Well, it’s been a couple of weeks now since my return to the track in the UK, and before I get into how my weekend went I would like to say a special thank you to those who sponsored me to help me get out on circuit.
It was two years since I last raced in the UK Championships, clinching the vice-champion position at the same meeting then. This time there was no pressure of any championship to worry about, although I hadn’t sat in my car for 13 months, so there was bound to be a little rustiness to work out, plus the fact that the series had changed tyre supplier since I last raced. The tyres are the most important part (nearly!) to get ultimate performance, look at the struggles the F1 teams talk about saying they need to get the tyres working in their window in order for the car to work. So that was another layer to the challenge ahead, and to top it all off it was wet on Saturday too.
The format of the weekend is practice and 3 races on Saturday and 3 races on Sunday. The grid for race 1 is a random draw, then it is reversed for race 2. The top points scorers then are sent to back of the grid for the final. The winner of the round is the driver who scores the best over the 3 races, so it is all about progression and being as consistent as possible and of course how you get through the traffic.
Practice was a bit of a venture, not knowing what pressures to run in the tyres to just getting back in the groove behind the wheel. I did something I haven’t done in a long time in practice, spun on my own! Felt like a right novice! Although I do partially attribute the tyres to causing the spin as it was clear they didn’t corner like the previous ones, mid corner grip was terrible, giving me a bit of headache ahead of race 1.
We made a couple of small changes before race 1, tyre pressures being the main change. I drew grid 22 out of the 32 car grid for race 1. The rain was absolutely hammering down, and visibility starting that far back was going to be challenging. I safely negotiated the opening lap, and was steadily working my way up the pack to 14th, then I missed a gear under braking for Graham Hill Bend and swiftly departed the track, another rusty mistake! I lost a few positions and recovered to 19th by the end. For sure I wasn’t happy although not many guys were making big progress that were around me, but I just wasn’t happy with the way the car was working.
Before race 2 we made a few suspension changes to try and get more feel from the rear, and I lined up 5th. Again being rusty I made a pigs ear of the start, falling down to around the lower reaches of the top 10. The race was good fun, having a good battle with championship leader John Mickel and Rookie Champ Miles Rudman. The car was working really nicely on the first part of the circuit, which enabled me to attack, however the 2nd half of the lap was entirely different, just about hanging on to it. We found over a second in lap time from race 1 to race 2. Still I was disappointed to finish 12th. People in the paddock were being encouraging saying itd take me time to get back on it, but I’m always expecting good things!
The rain had stopped since lunch, and the track was slowly drying. I had qualified in 12th for the final, so firmly ensconced in the midfield. I thought with nothing to lose I’d go for the gamble of putting dry tyres on. The difference between drys and wets in Legends is purely the tread depth. The dry tyres are shaved to about 3mm. I was the only driver to gamble on drys, hoping that the line would be there, but alas it wasn’t to be, it was the wrong call! As I exited the traction zone from Graham Hill, the grip just wasn’t there, people going by me on either side whilst the car was snaking down the road! As the race wore on, it was slowly starting to work better and better, however I’d lost too much ground and ended up 23rd. A day to forget, but I was looking forward to a drier Sunday!
I drew 19th for race 1, and for the first time all weekend I felt right at home, making my way through the pack and setting fastest lap at one point early in the race. I then got boxed in behind one of the Belgian’s who was making life difficult. But in the end I sneaked thorugh and actually picked up 8th on the line by 0.09 seconds pipping Porsche Carrera Cup driver Dan McKay.
So starting 6th in race 2 I felt reasonably confident that we’d be challenging for a race win given the pace shown in race 1. The race was going to plan up to 4th on lap 1, 3rd on lap 2, then catching the two leaders. There was some fluid down from a crash in the previous race which meant it was slippy out there, and the normal overtaking spot at Druids was nearly only a one car line through there. But I managed to sneak through to 2nd on lap 7. Legends is a formula born in the USA, and is a stepping stone towards NASCAR. As such bump-drafting is common place to bump the driver in front to enable that two cars go faster than one. This tactic is used for overtaking and to pull clear of the chasing pack behind. I was behind Rickie Leggatt who was looking for his first ever race win. Coming onto the pit straight I was happily going to pick Rickie up to help us get away, I wanted to get the race down to just us 2 going onto the last lap, I felt confident I’d have enough to pip him on the line drafting past him. However when I went to bump draft it all went wrong. It spun his rear up and promptly deposited both of us into the pit wall well in excess of a 100mph. It was a big hit and I was thankful for the safety of these little pocket rockets. My knee took a bashing on the steering column but apart from that I was fine. Rickie was fine too, but the cars weren’t!
There was a huge amount of damage to the car, but credit to my team, in just under two hours they managed to repair the car to enable me to get back out for the final. Countless parts (some lent from John Mickel, thank you!), the chassis had to be welded back together, and we took the grid. We concentrated on getting the front end fixed so much we forgot to check the rear as all looked ok there. As soon as I went out though there was a horrible vibration. Then I saw smoke coming out from the engine area so I pulled into the pits to discover there was a fuel leak. The end of the road. But to get the car running was a miracle from the state it was in. Even if I’d have finished 2nd in race 2 I would’ve been highest points qualifier going into the final. So I feel nearly certain that if not a win, a podium would’ve been easily attained. Which in a way was nice to come back and show the old dog could still run up front!
Once again thank you to you guys at 3 Legs 4 Wheels and your listeners for their support. Keep an eye out for my onboard from the race where I crashed on my youtube channel and my website www.jamesholmanracing.com for future news and videos. For 2018 I’m going to join Lee in the world of parenthood, as we’re expecting April time, which will be exciting, not well planned on my part as I’ll be missing the opening rounds of next year Irish Championship which I will be competing in next year. If you’ve made it this far well done! Thanks for reading!