What a blistering weekend – on several levels. With temperatures that wouldn’t have seemed out of place on an expensive holiday to the Med, we managed a lot of track time and a lot learned.
Saturday’s free practice was tentative as it was my first time racing at Donington and Simon’s first time there on an F2. On lap 3 the fault light came on (the one we’d seen at Mallory but couldn’t diagnose as the code blinked off too soon) so we whizzed into the pits and were able to identify it as a broken wire feeding the secondary injectors. The FSRA British F2 timed qualifying was superb, with 8 laps completed and a 6sec improvement in lap time. Qualifying position: 28/29.
Club qualifying race was next, where we’d been gridded 5th. A superb start and Simon was chasing hard when a momentary distraction of another sidecar going into the gravel at Coppice meant we followed… and beached ourselves. The marshals did a great job of digging us out after the race but with gravel in the brakes and half a ton in the undertray, quite a bit of cleaning was needed. It did give us a chance to track down an intermittant water leak and fix it though.
Our next race was the 10-lap FSRA British F2 race. A long way back from the lights but Simon had a fantastic start and we were holding our own and did our best to stay with the back of the pack. We had another wild-card team behind us too. Unfortunately we were lapped by the winner moments before the finish line so only completed 9 of the 10 laps, but took another 0.6sec off to 1:24.2 and finished 19/20.
There seemed to be quite a delay before the club race but eventually we were called, and gridded on row 8. Again Simon made a fantastic start and proceeded to munch his way up the field, having a cracking battle with John Saunders (with novice passenger, son James, on the side). With outfits to chase and increased confidence we kept John at bay and crossed the line 8/14 with another improved lap time – this time 1:22.28!
We were both really pleased with the handling and the lap times and ended the day on a high. Sunday was one of those days of racing where it just felt so good to be out on circuit with friends and having a right ding-dong battle. Another hot day but with a slight breeze to make everything a little more bearable. Simon & the wonderful Andy Martin had a quick fettle with the brakes first thing in the morning, changing to super-expensive-whizzy brake fluid, but elected to sit out what we thought would be a very short warm-up session. As it happened it was a reasonable number of laps, and we could have used the track time to get the brake fluid level just right, but hey ho.
The club Qualifying race had us gridded in 5th again with a 7-lap sprint ahead of us. A good start – Simon does enjoy aggressive starts – and we were in the thick of it and battling hard. A few overly-deep moves into corners meant we were swapping places with others the whole way round, but no trip into the gravel and a battle with 37 (Morphet/Halliburton) before we crossed the line 9/14, just ahead of them. The last three laps had been appalling – both Simon and I found ourselves exhausted, with nascent arm pump, dehydrated and fighting the bike. The cause? The front brakes were binding on where the teeny reservoirs couldn’t quite accommodate the new brake fluid after the change. Our best lap time reflected the problem, managing only a 1:24.68, slower than some behind us and only Simon’s late braking and wide outfit keeping them at bay.
We’ve known for a while we need to change to larger brake reservoirs, and a few ml of fluid removed fixed the brake issue – but for the two of us it was several litres of fluid to be added! A quick trip over to see superstar taping and massage saint Sue Hunt, then it was a short break before the start of the British F2 FSRA race. Our target was to complete all 10 laps without being lapped ourselves.
We were gridded back on row 15 after Saturday’s result, and Simon made the most of every inch of the tarmac when the lights went out. It’s safe to say that whilst Simon was on the circuit for the whole run down the start straight, I wasn’t! We made a dash all the way down the outside to Redgates with me over the grass, and stayed with the pack ahead of us comfortably for the next few laps. We could both feel that the tyres were on their last legs, with me needing to use my full body-weight to help steer round Redgates by throwing my leg off the back of the bike to spin us. Huge fun, but not something I’d want to do at every circuit We found the *perfect* line round Coppice – just once – so we knew how that could flow when we got it right, then 3 laps from the end we saw Tony Thirkell ahead, obviously having some difficulty. Simon chased hard, passing then nearly running too deep at Craner Curves and allowing Tony back through, but we managed to squeeze back past again and hold him off to the line. I kept checking behind me, but no sign of the race winners, and we took the chequered flag 23/24 with a best lap of 1:23.14. So great to see Sean Reeves and Mark Wilkes take the win again – congratulations both.
We both felt much better than we had after the club qualifying race, with just the worn tyres being our only real hindrance. Our last race was the penultimate one of the day, being gridded on the 5th row. I can’t actually remember every lap, because it was such close racing. We found that sweet line around Coppice a few more times, but with such little grip and steering it was a case of trying to run a wide outfit to keep others behind us, and make up for lack of grip by going deep into the braking zones. John Saunders evaded us today, taking around 4sec off his lap time to pull a long way ahead. We stayed with Morphet for a while, but were all being tripped up by a relatively slow F1 which baulked a number of good corner moves. For a long time we kept the Morgan brothers behind us, but they slipped past on the last lap, leaving us finishing 8/9 but absolutely beaming. The racing had been so close that it was impossible to be downcast about the end result. Our best lap was a 1:23.10, so although we didn’t get back into the 1:22s, we’d really consolidated our improvement over the weekend and made huge strides on understanding and feeling the bike.
I’d like to say thank you to everyone who was around and supported us over the weekend: Sean & Mark for their company (and paddling pool!), Roisin and Paul for looking after us, the boys for running errands, Andy Martin for being Mechanic Extraordinaire, all our fellow racers for such a great time on track, and all our friends and supporters who popped by over the weekend (especially David, Andy, Alan, Nick and Nancy).
We’re now in a waiting period: while we put in an entry for the Bemsee Brands GP race on 8/9/10 August, we don’t yet know if we have a grid space. We’ll let you know as soon as we do – if we don’t make that weekend our next outing isn’t until September. Which gives us time to save up for new slick tyres.