The weekend of July 10-11 saw the latest round in the MX-5 Supercup head to Anglesey in North Wales. As a Welsh driver this feels like it should be something of a home race for me, but after a five hour drive to get there from Cardiff in South Wales it definitely didn't feel like a home race! The distance is one of the reasons I've never been to this track before, but after driving around here for three days I can see why it's so popular and I'm really looking forward to going back.
The race weekend was a bit of a mixed bag for me. For sure there were a lot of positives to take away from it, but with those came some pretty significant set-backs that definitely put a downer on things.
In short, the positives were great. Consistent improvement through testing, best qualifying result yet by far, improved race pace in the dry, and the best race result to date. The bad points? Well... Keep reading.
Coming into the weekend having never driven the track before, nor being able to practice it on the sim beforehand, I was a little worried I'd struggle to get on the pace of the other drivers who had been there previously. However, through every test session I was learning a lot and slicing chunks off my lap times. By the end of the day, aside from needing to work on my consistency I was pretty happy with my improvements and was feeling confident for the race weekend.
On fresh tyres and almost straight out of the gate, on lap 2 I put in a time well clear of what I'd been able to do in testing and was provisional P10 for a while. As the session went on, I was unable to improve and with the track getting slower eventually I dropped down to P14. Although frustrated I couldn't improve and stay in the top 10, this was still a really great result for me given I've been qualifying in the mid 20s up until now. Furthermore, whilst your fastest lap time sets your starting position for Race 1, your second fastest lap sets your position for Race 2 and I was surprised to see that my second best lap was enough to put me P12 for Race 2.
To see that everyone who qualified in front of me was a race or championship winner was some good evidence that I'm making improvements and pushing closer to the front.
Qualifying had put me into P14 for the first race, but because of a grid-place penalty further up the grid, I'd ended up in P13 for the start of the race. Whilst starting P13 felt like an achievement, it also meant starting the race around some really quick drivers and any mistakes would get pounced on. Coupled with me lacking some consistency in getting quick lap times in, it was always going to be a race of hanging on to as many positions as possible.
I lost some positions, re-gained some positions, and then quite a bad crash caused the safety car to come out for what felt like most of the race. At the end of the safety car period, despite all of the chopping and changing of positions I was still running in P13 with just a couple laps to go. Having not yet finished in the top 20, I was hoping for a top 20 result but a top 15 would have been amazing. To be running in P13... I was pretty excited.
I'd been defending against the car behind in P14 for some time, and on the very last lap, with two corners to go, they had the run on me into a hairpin. I moved to the inside to defend, but I was so focussed on defending I missed my braking point and couldn't get it stopped in time for the corner.
Unfortunately I managed to collect the car in front as we both arrived at the corner at the same time. Luckily for them they didn't lose too much out of it and kept their position, but I scrubbed off all of my speed and on the run down to the last corner of the race dropped back to P17 as the cars I'd been defending against for so long all powered past me.
It was a really disappointing end to the race, coming so close to a top 15 finish and losing it so close to the end. But, 17th was still my best race finish so far and having originally just been hoping for a top 20 finish there's definitely still positives to draw from it. It's just a lot easier to focus on the missed opportunity!
With my second fastest lap in qualifying putting me P12 for Race 2, I was raring to go after my failure to stay in the top 15 during Race 1. Like Race 1, a penalty further up the grid meant I'd be starting in P11 and not P12. So even more chance of being able to hang on in there!
That's about where the positivity ends... In P11 with a lot of quick drivers around me, I knew I'd have to stay punchy to have any chance of hanging onto positions (and maybe moving forward a bit).
On lap one, we climbed up the hill into the Rocket hairpin at around 110mph where 35 MX-5s got on the brakes and tried to find space to make it through unscathed. I saw a gap open up on the inside, and exactly as I'd done in Race 1 I slotted it up the inside on the brakes. Unlike where I'd successfully done this in Race 1 however, I left my braking slightly too late, locked a front wheel and had no room to do anything about it. I caught the rear quarter of one of the cars in front as they turned into the corner and quite a nasty crash ensued.
Fair warning, the video contains a lot of swearing. I was quite annoyed at myself...
After the crash, I'm pretty sure the car was about 1ft shorter than at the start of the race, having taken some nasty hits to the front and rear end. With the bumper hanging off the front, and an unknown amount of damage to the rear, I managed to slowly limp it back to the pits. The team managed to do a quick repair and get me back out on track, but at that point it was a pretty lonely race a lap down firmly in last place.
Although I managed to un-lap myself from a few cars by the end of the race, it felt like little consolation.
The starting order for Race 3 is determined by the finishing order of Race 2. After my incident in Race 2 this meant I'd be starting from last place. Somehow, like the other two races, some penalties elsewhere meant I actually started last but one... Small victories...
This was the first wet running at the track all weekend, and starting so far back I just treated the race as a low-pressure session to practice finding the grip in the wet and to try to build on my race craft.
I made up a few positions by the end of the race, and had a lot of fun, but ultimately the result was nothing to write home about!
It's hard to not focus on the negatives from the weekend. The crashes, the missed opportunities... It's true that those aren't great, but also I'm genuinely happy to see pace improving and to be qualifying and running in the top 15 by my third race weekend in the ever-competitive MX-5 Supercup.
Furthermore, even if it didn't all work out perfectly this time, I'd much rather be pushing hard and making mistakes than settling into my comfort zone, not making mistakes, but similarly not improving.
Next up is Snetterton in a couple of weeks time- a really technical track and with qualifying and all three races taking place all in one day. It's going to be a tough one, but I'm really looking forward to the challenge!