Well, the inevitable occurred, finally I suppose. My first crash of the season in Race 1 of CityCar Cup at the Brands Hatch race meeting (rounds 13-15 of the season). More on that in a bit, but it’s a notable setback, especially after having just clinched the Rookie of the Year position as of Snetterton. There’s a fair amount of repairs needed to prep the car for Donington but we should be all set to race again in time. Only four races remain across two circuits before the season comes to an end!– Arthur
Friday Practice & Testing
Similar to Snetterton, we were welcomed with mixed weather and conditions on Friday for testing. The day kickstarted with a wet track, which eventually turned damp pre-lunch. By the afternoon, we fortunately got dry, optimum circuit conditions. Each session was an unusually longer 30 minutes, a welcome change considering our testing fees this season! I’ve driven at Brands Hatch before, but only for licensing – meaning my actual track time here isn’t all that extensive. The goal for today? Translate my sim training into real experience and experiment with car setups.
Our morning sessions, despite being rain-laden, were decent. Thanks to our wet setup data from Snetterton, we had a solid baseline to jump off from. However, forecasts predicted the race weekend would remain dry, so this wet practice mostly served for data accumulation and notes.
In a rather amusing episode, I was shown a black and white flag during the second session, right before a red flag interruption. Slightly confused, I approached a pit marshal to clarify if the warning was in fact for me. Turns out, it was… He humorously informed me that another track limits warning would land me a 20-minute “sin bin” timeout. I had totally forgotten and admittedly also underestimated Brands Hatch’s strictness on track limits – lesson learned, say less!
The afternoon sessions ran smoothly, albeit with some concerns. Our lap times weren’t improving enough considering the conditions and didn’t feel competitive in comparison to our usual peers on the grid. In our third session, we tinkered with the tire pressure setup. While it did boost my confidence, the timings revealed a slower car. During the fourth session, I adjusted my racing line a bit in two corners, managing to shave off a few fractions of a second, but still not hitting my target. I wrapped up the day clocking in mid 1:04s.
Qualifying was set for mid-morning, with a few other series running ahead of ours. This ensured the track would be virtually dry by the time we hit the circuit. The funny thing about this qualifying session was the track configuration: Brands Hatch Indy is just a tad over a mile in length, and we have 36 cars queued up on the grid this weekend. Factor in the toughly one-minute lap time, sprinkle in a bit of spacing, and you get the picture. Even without being a math whiz, it’s clear that as the last car is exiting the pit lane to begin its warm-up lap, the frontrunners are already powering through Clark Curve, gearing up for their first flying lap.
Having continued to climb the championship standings post-Snetterton, I was among the first 10 cars released onto the track. My main hope? To find enough space to punch in one or two flying laps before the inevitable bunching up occurred, turning qualifying into a mini race. Then again, given the lackluster performance in Friday’s testing, I wasn’t exactly brimming with optimism for any major improvements.
Sticking to the script, I managed two solid laps right out the gate, one of which held as my quickest until almost the very end. On my penultimate lap, I clocked another 1:04.5 – mirroring Friday’s performance. While initially disheartening, a closer look at the leaderboard offered some consolation. The top 25 cars behind the top 3, were clustered within a tight half-second gap. I was a mere 0.004 seconds behind the competitor in front – indicating that we were in for some seriously close racing!
Saturday Race 1
Post-qualifying, we had some downtime. Taking advantage of this, I went over the car with the students, scrutinizing both the evident and obscure bits to ensure nothing had slipped our checks. I was inclined to attribute our underwhelming performance to my performance on track – perhaps not hitting the right line in certain sectors. But, a double-check never hurts.
Upon inspection, the majority of the car seemed fine. However, we noted that both rear wheels were unusually stiff, even after fully disengaging the handbrake. Suspecting an issue with the brake drums – possibly worn-out cylinders – we recognized the impact of the situation. Any rolling resistance significantly curtails the performance of these low horsepower racing cars. A comprehensive rebuild wasn’t feasible given the time constraints and lack of parts. Instead, we opted to disconnect the handbrake altogether, ensuring the wheels wouldn’t stiffen up post-adjustment.
