For the second race meeting of 2022, we headed to Snetterton. One of my favourite tracks on the calendar (and we're back here again in October), this weekend was more packed with racing than usual. As well as the usual three MX-5 Supercup races, I also entered the 45 minute ClubSport Trophy endurance race (which you can read about here) for some extra race time in the car- this meant a very hectic weekend of two lots of qualifying and four races- with all but one of the sessions taking place on the Saturday!
Qualifying has so far been my biggest weakness. In the 2021 season I'd show good pace in testing but nearly always fail to put a lap together in when it mattered- normally ending up somewhere around P15-20.
This year, it's still early days but it seems like all of the winter testing and some more experience is starting to pay off!
I qualified P4 for the first two races (based on fastest and second fastest laps) which far exceeds my previous best qualifying results. Starting on the second row of the grid feels like a huge achievement in itself and shows that I'm making good improvements into my second season of sprint racing- it also means a much better chance of avoiding the usual carnage that can be found in the mid-pack of the opening laps of a SuperCup race!
Starting on the second row of the grid is a new experience for me- and a weird novelty of not seeing half a grid of MX-5s sat in front of me.
A good start off the line saw me up to P3 by the second corner, but then as we started to get stuck into the race a crash further back in the pack saw a red flag come out, neutralising the race during the first lap.
Once the track was cleared, it was time to do it all over again. Starting in P4 again, another good start off the line combined with a competitor in front missing a gear saw me up to P2 by the second corner and on the bumper of my team mate in first place.
Putting him under pressure through the next couple of corners, I got a good exit out of T3 and had to make the decision of whether to risk an overtake (slowing us both down) or sit behind him and try to build a gap. Seeing the car in P3 catching me I made a quick decision to go for the gap and send it down the inside of the hairpin of T4.
Unfortunately in hindsight I think it was too little of a send too late in the corner- there was no contact but I got quite sideways mid-corner as the gap closed down, and it left me a sitting duck to the rest of the pack behind. I lost out massively. I'm not sure exactly where I ended up, but with the pack so close on that opening lap I ended up dropping down to around 20th.
From there out it was very much a recovery drive... I found I had much more pace than the cars I ended up around, but overtaking proved difficult and frustrating.
From fighting for the lead, to ending up P17 with some cosmetic damage from other cars using my car to help them slow down mid-corner...
Again starting from P4 on the grid, it was a fresh opportunity to convert the solid qualifying result into some points.
Off the line it was a decent start, about on par with the three cars ahead. A car behind got a cracking start and managed to pass me on the run to T1- but unfortunately it seems they got a little greedy on the entry to T1 and tried to pass another car on corner entry. They tagged them and sent them spinning right in front of me.
I avoided the contact, but it meant braking and driving off track, meanwhile the rest of the pack is flat-out through T1 which meant for a second race in a row, I was a sitting duck for the rest of the pack coming through.
The massive speed differential meant I dropped down so somewhere around P15- so yet again it was into a recovery drive to see what places I could make up.
I ended up P11 (which I think equals my best ever race result), and was half a tenth shy of setting the fastest lap of the race. A disappointing result- but in a way it's positive and shows progress, as I would have been over the moon with a P11 last year!
A new day, a new race. Sunday morning saw the final race of the SuperCup weekend, and as the grid is set from the finishing order of Race 2 it meant I lined up P11 on the grid.
I knew I had the pace over most of the guys in front, so it just meant avoiding the opening lap carnage and then trying to work my way towards the front.
My left front wheel had other ideas...
On the opening lap, the car was noticeably reluctant to turn right. All thoughts of fighting into the top 10 disappeared and I was quickly caught and passed by other cars as I limped around corners and seemed to struggle for acceleration on the straights.
I stayed out for lap 2 in the hope I could at least safely drive around, score some points and avoid a DNF. However, the situation quickly deteriorated and instead of driving with a slow puncture I found myself with a completely flat tyre and a damaged wheel.
At that point it was just a case of admitting defeat, and doing the safe and sensible thing of letting the other cars through and limping the car back to the pits to retire.
A very short Sunday...
Overall it was a mixed weekend- full of some major positives but tainted by the lack of results.
The progress from last year, of barely qualifying in the top twenty and not having the pace to be in the top ten, to having front runner pace and battling for the lead, feels like a huge achievement and giant leap in the right direction.
The lack of results to go with it this weekend stings a little, but despite the results not being there the pace still is, so we're in a really good position to fight for podiums and maybe some wins at future rounds.
Onto Silverstone GP for the next round on May 21!