Back in June I finally started my new contract, meaning that I now had the funds for the Zandvoort race weekend. This would prove to be hugely expensive purely because of the more that £450 ferry bill, and that was just for my car. I was not willing to double the figure in order to take my caravan, so instead I invested in a posh new £50 four-man tent from Asda.
The plan was to catch the Thursday night ferry from Hull to Rotterdam. This would give me a leisurely drive on Friday morning, followed by an afternoon and evening of enjoying the beach. Unfortunately I booked the crossing too late and could only travel on Friday evening. I did try other crossings and destinations without avail and so my Dutch journey was going to be more frenetic. I didn’t even think of flying; I was subsequently told that it would have cost me half, including the train and hotel fees.
I did call the ferry operators on Thursday regarding cancelled bookings to no avail, so I had to relax and accept my fate. At least I was going, which in itself had been touch and go. The previous weekend I was very ill with an aching head, hopefully down to needing a new prescription for my glasses. It was so bad that I had to take Monday and Tuesday off work, then partake in short days to help my recovery. I also suffered from a very painful toe in the days leading up to the journey. It is a problem that I have had for a few years and comes and goes, with the current stint being just bad timing. So, overall, the idea of up to two hours of driving straight off the ferry, followed by immediately jumping into my race car for a frenetic day’s itinerary, did not leave me feeling confident. I would have to pace myself and rest as much as possible.
We were scheduled for five 25-minute test sessions and two 25-minute qualifying sessions on the Saturday, so missing the first two would still leave me plenty of time to learn the circuit and get up to speed. Sunday would be more leisurely affair, with just two 35-minute race. Hold on! How long? That’s the longest race time I will have ever competed over. Apparently I am a fit person. Let us see…
The ferry crossing had been relaxing even if the meals were a little below par and my limp was getting worse. After breakfast I changed into my overalls and then went straight to my car. I had been the second of the drivers to queue for the ferry and that meant I was first (I’m not sure why not second!) off the ferry in the morning. The journey to the circuit was straight-forward, with me only losing a few minutes for a single wrong turn.
On arrival at the paddock, I immediately met Marc Noaro who bundled me into his car and drove me to the signing on, where my race-wear was also scrutineered. Back to the garages I went and climbed into my car for the first session, which was just starting, and off I went. It was a useful session as I was able to familiarise myself with a track that I had been reading about for the past couple of weeks. The instructions I had memorised were a cross-selection of useful and useless, but that is only to be expected and so was a good starting point. One tip that went straight into the bin was to, on exiting Tarzan, use the exit kerbing to return the car to the circuit. It worked alright, but I was worried that the steepness of the kerb had damaged my suspension.
I had already missed the first too sessions and so was anxious to get right back into my car after completing the third. There was only a five-minute period to the fourth session, so I don’t know why I got out of my car. Time past and I realised that the next session had begun, with the GRs crew carrying out a nut-and-bolt check. I called out for fuel and said I had to leave immediately, but they were all quite busy and, as I was wearing my crash-helmet, felt I had gone unheard. I suppose I was getting into a mini panic and called louder and louder for fuel. Peter calmed me down and pointed out that they were doing their best; he was far more professional than me and quickly got me out again where, surprisingly, I calmed down and had a good remainder of the session.
During this time, an engine swap was taking place between Gareth Cordey’s SigMax and Adrian Russsell’s. Unfortunately Gareth had a big crash on just his second lap of the day on a streaming wet circuit. By the time I arrived it had dried out completely, but the first two sessions were, literally, a wash-out. The Bish needed a replacement engine after his first session and Gareth very magnanimously loaned him his.
During the dinner break I learnt that both Marc Noaro and Paul Hawker were very quick, so I latched onto Paul in the final session. On seeing this, he slowed down but I stayed behind. So Paul pitted. Thanks! I can’t say I blame him, especially as we are championship rivals and I expect that I would have done the same. It didn’t really matter as I felt that I was up to speed, but of course every bit of knowledge helps.
There were two qualifying sessions, one for each race. Neither went well for me. Every time I was passed by quicker cars I was sufficiently delayed for me not to make good use of any tows. At one point, driving on my own in clear air, I could see that my lap times were poor and I needed a tow, so I slowed right down to allow quicker cars to catch me. Towards the end of my lap a few quicker cars caught me, one of which was Graeme Smith. Bingo! I followed him and was able to keep up, but after a lap where we were both slowed he pulled into the pit-lane. Thanks Graeme. It turned out that he had his own problems to deal with.
After the first qualifying session we were all weighed and no cars had any problems. We all then had to get out of our cars and prove that we were wearing our fire-proof underwear. That was amusing, especially as some drivers, apparently, succeeded in hiding behind all the better-prepared drivers.
Following the second qualifying session the ride-height was checked and several cars failed, including mine. My car did not have adjustable dampers and so there was, by definition, no way of adjusting the ride-height. The result was the same: either something that could not be fixed was fixed, or I would not race. Peter Godfrey was not too concerned as he felt that there must me some mistake in the measuring process. I had his own specially made measuring device and, sure enough, my car was too low.
Peter had a spare set of adjustable front dampers with him, but no rears, so that was the solution. The result was that the front of the car was raised in relation to the rears, which had the potential to act as an air-brake at speed, but of more concern to Peter was that I was going to head straight into a race without any knowledge of what sort of front-end grip I would have, nor how the handling would change.
The good news, I suppose, was that I was allowed to keep both of my qualifying positions, even if they were both a lowly seventh. I wasn’t too happy with my lack of pace and hoped it was down to not getting a decent tow. To be honest, I would have preferred to have been put to the back of the grid. It doesn’t matter that I didn’t deliberately cheat, the fact is that I was outside of the rules.
It had been a wet night, but I was reasonably comfortable in my new tent. It was easy to put up, once I got the help of a couple of thirteen-year-olds, Max and Tom. They couldn’t help me with my inflatable mattress as, even though I had an inflator with me, I had forgotten the adaptor. So I had to sleep on the sand, which was no big deal. Aside from also forgetting a pillow and having to make do with my race overalls as a substitute.
It threatened to rain during the morning, but it never really came. Before the first race I was able to pack my car, including the tent which required the boy’s expert help. I have to say that, now I know how to do it, raising and putting away the tent is very straight-forward; thanks Asda.
As it was a single-grid with more than sixty cars starting all at once, the big worry was the concertina effect into turn one at Tarzan. I was virtually at the back and made a good start, making places until the braking zone, where I sensibly braked a little early, unsure as I was as to how the front end of my car would react. Graeme Smith, starting even further back than me, had no such problems and easily drove around the outside of me.