The past few months have been completely manic. Since Lydden, I just haven’t stopped, and the time to update the blog simply hasn’t been available. So this is my very late update from the second round to be held at Lydden this year on 25th August.
Before the race, I’d sourced a replacement radiator and bumper beam following contact in the final at Pembrey with Jack Brown. I’d had a run on him following a mistake and nerfed him around a corner from the rear at my expense. The already-bent bumper beam from it’s former life on the road finally gave up and caved into the already gravel-smashed radiator. A couple of repairs I didn’t really mind making to improve the car. A bit of bumper fibreglass work, filler and touch up paint finished the job and I was ready for Lydden.
Amazingly, the company I work for, Access UK Ltd, offered me some sponsorship for the final three rounds of the championship! Elated to get their name on the car at last, I ordered some Access and #thisisaccess logos from Absolute Graphix near Lydden and got them emblazoned the car. It was a great feeling launching the new look on FaceBook just before the Lydden event, just 7 miles from our Canterbury office.
I also took the opportunity to get my wonderful wife’s dance company logo on the car. It has conjoured all sorts of questions about who my sponsors are! But she works extremely hard as a Zumba and Bokwa instructor, and if it weren’t for her I simply wouldn’t be racing. Finally, I showed on the car in a small way how grateful I am for her support.
The weather forecast for the Sunday was bleak. Rain was due to set in and get persistently worse through the day. Generally, the drivers and mechanics don’t care – we get on with it and very often the racing is more spectacular as people find the limits sooner and more frequently than in the dry! It does weed out the die-hard spectators who remain trackside whilst others take refuge in their cars. But the beauty of Lydden Hill is that the vantage points to watch the action are just as good in the car park!
There was a full grid of Swifts for this round, including newbies and class-switchers. Twelve drivers made the quest for another podium seem impossible, but that was how I approached the weekend. I just had to have the balls, commitment and mechanical reliability to pull it all together.
In heat one, I simply felt a little off the pace, and ended up with a heat time in the middle of the pack. Clearly, my confidence in the wet was lower than in the dry, but I saw this as a wake up call that I’d really need to pull my finger out.
Heat two was even worse. Leaving the line on pole, I seemed to have a good start, but Dave Ellis on the outside of the front row shot around the outside of everyone into Chesson’s. On the entry to Chesson’s, a puddle two thirds the width of the track, and the length of a car dominated the corner entry. Dave splashed merrily into it, sending a sheet of brown doom over my windscreen and leaving me scrabbling for the windscreen washer jet switch. It was too late.
I simply couldn’t get the screen clear and was petrified of piling into the side of Dave if I didn’t turn in, or hitting the massive heavy bollards on the inside if I turned in too early. I opted simply to come off the gas, head straight, hope the screen cleared and that no one clobbered me from behind. But they did.
Tristan had nowhere to go, and could clearly see around Chesson’s. Afterwards, he said he was willing me to turn in but clearly he didn’t know I simply couldn’t see. As a result of my slowness, he rammed me up the rear, sending me into a spin and scrabbling for first gear. Damn it – from pole to the back in one corner. Another lesson learned: when it’s raining on the start grid, light up the washers.
As I pushed on the subsequent laps to catch and overtake at least one backmarker, it was too little too late. And to top it off, I took the final chicane on the final lap too hot, and spun, coming to a halt backwards just before the finish line. It yielded some great photos of the car sideways, but by the time I’d righted myself, the place gained was lost again. I ended heat 2 with a 9th place out of 12. Today was not going well…
Heat 3 was again a lacklustre performance. Nothing went wrong particularly, I just didn’t hook up. I returned to the pits, and something was wrong. The engine was dying, and I coasted to a halt at the jet wash. Having cleaned the car in the peeing rain alone again, I jumped back in the car and struggled to start it, needing significant throttle to keep the engine alive.
Returning to the paddock, the engine died again and I jumped out to call for help. I approached the man I knew almost certain would have ideas about the problem, Dr Rodemark. I explained the problem to Graham, and his instant diagnosis was “check the alternator belt”. Opening the bonnet, I broke into immediate chuckles of disbelief.
