Mini Challenge UK AM Class Round 3 - Silverstone National

After a long week working at the Le Mans 24H to say there hadn't been much time to prepare for Round 3 of the Mini Challenge would be an understatement! Testing on Friday would be the first time ever seeing the circuit, so a steep learning curve lay ahead.

Through the test sessions on Friday steady progress was made and the relatively short National Circuit began to make a bit of sense, albeit with a fair amount to find on the time side of things!
Saturday morning the Pro and Am Classes of the Mini Challenge were second out on track for qualifying, overall this went well with lap times becoming increasingly promising over the course of the session. At the chequered flag my regular spot in P7 was found.

Race 1 was the highlight of the weekend, with lap times at their best and only 1.2 seconds behind the leader, a sign that things are heading in the right direction with confidence building every time out in the car. The National Circuit at Silverstone is fast and flowing making for a lot of fun and the odd hairy moment in there for good measure! Crossing the finish line in P6 found us part of the reverse grid flip for Race 2 and a spot in pole position.

Race 2 and Pole Position, I'd love to say it went well but the pressure got to me and I bogged down off the start line allowing the second row to come through into the first corner. From there on it was a case of trying to latch on to the back of the pack and unfortunately despite the great spot on the grid it would be P7 at the end of the race. A big lesson learnt and next time the chance to sit on pole arises I will be sure not to repeat the mistakes made this weekend!

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Overall the weekend was very positive and the signs are there that there is a lot more to come making the next round at Oulton Park a very exciting prospect! I will be back with more confidence and better prepared for Round 4.

Thank you to everyone who helped over the weekend;
Huge thanks to Chris Snowdon for all your instruction and help during the test day.
Thank you to Owen, Dan, Sam and Jamie from Chichester College and Kevin, Josh and Phil from Sussex Road and Race.
Thank you to Keith for your advice and support throughout the weekend.
And a huge thank you to Dave and Rich for heading over at super short notice to support, was great to catch up and have you guys cheering me on!!

Mini Challenge UK AM Class Round 2 - Snetterton 300

Just one month after the season opener at Donington, Round 2 of the Mini Challenge UK saw us heading to Norwich and Snetterton's 300 circuit. A weekend of racing as part of the Mini Festival Snetterton laid ahead of us, and after a positive days testing we were aiming to improve and close the gap to the pack in the AM Class.

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Qualifying saw bright sunny skies and summer temperatures! In a change to qualifying compared to Round 1, this weekend had seperate sessions for the Open Class Cooper S cars and ourselves in the Pro/AM Cooper Classes. This eased the pressure a lot making it easier to put together a decent lap time or two. After 15 minutes our qualifying was complete and P7 would be my grid slot for the first race of the weekend.

In true British style the afternoon saw a huge change of weather as black skies rolled over Snetterton and brought with them a heavy downfall of rain. By the time Race 1 was upon us, while the rainfall had stopped the track itself was an awkward mix of drying, damp and greasy. Coming from a rallying background I was strangely looking forward to the prospect of the slippery surface, albeit with a healthy mix of nerves for good measure. A good start off the line saw an opportunity around the outside of the hair pin at turn 2 and a position gained, throughout the rest of the race as the track dried out and despite a moment or two, P6 would be the position retained which in turn meant taking P6 on the grid for the second race of the weekend in the morning.

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For the first time this season our racing covered two days giving us two more opportunities out on track on Sunday. Race 2 in the morning gave us dry but cool conditions, and with heavy rainfall overnight the run off areas were sodden meaning they were best avoided at all costs. After a red flag on the first lap of the race, a restart was lined up. Unfortunately nerves took over here and missing second gear repeatedly off the line meant the pack pulled away on the restart, seeing a drop down to P7 and an insurmountable gap meant this would be the finishing position.

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Our final time out on circuit for Race 3 began from P7 on the grid, after the start of race 2 the aim was to get a clean run off the line and aim to stick with the pack. Thankfully this went well, and for the first time this season the pack only began to pull away during the later stages of the race. With the extra race over the weekend it felt like a few things began to click together and we climbed to P5 and our best finish of the year so far!

