Battling Back at Brands Hatch
Showed up Wednesday in London with considerably less issue getting to my destination this time (no delays or lost baggage.) If you want to know what I mean, you must have missed my most recent blog so go back and check it out clicking on the button below. I got in an extra day early this time in case there were any issues. From the rental car park I headed straight to the Brands Hatch, where I was greeted by beautiful countryside and an awesome looking track.
I started by walking around the facility. There was a bike event going on at the track when I arrived but I wanted to get to know the place before hand (side note: they had comfort food for any Americans making the journey out there) I found a race sim shop called Race Room that had some simulators setup for the track so I got a bit of extra practice to get a better feel for the track… I set the fastest cup car time on their sim in the process. Even if you’re just going as a spectator there’s still a way to get the rush of being on track! I also found out there was a track event going on Thursday that I might be able to hop into so I worked on a plan to do so. I got a seat in a little Peugeot 208 to do an hour’s worth of track time beforehand on the GP circuit. I think that time proved to be valuable.
After the track time I had the afternoon to explore. I found a pub called Black Horse Tavern not too far from the track and the wonderful staff there suggested I visit Igtham Mote, a typical English castle. Which was quite hard to find. If you’re going to Brands Hatch I definitely recommend having a car and be prepared to go down what would be a one-way road in the US but is actually a two-way road that someone will be flying down from the other direction! After getting some touristy stuff out of the way I went back to the track and began setup for the weekend with my MDM teammates.
Friday was another day of just setup, driver briefing and the track walk. Having gotten to explore the track on Thursday in the Peugeot, it was nice to be able to actually take a closer look at the track. The only thing that sucked was it was raining and cold! I can’t get away from it this year, same as in Monza! When walking a track you really get a feel for the elevation changes in the course. In the car they seem less drastic and TV definitely doesn’t do it justice. The turn they call Paddock Bend, for example, drops off probably 50-feet from the beginning to the end of the corner, and you’ve got to turn-in before you can even see the apex curbing! The whole track is filled with turns like this, so the time walking it to really get a feel was welcomed.
Saturday was a busy day. Brands Hatch reminds me a lot of Lime Rock. There’s noise restrictions on the track so that it can only have loud days every so often which is why all of our testing and racing was squeezed into two days. It also reminds me a lot of the Connetticut track because if its surroundings: from the greenery surrounding the track to the steel barriers glaring at you around the whole track.
Back to the competition. So we had Free Practice One (FP1), FP2 and qualifying all on Saturday. For me this meant: 1. I had to be on my game and up to speed in my first two laps, 2. We had little time to get cars sorted and 3. We didn’t have time to make mistakes. FP1 and FP2 went alright. We struggled a bit for pace partly due to not opting to run new tires for either session and partly due to the balance of the car not being exactly what we were looking for. We improved in FP2, so going into quali we felt a bit more confident. Theeeeennnnn it snowed. Yeah, snowed. I had just left 90-degree sunny Houston and was greeted by snow in England… go figure. Nevertheless as the engineer told me, we race in any conditions so be ready. Luckily the snow was short lived and turned to rain quickly which then turned to sun. The track was mixed conditions for us in quali, drying every lap so the focus was to stay out and get in every lap possible. My co-driver, Simon Knap, was to start Race One so qualifying one was his. He went out and the track was quicker each lap due to the water drying up. Ultimately, he put the car P12 for us for the first race, not a bad spot to start from. Qualifying two was my turn. To be honest, it wasn’t much to write about. We had two red flags, session got cut short and I only had one decent lap put in which put me P25. It’s tough coming to new places and getting weird conditions that cause you to lose track time. I was pushing hard into T1 and missed the brake point by 12-feet, put two wheels off in the grave and it sucked me all the way off which was enough to mess the one lap I should’ve had up. We had our work cut out for us! Luckily the weather was more cooperative and stayed dry for the race.
Simon started and he had an awesome first stint. He was up to sixth-place before the pit stop. The way the stops work in the SRO GT4 Europe series is you have a target time you’ve got to be in the pit lane for, too fast and you get a penalty, too slow and you’re losing time on the track. Our pit stop was damn near perfect! The target pit time was one-minute, 38-seconds and we hit it in 1:38.1, picking up a spot in the pit lane along the way. In my stint, I fought hard against an Aston Martin for fifth-place which I couldn’t hold off until the end and we finished the race in sixth. Up six spots from the start, not too bad!
I started the second-race. Like I had said before, I had a lot of work cut out for me. To me though, some of the most fun races are the ones where you’re passing a bunch of people. My goal was to bring the car back in the top 10, meaning I’d need to pass 15 cars. The start of the race and the first three laps are the most crucial in this respect. This is when all the cars are bunched together and you have an opportunity to make up some ground. In the end though you’ve got to have a car to give to the teammate to finish with so you can’t be a battering ram. Again, it’s about the fine line of aggression and conservation. By turn one I figure I’d picked up about 4 spots, then into turn two there was a lot of commotion ahead of me, all I did was look for a clean way though and from there picked up another 4-5 spots, maybe more!
After the first few corners the grid about settles out into single file racing and you’ve got to setup passes rather than look for open places to put the car. This requires a bit of mental chess. Our car has good torque, straight line speed and cornering through the high speed turns, so our best passing option was from turn 4 to turn 5. The idea was to show the nose into turn 4 to get the car in front on a defensive line. This means they run a narrower entry into the corner which hurts the exit speed onto the long straightaway as it will take more steering angle and slower speed to get through the corner. From there you run a normal line through turn 4 to get a good exit, draft up to the rear of the car on the straight and go inside into turn 5 if possible. I was able to do this a number of times along with a couple passes into Turn 2 and was able to pass the car off around 10th or 11th depending how you look at it with pit stop cycles. This is exactly where we were shooting to be when we did the driver change! Unfortunately, our great pit stop from Race 1 wasn’t replicated and we came out of the pit in 20th. Simon did a great job picking spots up and brought the car home in 12th. Up 13 spots from the starting position, so I’ll take it!
My lasting memories of the track will definitely be snow right before qualifying and the rollercoaster of a back half! It’s an old school style fast flowing track with large consequences when you go off. We didn’t quite get everything out of what he had for both races but it was a strong weekend and gives good momentum going into the middle of the season. Off to Circuit Paul Ricard in France next, if we can’t get sun and nice weather in the South of France I don’t know where else to go!