After being weighed at my last race and finding out that I was 15kg over the minimum weight I needed to lose some weight from both me and the car.
An easy win was to swap the standard car battery (weighing in at a whopping 13kg!) for a light weight race battery. The new battery came complete with a cage to hold it in place. I just needed to fit that and then change the terminals on the battery cables. All in all it was a straightforward job.
It got a bit more scientific after that, I started weighing things. I’ve not quite mastered the amount of petrol the car uses whilst on track. Probably as a result of nearly running out of fuel on my first track day at Croft I overfill the tank each time out and end up having a fair amount of fuel left at the end of each session. Now that I know there’s a big weight problem carrying extra fuel means carrying extra weight. Out came the kitchen scales to find out how much a litre of petrol actually weighs, then back in the garage I developed a fuel gauge of sorts. I drained the fuel tank, and refilled it a litre at a time marking the tank at every stage so I could start making a note of how much fuel is used in each session and refill accordingly. Finding the ‘sweet spot’ between not running out and not carrying excess weight would involve a certain amount of trial and error but we’d have to sort that out at the track.
A few other unnecessary bits were removed including the enormous 400g washer bottle! It doesn’t sound like much but every little helps and the more I can get off the car the less I’ll have to lose off myself! I wouldn’t be able to find out how much it all added up to until we go to the track.
All in all, and with the benefit of hindsight weight saving is something that should have been done right at the beginning but I’m not going to lose any sleep, I’m still learning!
In the weeks running up to Donington we had a new arrival at home in the shape of a puppy, so my plans to do some ‘home work’ before the weekend went out of the window and my packing was a little more rushed than normal. I wasn’t too worried, it would be the first time that I’d be at a track I’d driven before so was hopeful I’d remember at least some of what I’d learned last year!
I set off early on the Saturday morning. Our timetable for the weekend looked good. We weren’t signing on until 1030, qualifying at 1230 and racing at 1640, Sunday’s race would be 1240-ish so I was hoping to be home in plenty of time to get unloaded and get the transporter back to Bradford.
With Meg staying at home with the puppy I’d arranged to meet some friends at the track, Ryan, who’d been at my first trackday with his various cameras was coming for the weekend to hopefully get some more pictures and video footage. Ian who wanted to get a closer look at the Mighty Minis with a view to possibly joining the grid in the future was there for Saturday and Sarah and Paul were coming up on the Sunday. Needless to say their support was very much appreciated.
In the paddock the car was unloaded and I went to sign on. This weekend I would be able to get the last of the six upgrade signatures I needed and, if I remembered to actually collect my upgrade card and take it home with me, I’d finally be able to remove the ‘novice’ cross from the back of my car!
Once I’d signed on I joined the queue in scrutineering, thankfully it was a much smoother experience than last year and I managed not to break the car!
Next up, the big fuel debate, how much to put in. It was a bit of a stab in the dark, I didn’t want to go to the usual level because it would be too much, didn’t want to go with too little and risk running out of fuel on track. So after a bit of a debate with Ian we went for 6.5 litres.
I headed out from the assembly area to start my qualifying session with the usual plan, get 3 laps done and then start trying to build up my speed.
It was going well, to my surprise I was keeping up with the car in front, even on the straights! I stayed put to try and learn as much as I could from their laps, I figured I had plenty of time as it was still fairly early on in the session. After a few laps I started to back off a bit to give myself some space and let the tyres cool down a bit.
As I started to build up my speed again I started to catch one of the cars that had come past me when I slowed down, who in turn was catching the three cars in front, if I could get close enough I might be able to take advantage of the big hole that those cars were punching in the air and get a bit of a tow down the straights. It was going well, I was gradually catching the cars but running out of time, I pushed hard for the next two laps. I crossed the start finish line again, came around the first two turns, dropped down through the Craner Curves and braked hard for Old Hairpin. As I turned through the corner I put my foot hard down on the accelerator and nothing. No power, no anything in fact! The engine wasn’t playing. As I started climbing the hill it picked up again, I was relieved it wasn’t totally dead! I pressed on, as I came down the back straight and hit the brakes for the last chicane it went again, I wasn’t going to risk another lap. I pulled off the circuit into the pits, I had a theory about what the problem could be I hoped I was right and it wasn’t something more catastrophic.
Once I’d parked up in the scrutineering bay I got out and found my gut feeling was right. The fuel tank was bone dry, 6.5 litres wasn’t enough! A couple of minutes later the rest of the cars came in. I’d only missed one or two laps. I was a bit annoyed as I felt like I was getting faster on the track but then I always knew it was going to be a bit of trial and error with the fuel.
We were all weighed after the session and to my surprise the combined weight of the car and me was 745kg a full 7kg’s lighter than this time at Silverstone! The weight saving was going in the right direction but even so I was still 7kg’s overweight so had more work to do! I headed back to the paddock to put some more fuel in the car and check the results.
I’d be starting 21st. Alice Hughes in car 4 would start behind me in 22nd following a mechanical problem. The car ahead of me was only 2 tenths faster, in fact the five cars ahead of me were all covered by half a second. Although I was still at the back of the grid I was getting closer.
