I chose Croft because having done my ARDS test there I had a (very) small amount of experience of the track and having done some marshalling there I also have a bit of a soft spot for the circuit. I don't have a trailer yet so had hired a car transporter to get the Mini there and back. Croft is the closest circuit to our house but we’d still have an early start so I filled the Mini with all the tools I thought I might need during the day and loaded it onto the car transporter the night before.
I'd persuaded my better half, Meg to come with me and also arranged to meet a friend of mine, Ryan, at the circuit. He's a photographer and had offered to take some photos of the car and get some video footage of the day for me.
We arrived at the circuit nice and early. It was cold, and a bit damp but the sun was beginning to make an appearance and the track was starting to dry out. I signed on, found out which garage we'd been allocated, unloaded the car and tools and went for the briefing.
We had a bit of time to kill whilst I was waiting to go out for my sighting laps so we went to have a nose around the paddock to see what other cars were there. It became clear quite quickly that we were probably at the bottom of the pile in terms of power so I'd need to keep an eye on my mirrors for faster cars coming past! I didn't mind though because we definitely had the best looking car there!
Before long it was time to go for my sighting laps, three laps behind a pace car to get a feel for the circuit. Once that was done we were left to enjoy the track. The day was run with an open pit lane so apart from an hour's break for lunch, we were allowed as much track time as we wanted. I started off slowly, doing shorter runs in the morning. I just tried to concentrate on learning as much as I could about driving the car whilst trying not to get in other people's way! The car ran well and as I got more comfortable with the car and the circuit I started to get faster and was enjoying myself more and more.
During the lunch break after grabbing a bite to eat I took some time to check the car over and make sure nothing had broken/dropped off or come loose. Everything seemed OK. The wheel nuts just needed nipping up a bit. Unfortunately whilst doing that I managed to snap one of the studs clean off. Disaster! After a few frantic phone calls I'd located a replacement and Ryan very kindly volunteered to go and pick it up. I’d miss a bit of track time replacing it but at least we didn’t have to pack up and go home!
The rain came in the afternoon. It was a little bit of a shame because I'd hoped to just carry straight on from where I'd left off in the morning and concentrate on trying to go faster and faster each time I went out, but then I’m planning on racing in the UK so I'll need to be comfortable driving in the rain!! I started off slowly, gradually building up my speed and trying to get used to the different conditions.
The rain got heavier as the afternoon went on. I was steadily increasing the length of my runs and feeling more and more comfortable each time. It was so much fun. The track was a lot quieter too. A lot of people had packed up early as the track got wetter and wetter so I was spending less time looking in my mirrors. I was having so much fun during my last few sessions, each time I came around the last corner I’d convince myself to have ‘just one more lap'. Of course, when you're busy having fun in a car with no fuel gauge and no idea how much fuel it actually uses you run the risk of coming unstuck.
On my last run of the day the rain was pouring down and the track was soaked. I was having so much fun and realised that I was actually starting to catch another car!! I could do my first (and only) overtake of the day!! I came out of the last corner, onto the pit straight and with the familiar sound of 'just one more lap' ringing in my ears as I crossed the line the car coughed. Oops. Couldn't have timed that any worse!! I came right off the throttle, crossed my fingers and started pleading with the car. Please make it round. Please don't run out of petrol, please don’t stop on track. I got round to Tower, so far so good, it coughed on the way through The Esses, there was another, bigger cough going through Barcroft and then definite splutters through Sunny In and Sunny Out.
It had been a tense couple of minutes but I was nearly there. Just The Complex to go. I’d almost got away with it!! I came around the hairpin, onto the pit straight and pulled over towards the pit entrance and then it happened....cough....splutter...silence. The tank was empty.
I managed to roll along the pit lane, but had to admit defeat at the end of it. I was far enough off the track to be able to safely get out and push it into the paddock. I ran back to the garage to get some petrol and had to explain my little miscalculation!
Soaking wet and a little bit embarrassed I packed the car up and we headed home. I’d had a brilliant day. Meg had a very cold day. The car was so much fun to drive and had run faultlessly all day, the only problems being of my own making. The car had more than its fair share of admirers too. Everybody loves a Mini!