This weekend saw my first race of the season at Donington and let’s just say it could have gone better. After a particularly cold winter, meaningful testing for most club racers in the country has been difficult to do ahead of the start of the season. I haven’t had many test days in the lead up to the my first race and none of them have been warm and dry. Driver excuse number one well and duly noted!
Qualifying on new slicks on a warm track should have been absolute heaven at my favourite race circuit, but I couldn’t string a decent lap together. After coming in for tyre pressures, I went back out and started chipping away at my times. However, I got stuck behind a novice driver and then buzzed by some of the front-runners and I couldn’t find any space. Before I knew it the checkered flag was out and I’d only qualified 13th and was 2 seconds off my fastest lap time.
I tried to forget about my place on the grid and decided that I would get down to my fastest lap time and beat it in the race. I started to focus on my potential and was in a good place for race one. I knew I could get a good start but I was hampered by the tight format we were gridded in. I made some progress off the line but ended up with nowhere to go so slotted back into the pack. A bold block pass at Old Hair Pin allowed me to make some more progress and I started to get into the grove. However, we were soon backed up by the safety car having not even completed a lap as another driver got tagged on the start line and had spun off onto the grass unable to get back on track. It wasn’t long before we were back racing again but that too was short lived.
A loss of control by another driver saw him hit the side of me as I turned into Goddard’s and I sustained some damage. I drove the rest of the lap with the car wanting to swap ends on every right-hander (not something you want at Donington!). After a brief trip into the pits to check for a rear puncture there was nothing obviously wrong with the car so I headed back out to try and finish the race thinking that maybe I’d just lost a bit of tyre temperature. I started to push again but that just made it the problem worse and after almost being collected by a gaggle of Boxsters as I failed to correct massive oversteer at Old Hair Pin, I retired from the race.
It didn’t look like much but the rear wheel was knocked in by half an inch which explained the right hand oversteer. I’m running with a new team this year, EMC Motorsport and the guys soon straightened the car up again ready for race two. Despite their hard work, I just couldn’t get into the groove out on track and the more I tried, the more I tightened up. I ended up falling into old habits of turning in early whilst still on the brakes and I could feel the car trying to fight me begging me to be nicer to her! My times just got slower and slower and I was so deflated by the time I saw the chequered flag.
This isn’t going to be a season of disappointment and the key to that is giving myself a break. Yes, it was a disappointing weekend and I didn’t do as well as I could have done but every driver has an off day or two. As we left to go home Alex my mechanic said something to me that Webbers used to say to me when he ran me after a bad weekend: ‘Even if you finish last you’ve still achieved so much to even get on to that race track’. This is a sentiment that many have expressed over my seasons of racing and I can never accept it as a compliment as simply competing is not enough for me. I’m in this to run with the decent racers, not make up numbers at the back. Doing 1.20 lap times round Donington is not good enough for me as I know I’m capable of 1.18s, maybe less. I’m a racing driver and those seconds are so very important to me but I will never use my disability as an excuse to having not achieved those times. I campaign for the fact that in racing we are all equal but maybe I’m allowed to admit to myself that yes, my work to achieve those times might be slightly more difficult than my able-bodied competitors? I’ve fought so hard all my injured life to be equal that I often forget how far I’ve come and I really need to start giving myself credit where it’s due. Are my goals of racing at the front unobtainable? Absolutely not, I’m just going to have to work harder, test longer and believe in myself more to get there.