Amazingly for me, the journey to Cadwell Park was completely hassle-free. The caravan had a new electric hook-up which fitted ever so smoothly, and away I went. Around than four hours later, I was set up and ready to eat.
Walking the circuit came first, which really did confirm just how narrow the track is. It didn’t look possible to drive any car, including our tiny Caterhams, around this circuit. I knew it was possible as I had raced here previously, but how?
It was good to meet the staff of GRS, especially Steve Foster who was returning after an illness. Also present was Brian, a neighbour of Peter Godfrey, who had come along to help out.
I like to use the first session cautiously by nearly doubling the expected braking distance and slowly honing in. After all, if I brake at where I think is the correct point and find myself to be over-ambitious, I may have no further sessions. There are some corners at Cadwell Park where I really do not want to brake too late.
I was soon up to speed and felt that I was on the pace. A car appeared in my rear-view mirror and closed on me fast. I was shocked to see that it was Robin Webb. Once he passed me, I clung on and was barely able to keep up. Comparing my lap times later, I realised I was almost 1.5 seconds quicker when behind Robin, but he still pulled away. My Pembrey win was suddenly receding.
For the second session, I was much faster and didn’t understand why. I must have just honed the turn-in and apex points, as these really do improve exit speed, especially at this very technical circuit. By now I was no longer breaking for the Goose Neck, merely lifting on approach. Doing this, the turn-in had to be very precise or I would be on the grass on exit. By now, Robin was having engine problems that would curtail his day of testing. At least he would be able to take part in qualifying and the races, but I suspect that he still had issues as he was sadly well off the pace.
Like Pembrey, I tried to be at the Assembly area very early for every session and succeeded. Whilst I was first in the queue every time, this wasn’t the main plan; I just wanted plenty of time to settle, relax and be calm. This worked a treat and I was able to concentrate on improving every corner. At one point I found myself closing on Cadwell Park specialist Matthew Willoughby, which was very pleasing, especially when he had a harmless spin just in front of me. He wasn’t pleased to discover such an unreliable witness as me. My speed compared with Matthew was promising and so I was now looking forward to an interesting race weekend.
My last session was short. Chris Savage had just passed me and I tagged on behind him; rounding Charlies I had to back off as I was a little more committed than him. Almost immediately afterwards, my throttle-cable snapped and so, next time round, Chris saw me parked by the marshal’s post at the end of Park Straight. This also caused a red-flag, but at least everybody was able to get out again. Chris came over after the session to see if he had anything to apologise about, which was very thoughtful. I did explain that, as I was behind, any issues would have been all my responsibility.
Saturday – Qualifying
I wasn’t first into the Assembly Area! Never mind, I was at least right behind Matthew, so I was expecting a good tow. Waiting to go, we were split into two queues; one for the SigMax class and the other for the Classic, with the faster class being released first. This was very sensible as it allowed a decent segregation of the two classes that contained such an extreme speed difference. Matthew did not start out too quickly and so I soon drove by, as I could see both Mark Carter and Graeme Smith ahead, both who I expected to provide a good tow.
I did catch them and passed Mark, which helped me towards a decent lap, but I lost time after catching Graeme. At one point, having dropped back at little on the way to The Mountain, Mark challenged to pass me. As I wanted to use the gap to Graeme I defended through this section and stayed right towards the wriggles (alright, Hall Bends), whereupon Mark pulled alongside. I thought he must be practising a move for the race, so I was happy to practise my defence; anyway, I didn’t feel that there was space to give and it seemed safe enough. Only afterwards did I learn the Mark went onto the grass, though by how far I didn’t ask.
On examining my times, I had set a personal best of the weekend and so was satisfied to have qualified second on the grid for Race One. Mark Carter was only just behind, so I was surprised to see that my second-fastest time, over 0.9 seconds slower, also put me second on the grid for Race Two. Matthew Willoughby set two very close times to give himself pole in both races. Robin Webb, still struggling with engine issues, and Graeme Smith were a few places back.
Saturday – Race One
Earlier in the day, those drivers who had never previously competed at this circuit went, as is usual practise, to a New Driver Briefing. There, they were told that there would be no green-flag lap. Nobody else was told! The three new drivers on the Classic grid were all told, but none of the rest of the drivers. Of course, being relatively new and inexperienced drivers, they never thought of telling the rest of us. Why would they not assume that we all had that information?
Another thing to know about Cadwell Park is that it is very narrow. So much so, that making places at the start of the race is a high-risk activity. I did it the last time that I raced at the circuit, although how, I wasn’t sure.
