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Despite missing Round 1 at Snetterton, here I am to kick off a new series for my 2023 program, to pair up with C1 Endurance. This time, the focus is on shorter sprint races lasting 15 minutes, with three races per weekend. As a driver for Queen Ethelburga’s (QE Motorsports) #12 car in the Student Motorsport Challenge (SMC), I’m excited to be part of both this relatively new series and especially the SMC, a unique opportunity to go beyond just the racing aspect of motorsport. Adding to the anticipation, this will be my first time racing at Croft Circuit.

– Arthur

Friday Practice & Testing

On my way to the circuit from the nearby hotel, I had anticipated a long day, one that would divert my attention from learning the new track and instead require me to focus on setting up the new car. The QE car was completely new, never having touched a track before. It had undergone significant modifications to transform it into a CityCar Cup racing car, and most importantly, I hadn’t even sat in it yet.

I had previously experienced the challenges of a fresh build test day with an MX5 Cup Car, so I had some preconceived notions, but I was still excited. Everything was going to be unfamiliar, and I was prepared for the uphill battle I knew awaited me.

Upon arrival, I met with Will Snuggs of WJS Motorsport Engineering, the mechanic and engineer who had not only built and set up the base car but would also be supervising and guiding the students from the team in their first-ever race meeting. We swiftly took care of the seat fitting, which, unlike in C1 Endurance, involved bolting it into the seat frame since I would be the sole driver. We also went through some key points before the first session.

Throughout the day, I completed four half-hour sessions, fortunately experiencing both wet and dry conditions. The main thing I took away from the day was that Will and WJS are experts when it comes to the CityCar Cup platform. The car required minimal adjustments – it was practically flawless out of the box, with only minor tweaks needed to address some rubbing during mid-corner loads and ensure the car’s weight was on-spec. Props to Will, incredible effort.

Saturday Qualifying

After the mixed weather on Friday, Saturday in typical British fashion brought cloudy skies. Although the track was slightly damp, the earlier qualifying sessions had dried it up by the time our session was scheduled at 10:00. While I had become comfortable with the car fairly quickly, let’s call it a higher-performance C1 Endurance racing car, I was still getting the hang of the track. By the end of the previous test day, I had managed to achieve 1:56s, so any improvement on that would be welcomed. I anticipated being somewhere in the middle of the pack with that time, and also noted if I could get an even qualifying order number, I’d happily take the outside column of my starting row for the first corner.

Overall, it was a good session. With each lap, I saw improvement, and ultimately, I clocked a mid-1:55 lap, which positioned the car P16 out of 25 overall and P4 in class. We’re in contention for a podium finish in Race 1!

Saturday Race 1

As mentioned earlier, this weekend’s racing format was quite different from my usual endurance races. Throughout the CityCar Cup Championship, I would be participating in three 15-minute sprint races – typically one on Saturday with qualifying, and two more on Sunday. It was also worth noting that this marked my first standing start in years, be it in cars or on motorbikes.

The lights go out and away we go – I had a decent start, but unfortunately missed a shift into second gear. However, I could clearly see the front of the mid-pack ahead, with cars going four-wide into Turn 1, Clervaux, and its tight chicanes. The space available is only enough for one and a half cars on the best of days. To give myself some room, I eased off slightly. As expected, a three-car pile-up occurred, with one car spun around facing the wrong direction, another colliding head-on with it, and the third ending up in the grass on the right. I managed to navigate past the chaotic scene, and by Turn 3, the red flag was waved, indicating the temporary end of my first sprint race. It lasted approximately 45 seconds.

We re-grid for another start, with some cars now missing from the lineup, leaving attractive gaps if I could make a good start. Once again, the lights went out, and this time, we all sensibly approached Turn 1, successfully making it through without incident. The remainder of my race was uneventful as I found myself in an awkward position between two groups of cars battling for position, neither quite close enough to engage in the action. However, #12 QE Motorsports secured its first podium finish of the season, claiming second place in class. This achievement came after the #57 East Surrey College car went off-track due to oil and overtaking #11 Barracksport, who made a mistake in the Sunny In/Sunny Out corners. It was an incredible result, finishing at P11 out of 25 from a starting position of P16. It was a privilege to share the podium with the hardworking students who deserved this recognition for their tremendous efforts. The personal highlight was setting my new fastest lap time of 1:55.2.

