps pushing and practice was over. Time to put the culmination of a winter’s prep – mental, physical and mechanically – to the real test.
Well, heat 1 was a confusing affair. Starting on pole, the lights (aka “Disco lights” according to champ Rodemark) left me and him on the grid convinced of a false start. Everyone else took off and no waved reds appeared. Shit. After 7-10 seconds, Graham made the decision the race wasn’t stopping for anyone and he took off – notably fired up by the situation as he came past me, still stationary. I figured out protest would come after the race and took off after Graham straight into the joker.
The race was just that for us, but we still needed to plea our case to the clerk of the course, Andy Stevens, with video evidence. All the other drivers in the heat wanted the right decision made, and Chris Mullen’s car gave the shot of the lights we needed. There were indeed 2 lots of lights which flashed on and Andy agreed to a re-run. Back to the car, another lesson learnt. Get going – worry about false starts later…
Second time, I got a good start, and actually lead coming out of Chesson’s! Soon Graham was up my inside on the approach to Hairy Hill, and I let him through. I figured my race would be quicker trying to follow him closely and stay ahead of those first-lap jokers. It worked to a degree, with Chris coming through down Hairy Hill on lap 3 before I took my joker. He’d done his and was keen to close on Graham who also jokered on the last lap.
When I came out of the joker section, the usual suspects of Rodemark, Mullen and Ovenden were ahead, but I wasn’t too far adrift. That’s how it finished overall out of the two halfs of heat one. 4th out of 11! I was fairly chuffed with that.
Heat 2 saw me start from the back row of the grid, but was my most effective race ever in terms of overtakes. I’d sliced past three of the six cars by the end of Chesson’s and came out second behind Dale Cousins with one taking the joker. I hunted Dale down for the whole race, waiting for him to make his joker move first. On lap 3 he continued straight on, and I opted for the joker. The hope being to get a clean lap without traffic, he would have to take his joker on the last lap, and I’d pop out ahead.
It worked!! I crossed the line first and took my first chequered flag!! Overall across the 2 race heat, I finished 4th of 11 again, but for me this was a massive achievement and I was just slightly elated.
I received congratulations from numerous people on the way back to the paddock, with my wife Sarah deliriously telling everyone in her path. In the scrutineering bay, Johny Bean was one of the first, genuinely happy for me and so nice to see him. One of the MSA guys had heard Sarah’s raving, stuck his head to say well done and offered his hand to shake mine. I was made up that people knew what a first win means. I was pretty chuffed myself!
Saturday evening I enjoyed a few chilled beers, pondering my performance after day one. Two 4th places out of 11? I couldn’t have wished for more before the weekend. A good position in the A-final was looking possible with another solid heat on Sunday morning. A mistake from one of the top 3, a half spin, poor start or (truly not wishing it) mechanical problem might yet yield that elusive podium.
Calm down Rob. You’ve got a lot to do tomorrow to achieve that. But day one had gone pretty much to plan.