New drivers are less experienced and therefore, usually, a little slower and so would be expected to qualify towards the back of the grid, and that is exactly what happened for this race. Lining up, second on the grid, I stopped a little before my grid-spot to allow myself to lay down some rubber as the green-flag lap started. Slightly out of vision without turning my head, which was not a problem, I noticed a 5-second board being shown. I haven’t realised that this was not the 30-second board that usually precedes the waving of the flag and was still in neutral when Matthew took off. Where was the waved green flag? This was no problem as I was going to wait until Matthew moved before I did to ensure that I did not pass him. I did not expect Graeme Smith to go past.
What I had not noticed, because it was mostly hidden by my rear-view camera and I wasn’t looking in that direction, was the red lights coming on and then going out. Anyway, I took off just as Mark Carter drove by, with Mark then slowing to let me re-pass. Graeme set of at a stonking pace, with Matthew desperately trying to keep up. I was trying not to drive too fast, whilst staying in contact; I did not want to get into trouble by the stewards; it looked like Graeme was. What was he playing at? Had I forgotten or not read something important? But green flags were being waved all the way round the circuit. Actually the last green flag was waved at Mansfield.
Rounding Barn to end our ‘green-flag’ lap, there were no marshals waiting to line us up and so the race was now on.
Because of the starting fiasco, Graeme and Matthew had a large gap on me, I was well ahead of Mark Carter and he held a large gap to the next car. At the end of the opening lap!
I was just within distance to keep at least a small draft and so was able to keep up with the two leaders. Along Park Straight, Matthew pulled out to pass Graeme and I was worried that they would pull themselves away from me. Two laps later, Graeme re-took the lead at the same point, with me not much closer. Matthew then made a bold pass into The Mountain, slowing them both slightly and allowing me to reduce the gap.
Graeme again took the lead at the end of Park Straight and this time I was close enough to make a challenge. I had already noticed that I was much stronger than Graeme through Gooseneck and so was able to challenge Matthew on the exit. He moved to the left to protect the line towards Mansfield, allowing me to drive around the outside of the corner, my slightly better traction putting me ahead as we approached The Mountain. Matthew, at this early stage of the race, put up no resistance.
We held these top three positions for a few laps until, coming out of Barn, I made a very good exit and got a good run on Graeme. For some reason I decided that Graeme was going to defend by moving to the left. Why I made that decision I do not know. I remember a slight movement to the left by Graeme just as I was making my decision, but on subsequently watching the footage I do not see any such movement. Anyway, I moved to the right to pass and was now half on the grass and committed. I should have instantly backed off but expected space to be given; something I felt that I and other competitors would have done. That expectation committed me even further. By this point I knew that a pass would not be achieved and was just doing as little as possible to upset the car. During this time Graeme did nothing wrong. Anyway, we touched, after which my car became a little wayward and Matthew passed my along Park Straight.
The car’s handling seemed to return, but I was not able to challenge Matthew. After another couple of laps, entering Barn, my car got sideways and I spun backwards into the tyre-wall, with the front end swinging round and hitting hard enough for the car to roll back onto the track, stalled. I re-started the car and gingerly applied throttle. Pulling away I felt nothing amiss and so decided to see if I could continue. Everything seemed alright and so I upped the pace. I had the track to myself, as earlier Mark Carter had spun in such a way that the cars behind him came to a near-stop in avoidance, allowing Mark to continue to a fourth-place finish.
I finished in third, a much higher position than I had originally hoped for.
The race actually ended in as much of a farce as it had begun. Matthew had planned to hold station behind Graeme as they passed the Start/Finish line to start the last lap, but instead the chequered flag was wave. Graeme crossed the line to win after 19 minutes and 58 seconds, whereas our rules state that the race should last for twenty minutes plus one lap. In other words, we finished two laps early (two seconds later would have been twenty minutes, with that lap having to be completed before the ‘plus one second’ rule).
Graeme wasn’t pleased with me, but at least I had the courtesy to apologise. Really though, not doing a stupid move would have been preferred. If I want to finish in the top three of the championship, I cannot afford to make any more mistakes.
Graeme and I were called to the Clerk of the Course to discuss the move. Robin Webb joined us in order to question the starting fiasco. The crux of Robin’s argument was that, should the same incident occur again, with some drivers remaining stationary as the red lights go out, drivers will have no choice to have a red-blooded racing start, regardless of whether marshals are still on-circuit. He felt that the best way to deal with the situation was to declare the race void, so that it did not count for points, nor count as a dropped score. Despite strengthening my tenuous hold in the championship top-three, I had to agree as safety comes first, especially for the marshals.
