Back at it with sprint racing for Rounds 10-12 of the CityCar Cup Championship at Snetterton Circuit with the QE Motorsports Student Motorsport Challenge team. A mere four weeks ago, we were performing well at Anglesey Circuit, managing to secure a place on the class podium in Race 3 and clinching a spot in the Top 3 during the qualifying round. At Snetterton, however, the weather refused to cooperate, and we were presented with incredibly challenging conditions. Amidst this, I had the honor of recording my first “inchident” of the season – more on this later…– Arthur
Friday Practice & Testing
With the introduction of yet another new circuit for me, we scheduled an intensive day of testing for Friday. We were able to experiment with an assortment of setups under somewhat varying weather conditions – dry in the morning, followed by wet in the afternoon. The latter proving to be invaluable for determining our setup for the weekend.
As time has passed, the students have been progressing in their curriculum and practical experience, both in the classroom and on the circuit. It’s remarkable to see how they have developed their unique roles and specializations. I recall the commotion at Croft, where they would stumble over each other, uncertain of their tasks – now they operate like a seasoned, well-coordinated team. They ask the right questions, swiftly attend to their responsibilities after every session, and have almost perfected a seamless process. Little did they know about the impending curveball post-Race 2!
Our morning was dedicated to testing each end of the setup spectrum to gauge the car’s performance at the beginning, middle, and end of each session. This allowed us to fine-tune and zero in on the effective setup. The insights we gathered from our notes, I believe, will prove invaluable in the upcoming rounds – at least, the ones that suggest dry conditions!
Today was jam-packed due to the shared weekend with the endurance championship. Consequently, Sunday wouldn’t feature our standard Races 2 and 3, hence today’s agenda – qualifying, Race 1, and Race 2. Let’s get to it! The weather was typically British, overcast skies, nothing out of the ordinary, but the afternoon was allegedly meant to turn bad. Temperatures were also slightly lower, which we’d correct for on the tire pressures.
With my steady ascent up the championship standings and the qualifying release order determined by current said standings, I decided against letting cars pass on my out lap to create space, as there were now more cars behind than in front. That being said, I was also aware that based on the results from Anglesey, there were still a few competitors above me in the standings that, at least in theory, would be marginally slower. My plan was to either quickly navigate around those cars or drop back to create a buffer, allowing for some unimpeded flying laps.
After a few laps, the traffic had largely cleared, granting me the opportunity to put in some strong, fast runs. I managed to shave off a bit of time from Friday’s practice, clocking a 2:39.3, which positioned our car in P9/26 overall and P4 in the SMC – a promising start to the weekend!
Saturday Race 1
As the morning transitioned into afternoon, the dry weather gave way to a formidable rain storm, with more yet to come. As we were starting in P9, my primary objective was to maintain that position, and I would only take passing opportunities if they were straightforward and low-risk.
The rain began to intensify as we kicked off two formation laps, followed by a slippery standing start. The entire pack managed to maneuver cleanly through Turns 1 and 2, albeit in my case at the cost of two positions, one of which was to another SMC car (kudos to Liam Browning of Boston College for an incredible start). The conditions mirrored one of our Friday practice sessions – the optimum wet line seemed to shift with each lap as the rain clouds passed over the circuit. Thankfully, I managed to take some valuable wet line notes from the talent ahead of me, but for the most part, my strategy remained defensive.
The race concluded with us in P11/26 overall (P5 in class), with the loss of two positions from the first lap that I couldn’t reclaim. It was clear that we would need to consider our Friday notes for some further setup adjustments before Race 2.
Saturday Race 2
I thought the weather during Race 1 was challenging, but Race 2 was categorically terrible – arguably the most severe race conditions I’ve ever faced that wasn’t promptly curtailed by a red flag. Given that many of us were essentially racing blind in Race 1 due to the spray while drafting behind other cars, the conditions for Race 2 were set to amplify this exponentially.
