Snetterton, 9 April 2006
Regular readers will know that in all our years of racing (this is year 6) the only year we made the first race of the season was when we went out and bought another car the week before. This year is different!
Over lunch, just as it did last time we were at Snetterton, the weather got angry. The rain came down. And then it stopped. And then it started again. With no pit crew in attendance, a decision on tyres needed to be made at least 30 minutes before being called to the assembly area. I was aware that on both previous occasions when faced with such a decision I had wrongly gone with wets on a drying track. I was tempted to stay with the slicks but as the rain fell again I decided wets was the safer choice. Most other drivers made the same choice, but Tony Soper made a very late "all or nothing" call to run slicks on the Alfa Romeo GTV6, a couple of the production/road saloons drivers went with their "dry" treaded tyres. Stuart Jefcoate, full of confidence at Class C pole even played his joker in an attempt to get an early championship lead. Funnily enough, Stuart did the same in the first race last year.
It was to get worse, as the previous race ended and we were waiting in the assembly area, it started to hail. Hailstones were coming through the ventilation slots in the side windows and I started to get cramp in my foot due to the cold. Yes, I was looking forward to this race - NOT! As the track was now wet, we got two sighting laps before the start, although with the pace that drivers shot off on the second lap, I was wondering if they had forgotten. Maybe it was just a test of how fast they could go as the pack slowed right down as we came round to the start. From the 7th row, it was a long way back watching for the lights which went out just as the front row approached them. I accelerated hard and was looking for a way through, confident that the kappa could out-accelerate most cars this far back on the grid. I got the better of Richard Hawken's Nissan Primera (misfire now cured) and moved over to the right trying to find a way past David Roberts' orange Tomcat (at least it stood out in the rain). Being on the inside of Riches, we almost came to a halt as the traffic made it way round and I lost places to Ray Byford (Proton) and Matt Speakman (Renault Clio). John Hammersley had made an excellent start from the second row to lead at the end of the first lap. I couldn't get past the orange Tomcat down Revett, just too many cars slowing into the Esses for me to make a clean pass and I ended lap 1 in 14th place. Tony Soper was struggling on slicks, it was still raining/hailing and I passed him on the run to Riches on lap 2. Jason Holmes spun his Tomcat inside the Bomb Hole on lap 2 and with me overtaking the Proton I had moved up to 11th by the end of lap 2, gaining fast on Stuart Jefcoate, who I took down Revett Straight on lap 3. By now David Roberts had pulled out over 4 seconds on me, and he was already some 6 seconds adrift of the next car. Somehow I was still in front of Richard Hawken at this stage being able to pull just enough of a gap on the straights to be able to defend the corners. On lap four, I saw the Tomcat going across the grass at the end of the start-finish straight. Unfortunately I locked up too and elected to carry on rather than try and make the turn. This was David's first race, I've overshot Riches before so knew when I could turn back onto track, and came back on track 5 seconds in front of him. Sadly this had allowed Richard to get through and charge off into the distance, The Proton and the Porsche also temporarily got by, but I was passed them again with a lap.
I now had an empty track in front of me, by the end of lap 6 the next car (Richard Hawken) was almost 20 seconds ahead and taking 5 seconds a lap off me. But I did notice Matt Speakman's Clio in the pits - he had stopped to demist his screen - and thought "that's another position gained". Being lime green, it was easily visible even in the spray and I soon spotted Matt coming up behind again. So started 10 laps of jousting, he would pass me, I would power by down the straights. I had my biggest slide ever at Riches trying to follow Matt through, but somehow caught it - and another at Sear a couple of laps later. I was enjoying this so much I was laughing - not good for the concentration. On the 12th lap, the leaders came though - Simon Blanckley (Honda Accord) first. He had taken the lead from Martin Byford on lap 7 after shooting the chicane at Russell. I was busy defending from Matt and needed all the advantage I could drag out down the straights to stay in front, so I was not of a mind to slow down to let the leaders through. Keeping my foot down I found that neither Simon (nor any of the other front runners) could catch the kappa down the straights, so I made it to the Esses then sat wide to let let through without losing too much to Matt. Near the end of the race I retook Matt once again down Revett Straight and had the inside line to the Esses. Suddenly I couldn't see him in my mirrors and realised he was alongside. Somehow I was still in front at Russell although Matt pulled out to pass as we exited the chicane. I was just able to hold him off to reach the start-finish line first, spotting the "last lap" sign as I went past.
One more lap to hold him off, one more lap to concentrate on not falling off, or being distracted by the rainbow at the Esses! I kept it together through Riches and Sear without running too wide, I needed to get the power on down the straight. Going into the Esses I had a small gap and I went defensive. If Matt was passing me he was going to go the long way round. He shaped up to take the inside as I exited Coram but I sat right over to the right of the track leaving Matt to shape up and attack down the outside going into Russell. I was having problems locking the brakes into Russell so had to be extra careful, almost tippy-toeing through Russell. Matt got alongside as we came out but feathering the throttle in third to control the wheelspin, before being able to give it full throttle in fourth, I beat Matt to the line by 4/10ths. All that for 7th in class and what turned out to be 9th overall.
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