#24 Race Review - Oulton Park... Almost the perfect weekend
Oulton Park is the track I was most looking forward to. It's where I got my racing license and first sampled its haloed tarmac. I arrive on the Thursday evening, as I do most race weekends. It was a leisurely two hour drive to the Cheshire circuit from my house in Powys, mid Wales. Mostly winding roads and very little traffic. Just how we like it. The VW camper was again on form and a joy to drive.
I take a quick shot of me standing next to Rushton Lane road sign, and aptly post it on Facebook tagging my mate who shares the same surname with the strap line "Can't get away from the guy". Hilarious.
While considering my hilarity I continue down Rushton Lane which is in fact the wrong way to the entrance to Oulton Park. A quick u-turn and a check of the map and I arrive safe and sound making my way to the paddock. I setup the camper and take a walk to see who I can find.
Mad4Mini arrive with a new driver announcement. Stuart MaClaren was to step up from the Cooper pro Class and take the seat in their R53 supercharged racer. Stuart is a professional racing driver instructor. This was going to be interesting!
I settle in for the night in my usual way sifting through any and all tin top YouTube race footage of Oulton Park. A favourite of mine, the BTCC pole sitter videos. In this one Matt Simpson takes us through his pole lap, pointing out to be careful not to breach track limits into Old Hall corner. A point to note readers, all will become clear later.
Friday morning and it's Practice day. An important day for me. I've never driven here before, naturally this being my first year in Motorsport. I get changed and knuckle down. The first session to bed myself in to the track. Session two I'm upping the pace and focusing on the most important corners. We're racing the Island Circuit. This is the medium length option at Oulton Park, 0.5miles shorter than the full International Circuit.
Some tracks are more obvious and easier to rank each corner in order of importance. Oulton Park is a tricky one because it has lots of important corners. I decide to focus on Cascades and Druids. Cascades is a downhill fast left-hander. Very tricky with a steep inside camber which you need to be on quite early. It feels like you are turning in to soon when you approach from The Avenue. Duids is a double apex fast right-hander. Both of these corners carried exit speed onto fairly longish straights. Very important for lap times.
Few incidents meant I benefited from all of the practice sessions. Oulton Park there is little run off. Make a mistake and it could be curtains for you. I pushed hard without incident. My confidence was high heading into Saturday Qualifying and Race day. On track and I'm soon setting the pace. In fact, I was so confident in my time I pitted the car early to save on tyre wear for the race. I managed a whopping 1.2s quicker than P2. Here's my Pole lap. It wasn't without its moments mind. A little wobble into druids.
Our team had a new guest driver. He would be driving in the Stu Lane Motorsport Websites car. A quick car. I raced against Stu at Donington and Snetterton. Both car and driver setting the pace. In the hot seat was a double champion by the name Tom Haliwell. Jesus, do my team not like me or something! I've got my work cutout for me this weekend.
Although qualifying was relatively straightforward setting the best lap time of the weekend, I knew the race was going to be very different. Race 1 and off the lights I had a great start until I tried to get 3rd gear. Fluffing my gears I drop back to P2. Soon I was being hounded by Tom in 3rd. He was mighty in the straights and there was little I could do to concede P2. Dropping to 3rd I feel more comfortable as I ease myself into the race knowing if I could pick my moments I have the confidence to get past. I'm looking at two overtaking spots. The braking zones into the Hislops chicane and Lodge corner. Here's all the action.
Race 1 - Winner. What a fantastic race. Thwart is close action racing I narrowly pip Tom Haliwell to take the win. Amazing. This has pushed me to another level. One of the toughest and most technical tracks and I am bossing it. I can't believe it. This is a dream. Perhaps it was the power of my support. Twenty family and friends came to watch me race. That felt so special. They definitely gave me that extra 'bit' you need to win races.
Race 2 and the reverse grid sees me in 4th position. I have an excellent start and by the first corner I'm in 2nd applying the pressure on to Stuart McLaren's Metal Store R53. By the end of the lap I would be P1. It would not be so straightforward for me to maintain the lead in this race. Tom was determined to hunt me down and take the victory for himself. And he was doing a good job of it. The pressure was immense. His car seemed so much quicker coming out of Lodge I had to defend hard down the start/finish straight every single lap. As a consequence I out broke myself into Old Hall corner and ran wide exceeding track limits. Five times. Imbecile. The 15 second time penalty demoted me to 5th. Mixed emotion.
I won the race. I was first across the finish line. I kept a quicker car behind me. But I lost. More importantly I lost points in the Championship to my main rival, Rob Austin.
Lesson learnt. That will not be happening again.