Where to begin…
The day started track side at a cold overcast Donington circuit with planes flying overhead and a slight nervousness in the air from team AET Motorsport. This was going to be the 1st race we had entered since testing at Blyton Park a month ago, that was cut short by a broken engine mount. Unsure of how we were going to get through 2 hours, all we knew is that we wanted to finish the race and finish unscathed.
Qualifying was 30 minutes and first up was Andy Taylor (Company Director) with him strapped in the car and coms tested between driver and pit wall we sent him out. Straightaway it was apparent that the tyres took a good few laps to get up to temperature and it was a bit of a handful. This caused us a few issues in the race, which I will cover later on.
After 15mins, Andy was back in handing the reigns over to Nick Cook (New Business/Business Development Manager) and a quick message passed between drivers saying the tyres seem to be ok when up to temperature but the brakes judder badly. So, with Nick behind the wheel and the car warm he was out to finish the qualifying session. This saw the retirement of a few other cars during this session, making the grid reduce from 27 to 24. A Ford Focus RS with a drive shaft issue and an MR2 that was smoking and resulted in needing to be extinguished were just a few. Nick’s few laps of Donington were eventful with him waving faster cars past in other classifications so he could try and put some quick laps together. Shortly after and being hassled by a Ginetta that wasn’t much faster on the straight, Nick allowed him to pass before the Ginetta spun out in front of him (Karma maybe?!)
With qualifying complete, we pushed the car back into the pit garage, yes you heard right, we had a pit garage and not everyone had this privilege. The result being 13th out of 27 and 4 in class. With the roller shutter lowered, Jack Clarke (Workshop Technician) set to work, checking the vehicle over while removing, tightening and adjusting all the while getting feedback from both drivers on improvements. Over the course of 4 hours Jack made numerous adjustments to the car in a bid that it would do us all proud and complete the 2 hour race and stay together.
3pm came round rather too soon. Jack fired the car getting it up to operating temperature while Nick and I strapped Andy in for the first 1 hour stint. Andy set out onto the track ready for a lap behind a safety car before it peeled off leaving a rolling started pack to head for the straight. Heading in to Redgate with a Caterham on the outside, they cut in causing Andy to take avoiding actions and a spin on cold tyres. So at the back of the pack, disgruntled and trying to regroup, he was in full attack mode. Very quickly he was on the back of the pack and overtaking, working his way back up the grid. With the tyres cold he was correcting some oversteer moments especially when he snuck up the inside of a Clio 182 making this FWD VW Golf seem like a drift car!
Andy’s 1 hour stint had him pit due to refuelling. During this pit Nick jumped in the car and headed out to get some more laps under his belt, being a Donington virgin he was holding his own. Using all the curbs and attacking hard putting in a 1.23 we were doing really well until a unscheduled stop 30 mins into his stint resulted in a lack of power and an exhaust blow from the manifold. With both drivers out the car we took the opportunity to refill, whilst Jack set to tightening the turbo manifold and intercooler pipe that had worked its way loose. With a glug of oil poured in the engine, we were good to go.
Andy got strapped back in for his last run of the day. With Andy putting in consistent laps and working his way through the field, all was going well until we noticed that he hadn’t come past in a while. With Jack frantically trying to make communication with Andy trying to ascertain what had happened, word made it back that he had been hit by a Civic at ‘Goddards’ and was sat in the gravel unable to get out. This meant a recovery truck had to be called to pull him free. Once out, a trip to the pits we had been lucky to get away with just a loose rear bumper confirming Andys interpratation and the video footage. With the bumper removed and Nick in the car, he was out for the last 30 mins. By now the guys said the brakes were horrendous. As I watched the day’s video footage back, you can hear and see the vibration recorded through the GoPro.
The last 30 minutes saw Nick nursing the car home putting in consistent lap times. With a steady last phase of the race, this saw us completing the 2 hour race in 19th out of 27.
Now that we’re all unpacked and have viewed the footage, the team is really chuffed and surprised that the car completed the 2 hours.
So what do we need to do to improve before the next race? The brakes, softer tyres, alignment, replace the rear bumper and the list goes on and so will Jack’s sleepless nights. With only 4 weeks to Super Lap Scotland where we are competing and also sponsor, I think it will be all hands on deck.