The past few months have been a bit of a whirlwind with lots of time spent thinking about the future, both on and off track. The racing withdrawal symptoms have well and truly kicked in and the winter seems to be dragging on forever, so I thought I’d take the opportunity to look back on what has been a rollercoaster season, literally at times!
After confirming a move to the dominant Team Pyro with support from new sponsors Evergreen Tyres at Autosport International in January we were able to carry out a lot of pre-season testing, learning a lot about the new 4th generation Renault UK Clio Cup car along the way. Going into the first round at Brands in March I was confident that I’d be in a position to put everything I’d learnt in the previous weeks into practice and finally show that I’m able to mix it at the front of the Clio grid when things go my way.
And so it turned out. We ran at the sharp end all weekend, and finishing runner up in the first race for the 4th generation Clio in the UK was exactly the message I wanted to send.
However, from this point on things turned against us. No matter what I or the team tried we couldn’t set the car up to handle as it had done in the first few months of the year, constantly battling understeer. The problem seemed to get worse every time I went out on track and the next two race meetings became a real challenge because of this issue, particularly at Thruxton where the excessive tyre wear caused by the abrasive surface amplified the understeer further.
I came very close to pulling out of the championship at that point, but decided to go to Oulton as it’s my favourite circuit. However, understeering straight off the track at Druids, rolling three times, writing off the car and receiving treatment for concussion at Chester Hospital really was the final straw. At the end of the day racing should be enjoyable but hadn’t been for some time, so I needed a change. I owe a big thanks to everyone at Pyro for all their hard work to try and fix the problem, particularly Mark Hunt and Phil Glew who taught me a lot in my short time there.
We’d already put a deal in place to take part in three MINI Challenge meetings with backing from Pirelli, and so a little over a month after the biggest shunt of my career I made the journey back up to Oulton Park. After initially felling a bit tentative, especially through Druids, by the end of the test day I felt like I was back to full confidence, and spent the race weekend focussed on learning how to get the best out of the car with a top 5 finish in the last race of the weekend capping off a successful return.
Next up was my first visit to the Silverstone GP Circuit, a weekend which ended up as a metaphor for the whole season. It started well, went rapidly downhill then recovered to finish strongly. After qualifying 4th the first race ended early after contact put me out, demoting me to the rear of the grid for race 2. 7th place in the second encounter meant I just missed out on the reverse grid pole, but as a result of only completing half a lap in race 1 my tyres were in good shape and after just a couple of laps I felt confident of moving through the field. In an action packed race I was thrilled to come through to take the win, a very welcome first victory in cars after a long and difficult 4 years.
I went into the final round at Brands Hatch hoping to end to season as it had begun there 6 months previously by taking to the podium, and in the final race it looked as though that may happen as three of us broke away from the chasing pack on the first lap. But when the red flags came out due to a big crash and damage to the barriers the race was abandoned due to the impending curfew, ending any hopes of ending the season with some silverware.
The second half of the season was seriously enjoyable, thanks partly to the performance of the MINI Challenge JCW car, but also because of the atmosphere within the Excelr8 team. With the launch of the new 3rd Generation MINI Challenge F56 car for next year I’m really hoping to be able to join them full time in 2015, and should hopefully have some news in time for Autosport International in a little over a month!