As you may recall from my previous CityCar post, the starting positions for Race 2 are determined by the finishing order in Race 1. Therefore, I was set to start Race 2 in P10 (due to a disqualification ahead of me, advancing me one place), putting me firmly within reach of the randomized Top 10 grid for Race 3.
With a new setup on the car, a clear race strategy, and despite the atrocious weather, we were primed and ready. As soon as the lights went out, we were unsurprisingly engulfed by a blinding spray going into Turn 1. I had to rely solely on the taillights ahead, as even my own brake markers were hard to spot. However, within a few corners, I could tell that our setup changes were paying off; I was keeping pace with the leading cars.
As the race progressed and my confidence in the car grew, I began to see opportunities to overtake P9 and P8. Yet, this is exactly where I went down a risky rabbit hole I shouldn’t have. While transitioning from Coram into Murrays, right on the bumper of the P9 car, I was caught off-guard by early braking from P8 which was quickly reciprocated by P9. This chain reaction forced me into a fast lift and into braking, which the balance of the car naturally disliked, and coupled with the slick surface, sent me into an unrecoverable snap oversteer. Consequently, I skidded from the exit of Coram, through Murrays, and crashed into the back barrier.
While the impact wasn’t severe, I was instantly aware that we might not be able to complete the race – an outcome that would be heavily detrimental to our points and standings, given our lack of spare round to drop. Upon pulling up to the marshal post and hearing rubbing and clanking noises, I feared the worst for the car’s front end. When the marshal asked if I was okay, I responded “is the car okay?!” To my surprise, he gave me a thumbs-up, and without any hesitation, I charged back onto the circuit to secure our finishing points.
Fortunately, I didn’t have to limp the car much further, as the race was red-flagged a lap later. And so arrived the curveball I had alluded to earlier for the students. Until now, they had returned a relatively clean car after every race since the start of the season. That night, however, they were in for a long shift as we all worked for a few hours to rectify the damages in preparation for Race 3 the following day.
We dismantled the front end, assessed the damage, pinpointed the issues, formulated a plan, and got to work. By the time I left the circuit, apart from a few minor touch-ups scheduled for the morning, car #12 was once again ready for the racetrack. Well done too all!
Sunday Race 3
My less than stellar performance in Race 2 was admittedly a healthy blow to my ego, but I also view it as an inevitable part of racing when approached like I did. Racing a car is fundamentally just a long succession or series of split-second decisions made over the duration of a drive, all strung together. I’ve found that a well-defined race plan, followed diligently, generally brings me excellent results, and unfortunately, my previous performance didn’t track this process. However, we were still able to secure points for finishing the race which is essential to our ongoing success this season.
In light of this underwhelming execution, we were now faced with the challenging prospect of starting at the very back of the grid for another rain-soaked Race 3. I set the stress aside though, my aim was to claw back some easy positions, enjoy some good racing with competitors further up the grid, and finish with an intact car ready for direct transport back to the workshop.
After some minor initial squabbles, I was up to P19/26 after the first lap, then P16 after the second. What followed was a thrilling bout of racing with Dominic Fletcher in #14 and Peter Bower in #101. This intense but fun race in a race lasted for a good ten minutes, with me ultimately in-between them both in P15, gaining approximately 10 positions from the start! Peter put up a spirited defense until I found an opening at Montreal. Then, Dominic and I ran door to door, with each of us outpacing the other in different sectors, keeping the battle dynamic till the end!
Many lessons learned this race meeting, but aside from my issues I was really impressed and admired the resilience and adaptability of the students. Watching their evolution since April has been truly rewarding, and the unexpected repair work this race meeting required showcased their ability to swiftly adapt and acquire new skills (along with learning how to disassemble part of the car…). So overall despite the challenges, it wasn’t all bleak. Thanks to that encouraging thumbs-up from the marshal in Race 2, we kept going to finish the race, albeit in last place, but thanks to the points, solidifying my position as Top Novice in the overall championship and placing the QE Motorsports team tied for 4th in the SMC standings.
We now have a brief break before we head off to Brands Hatch in just three weeks for yet another triple-header event!