Welcome to my first race weekend blog for HiQ and what a rollercoaster ride of emotions it was for all of us at Rob Austin Racing in the Brands Hatch pit lane over the weekend but with far more highs than lows thankfully when I think back to how it was 12 months ago...
To come away from the opening day of the season 9th in the points table is nice enough but then consider this - that's out of 31 drivers and against a world-class grid. Then also consider that's with a zero score and having to start one of the races from right at the back of the grid.
I suppose the 'highlight' of my two practice sessions was the roasting I got off my old boss Alain Menu - I was limping around with a puncture and had to get across the track to the pit lane; he was in my blind spot. Thank goodness for his world-class avoiding actions, but he wasn't happy with me and quite rightly to as it could have been nasty. Very embarrassing, but I think he's forgiven me now!
In qualifying we were just 0.260s away from pole position - that would have put me fourth last year; this time it was good enough only for 11th. That's how incredibly competitive it is in 2014. Whilst we have learnt a lot about Sherman in testing, throwing lots of new tyres at him to develop a qualifying set up is a luxury we still haven't had. I think this year it will make a difference so I'm counting my pennies for another test day before Donington.
To come home 5th in Race 1 was awesome but if only I'd been starting a few places higher... Getting Collard off the start was key as he would have been very hard to pass and then once I had muscled past Smith I could get my head down. After dispatching Turkington who I think had a problem I was hunting down the works Hondas and a podium result. A mistake at paddock Hill 4 laps from the end cost me half a second and my chance to have a go - I got to within 0.350s of them in the end - so it would have been very interesting to see if they were playing games or not.
Then it was time for a few interviews with media before jumping on the buggy to our team hospitality for a Q&A with my team-mate Hunter Abbott in front of all our sponsors and guests. The reception was awesome and it's actually the most pleasant Q&A I've ever done with guests at a BTCC event. I also have to say I was really impressed with how Hunter acquitted himself on his BTCC debut. To be in the midfield pack with no previous experience of touring car racing and in a field this good is a really positive start. He's going to be picking up points regularly very soon...
Race 2: Heart breaking!! After looking at the data it turns out that I overlapped dumping the clutch and coming off the handbrake button by 0.003 of a second. Enough to shock-load the propshaft with enough force to snap the UJ. I can not apologise enough to my team, sponsors and all my supporters, I really feel I let everyone down with such a silly error. The boys though... WOW... you try and change a prop in 10 minutes when everything is stinking hot! Amazing work which gave us chance to do a systems check ready for Race 3. When we get back to base we are going to move the electronic hand brake to the front axle so that can't happen again. It'll also make for some awesome burn outs!
WOW, 28th on the grid is a LONG way back, I could barely see the lights! But with the pressure off and nothing to lose all I had to do was go nuts. I actually really thrive in these situations, I love it when I'm either going to achieve something great or total the car trying and as I did that last year I figured the odds were in my favour so I was confident this could only end well!
It was such a good feeling to pass the reigning champion around the outside on my way to P11 and had it not been for some confusion about the safety car restart which cost us 2 over seconds I am certain we would of finished well inside the top 10.
I must say I was a little disappointed to not get fastest lap but Jason (Plato) just pipped me to that one.
Looking to Donington I believe we can be just as strong. Pre-season we focused our testing and development at the circuits we were weak at last year, so having been to Donington already this year I know the car is very fast there now as well. I hope so because I really want to get up there in the championship this year. The car feels awesome, the team is awesome and (Alan Gow and Tin Top Tuesday fans are you listening) I can't wait for Donington!
As for Brands, sure we could and should have ended up with far bigger results but that's motor racing ☺