As always I have a lot of people to thank for their support this weekend and in the lead up to the race weekend:
Huge thanks to Chris Snowdon for all your instruction and help before the race weekend.
Thank you to Owen, Dan, Albert and Lewis from Chichester College and Kevin, Josh and Phil from Sussex Road and Race.
Thank you to Keith for your advice throughout the weekend.
And Chewitt Racing thank you so much for your hospitality over the weekend, it feels great to be a part of such a friendly paddock!
All photographs above are thanks to Marc Waller of MW Sport Media who captured some great moments over the weekend.

Round 3 takes us to Silverstone's National circuit, confidence is building with each time out in the car and while I know there's still a lot to learn, I'm up for it and can't wait to get back out there!

Mini Challenge UK AM Class Round 1 - Donington Park National

Round 1 of the Mini Challenge UK took us to Donington Park to use the National Circuit. Arriving on Friday for testing saw a very wet track delaying the start to the day and providing an exceptionally slippery set of sessions there onwards! With it being the first time out in the car the objective was to get a feel for the setup and the circuit. With a steady improvement in lap times through the day, despite a spin or two, things were heading in a decent direction.

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Saturday brought a totally different set of track conditions with a dry circuit and even a showing from the sun, which put a fair amount of yesterdays time on track go out of the window given how different the track felt! The Minis were first out for qualifying which saw 39 cars from multiple classes, from supercharged Cooper S's to our Coopers, all take to the circuit for 15 minutes. For a first qualifying experience it was quite intense! It was looking to be P6 right up until the last couple of laps of the session where a drop saw our grid slot at P7 for Race 1.

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Race 1 began well with a great start gaining a position off of the line, only to give it away in turn 1 to a competitor who had mechanical issues in qualifying so was a lot quicker than their grid slot!
P7 would be held for a few laps until a poor line through turn 1 again left the door open, seeing me then following a car and the chance to try to execute my first overtakng manoeuvre!
Unfortunately after a couple of laps following, I managed a decent spin off the circuit just after the Old Hairpin and found the grass taking me to P9 and the back. From here on in the race was just confidence building to get back in the zone for Race 2, which would now involve starting from the back of the grid and with only myself to blame!

Race 2 involved lining up at the back of the grid thanks to Race 1's detour onto the grass. After the green flag lap, lining up on the grid was a bit off which lead to missing the flag drop and a poor start. From here on in it was a learning exercise with the main objectives being to work on being more aggressive on the brakes and improving lines around a few key parts of the circuit. Lap times did improve, so heading in the right direction, but there is a lot I need to work on to improve and get higher up the grid in future rounds. P7 was the final position for Race 2 and the car came back in one piece without added mud.

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Overall the weekend was great fun, and now knowing how different circuit racing is to what I've been used to I know what I need to work on. So between now and Snetterton I'll aim to work hard to improve and do better for the team who are working really hard on providing a great car.

I have to give a huge thanks to everyone who was running and supporting at Donington Park this weekend:
Dan, Owen, Josh and Jamie from Chichester College and Kevin, Josh and Phil from Sussex Road & Race for running the car all weekend (sorry for the mud filled front end!?)
Keith and Ethan for the invaluable advice through the day
Michael of MW Scooters for the brake pads and support
Chewitt Racing for keeping us well fed all weekend
And Brian for all your support!

Also thank you to Chandlers Mini Worthing and Freshlayers.

Now it's time for me to work on a lot in time for Snetterton next month!!

Mini Challenge UK 2018 - AM Class

2018 sees the addition of circuit racing to the calendar, alongside a few stage rally events through the year, in the form of the Mini Challenge UK. Joining the AM Class behind the wheel of a Mini Cooper the learning curve wil be steep as every circuit will be a new and need to be learnt, but the aim is the hit the ground running and learn fast!

Special thanks for this opportunity have to go to Sussex Road & Race for providing the Mini Cooper race car, as well as the Chichester College motorsport tutors and students who will be running the car throughout the year.

