Race Eight – Cadwell Park

Cadwell Park is a magical place. I don’t like how far away it is, I don’t like the A46 and I definitely don’t like not having pit garages – but all of the hassle and grumbles fall away the moment you do even one lap around this circuit. It’s just incredible – the best in the country. Tell me I’m wrong. After a year away I almost forget how good it is, and then I get out of the car absolutely beaming after the first session.

That first session on our track day on 9th July, by the way, saw me post a laptime (checked afterwards from the onboard video) of 1:45.6, 1.7 seconds faster than the best we could do at last year’s race meeting. A strong start that only got better through the day, as we eventually got down to a 1:44.6 by mid-afternoon. The car and circuit both felt fantastic, and we were thoroughly enjoying ourselves! We also managed to confirm that the dual fuel pump setup was working perfectly, and we could run down almost to the fuel warning light before we got any hesitation. Since Cadwell has a very long right-hander that’s flat out in fourth, absolute worst-case for starvation, that’s a great result. We finally put our latest weapon, Nankang’s AR-1 tyre, on the car for the last few sessions. The result? Another 1.7 seconds carved out, and a final lap time of 1:42.88. Compared to last year’s timesheet, that was nothing short of remarkable, and I was over the moon with the performance. Here’s that lap:

With that under our belts, I didn’t touch the car at all before the race meeting, being totally happy with how it felt. Less happy was the drive to the circuit, in 32°C ambient and unspeakable cabin temperatures. The car was absolutely fine, even stuck in traffic around Newark, and the SPAL electric fan did the job perfectly – the driver coped less well! It was worrying for race day, as dehydration and heat exhaustion can be real problems even in a relatively short stint, but our worries were short-lived and the weather broke spectacularly the night before the race.

Result: totally green circuit with all its rubber washed away for qualifying. It really showed in the laptimes, with a 1:45.02 being all I could squeeze out of the car on a circuit that felt like it had been greased since I last drove it – 2.2 seconds slower than in testing. That was still good enough for second in class and 9th overall, though, which was very satisfying and set us up well for the race. A long wait until the 15:40 race start gave plenty of time to watch other races and generally lounge around and enjoy playing at being racing drivers..

Come the race, I was to start. I had a clear plan in mind. Class pole was Dan Rogers in his MX-5 (which you might remember from a long battle at Brands Hatch), but there were four Class A and B cars between us on the grid. I needed to jump these guys somehow, and get behind Dan so I could hang onto him. Fail to get that done early and he could he get away, so going maximum-attack straight away was the only option.

Astonishingly enough, after a frantic pullaway from the grid with some cars slow, some off the edge of the track and Dan performing what he described as “the worst start in the world”, I found myself alongside him into the first corner! Try as I might I couldn’t get the pass done around the outside through Charlies corner, and I tucked in behind. There followed the best racing stint I have ever driven. Between battling Dan, holding off Class B cars and then, after losing ground in a pretty scary error in the penultimate corner that almost had me in the wall (7:05 in the video), trying to re-pass them, it was non-stop action. Raving about it in print won’t do it justice, so here it is…

I had a non-stop run of battling other drivers, driving at qualifying pace (and faster, now the circuit had rubbered in!) lap after lap to keep in touch with Class B guys ahead, with lairiness and incidents aplenty to watch from cars around me. It was equal parts punishing in terms of how hard I had to drive and how near the edge I had to push, and incredibly enjoyable for being rewarded by close, clean racing. It’s exactly what we put in all this work for, and it felt absolutely fantastic.

After 15 minutes, other cars were out of the way and I was hot on Dan’s heels again. He bravely ran away, pitting as soon as the window opened! Deprived of the opportunity to overtake him but promoted to the class lead with a relatively clear track ahead, I pushed as hard as I dared to try and build a gap. What’s not obvious from the video is I was also trying to shake off the very quick Mini Cooper S of Andrew Stacey and James Cameron, which was filling my mirrors and occasionally my side window!

I came into the pits to hand over to Adam with 26 minutes gone, having maximised the clean air ahead of me. We got the car out in the class lead after a perfectly timed pitstop with 60.6 seconds spent stationary (minimum requirement 1 minute), and Adam set to work bringing the car home.

There was no small task ahead of him, though. A few minutes’ clear lapping was all he got before Dan’s second-placed MX-5 loomed in his mirrors, and a daring move up the inside into Hall Bends got him through, with Adam fighting to keep the car on the circuit!

His wrestling the car wasn’t done, though. With eight minutes to go, rain started to fall in the pits, and unbeknownst to me on the pit wall it was much heavier around the back of the circuit and starting to make things slippery. We were also about to be struck by one of every racer’s biggest fears – we ran out of brakes. The first Adam knew was trying to pass Esther Quaintmere’s Nova up the inside into the Mountain complex, failing to get the car stopped and sailing incongruously straight onto the grass (41:40 in the video). A bemused Esther got herself around the corner just fine, and drove past to unlap herself! It became clear over the next two laps that this wasn’t Adam’s error, but the front right brake pads wearing out completely, leading to a particularly scary moment trying to stop the car from 110mph down to 60 or so to turn into Park corner. With only a lap to go, he was able to nurse the car home without further incident.

The result? Third in class, and ninth of 28 starters overall! We were extremely happy to not only have beaten ten cars in our class, but also fought at the front and with cars above our class throughout the race. Our first silverware in 2018 felt very sweet indeed, especially after so much work before and during the race to make it happen.

Next up? Replace what my brake pad supplier tells me was a very old-spec compound sent in error, tidy up the car after a slight altercation with a bollard at three-figure speeds into Coppice corner, and then try my hand at sprint racing. I’ll be competing in the newly formed BMW CCR championship at Donington Park on 1st September. Can’t wait! For now, congratulations to Adam on your first-ever race podium, and to #36 for proving she can make it in Class C. Emerald approves.