My first time back racing a car in twelve months, only this one has a roof! writes Jodie Hemming
Oulton Park, Cheshire, Friday, 16 May, 2014: The morning of a test day is always busy, getting to the circuit through the UK’s endless traffic jams, signing on, and running through the test plan with the team. However, this one was a bit different!
This test day morning not only would I be contending with all of the above, but getting my head round it having a roof over it whilst driving. Every other car I’ve ever driven has been an open wheel single seater, these cars are generally twitchy and physically demanding to drive. The SWB Motorsport Renault Clio I’ll be driving today is quite the opposite to what I’ve driven before, I can’t wait!!
First thing before heading out on to the Oulton Park Island circuit, is to check my seat position, mirrors, and pedals. Normally the cockpit is a cramped environment, but in the Clio its massive, which is an odd feeling a first. All my personal checks done in the car, I’m happy with where I’m sat and what I can see in the mirrors (thought id better be sure of this as you want to be able to just glance in the mirrors when your racing wheel to wheel) I head out for my first laps in a tin top.
The Clio I’m driving has Michelin Pilot Sport road tyres, so it’s a treaded tyre, I’m used to driving on fully slick racing tyres, so this is the first thing I notice is like the car feels like a single seater on wets, in the dry! The car sounds a bit ‘Hollywood’ when I’m
cornering, loads of squeals and chirps coming from the tyres, but at least iv got half and idea already as to how much grip the car has (loads). After the first 30 minute session I’m happy with everything in the car, and feel ready to start pushing in the next session to try and put a lap together and see how much I need to find to be on the pace. As the day goes on I get more and more confidence in the car and even found time for a little pirouette down through Cascades, I finish the day about 1.8 seconds off, which as bad as it sounds I’m happy with, because its my first day driving the car. I know there is more to come with more seat time.
Oulton Park, Cheshire, Saturday, 17 May, 2014: Raceday!! I was excited and apprehensive about my first ever tin top race, but Team Boss Simon reassured me that were are only doing the race for some fun, and that results don’t matter. This was advice I immediately forgot as soon as a got my helmet on for qualifying. Qualifying was a bit of a disappointment for me, as I really wanted to be a bit closer to the front, but Anton Spires who put it on pole for both races was electric to watch in one of these Clio’s! I qualified P5 for both races, about 2 seconds off the pace, but I knew where the time was and I was looking forward to Race 1.
The Start was going to be interesting, iv never done a racing start in a front wheel drive car, although the principal is the same as the other cars I’ve raced, the weight transfer in different in a front wheel drive car and iv never had a hand brake to help! My start was by no means perfect but it was good enough to get me up to P3 by turn 1, and my start was much better than the pole sitter’s start. A little bit of over caution saw me drop back down to P6 by the bottom of Cascades, but at least now I could have some fun racing my way through. I was determined to at least finish where I started, which I did even with some panel bashing on my way past Sarah Franklin.
By the time I crossed the I was P5, my fastest lap was closer still to the pace I wanted to be at too, I was a bit annoyed id lost time fightling my way back through after being over cautious on the first lap and in doing so id lost touch with the lead group of cars.
Race 2 was a bit more like it, I finished P4 and was about 5 seconds behind the lead pack, and had a good couple of scraps with a few drivers and crossed the line with a big smile on my face. As I’m sure every racing driver will agree, you race to win, but on
this occasion I was happy to be on the pace by the end and happy that id finally got to race a tin top.
I learned a lot in my 2 days at Oulton driving the Clio, it’s a totally alien driving style compared to the other cars I’ve raced, but not an impossible one. I really hope I get the chance to race the car again at some point, or race something similar to it (maybe with one with slicks would be nice) I cant thank Simon at SWB Motorsport enough for the opportunity, and the team for giving me a great car. Simon has been a massive part of me retuning to motorsport as iv been coaching his young drivers in BARC Formula Renault and British Formula Ford. It really is great to be back in the paddock, and I’m really enjoying passing my experiences and knowledge on to young, up and coming drivers who will hopefully be able to use my advice to help them make steps up the motorsport ladder.
30th May, 2014