DRIVER DIARY: LEARNING CURVE

Looking back at the opening round of the season, I have to admit to having mixed emotions about how things went at Silverstone.

We started the weekend thinking that top ten results would be a good start to my first year in Formula Ford – and left wondering what might have been.

The pace of the Fluid Motorsport Developments Van Diemen had been good throughout Friday’s test session, but we were still surprised when qualifying turned out as well as it did. Ninth for race one was around our expectations, but to then find out that we would be starting sixth for the others was definitely unexpected.

The Formula Ford Championship of Great Britain employs an unusual qualifying system, in that the driver’s three best laps are used to determine their starting position for each of the weekend’s three races. It pays, therefore, to be consistent throughout the short qualifying session, rather than putting all your effort into one flying lap and then struggle to repeat that form.

The only disappointment was that the data confirmed I had made a small mistake in the Brooklands/Luffield complex, which compromised my speed onto the start-finish straight on what proved to be my best lap. That was enough to prevent me from starting a couple of places higher up the grid in the opening race.

Of course, I was a little nervous before the race later that afternoon. I wanted to know how things would go, but everything was different to how it had been when I was racing karts. I think I was only able to focus completely when I was in the cockpit and waiting to roll out on track.

Unfortunately, things didn’t go to plan when the lights went out. My start wasn’t the best, but things got worse when we got to Brooklands and I was hit by another car. Although I was able to continue, I was right at the back of the field and with a big gap to make up on the cars ahead. While it was frustrating not to be fighting for the big points, the race provided a good opportunity to improve my racecraft, and it was good for the confidence to be able to catch and pass people, even if we only got up to 14th by the end.

It was encouraging too to only be a couple of tenths off the fastest laps of the race, especially knowing that I’d be lining up sixth in each of the remaining races.

Race two started a little better on Sunday morning, but I still found myself down the order after a problem on the opening lap. That meant that I was in the thick of the action and again Brooklands proved to be a key corner. It’s a tricky section, but also the main overtaking place on the National circuit, so it is easy to make a mistake, especially when everyone is either looking to make a pass or prevent one.

I’d managed to get myself back into the top eight when my own incident happened, although it was hard to decide who was at fault. The result, however, was that I bounced up in the air and came down hard on the right rear. Fortunately, the car appeared to be undamaged and I was able to continue without losing too many places. I was even able to set some good lap times, and get back up to ninth, so perhaps I should thank Fluid and Van Diemen for building such a strong car!

In truth, the car did not get away totally unscathed, as we found that the wishbone was a little bent when we got back to the garage, and that meant that there was a bit of work for my mechanics when they should have been enjoying lunch in the sunshine!

When I got to the grid for race three, I found that the brakes weren’t quite right, and having the bias set more to the rear wheels meant that I was struggling at Copse, where the car was locking up and compromising my exit. That meant I lost a few places in the first half of the race but, after the safety car came out, things improved and I was able to be more competitive, getting back up to eighth place.

While the results may not have been quite what we had hoped for after qualifying, I go to Oulton Park sharing tenth in the championship, and ahead of some of the pre-season favourites who had a worse weekend. Naturally, however, I hope to be able to close the gap in the coming rounds, starting this weekend at Oulton Park.

Testing has gone well there, and I enjoy the track more now than I did when I first got there. There’s a lot more to think about than Silverstone, and it was a little daunting trying to learn all the corners and up and downs of the circuit. Now I am more familiar with the layout, however, I have developed a rhythm and it’s certainly an entertaining circuit to drive.

After ‘headlining’ the Silverstone event, and enjoying the luxury of using the pit garages, we’ll be back on the support card - and in the paddock – at Oulton, as FFord gives way to the British F3 and GT championships. That will give the meeting a whole different atmosphere, and I am sure it will be exciting to race in front of a much bigger crowd. It will also be good to watch – and maybe learn from - the F3 drivers and know that teams further up the ladder will be watching.

Let’s hope that I can give them – and everyone else - something to talk about.

Until next time,

Matt

 

Article created by Craig Llewellyn.