Now, as for Race 1—where to even start… My stint was brief, lasting a mere two laps. I managed an unexpectedly good launch, likely partly owing to the friction-free rear wheels now, gaining ground early on. A few positions were conceded coming down Paddock Hill, thanks to a poorly judged decision on which car to follow. On my next pass, I found myself behind car #5 on the straight.
As we approached our turn-in for Paddock, maintaining a tight formation, #5 experienced a minor oversteer. He swiftly corrected it. Yet, further down the hill, another oversteer again, causing the car to then snap left, then right. On this third veer, I was convinced he was heading off track to the right, so I committed left. To my surprise, he had another sharp snap and final counter-correction to the left, colliding with my right. In seconds, both of us skated over the gravel trap and into the safety barrier. The entire ordeal, from the initial contact to the crushing end, lasted roughly three seconds – with the actual collision happening in under a second.
In a nutshell, our race was ended there; a red flag was waved, and given the circumstances, I mentally prepared for a premature end to our weekend. Throughout my “racing career”, I’ve experienced a handful of mishaps. Save for this one, all were self-induced, making this incident particularly frustrating. While there’s no finger-pointing, one can’t help but wish for a different outcome.
Things could’ve been worse – I managed to drive #12 back around Brands after they pulled the car out from the gravel and return it to the paddock under its own power – the same fortune wasn’t shared by #5, which made its journey back atop a flatbed. However, the damage to our car was substantial.
Through the afternoon and into the evening, the dedicated QEM students collaborated with the Boston College team and their seasoned instructors, all focused on getting the car race-ready again. The entire front end underwent a teardown. Big hydraulic tools came into play, and there was even a moment when the car, bound by straps, was anchored to a tree, all in a bid to roughly realign the chassis.
A genuine shoutout to the Boston College team: not only did they dive headfirst into this colossal repair endeavor, but they also generously shared invaluable knowledge and expertise, playing the role of mentors to QEM’s budding motorsport students.
As nightfall approached, our resilient car began to show signs of its former self. Detailing work smoothed over the scars on the left side, the front end received fresh parts courtesy of Silverlake Garage, and preparations were underway to have it re-scrutineered, ensuring its eligibility for the next day’s race rounds.
Sunday Races 2 & 3
For the sake of briefness, I’m consolidating my notes from these races. While we managed to get the car back on the grid post scrutineering inspection that morning, the car simply wasn’t the same. Given the incident, this was hardly surprising, and certain elements of the geometry just weren’t addressable until the car returned to the workshop.
The new objective for the weekend evolved into a simpler one: drive around the circuit for two 15-minute races without any hitches, accrue our weekend’s points, and consider it a wrap. Due to my DNF in Race 1, I started from the back in Race 2, eventually securing a P24/36 finish. This was partially attributed to another major incident at Paddock, this time knocking out 4-5 cars. Then Race 3 rolled around, and finished P25. For all the bad, I did share some entertaining moments on the track with #36 Prem Ghinde, who was grappling with his own issues. Despite the circumstances, we managed to extract some enjoyable racing from the back of the grid.
Aside from that, it was a disheartening sight to pass two familiar, but stricken competitors on the circuit in Race 3. Having done great racing with both during the previous round at Snetterton, it was unfortunate to see Pete (#101) and Dominic (#14) caught up in yet another major incident at the base of Paddock Hill. Pete’s car was half rolled over, while Dominic’s wasn’t faring much better. Gents, here’s to a swift recovery for both, and hoping to see you both at Silverstone or sooner!
All in all, it wasn’t the most enjoyable weekend on my end, but it certainly came with its fair share of lessons. I can’t express my gratitude enough to the Boston College team for their invaluable assistance in reviving the car for Sunday’s racing. A heartfelt thanks to all of you.
While it’s tempting to lazily attribute my misfortune to bad luck and not think about it again, I’ve found it’s accretive to reflect a bit and determine if there were measures I could’ve taken to mitigate the situation. I’ll be having a think about all this as I gear up for Donington in just a couple of weeks!
Media Used: Arthur Simondet, James Roberts Photography, QE Motorsports