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With a background in rallying the chance to take on some of the best race circuits in the UK had to be jumped at, with the support of an experienced team behind me the beginning of the season can't come around soon enough!



 

Somerset Stages 2017 - Round 3 of The DMack Fiesta ST Trophy

Somerset Stages, the third round of the DMack Fiesta ST Trophy, took us to Minehead for a sunny weekends rallying by the seaside.  The weekend also marked the arrival of our bespoke ST Trophy race suits, thank you to Zenith Racewear and Vital Equipment for these, a very welcome replacement for a jet black suit that would have been stiflingly hot this weekend!

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Somerset stages marked the start of a big learning curve being the first gravel event, first time hearing full pace notes, first multi venue event and only the second time out in the Fiesta ST. All this made for a nerve wracking start for SS1 which showed with a slower pace, once this first stage was under our belt the nerves settled.

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SS2 was a quick mile allowing for a bit more time to settle into the car and surface. After a short road section it was onto SS3 and 4, which shared the same start but split mid stage. Both stages included long fast sections allowing an increase in pace, these were the stages where hearing pace notes felt more natural and a few things began to click together.

 

 

SS7 & 8 saw us running gravel tyres on the infamous Porlock Toll Road, with the day already full of new experiences the addition of this extra challenge was mentally taxing and the times showed this! Luckily the main service of the day followed these so a chance to regroup before attacking the afternoons stages was welcomed. After a quick check over in service it was time to head back to the forest. 

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By SS12 things were beginning to click into place and the pace began to build, unfortunately on this same stage the ECU also decided to restrict the revs to 5000rpm which held the car back. This kept happening for SS13 and 14 and while quite irritating it also forced a jump up the learning curve by bringing about a need to maintain speed wherever possible, pushing the average speed up over the flatter and downhill sections.  

The plan for the Somerset Stages was to click with the pace notes, and hopefully see a build of confidence and pace over the day.

Overall the day was a success, the car is still in one piece and bar an ECU niggle running well, but mainly the pace built as more stage miles were covered and towards the end of the day hearing the pace notes didn't seem so daunting.

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Now for the next round to keep on the learning curve!

Thank you to Jordan and my service crew for keeping me on the stages this weekend! Also thank you to all the marshalls, Burnham-on-Sea and Minehead Motor Clubs for organising the rally it was a great weekend!

Cambrian Rally 2017 - Round 1 of the DMACK Fiesta ST Trophy

The first round of the DMACK Fiesta ST Trophy took us to Llandudno, North Wales for the Cambrian Rally.  

In the week leading up to Round 1 it was all action stations to get the car switched over to gravel spec and the full trip organised. On the Friday travel, sign on and scrutiny day the 5 hour journey turned into an 8 hour slog and seeing signs for Llandudno went down very well. 

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With 9 crews at Cambrian for the DMACK Fiesta ST Trophy the line up on the promenade stood out and despite being in a bit of a mad rush sorting out the last few things it was great to meet a few of the other crews.

The starting ramp was the first surprise for the weekend, hearing drivers ahead being interviewed over the sound system as they crossed the ramp made the penny drop and the panic to think of things to say began!

Interview done, it was time to head to the start of SS1 in Alwen. With each elevation en route the temperature noticeably dropped until eventually there was snow falling. At first this didn't seem too harsh, but while climbing towards the stage start the snow became heavier and upon arriving the message that SS1 may be cancelled came through.

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Unfortunately the snow didn't relent and with sheet ice beneath the snow pack even the front running cars were struggling for any grip through the first stage, with SS2 and SS3 being at higher altitudes and experiencing similar snow fall the organisers made the difficult but understandable decision to cancel the event on safety grounds. 

The weekend was certainly not wasted as a lot was learnt despite the cancellation. Round 2 at the Malcolm Wilson Rally won't feel so new and daunting now and that can only help settle pre event nerves! Let the planning and preparations begin!

The Challenger Stages 2016

The day finally arrived! It was time to get behind the wheel of the new Fiesta ST at The Challenger Stages, Bovington.  A nice early start travelling through the last of the torrential rain and strong winds meant an arrival just as the weather cleared. Before getting too far ahead, a huge thank you has to go to Bournemouth & District Car Club, the day ran brilliantly and all marshals were friendly and smiling despite the cold weather! 