My collision with Graeme was then discussed and was thankfully resolved as a silly racing incident, but the clerk did tell me that he didn’t want to see me again. Oh dear…
Sunday – Race 2
Friends from Hull arrived shortly before lunch. Mike, I had known from my student days at Teesside Polytechnic; Elspeth and Norman I know through Mike. It was good to see them all, especially Elspeth and Norman after too long an absence. Elspeth was limited at this hilly circuit, as she is limited to her mobility scooter which refused to climb the slopes.
This time, everybody knew that there would be no green-flag lap. I still fluffed my start. I was craning over my rear-view mirror, trying to see as much of the red light as possible to improve my reaction – the great the surface area of a colour-change, the better the reaction time. My reactions were fine; I just spun the wheels and dropped to third, while Graeme shot into second place, behind Matthew. Graeme then drafted past Matthew along Park Straight and I pulled out to follow, but decided not to challenge just yet.
At the same spot on the next lap, Matthew challenge but wasn’t alongside Graeme into Park Corner. He then made a mistake into Gooseneck and went grass-tracking on the exit. I tried to challenge, but was just a little too far back and so Matthew maintained his place. This did slow me enough to allow Mark Carter to attack and pass me around the outside on the entry into the Mountain. A couple of laps later, Mark was slow into the Mountain so I went to the left on the entry, to try and pass going up the hill. He didn’t give me as much room as I expected to have and had to take to the grass, slowing me down enough for Robin Webb to pass up the hill.
One lap later I showed that I had learnt, by copying Mark’s pass and driving round the outside of Robin on the entry to the Mountain. On the following Lap I tried to pass Mark along Park Straight, but had to back out going into Park Corner. Exiting Mansfield, Mark was slow and so I pulled alongside, where we then had a drag race to the Mountain. Mark had already gone round the outside of me here, so I left my braking very late, had a little wobble before turning in for the run up the Mountain, ahead of Mark. Mark punted me into a spin and I lost six places before I could even set off back down The Mountain, turn round and set off.
Had my pass been successful, and had I driven away from Mark, I would have proceeded to have a very lonely race, as the top two where now too far ahead to catch. Instead I had to drive as hard as possible to minimise the damage to my championship position. Still, after what I did yesterday I can’t really complain.
Within a couple of laps I caught up to and passed Matt Carpenter, along Park Straight and then Iain Kinghorn into The Mountain. A couple of laps went by before I then got by Paul Gardner, also by an out-braking move into The Mountain. Trevor Harber was next, not fighting me as I passed through Park Corner. Another pass into The Mountain saw me ahead of Paul Hawker. One lap later I repeated my failed move on Mark Carter, pulling ahead of Robin.
Now on the last lap, only Mark remained to put me back into third place and I was able to pass around the outside of him at Park Corner. That was it. Half a lap later the race was over and my points haul for the weekend was far greater than I had a right to accept.
Matthew Willoughby won the race by passing Graeme Smith along Park Straight on the last lap. Matthew isn’t in contention for the championship as he is not attending too many races, so I am now just three points behind Graeme, in third place. Robin is one point ahead of me. On dropped scores I am still third, two points behind both Graeme and Robin. It’s getting interesting up there and hopefully I’ll still be talking about the points after the next round at Donington Park, a single-race event.
I was sent off to see the clerk of the course again; this time with Mark. A marshal had reported our clash. I said it was just a racing incident but Mark wanted the video to be shown. He felt that the video justified the contact, as he had nowhere to go and didn’t want to be hit from behind.
I didn’t get as much time as I would have liked with my friends, but at least they got to see one of my trophies. I didn’t get my hands on the other until after they had left. Mike commented that he was pleased to actually see me finish a race, something I hadn’t achieved at any of his previous visits.
The debate regarding the starting fiasco ended in a fiasco. The club chairman made enquiries and, as I understand it, the championship steward responded by stating the lack of power to amend Cadwell Park’s results and therefore the results will stand.
A competitor in the race (me for example) could have an appealed to either the championship stewards or the MSA National Court within seven days, at a cost of £450. The likelihood of success would have been low. In other words, in my opinion, the MSA don’t care, or at best are not interested in highlighting safety concerns. If they did, then they would have internal procedures in place to investigate internal failures. For example, if I was involved in a collision in which I felt I was a wronged innocent party, I could put forward the fee to protest the incident after the race. Alternatively, a marshal could record the incident and the clerk of the course could investigate without competitor input or financial deposit. Just like what happened with both of my incidents over the weekend. Without officials being able to investigate without a high cost to competitors, official mistakes will go undetected.