With race number one under my belt there was only two weeks until my second race at Cadwell Park. I believe this is what you call a ‘baptism of fire’?! Like Oulton Park, I have never driven Cadwell Park. I know this is a crime as Cadwell Park is one of the best circuits in the UK for a Caterham and now I have driven it I concur. However, Cadwell Park is very narrow, has significant gradient changes and the formidable ‘Halls Bends’ section which is guarded by trees on both sides. While this makes for a superb track day, the thought of going wheel to wheel in a race was a little intimidating to say the least.
Anyhow, let’s rewind to the week leading up to the race and first take a look a how I prepared. To prepare the car I completed my routine maintenance and spanner check. I have since filmed this process and produced a YouTube ‘How To’ video which has proved to be very popular and I have received lots of kind comments, so I know it’s useful whether for road, track or race.
Not only did the car require preparation, so did I! As mentioned, I have never driven the Cadwell Park circuit, at least not in real life. This is where the simulator steps in knowing the value it provided at Oulton Park, I put many hours of practice in ahead of the race. Tuesday evenings before each of the calendarised races ‘Caterham Racer’ provides a virtual race of the circuit, with real world Caterham race drivers, driving representations of their real world cars. This gives me the added motivation to put the hours of practice in.
It was a relief to arrive at Cadwell Park late afternoon on the Thursday before the race in wall to wall sunshine, not a cloud in the sky. Little did we know that the weekend was to be the hottest weekend of the year with temperatures well into the 30s. We set up the gazebo, off loaded the car and prepared as much as possible ahead of the early start for testing on Friday morning.
Friday morning soon arrived and before I knew it I was strapped in the car and waiting in the assembly area ready for my first of four test sessions. Heading out on to the track (oddly at Cadwell Park is several corners before the start/finish straight) all seemed so familiar due to the practice I had put in on the simulator, and by the end of the first session I was on to good pace and able to keep up with the mid order pack. As the temperatures increased during the day, the lap times started to decrease because of the loss of power due to the warm air entering the engine, with only 125bhp you can afford to lose any horses!
As I had achieved my target lap times in testing, I felt confident as I started my 15 minute qualifying session on Saturday morning. Now the temperatures were much cooler than the afternoon before, I set a time a full two seconds quicker than my fastest time from testing. This was enough to put me on 15th place on the grid. I was happy with this as only tenths of a second separated me from the rest in the middle of the pack and was confident I would have good race pace.
Following lunch I started to get prepared for my race. My wife and daughter travelled up to the circuit the evening before, this would be the first time they have seen me race. Abi, my daughter sat up on the basket and we made our way down to the assembly area. I have waited a year for this moment and for me is the best moment of the weekend. Abi was so thrilled to be hitching a ride on the back of her dad’s race car, I was so proud.
Leaving the assembly area in grid order we made our way to the grid and temporarily parked in our grid slots before completing our ‘green flag’ formation lap and returning to our grid positions. The starting lights came on and soon after they were off. A good start seen me progress up through the field a couple of positions and going side by side with another car through the first corner ‘Copice’ before finding a gap to get through the next corners ‘Chris’s’. On the decent through ‘Gooseneck’ on the second lap I could see a car in the middle of the road and two others on the grass. I safely picked my way through. This was enough to bring out the safety car. Joining the back of the crocodile I counted back to confirm I was in tenth position. This was our first safety car experience, I was surprised just how alert you need to be, it would be very easy to run into the car in front as the speed is nowhere near constant or predicable! After a few laps I spotted the lights of the safety car extinguish indicating it would come in at the end of the lap. I thought I was close enough to the car in front, but not close enough as it dropped me coming out of the final corner. Behind me is a super guy and driver, Ian Hapgood. Without doubt, Ian was quicker around Cadwell than me, but could I fairly defend my position for the remaining three laps? There are just a few valid opportunities for overtaking at Cadwell unless you make a mistake. I needed to keep it tidy and defend the line.
One overtaking spot is on the long Park Straight and into the right hand corner at the end. My mirrors were full of Ian’s car as we headed down the straight and he had picked up a tow from my car. I stayed right into the braking zone and braked at my usual spot. If Ian was to pass me he would have to go the long way around. There are some drivers I feel totally confident to go wheel to wheel with knowing you will give each other the space you need. Ian is one of those drivers. As we entered the braking zone, I could see Ian out braked himself, I was safe, for now at least. It didn’t take long for Ian to get back on my tail, it was now the last half of the final lap. As we exited ‘Mansfield’, Ian had pulled alongside me as we approached the left hand corner into ‘Mountain’. Again I had positioned my car so Ian would have to go around the outside, this was enough to stay in front, just. All I had to do now was keep it together through “Hall Bends’ and last couple of corners, which I did and tenth place, again, was mine!
Absolutely thrilled to bits with another top ten result and now eight in the championship I couldn’t be happier. Next stop, Thruxton, the fastest circuit in the UK.