Luckily the torrential rain stopped, scrutiny was passed and a service area set up, leaving time to grab breakfast before Special Stage 1. 

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With a few areas still covered with standing water, wet tyres were kept on for the first outing in the new car. SS1 went well, being the first time on stage in the Fiesta the day was to be a pace building and learning day, straight away the car felt a world away from the KA that preceded it!

The course seemed to be drying well so the wets were switched for slicks at the front, being slightly tentative wets were kept on the rear...which turned out to be a bad decision! Towards the end of SS2 the rear tyres gave up grip as they over heated. Timing being everything this happened mid a fast hairpin which lead to a decent spin through the rest of the corner leaving no choice but to take evasive action around two lamp posts and a fallen tree, lots of time lost getting the car back out of the water logged mud! 

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First job back at service was to switch the wets off the rear and get slicks on all round! Then a quick check over and the car was ready to head back out.
 
SS3 and SS4 then became a confidence rebuilding exercise to regain trust in the tyres, pushing braking later each loop and to carry gradually more speed between and throughout corners and chicanes. Consistency returned to stage times and confidence was regained ready for a final push to finish the day.

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By the start of SS5 the drive to pull back some of the lost time began. The spin now a distant memory, the progress hoped to have been made this morning could be picked back up. 

SS6 began well, feeling slightly more accustomed to the car everything felt like it was moving in the right direction. Unfortunately this progress was slowed by a suspected driveshaft issue causing problems that led to having to bring the car home at a hugely reduced speed to ensure it came back in one piece.

Despite the hairy spin and driveshaft issue costing a good few minutes, overall The Challenger Stages felt a success. The car came back in one piece, albeit a tad muddy, and the final stages of the day (before the mechanical!) were beginning to feel more like it and the car felt a bit more like home! There's still a lot more to learn...bring on the next outing!

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The Arrival of the MSport Fiesta ST

At Bovington Stages the trusty Ford KA was at its limit, feeling underpowered and wanting more go the big decision to upgrade the car was made. Having been lucky enough to not have any issues with the KA, sticking with Ford seemed like a good plan so an MSport built Fiesta ST was put on the hit list.

A lot of searching found a great looking Fiesta with a decent spares package...in Ireland! A quick phone call established the spares package was comprehensive with both tarmac and gravel kit covered so flights were booked to head over to view the car. A good 21 hour day included a spin out in the car that had huge grins all around so a deposit was handed over and the legwork began to make everything possible.

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After a few bumps in the road the money was secured and paid over, next up was the planning and execution of the 1000 mile round trip. This turned out to be the "fun" part! The ferry booking, thanks to a Facebook connection, was very painless and was booked without any hassle.

But who knew hiring a van with a towbar would be so difficult? One was booked for all of 24 hours before the phone rang as the company only had a few and they were all out already, so they couldn't fulfill the rental that had already been paid for. After two days of searching for another company, Choices Vehicle Rentals did have a van that would do the trick, albeit about an hour away.  

Last up was a trailer, pain free to start with and booked locally. Fast forward to the day before we were due to collect and leave for the ferry and that phone rings again! The trailer had been returned from the previous hire damaged and so couldn't be hired out again. Cue another huge ring around to find a company with a trailer super last minute, huge thanks to Indespension for saving the day at the last hour with a brilliant trailer that towed like a dream.

The trip itself was fairly hassle free, and a massive thank you to Dad for driving the whole journey as the only person with a trailer license good enough for the load. The rain was relentless for the whole 36 hours, and sleep was caught on the ferry each way with only a handful of other stops. Ireland is a really beautiful country, and while this meant the roads were all fairly small it did give for some stunning scenery.  

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Once finally home, despite minimal hours sleep during the trip, excitement couldn't be contained and after unloading and returning the van and trailer the cleaning, de-stickering and re-stickering began ready for an MOT the next morning.

This car sounds amazing and feels super stable, bring on the stages! 

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