My first return of 2014 to my favourite short circuit in the UK: Cadwell Park. For Francois it was the first time he’d seen the track, so we were a little frustrated that Auto66 had advertised Saturday as a test day but sidecars had no track time. We spent Saturday prepping the bike and making essential changes from the French specification to the UK spec – this includes the UK requirement for a catch tray, replacing anti-freeze with water, and changing our numbers and background from black on white to white on red. That evening we watched a TT onboard from Nick Crowe (2003) and talked about what would be required at various corners.
Rain overnight on Saturday was not welcome, but our day was brightened immensely by solo racer Mark Ess, who parked up next to us. He arranged for Francois to have two laps in the Course Car before racing started on Sunday, giving Francois a first view of the full circuit and potential lines. The circuit was drying and so our first practice session was on slicks, and gave Francois a chance to work out where we were going.
After the 10-minute session we had a debrief (this usually involves a French dictionary as my technical French is still limited!), then for the second practice we went out with even more confidence. Francois took 10 seconds off our best lap time and we’d qualified in 9th position in the all-F2 field. We had a chat about when and where I should move for some of the braking points, but the whole circuit was starting to flow nicely. The handles on the Shelborne were becoming for intuitive – no more slapping or reaching around looking for something where it wasn’t where I anticipated.
The circuit had dried completely for the first race, but 8 laps seemed daunting and I was determined to do my absolute best. Although we’d talked about more differences between French and English races (no lap count-down, the new-to-him Last Lap flag) and had established it would be a flag start for the warm-up and lights start for the race, Francois was expecting a green light and this nearly scuppered our start. I was fully expecting a jump-start penalty when Francois started to move as the red lights came on, but he caught himself and we set off with the rest of the field. Immediately he settled down to following some of the faster competitors, refining our lines, moving braking points, carrying more speed and improving all the time. From a start of 9th, by the end of lap 1 we were up to 7th and 6th by the end of lap 3.
After a few laps Francois had Dean Kilkenny in his sights and settled down to stalk him. Where Dean was faster than us in some right-handers, Francois had the edge in the lefts. Lap 5 was spent building speed (and was our fastest lap), then on lap 6 Francois made his move, smoothly undertaking Dean and then using the empty tarmac ahead of us to gain a lead. Up into 5th we were making good progress when 4th place was handed to us with the retirement of the Lowther brothers. We crossed the line with a best lap time of 1:50.056 – a 14 second / lap improvement from 1st practice! Dean was less than 2 seconds behind us at the line – excellent close, hard, clean racing.
Unfortunately over lunch the weather closed in. Intermittent rain, hail, and the temperature dropping. After serious thought we decided to stay on slick tyres for race 2, gambling that the damp circuit would dry in the wind up at Park / Chris. Gridded 4th, we found ourselves on the front row when both 1st and 2nd place teams didn’t take the start. We were one of only two teams on slicks, the only team on slicks to finish, and as the rain closed in we had decreasing grip lap on lap. Reduced to 6 laps, we stayed on circuit and eventually crossed the line in 4th place – but were saddened to hear Dean Kilkenny had hit the tyre barrier trying to avoid us after we had a slide out of a corner. Lap times were dreadful, as anticipated.
However, the day had been a huge success: we’d had an opportunity to race on a fast,
flowing circuit together in a variety of conditions. We’d both gained that essential signature for our TT Mountain Course Licences and learned better how to work together. We saw so many familiar and new faces, and would like to say a BIG thank you too to everyone who bought wine and jam from us over the weekend, to add to the coffers. (The wine is fantastic, by the way, I’ll have more available at future meetings – £5.50 a bottle. Delicious.)
My Mountain Course Licence application has gone off in today’s post and all I have to do now is just revise, revise, revise those onboards. Francois’ next outing is at Le Mans for the first round of the French F2 championship with Erika on 5/6 April: I wish them both all the very best for the weekend.