Sunday Race 2

Another new aspect for me in this series is the grid order system for the following races, which with respect to Race 2, is determined by my finishing position in Race 1 on Saturday. Now, I find myself quite far up the grid in P11, with the inside line going into Turn 1. My strategy was simple – knowing that there were faster drivers behind me, I would adopt a defensive strategy and make the car as “big” as I could to try and maintain my position.

Once again, the lights went out, and somewhat comically, I missed a shift again, this time into third gear, costing me two positions right from the start. However, no matter, remaining on the defensive going into Turn 1. I must have been doing something right as shortly after I was hit from behind by Snuggs Senior (Richard in car #88, who later swore that he had also been hit!). The #11 Barracksport car, which had started in the same row as me on the left, was now ahead due to my missed shift, so my focus pivoted to defending against the #57 East Surrey College car in order to attempt to secure another podium finish for the team.

Looking back at the onboard footage from this race, I must admit that I never fully recovered from the rear-end hit. At the time, it felt much worse than I would later discover in parc ferme (spoiler, there was nothing…). I spent the remainder of the race in a more conservative mode (while also sensitive to potential hidden damage), avoiding any unnecessary contact. I finished the race in P15 overall, losing four positions from the start, and unfortunately, I also lost the podium spot to the #57 East Surrey College car, ending up P4 in my class. On the positive side, the car was completely fine – they are surprisingly resilient, all things considered. Additionally, I managed to set my new fastest lap once again, this time printing a flat 1:55.

Sunday Race 3

Similar to Race 2, there was another new twist to the grid system for Race 3. While I would still use my finishing position from Race 2, the top 10 finishers from Race 2 were randomly shuffled to create a mixed order. This meant that some of the fastest drivers would start at the bottom of the top 10. It’s an interesting mechanism designed to keep the races exciting and enjoyable.

Approaching the final race of the weekend, my goal was to have fun, set another new personal fastest lap, and who knows, maybe gain a position or two if the right opportunity presented itself. Little did I know that I would spend the next 15 minutes engaged in an exhilarating battle with a newfound acquaintance and friend, Andrew Payne in #73. Andrew and I had similar overall pace but different faster sectors, which meant we were neck and neck every lap. This included an unplanned “nudge” from me through Complex, which we both swiftly recovered from and immediately resumed the fight. In the end, I crossed the finish line right behind Andrew, maintaining my starting P15 position overall and securing P4 in class once again. Additionally, my lap pace was on par with Race 2, which was a satisfying outcome.

In Closing…

What an absolutely fantastic first race meeting in the CityCar Cup! There’s really nothing more to say. Will at WJS and the students did an incredible job putting together an amazing car. We achieved a podium finish in our very first weekend, which garnered attention from the commentators and media throughout the event. The car will be returning home in a similar condition to when it arrived, plus or minus a few bumps and scrapes, but overall, it’s been a great success.

As I reflect on this race meeting, I’m also taking away some valuable lessons to work on, especially as I prepare for my upcoming 24-hour race at Silverstone and the next round of the CityCar Cup. Compared to endurance racing, the CityCar Cup is undeniably aggressive. Moves need to be made early and decisively, given the limited 15-minute race duration. I will be focusing on becoming more comfortable driving at speed in close proximity to other cars, as well as committing to overtaking maneuvers confidently. It’s mainly a matter of building my self-confidence in uncomfortable situations, which still needs some refinement.

Next on the agenda is heading to Wales, specifically the Isle of Anglesey, for Round 3 of the championship. But before that, a stop at Silverstone for the exhilarating 24H!

Media Used: Jon Elsey Photography, Sam Martin (Barracksport)