“Ha! Yeah, it’s the alternator belt!”. It was in shreds, and hanging off the water pump pulley wheel. Graham instantly, without hesitation or consideration for his own final preparation, said that if I located a replacement, he would fit it.
I didn’t need telling twice, and hastly travelled the Swift paddock in search of a spare belt. Pete came to the rescue with a brand new, bagged belt, and I breathed at least one sigh of relief. Graham then proceeded to spend 20 minutes with his arms in Maud, methodically replacing the belt and re-tensioning it with very little room to manouevre in the engine bay. Although I was only due to start the B-final, he ensured my day was not done. We would ride the Lydden puddles again.
Fastest of the non-A finalist, I started from pole for the B-final. Having had bad luck from the same position earlier in the day, my confidence in reaching the A-final by winning the B was low. I was full of self-doubt. But while sat on the dummy grid, I had Guy Pettit and Mr Graham Strugnell stick their heads in to reassure me. Guy’s words were matter-of-fact.
“You are quicker than these guys. They are all new. You have the experience. Just go out there, lead the race, finish first, and get into the A-final”.
He made it sound so simple – and I completely believed him. I just had to go out and do it. No “ifs”, no “buts”, no excuse, no problem. In the race, I never looked back. From pole, with my washers on full, I reached the first corner first. Watching it back, I had close attention from one of the Peter Gwynne cars on the exit of Chesson’s, but I simply worry as I took my calm approach to leading the way. I ran my race, took my lines, and pulled away.
Like my podium in the distant past of March, I was elated to cross the line first, safe in the knowledge I’d done enough to reach the A-final!! I couldn’t believe it – but at the same time my self-belief took a leap forward. Below is the only good onboard footage I got from the whole day. What could we do from there???
After a short trip back to the paddock for fuel, I was back in the car and out on the dummy grid to line up at the back of the A-final. As a result of being last out of the dummy grid, the television coverage panned my car, giving my new Access sponsors a full side shot for a good 5 seconds. With warm tyres and brakes, and a fresh knowledge of the current track conditions, I felt I had a chance to move forward in the race. And whilst no one expected the carnage that followed, I managed to navigate my way into a competitive position.
As the lights went out, Graham clearly had a poor start from the outside of the front row and I closed on him quickly. With a track full of cars to the right, I had no option but to mount the grass, try to keep it pointing in the right direction and head down to the joker. All around me I could tell there was more going on that my grass-tracking. I heard a couple of collisions, but simply concentrated on getting into that joker as quickly as possibly – and back on the track.
As it turned out, Tristan lead Dave Ellis and Darren Scott into the first corner, and I emerged from the joker in fourth! I knew then that Graham, Jack Brown, Martin Hawkes and 2012 champ Chris Mullen has been compromised at the start for one reason or another, so I just cracked on.
After Darren jokered on lap 2, I jumped him and was up to 3rd through Chesson’s. I couldn’t quite believe it, knowing that the two cars in front also had to joker. On lap 3 I ran wide through Chesson’s after hitting the ever-increasing entry puddle, and Darren got through. Somehow, I managed to get good traction, and fought back up the inside of him into the following corner. I tried to keep calm and settle back into the race.
But I made the same mistake on the final lap, and Darren got me again. This time he had the good run out of Chesson’s and I was demoted to 4th but only had myself to blame for making the same mistake twice. You don’t get two chances with someone like Darren.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get the GoPro footage of the A-final because of memory card write problems I’d been suffering all day, but usual Matt Bristow (Rubber Duck Does Photography) got some cracking shots throughout a very wet afternoon of rallycross action.
So we packed up overall a little disappointed not to come away with some silverware. I had to remind myself that given the mediocre heats, winning the B final and finishing 4th overall was a solid result, all told.
The weather was really setting in towards the end of the day, but at least it’s not a massive journey home. I reflected on what could have been, running 3rd going into the final lap, but then moved on. Focus shifted swiftly to Croft, the penultimate round of the Swift Championship in October. I still had chance to finish 2014 on a high!!