I had been out of work since March, so was relieved to be starting a new contract the Monday following the Donington Park weekend. Even better, I was returning to Bombardier in Derby where I had previously been very happy. For the contract, I booked myself into a caravan site just fifteen minutes from work and, happily for this event, just twenty minutes from Donington Park. Due to the high cost of testing, my plan was to drive from Burnley to the circuit on Friday afternoon where I would spend the night. Saturday was for qualifying and racing, whereas Sunday would be for spectating as I had decided against the non-championship endurance race.
It all went well. By 3pm the caravan was easily hitched up and off I went. An expected 2.5 hour journey to Donington Park became four hours and I arrived much later than ideal, but I was able to set up my ‘home’ alongside the GRS awning, without much issue. I then drove my Mitsubishi Outlander to one of our allocated garages and plugged it into the mains.
The timing was strange, as the Classics timetable had a late qualifying, whereas our race was early. That meant that I was able to have a lazy lie-in, but of course the paddock noise ensured I was awake early. That was a shame, as the karting neighbours had spent the night seemingly preparing for the forthcoming Monsters of Rock festival, only to be out-done by the regularly taking of cargo aircraft directly overhead. The hard rain was actually a relief, suppressing both noises enough to allow the regularity of the rain to encourage sleep.
I didn’t need to test, as I know Donington Park very well. So, off I went behind Graeme Smith, only to be left for dead. I knew the lines all right, and pretty much the braking, turn-in, apex and exit points, but I just wasn’t ‘on it’. I only had fifteen minutes to get ‘on it’ and didn’t really succeed, with only one lap being within half a second of my fastest, and only one other being within a full second. Such levels of inconsistencies did not bode well, so I was surprised to qualify fourth, behind only Graeme, Robin Webb and Paul Hawker. Congratulations went to an improving Matt Carpenter, who out-qualified Mark Carter.
Come lunch time, Jason king turned up as a guest of mine. I have previously worked with Jason at Rolls-Royce and then the same company with the new name of Aero Engine Control (apparently renamed since) and then again at Bombardier. As of the next day, we were reunited as I rejoined Bombardier. Also arriving was another colleague from the first company (or two?), hill-climbing specialist and multi-champion Angus Buchan.
For Donington Park, the Classics were sharing a grid with the Sigmas. The went on the lights and then we waited for the flag. There is only one way to start the race with the flag. That is to display it and then sweep it downwards. Instead, it was waved as though it was the chequered flag. I focus all my energies into one thing, so I was caught out and had a slow start. Unlike Michael Segal, who was up to third going into the first corner. I was third at this point, but was wary in turning as I lost sight of Michael, which allowed Paul Hawker to get alongside and stay there all the way into Craner Curves. I backed out, but Paul had left a gap to the left. Either way, he had the inside line for Old Hairpin.
From there I stayed close behind Paul and so got a decent tow along Starkey’s Straight. Of course, Paul also had a good tow, so when I pulled out to challenge for Fogarty’s Esses, I didn’t expect to succeed. I could see Trevor Harber fully behind me and decided he was not an issue and so continued my challenge, aborting it as expected as I entered the chicane, only to be hit hard from behind and spun out onto the gravel. It was Trevor, who told me he thought there was a gap for him to take. I could not have left a gap for him, as that would have involved hitting Paul. As I was in a dangerous position, the marshals pushed me out of the gravel, but my front-left tyre was badly punctured and so my race was over, as was Trevor’s.
Graeme and Robin traded placed for the lead with Paul not far behind, until he went wide at the final corner, Goddards. That left Paul with a lonely run to third, with Graeme winning from Robin. The racing highlight was between Matt Carpenter and Mark Carter, who regularly traded places, with Mark’s better defence earning him fourth place to Matt’s fifth.
After the race, I visited the clerk of the course because I wanted to discus the incorrect waving of the starting flag. He agreed that it should have been done correctly. Whilst I was there, as the video cards had been taken from the cars of Trevor and myself, I told the clerk that I had no issue with the incident as I don’t think Trevor has made any mistakes involving other cars the whole time I have raced against him. Later, I was very angry to discover that the clerk put the accident as a 60-40 fault, with 40% going to me. The decision was based on the fact that I had a couple of lock-ups as I turned in for the chicane.
It was good to have Jason and Angus along; it is just a shame that I couldn’t offer them a better performance.
A charity evening had been organised by Kate Outterside and Steve McMaster, in aid of the local Air Ambulance. I walked to the hotel with Matt and enjoyed the food, quiz and auction. I didn’t bother bidding for anything as I was far too poor, which was all for the good as quite a lot of money was earned. All the lots had been contributed by the drivers.
I left at about 11:00, having got a little drunk on a massive two pints of weak lager. I then promptly got lost and had to resort to Google Maps on my smart phone. Smarter than me, anyhow!
I spent most of the morning wasting time, before packing my caravan, collecting my Outlander, hooking up and driving off to the caravan site. With 800 metres to go I came across a closed road with no diversion, but a road-worker kindly gave me directions. Off I went and didn’t find the signpost, eventually having to turn round and look again. I didn’t find it, but by the time I returned, the road had been re-opened! It turned out that there had been a half-marathon running.
Caravan delivered and set up, I returned to Donington Park, plugged in my car and went to queue for food. I thought I was late, as there was nobody in the queue. I was actually first, with a large queue appearing behind. Good timing!
The afternoon was set aside for the CGRC’s first-ever endurance race, a four-hour multi-driver event where drivers took to the track in their own car or guested/hired a drive in somebody else’s. Watching it from the Grandstand, Jason appeared again. He explained that he had just walked half of the circuit, so I suggested we repeated the process.
As I was about to discover, there are some great viewing points all the way around the circuit. We first of all walked through the paddock and past the Assembly Area to join the periphery of the circuit at the Melbourne Hairpin and then walked to Fogarty’s Esses. From there we went under a tunnel to reach the infield and just walked in an anti-clockwise direction until we had returned to Fogarty’s Esses, whereupon we re-traced our route back to the Paddock. It was very entertaining watching the car and spent some time chatting to a marshal. It wasn’t all fun, though, as at times it got very wet. At one point I searched out the ‘not tallest’ tree to shelter under, but there was no lightning, so we were safe.
Jason had by now gone home, so I spent the majority of the remaining two hours virtually alone in the grandstand overlooking the Start-Finish straight, by the final corner. I was probably the only person listening to the commentary, which was a shame as I really enjoyed it. There was a lot of banter between professional commentator Chris Dawes and his guest Andrew Outterside. I learnt about Steve McMaster’s stunning guest debut in a SigMax, being the fastest driver on the circuit and surging up the leader-board. Sadly, second-place was as high as he got as his car suffered from mechanical issues.
By the end of the race it was a 1-2-3 for GRS supported teams, which was very much deserved by Peter Godfrey and his team. It was a shame that I could not provide them with a better result of my own. I have now dropped to fifth in the championship, eighteen points behind Mark Carter in third and six behind Paul Hawker in fourth.