So, my life in the last month or so has been a bit crazy. I have had lots of Spring concerts and students exams at work. Add helping prepare my car for the race season in my spare time, I've been pretty much non stop!
If you follow my Instagram and Facebook (if you don't, go follow now! Links are at the bottom of my website pages), you'll know that I decided to race in the brand new Scottish Fiesta ST Challenge. My choices were Citroen C1's, Legends or my original thoughts: Fiesta ST's. I got a few quotes and weighed up my options, and I decided to go with the Fiesta's. I found out afterwards that I will be the first woman to race in the championship in 5 years, and the first to commit to a full season in a decade, which is pretty cool. The original Fiesta ST Cup Championship was too expensive for me, but regulations were passed to create a new class, the Challenge, which would entail a bolt-in cage and a cheaper suspension, as opposed to a welded cage and more expensive suspension. This makes racing in a Fiesta much more affordable, and a great entry level to the sport. Once I decided what I was doing, I chose my car with PCR Motorsport. Paul, the owner, agreed to let me come in and help prep the car so I would head over on a Friday afternoon after work to help. The roll cage was supposed to arrive about 3-4 weeks before the first race but unfortunately it ended up delayed and arrived with 4 days to go. Paul and his team then had to build two cars for the challenge class, plus prepare numerous other cars for the Cup class! It was right to the wire but they did it, and I am so grateful.
On Sat 6 April, I went to Knockhill Racing Circuit for my first test day. The weather was AWFUL (not unusual for Knockhill), and I haven't actually driven on track in the wet before, so I had no idea how much grip I'd have in a car I'd never driven and on semi slick tyres! There was a problem with the power steering pump which had to be fixed before I went out, which meant I had to miss the first session. I was a bit disheartened as I had psyched myself up a bit but it was ok. In the meantime we got my seat all measured up and harnesses set up and went over protocols. I got myself into a routine: turn on GoPro, get in seat, do lower harness straps, pull out fire extinguisher pin, put on balaclava, hans and helmet, do shoulder harnesses and tighten them up, attach window net, gloves on, close door, engine on and lights on and away I go!
I got out for the second session of the day which was basically 15 mins in the car getting used to my environment, the feelings of being strapped in with all my gear on, finding out where the windscreen wipers were (!), and getting used to the seating position and feeling the grip. The track was very slippy and visibility very poor with rain, spray and fog! Trickiest conditions I could have really, but I see that as a positive. In the third session (my second) of the day I started to feel more comfortable and I started to push it a bit more. I even managed to overtake another fiesta - twice! However, I discovered later it was because his windows were steaming up and he couldn't see! Haha! Last session of the day was 20 mins long, and I was beginning to feel more at home. I then overtook someone who's car was faster than mine on the straights but I was faster in the corners, so that gave me a nice boost. After testing finished, we got the car weighed, made sure ride height was legal and I went home to review my footage from the day and prepare for the next day!
I woke up on Sun 7th April very tired. I couldn't get to sleep the previous night. My neighbours must've been having a party as I could hear some commotion outside for a good few hours, and my brain was still in overdrive from testing, but I eventually dozed off. I got myself to the circuit and put the car through scrutineering (it could have been done the day previous but the queue was really long! Plus the Power cut off cable was quite stiff so that had to be fixed anyway). Then I got signed on, had some breakfast and it was soon time to get suited up! I jumped into the car with a plan in mind. Get my minimum 3 laps complete then steadily push a bit more. The weather was the same as the previous day; poor visibility and a slippy track. We did our outlap and as I crossed the line, I focussed on getting three clean, tidy and consistent laps down. However, I came up through the chicane and I spotted a Fiesta in the gravel and a yellow flag then a red flag at the next marshal post. Bugger! It wasn't long though until the track was clear again so we left the pits and I set to it. First complete lap was fine, but the second I had a small moment at McIntyre's. I've still to look back at the footage to see what happened as it all happened so fast but I just corrected it to prevent a spin from happening and got back on it. I got through the rest of the session with no other moments, so I was happy to get that over and done with. I qualified 10th, which was completely expected.
