When I first received the calendar for the 2009 Subaru Cup, there were two corners that I really feared for my Novice year.
The first is the notoriously difficult Paddock Hill bend at Brands Hatch, where we will race in October.
The second is The Mountain..... at Cadwell Park in Lincolnshire.
Practice & Qualifying
Known as 'the mini nurburgring' by UK racing fans due to its combination of fast sweeping, off camber corners, hills, blind crests and tight chicanes, Cadwell Park's 2.75 mile circuit is one of the toughest technical challenges for both driver and car that the Subaru Cup visits all year.
With this in mind we booked a test session at the circuit on Saturday afternoon, to at least learn where the circuit goes and help combat my fear of The Mountain section, a sharp left right chicane that exits into a steep climb and blind crest on a slight right hand bend in front of the main grandstand and clubhouse.
Arriving on Friday night to find the circuit and surrounding area blanketed in a heavy fog we got setup in the outer paddock and were, for a change, early enough to spend some time chilling out from the 6.5 hour drive (which Mikee did in almost one stint!) before getting an earlyish night.
By Saturday afternoon the fog had lifted and the car was ready but I was not, having been feeling pretty ill with a chest infection for over a week.....
As it was I practically had to be helped from the car and spent the rest of the day rehydrating (the extreme heat in the car had probably not helped) and trying to get some rest. In the evening I was feeling well enough to walk round the circuit with Mikee and Alex, which helped a great deal with understanding the gradiant and camber changes that charachterise the circuit.
Qualifying well is essential at Cadwell as the extremely narrow, twisty track (which is considered too tight for high level car racing but is amazing for bikes!) does not offer many overtaking opportunities.
Unfortunatly I was not able to get a clear run for the first 5 laps, being stuck behind Darren who was learning the track, and could not get a time better then 1:53s which was never going to be enough to secure a decent grid position.
Darren put the car on the grass as I passed him on lap 5, but a clear run was still difficult as I had to make room to let other, higher class, cars through before I could begin my own flying lap! Finally on the final two laps I was able to get a traffic free run recording much faster times to secure 12 place on the grid and 2nd in the Subaru Cup class.
If I was going to have any change of catching Alix, I would have to have a blistering start, follow the outside line through Coppice and aim to pass him into Charlies....
.... which of course is not what happened!!!
As the red lights went out I had no where to go, with the cars in front of me bogged down, leaving me holding my revs far longer then normal. When I finally could move, I found that my clutch, which had started causing problems the previous day, would not release and instead was slipping so badly that a great column of white smoke was pouring out of the bonnet vents as the engine and gearbox screamed in protest.
With the rest of the pack bearing down on me I could not simply back off for fear of causing a pile up on the grid, so I instinctively backed slightly off the revs but kept the car on boost as I violently reapplied and released the clutch a couple of times before it finally dug in and jolted the car forward.
This can only have been a few seconds, but seemed like several minutes had past as I rushed towards the first corner to try and salvage something from the race.
The MR2s of Elliot Dunmore and Dallas Jackson both screamed past me before I could really get any momentum to stop them, but fortunately I reached the corner inches before Darren Hughes in the next SC car and was able to fend him off without loosing too much speed up the hill to Charlies where I was able to recover one of the lost places from Dallas, who unfortunatly would retire from the race a few corners later with a blown engine.
Elliot drove amazingly in his Mk3 MR2, sucuming on the way into Park on next lap but filling my mirrors and looking to pounce on any mistake for the rest of the race. A chance he very nearly got on lap 3 when I lost control of the car on the approach to the Gooseneck, sliding sideways on oil dropped by Dallas' engine failure all the way to the appex curve on the left (2nd) hand turn before finally managing to collect the slide and drift the car back the right way.
Alix meanwhile had also been in the wars, having collected Mike Clarks spinning Honda on his way through the Hall Bends on Lap 2, he suffered light front end damage and dropped from 9th (1st in Subaru Cup) to 19th (last in Subaru Cup), but did at least manage to contiue the race.
With my clutch still not behaving and this kind of abuse not calculated to help matters, it was a massive relief to see the Safety Car come out on Lap 4 to allow the Marshalls (who are universly awesome and almost entirely volunteers) to safely clean up the oil at the Gooseneck and pieces of car at Hall.
Following the Safety Car around for the next few laps allowed me to take it very easy on the car and get out of Andre's slip stream to get lots of cool air into the engine bay. To be honest, without this break I am not sure the car would have survived to the end of the race.
As we continued to circulate around at this slower pace my nerves began to grow. I had never been on track behind a Safety Car before, but knew from years of watching racing that the restart when it finally pulled in was vital and could tottally change the result of a race.
Exiting Barn on Lap 5 I could see the green flags waving so accelerated hard to keep up with Andre, still making sure I did not pass until well after the line which is when you are allowed to begin racing again. As it turns out, I needn't have worried and backed off as we approached Coppice, again trying to save the car.
Starting the final lap Elliot, Darren and Adrian all loomed somewhat closer forcing me to produce my fastest lap of the weekend to fend them off, but as we crossed the line for the final time I had done so, retaining 10th position and 1st place in the Subaru Cup.
Despite the car problems of race 1 and continuing to feel rather unwell (especially as someone had stolen my wallet from the van during the first race!) I was fairly hopeful of another good result from the days second race.
I would be starting first of the Subaru Cup cars, with Elliot's MR2 providing a useful buffer for the start and Alix's car (the only SC car faster then me all weekend) starting in 15th, which should allow me to make it to Coppice first and drive a defensive race on a track where passing is extremely difficult.
Again, this notional plan is not at all what happened. Instead, as I exited Mansfield on the green flag / warm up lap, the rear diff failed causing my right rear wheel to lock and bounce along, accomanied by ominous grinding and banging noises that made it very clear that I would not even make the start line. As it was the car barely made it up the steep exit road to the paddock, almost breaking down directly in front of the grandstand!
Obviously this was a huge disapointment being my first ever DNF, however a single win was far more then we expected based on Saturday's testing so overall I am still very satisfied with the result.
It also gave me the opportunity to finally watch a Nippon Challenge / Subaru Cup race and, while the circumstances are not something I would gladly repeat, it was a very enjoyable race with Tim Clarke and Maxim Taylor battling away in the GT500 class monsters while Kris Dunlop did an awesome job keeping up with them in his GT250 class Civic, with half the engine power available!
Adrian Howells got a well deserved win in the Subaru Cup class with Darren Hughes 2nd. Alix joined me as a DNF with a failed fuel pump on lap 1, while Sam Mahr Loughan was unable to start (as in the first race) with a failed air intake sensor.
It was a truely epic weekends racing and despite the low points, I can't wait to come back next year.... or to get back out at Snetterton at the end of August, in the meantime the Subaru will be getting some TLC as well as a bunch of new parts ;)
[Hopefully more photos and vids to follow]
Full race results and timing from TSL Timing here
Next Race - Snetterton - August 22nd