The latest race weekend in Mini Challenge was held up at Oulton Park. The circuit is in a very rural location – I was pretty sure the GPS was leading me astray as I meandered down insanely narrow farm lanes, but I nosed around yet another leafy corner and a spectacular expanse of sweeping, majestic, high-speed race track appeared. The circuit is built on what was a family estate, and the lands still hold buildings dating back to the 1700’s.
The track itself is 4,3 km long, and like so many naturally characterful circuits, it has been built across contours of the landscape that lend some really great changes of elevation. The layout comprises everything from chicanes to a banked hairpin to a couple of seriously challenging sweeping corners. Many of the corners feature odd cambering and resurfaced areas that make it quite a technical challenge. The track café displays posters of famous racers in action at Oulton – Stewart, Senna, Lauda, Mansell and many others have all raced and won here.
One of the most amazing things about racing is how the mind works while you race. Sometimes, something unexpected and dangerous happens and the whole world goes into a crystal clear state of suspended animation, where a second or two lasts an age and your perception of reality is heightened far, far beyond the day-to-day. In our second race, I was running 6th in the leading pack of cars. We came through Island Bend, a challenging 160km/h flat-out left sweeper. Three cars and maybe 100m ahead of me, one of the guys went into oversteer, and my slow-moment started. Immediately I saw the back end start to break loose, my mind started to assess whether he was going to catch the slide or not. When it became clear that he was going to spin the next thought was to take advantage and pass him. Then, tactical thoughts surfaced – could I get past anyone else as a result of the mess that was likely to arise? Almost simultaneously the danger aspect of the situation came clear too. The only thing holding my Mini on the road at that moment was the fractional weight transfer that being on the throttle causes – if I had lifted, the load would have come off the rear axle and I would have spun. Now only metres ahead, the spinner was off on the grass after a second tank-slapper and it was looking more and more likely that he would come back across the track right in front of us. Furious calculating of options started occurring – where is he going to come across the track, where will I be when he does, is there a gap, can I take my line, do I need to move across, who’s behind me waiting to take my place if I lose time here, am I going to be able to avoid T-boning the guy? Then the car did come back across the track, into its third tank-slapper. I saw that it had scrubbed off some speed crabbing across the track: there is my gap, I will have to change my line, move left, no-one threatening me behind, brake a little early to give him some margin if anything else happens, pass him, here’s my corner entry, turn in, hard back on the throttle, moment ends. This is what racing is all about – perfect mental clarity. You gotta love it!
Overall, the weekend was good. You may remember that last time out we had tyre issues – well: let it not be said that we didn’t learn from our mistakes! This time we made sure to scrub our new set of Pirelli slicks during the very first session, and they held out really well for the rest of the weekend – the fact that I set my fastest time on the final lap of the final race is all the evidence required!
On paper, qualifying 8th of the 11 Coopers and finishing the two races 7th and 6th doesn’t sound great, but I closed the gap to the front runners, fought hard right through both races and achieved everything I wanted from the weekend. There is nothing on this earth like a day’s good racing, it beats everything else hands down.
We are in a busy phase of the season now, so it’s only two and a half weeks to the Castle Combe event in Gloucestershire, and then we’re off to Holland to race at a former F1 circuit: Zandvoort!
YouTube Footage of the previous Brands Hatch event should be ready any day now, so keep an eye out – I’ll post again when it’s online. You’ll be able to watch the Oulton races in a couple of weeks as well. Enjoy!
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