I had an hour or two before race one so I went for a wander and watched some other races. Then I came back and prepared for my first ever race! I got into my routine and made my way to the holding area. Once there I could feel my breathing get quicker and heavier, and I started to think about my journey so far. Everything I've done, all the conversations I've had, all the tips and advice, and I started to cry!! I wasn't upset, but I felt quite emotional. I didn't want to let anyone down or make a fool of myself. Hamish, one of the guys that helps with the Fiestas, was brilliant. He came over and chatted to me and helped me regain focus. He was brilliant with me for the whole weekend actually. We made our way on to the pitlane and onto the track then into position on the grid. I couldn't really see the lights, so when everyone left I got straight to it, and I gained a position! Woo!! Then I realised everyone was going really slow and it hit me - we were on the warm-up lap! Hahahahha!! Mission aborted, I stayed where I was until we returned to the grid and got back into position. Next time! I waited for lights out and off we went. The track was still slippy as it was in an in-between stage of oily wet and dry. Hamish had warned me that the line would be even slipper than before. My aim for the race was to finish unscathed without spinning or going off the track, so I was cautious. On the second lap I saw one of the other Fiestas in the gravel at McIntyre's. This brought out the safety car, and we had two laps behind that. When I noticed that Ryan was back on the track and the other cars had started to speed up, I realised I was in the wrong gear for getting going again and I was trailing behind. The yellow flags were still on though so I didn't think I could get back up to speed to catch up so once I passed the last yellow flag I got back into it. This held Ryan up though so i don't think he was too happy! That was my first safety car experience though and I know what to do next time. I did another couple of laps then saw Ryan in the gravel in exactly the same place as before! This then gave me the fear because I had that moment at McIntyre's earlier in qualifying then saw him twice off there. Every single lap after that I slowed right down for fear of ending up next to him! I finished P9 as a result of his DNF, and I came back feeling a little deflated. While at lunch and walking around the paddock chatting to people, they asked how much I enjoyed it but I didn't know what to say. I didn't feel anything. I wasn't excited or happy or upset or angry, just deflated.
So I went into my second race with very mixed feelings. In one way I felt relieved that it was almost over, and in another I felt dread that I had to go through all that again but I also felt excited to drive the car again and try to improve. While I sat in the holding area I decided that I'd go out and use it as a training session and pick somewhere to improve. As I got going I realised that the other drivers were much quicker in the first half of the track, and I was still going too slow through McIntyre's which then affected the next 3 corners, but I decided to work on that another day when I was in a less intense environment as I still had the chequered flag and signatures in my sights. I decided to choose the hairpin as the area to work on. And boy did I go for it there! I found myself braking later and later and I could tell I was getting faster with each lap. My times were coming down and I knew I performed better in that race so I came back afterwards feeling a lot more positive! I passed the chequered flag quite elated! It's also so heart warming doing your in-lap and everyone is clapping and waving at you. :-)
As I sat in Parc Ferme I reflected on my weekend. My car was a shell only 6 days previous and was only ready to drive around lunchtime the day before. I had 50 minutes in a car I've never driven in awful weather conditions. I've never raced, and only done two trackdays before in a Lotus Elise. But on Sun 7th April I completed my first two races. My aim was to get to the chequered flag unscathed and get two signatures on my licence while improving my lap times, and I did it. Job done. Now it's time to get more seat time in the car and improve my laps one corner at a time, all the while gaining confidence in myself and the car. Next outing is 5th May on a reverse track. If you come along to watch, please stop by and say hello! Its always nice to see a friendly face.
I'd like to take this opportunity to thank:
- Paul, Chewy and the other guys at PCR Motorsport for prepping the car and their support over the weekend,
- Hamish Smart for his support and words of wisdom,
- Colin, Jo and Lucy Hoad at CAT Driver Training for the training and their messages and calls of support and encouragement all weekend,
- Johnny M at Kiran's Trust for part-funding this weekend and for his encouragement and advice in the lead up to me getting to this stage, plus his support on race day,
- Steve and Jen at Turner Autosport for helping me get kitted out and sponsoring me my gloves and helmet bag, and dealing with getting my custom made suit getting fixed after being sent the wrong size with only 6 weeks to go,
- Daryl for his encouragement and fun times training over the last year,
- Ferg for sorting our my decals for the weekend,
- James, Alison and her parents and Kinger for coming to support me on the day,
- all the other drivers for their words of encouragement and advice,
- last but certainly not least, the organisers at SMRC for organising such a well run event, all the marshalls and scrutineers for keeping us safe and all the staff at Knockhill Racing Circuit for their hospitality and generally being awesome at what they do.
I am looking for sponsors for my future events, so if you are interested, or know someone who might be, please do get in touch.
Thanks for reading, until next time,