Britcar Production Sports Car Race, Silverstone International Race Circuit , 11th May 2013 by Richard Aucock
I slept remarkably well on the eve of my Silverstone races. Must have been that Bailey’s rice pudding I had for dessert: this race driver carb-loading is a chore at times, let me tell you.
The nerves soon came, though. The previous day, I’d spent a few hours driving a car I’d never driven before on a circuit I’d never driven on before, and thus left Silverstone at the end of it slightly daunted. The following day, I knew I’d get just three more laps in qualifying before the race: then, it would be straight out into the action once team mate Owen Mildenhall handed the car over to me.
So I went for a quick jog to chill. Again, race driver style. Yes, it was an industrial estate parallel to the M1, rather than the circuit itself, but it was still possible at a push to pretend it was the Hangar Straight.
The serious stuff started as soon as I arrived at the circuit. The team tales and jokes of last night were replaced by a steely, earnest focus on the job in hand. Conversations were focused entirely on business and I responded accordingly: straight answers, direct instructions, no distractions.
Before the race it was off to the driver’s briefing, in a very cold and windy tent behind the pits. Tea warmed us up; discussions about the odd race format took our minds off it. We were in the production car class, so had a 45 minute race. The other guys raced for 90 minutes – so we’d peel off under safety car conditions while the other guys lined up to race again. All rather new, and not only to me.
Then back to the pits to get suited and booted. When it’s as chilly as it was at Silverstone on race morning, I fully understand why racing drivers pace the pits in their fireproofs – they’re just so warm and cosy. I was one of the few not freezing cold that morning. Perhaps the nerves helped.
As agreed the previous day, Owen was taking the start. As he was strapped into the car, I paced around a bit and then, as instructed, started to prepare for the race. I stood in the back of the pits and listened to the commentary of the race start, which sounded all shades of chaotic, and then followed Owen’s progress on the timing screens. His battle with Mark was close, it seemed: his times were also significantly faster than mine, it seemed.
Then, the tap from Simon Type, the Jota Technician, signals it is now my stint: Owen was coming in. I’d already got my helmet and HANS on (shoving the radio into my ears was a delicate operation) and so was stood there trying to look professional but actually longing to do some more pacing and bite my nails.
Owen screeched to a halt, was bundled out, I was bundled into the hot car and strapped up piercingly tightly, and then sat there. Ca-aaalm. The mandatory pit stop time ticked down, Simon gave me a countdown on the radio, and then it was off. Yikes.
The race passed in a blur. Like testing, whole sweeps of the clock apparently became mere eyeblinks. I battled with a red and a white MX-5, one of them overtook me, I realised I was almost as fast as he was and so could hold on, he spun off under a safety car and so I got my place back, and then the chequered flag came out.
My times had improved, my confidence had improved and I was generally both relieved and thrilled to bring it home. Simon congratulated me over the radio: “top man”. I brought it back to the pits, got lost in the pit lane, Simon, sorted me out and eventually I clambered out into the pit garage, slightly shaky but basically buzzing.
The floaty feeling lasted a good half hour, before it was down to focusing on the second race. Which wouldn’t run until quarter past five. Nerves built, and then subsided; lunch was eaten, and then regretted; relaxation was found, and then vanquished by a squealing tyre and shouting commentator in the three-hour race underway.
While it was still underway, the team instructed us to get ready for our second race. The turnaround would be that fast: impressive. I realised my helmet was still a bit sweaty (ugh) but as Owen would again take the start, at least I had time to properly sort out the radio.
This time, there would be far fewer cars on track, so Owen and Mark could battle together much more closely. Which they did, with an intensity I knew I wouldn’t be able to replicate. Particularly as the circuit was now wet, following a hailstorm (seriously), which only added to the learning curve I had.
The same process: Owen lunged in, was hoiked out, I fell in and had my bones crushed by the belts before sitting there, again, with the sort of feeling parachutists have before jumping out the plane.
5-4-3-2-1-go. I went. Into tricky wet-dry conditions that someone like Jenson Button would excel in, but which daunted me more than a little. I slithered and slid and slowly got a feel for it. Then the safety car came out and, half a lap later, it felt like I had a rear puncture. “Don’t worry,” said Simon, “you’re losing tyre temperature. Try to keep them warm: lean on them.” I did.
When it pulled in, I leant on them some more. Grip came back. Then my confidence oddly started to fall. How odd. “Try cooling the tyres by moving off line onto the wet bits on the straight,” said Simon. So I did. Confidence came back. How odd.
Another battle, with the red MX-5 this time. He slithered past. Dammit. I tried to get past, but outbraked myself. Dammit. He slowly edged away. Dammit. I came across my teammate David instead and, after a little battle, passed him, which was relieving, before again taking the chequered flag and feeling an incredible sense of satisfaction and, well, more relief. Back home, in one piece, and faster than I was at the start of the race. Happy with that.
It was all thanks to the car and the team that I was able to do it. Both were superb. I drove home with an incredible buzz and, unlike the previous night, couldn’t sleep for hours. I passed time reading classified ads for used racing cars.
Boy, was I tired the next day though. And achey. And bruised in odd places. They don’t tell you how hard and intense this racing is: it’s even clearer to me now how superhuman F1 drivers are.
I’m determined this won’t be my last step on the ladder towards matching them, though…