The long summer break finally came to an end on the last weekend of July. The urge to get back behind the wheel from the drivers was palpable all over social media the preceding two weeks, building to a crescendo.
We finally arrived at Pembrey circuit near Llanelli in South Wales in the early evening of the Saturday with the whole family in tow. After reversing off the trailer and taking out the trailer light, I hoped that was the only mishap of the weekend.
While I toiled getting the car sorted, trailer parked, light fixed and last minute jobs to ready the car, the Wife was off bantering with other drivers, beer in hand. Before we left the circuit, we all walked the track; my wife, two small children and I. Rallycross truly is a family inclusive sport and I love the fact my kids are so interested and keen to help.
Staying in Llanelli – a good 15 minute drive away – we headed off for a late beer and burger, then got off to bed. Having been travelling for 2 days with a stop-over at some friends in Oxford, I was bushed after a late night the night before. I opted for bath, tea and bed.
Up early on race day, we were back at the track and I was fairly chilled. There were some new faces in the Swift camp I was keen to meet and size up. First was Dave Ellis, moving from the Hot Hatch class. Also competing in his first ever rallycross race was young Nathan Heathcote, driving the Green Meany car under the wing of one Mr Rodemark. Both were excited and relishing the action to come.
With a nine car entry, we were split into two race heats, where again, track position is mildly irrelevant. Race time would decide the points for each heat and ultimately the grid positions for the final. The usual suspects of Tristan, Chris and Graham were again the ones to beat, but Darren Scott had jumped back into his Swift and was ready to pounce on any slips from the leading three.
Heat one saw me lose out to Chris, but take the battle to Dave Ellis, passing him going into lap 2. Towards the end of the race the car started to sound very loud, and I just hoped it was the back box that had come adrift and was still attached – not deposited in the Welsh countryside somewhere.
Heat two I had Tristan blast me off the line, and I spent the race hanging onto his coattails. I was happy to have the 3rd fastest heat time once the times were in, with Tristan quickest, and me splitting – in time at least – Graham and Chris. They had raced each other hard in their heat and were literally half a second apart. I was the fag paper!
Heat three I again ended up just off the sharp end, following a battle between Darren Scott and Jack Brown. They were nose to tail and eventually Darren took his chance when Jack made a small mistake. The net result was both of them off track and me netting another second place, but well off the winner – one Nathan Heathcote! His car had mechanical gremlins after the first heat, and Graham loaned him his car for the remainder of the heats.
Nathan had made a great start, stayed out of trouble and pulled away from the fighting pack behind. That’s some achievement at his first rallycross race, and hats off to that man. Unfamiliar car, level playing field, but spanked us all on track. Well played, good skills. Come the final Nathan would unfortunately have to sit it out while Mr Rodemark took the helm of his championship revival bid.
So in the final, I lined up a quality fourth which I was pretty happy about, even though it was clear I didn’t have the pace of the leading three. I’d had strong heat results and my times were nearing competitive. Even though Graham popped his head over my door pre-grid to suggest a podium might be on the cards, I knew that was still a tall order today.
Into the first corner, I was always going to be wary of T-boning or running into the back of other people, as I’d done a couple of times to Kris Fruru in 2013. Close up to the Armco, I had one of the tightest lines into the first corner, and in retrospect it made me over-cautious.
Jack Brown, behind me, got a great start, and him and Darren were outside me into the first corner. With a wider line and better run out, they both nailed me up the following straight, although I did try to hang it out around the outside of Jack on the way onto the gravel. So at the end of lap one I was sixth, and hassling Jack for fifth.
With no joker lap, the rest of the race was simply spent pushing as hard as possible, hoping for Jack to make a mistake, run wide and leave me room. On lap 3 he did drift wide at the gravel hairpin, and I sensed my chance, getting right up behind him. Through the next corner, I was pushing him round because I had more momentum but couldn’t then maintain that up the inside onto the gravel so the status quo continued.
As it turned out, my already bent bumper beam (the steel work behind the front bumper) had finally split and bent back into the radiator. Fortunately there was no chance I was going to drain the coolant in one more lap, even if I’d known. I continued to push Jack, but ended up crossing the line sixth.
With the competition as fierce as I expected, I wasn’t too disappointed, although for Jack to beat me for the first time was a bit of a bitter pill. Especially since I had started the weekend wanting to take the fight to the front three.
But hey. That’s racing, and on the day it either all comes together, all falls apart, or is fairly uneventful. This one was fairly uneventful but my confidence and ability to push earlier in the day was getting stronger.
So to the long journey of reflection home. We’d intended to drive all the way home to south east Kent on the Sunday night, but after crossing the Severn estuary, it was clear I was going to struggle to stay awake with my precious cargo aboard. My family that is!
We opted for a Holiday Inn express, a few beers and family meal together. Much better than a motorway service station and grumpy passengers into the early hours. Meanwhile, Maud bled the last of her coolant out in the car park.
The last few weeks since Pembrey has been another mechanical adventure. Sourcing the replacement parts to fix up Maud and a bit more fibreglass repair to put some strength back into the front bumper. All in a days work in rallycross!
Looking to Lydden this weekend, I’ve got a lot to live up to. My home race, where I won my first trophy back in March. At time of writing, there is a 12 car starting line up for the Swifts and I’ve got it all to do again. But I have to forget the others, concentrate on my game, my approach, my preparation. Come race day, I have to put it all together and feel I could not have done more – regardless of the outcome. That is all I want from my racing.
So who’s going to join us all for another amazing day of racing at Lydden Hill? If the sun shines (or not), there is no better place to be with your family for a picnic and excitement than an August Bank Holiday in South East Kent. You need to be there!