After Mallory, with its four corners, Oulton is whole new bouilloire de poissons. It's long, three-dimensional, and complicated. To be honest I never felt I was really getting the hang of it during the Friday test day. I kind of wished we were doing Mallory again, even though Oulton had been my all-time favourite circuit on the bike (albeit one that I crashed at almost every time I went).
Peter Earnshaw tucks in behind during qualifying at Mallory|
(well, it would be boring without ANY pictures)
Uh oh. Saturday dawns wet, and by the time we get out we have a drying - but certainly not dry - circuit. The conditions I used to hate on a bike, and sure enough I'm rubbish in the car too. I was doing well on the wet bits, faster than most of the others I met on circuit, but really slow on the dry bits as I failed to make the "mind-switch" necessary to go from gentle-wet-driving to balls-out-dry-driving.
Qualified tenth, considerably worse than my pole position at Mallory (have I mentioned that at all?)
Tim Skipper took pole - a remarkable achievement since he's never been to Oulton in the Caterham.
Leading the race on lap one |
(OK, that was at Mallory again, sorry!)
Being in the wrong gear slows my exit, and the five cars left in front of me pull a bit of a gap. Guy looks desperate to get past Kevin Dodd, and as he ducks and dodges I catch back up with them. I think about an overtake at Clay Hill, but it's just too fast there - the consequences of getting it wrongcould be catastrophic. Oborting the overtake costs me time, and I remain some way behind the front pack for the remainder of the lap. I'm determined not to lose the tow (the mental tow, that is, I'm not close enough to slipstream) and keep pushing myself. At Knickerbrook I screw up: a wheel on the grass at the entry sending me into a slide from which I only just recover.
That leads to a dice with Charles Bateman who took advantage of my misfortune, and we swap places several times until I'm finally able to break the tow and leave him behind.
About this time I see that Tim has fallen back from the front pack, and I'm beginning to catch him. This gives me a great incentive to push hard and I'm feeling really good about catching up the pole position man. Probably best that I don't realise the reason - his engine is sick and down on power as he's now running with two cracked pistons.
Past Tim with what I hope is a fairly gentlemanly dive up the inside at the hairpin. There's only four ahead now, but they're a long way ahead - half the straight away.
The next few laps are just a dogged fight to catch up. Two of them (Peter and Guy, I think) go onto the grass exiting Lodge, which I think will help me, but it doesn't seem to slow them down!
Another lap, and I've caught them. There's now five of us in a few car lengths. Coming onto the start-finish straight, it's three abreast as both Peter and Guy think of a dive up the inside. They both think better of it and slot back into line. I can't resist the temptation, and dive through thinking I might get both of them. It almost works. But I'm too tight - too close to the Apex when I turn in, and there's just not enough road left. On the exit my wheels go over the kerb onto the stuff outside - not grass, but clearly not grippy. I spin, across the track and backwards into the tyre wall. I can see it coming but can do nothing - my hard-on brakes are having zero effect.
The impact is less violent than I expect, and after the ignomy of the Mallory spin I get it restarted and moving very quickly. It seems to take an age to wheelspin off the damp grass back to the track, and I lose three places. Off down the hill to Cascades - but the car won't turn in. I'm on the grass again, and decide the car is clearly too damaged to continue. In fact, I think it was just the mudguard wedged under the nearside rear wheel - had I continued it would probably have broken away and I'd have been OK.
Consolation was that while catching up with the cars in front four who were holding each other up, I set the fastest lap of the day, and quite possibly the Academy lap record for Oulton (though that's not yet confirmed).
Next Round: Brands Hatch Saturday 9th October.
Photos copyright Sharon Curd. With many thanks.