Lights out and we were off! I got passed by Alice Hughes off the start and the cars started to disappear into the distance on the straight. By turn one and I’d got closer, and I stayed with them through turn two and down the Craner Curves. As the cars approached Old Hairpin there was a cloud of tyre smoke ahead, as I got nearer I stuck to the outside of the corner - there was a car in the middle of the track either stationary or very slow - I dropped down a gear and went around the outside, I’d gone past two cars! As I came out of the corner I went to change up to 4th too early and messed up the gear change, then the two cars came back past. I was annoyed but it was still early days and we had another 20 minutes of racing to go.
By the time we got to the back straight I’d caught up a bit, I locked up the wheels braking into the chicane and lost a bit of ground again. As we came back around and dropped down the hill it didn’t seem like they were getting any further away. I felt like I was getting a better run through Old Hairpin and gaining a little ground there and I was pretty much staying with the cars for most of the lap. Unfortunately I was losing out on the main straight and through the first corner so any ground I gained on the rest of the lap was lost there.
As we came down the back straight again on the next lap there was another cloud of tyre smoke as Laura and Morgan Harris almost had a coming together turning into the Chicane. It nearly caught me out too as I turned in going too fast and nearly lost the back end, which cost me some speed as I heading back onto the straight to start another lap. This carried on for another few laps, I’d gain ground on part of the lap, lose a bit on the main straight and then try and brake later to get it back going into the first corner but end up losing out by going in too fast. I started to lose ground on the cars in front and in doing so I was losing the tow. By lap 7 I was 7 seconds behind the car in front. There were yellow flags in a few spots over the next couple of laps and I dropped further back finishing the race 10 seconds behind the next car.
Due to a few retirements from the first race I started race 2 in 18th position. The faster cars behind me came past on the straight, but going into the first corner I was still right behind them. Dropping down the hill and climbing out the other side I stayed close, I lost a bit of ground on the back and main straights again but with a couple of different cars in front I was still gaining through Old Hairpin. It was starting to look like a replay of race 1 for me. What I’d gain through some corners I’d lose on the straight. I was closer at the back of the circuit than I’d been in the first race but I made another mistake coming into the last chicane turning in too fast, losing the back end and running wide over the kerbs coming back onto the main straight.
I lost a lot of ground on the cars ahead and Penny Jones, who was recovering from going off a lap earlier, came past me. I spent the next couple of laps following and keeping up with her, she is a much more experienced driver and usually runs a lot further in front than me so I was feeling quite chuffed. I saw a puff of smoke coming off the front of her car as we were going through one of the corners. I couldn’t tell if it was just the tyre rubbing or something worse. As we came around the next corner some liquid splashed onto my window, I presumed it was from a radiator but wasn’t sure whether it was mine or hers. My temperature gauge looked fine but I kept half an eye on it just in case. As we came down the back straight again I was gaining on her. Turning into the last chicane and I was getting closer. As we crossed the timing line I pulled out from behind her and started coming alongside. We approached the braking point and we were neck and neck. I was on the inside and turned in, careful not to run out wide into Penny’s car I edged ahead. I couldn’t believe it, I’d just overtaken someone! As we dropped down the hill, I was a little more defensive than normal going through Old Hairpin turning in from the middle of the road. I felt like I had a bit of a gap as we started to climb the hill so I drove my normal lines through the next corner, big mistake! I noticed too late as Penny came straight up the inside and back past me. The next two turns I stuck with her, pulling up right behind her at Coppice and just as I was planning to dive down the inside she indicated left and pulled off the track - gutted! I came down the back straight feeling elated at having actually raced with someone else on track. I know it was only for 1 lap and even though the fact that I was able to get so close was most likely a result of her having some sort of mechanical issue than anything else it was still the most fun I’d had in a race! The next few laps to the chequered flag were a bit lonely, I could just about see the next two cars as small dots on the horizon but I was too far back. I finished 11 seconds down in 18th place.
Unlike the other race weekends, I got slower as the weekend went on, only a few tenths off but still, a few tenths the wrong way.
Feel free to visit my YouTube page to watch my onboard videos.
All in all my first year with the Mighty Minis has been an amazing experience. I feel like I’ve learnt a lot and have improved as the year has gone on. From being lapped a lot in my first race 12 months ago to being able to hang on to the car in front is progress, fairly slow progress but progress none the less! Nobody said it was going to be easy and it’s definitely not. It’s been so much fun though. I wish I’d done this a long time ago.
I am already thinking ahead to next year and am hoping to be able to do a full season, but as ever it all depends on money. I have some plans to do some work on the engine over the winter and am looking to do some more weight saving. Realistically I’m probably going to have to bite the bullet and lose some weight off myself as well as the car, but probably not until after Christmas!! Other than that I will be looking at trying to get some sponsors on board to help with the financial side of things.
Hopefully next year will see me improving and moving up closer and starting to battle with the cars ahead of me. I can’t wait!!