Sulphur, LA (KPLC) - “Well, that wasn’t so bad” pretty much sums up our recent race weekend in the BRSCC Avon National Formula Ford Championship rounds at Anglesey Circuit on the coastline of Wales. As part of my steep learning curve, I was again faced with a circuit I had never seen before. Many drivers may prefer to race at places they know very well since it serves them an advantage. And although it puts me at an uphill battle, learning a new course is actually one of the most enjoyable things for me to do in racing. We all have strengths and weaknesses, and one of my biggest strengths is being able to get up to speed on a new course quickly. After seeing onboard videos and enjoying a few laps as a passenger in a road car, I had confidence that the slow, twisty corners of the track would suit my driving style nicely, and I noticed quickly just how beautiful the view was on and off track!
My gut feeling was correct, and I was able to find quite competitive pace in my first couple sessions before lunch on the Thursday test day. Then, however, I came face to face with one of my weaker attributes, which is being able to find that “last half-second” of pace. I spent the next day and a half working very hard to clean everything up and focus on doing my best consistently instead of fighting to fire off hot laps. On Friday, the car handling fell off a bit and I worked with the team on setup tweaks to improve it. For the first time in my racing career, I felt like I understood enough to give accurate feedback, and I was very pleased that Friday afternoon the car was very good again. The team owner, James Oldfield, has worked with me a lot on understanding how the car works and has shown me a lot in my time spent in the workshop. I feel that in that aspect I’m learning quicker than ever.
The weekend was going very well but, unfortunately, we had a minor setback on Friday afternoon when two bearings collapsed in the gearbox leading to the end of our test day. On the bright side, the car had just gotten very good – plus I was able to stop the car before the damage got any worse. On the down side, I wasn’t able to run in the final session of the day when it rained for the first time – and similar weather was in the forecast for Saturday’s qualifying and race.
The gearbox in its entirety had to be taken apart, but it was all put back together in time to return for dinner that night to the gorgeous house the team had rented about 15 minutes away from the track. In all honesty it was the nicest house I’ve ever stayed in. The team and me were well fed by James’ mother, Gill, and she even used some of the “Slap Ya Mama” Cajun seasoning I brought for her made in Ville Platte, Louisiana. Everyone seemed to find it tasty, unless they didn’t want to hurt my feelings! They couldn’t have done a better job at making me feel relaxed and at home.
Saturday morning I was very fortunate to be able to participate in the Avon Tyres Northern FF1600 Championship series qualifying session as basically a practice session for wet conditions to make up for my time missed Friday evening. Going into my actual qualifying session, it helped to have those getting–up-to-speed laps out of the way and I knew my limits a bit more. However, I struggled in qualifying. I spun once and placed myself 14th in the grid of 18. It was very disappointing. I did achieve something though. There are techniques for driving in the wet that I’ve never found in myself to apply and I was able to have some success here with them. What we struggled with was traction, so I was losing time on corner exits. We tried some things with setup for Race One on Saturday and the car felt better in the damp conditions, but I still struggled with traction. However, it was good enough to go from 14th to an eighth-place finish, which we were pleased with.
Sunday presented us with much nicer weather. The track was fast and bone dry for the next two races. I started eighth for the first race and had confidence in our dry pace considering where we left off on Friday. I was able to get a very good standing start, as I’ve been able to do in each race this season, but had some corner exit understeer which held us back from our potential a little. I was able to hold on and finish 10th. We made some changes for Race Three and I cleared my mind, trying to find it in me to adapt to whatever happened. On the first lap I was able to diagnose the car very quickly as still having corner exit understeer. The sensation felt as if weight continued to shift in the car causing me to run out of road when I applied throttle. Instantly, my mindset shifted to making the best out of what I had. A Safety Car, or full course caution, came out after I witnessed a crash right in front of me that I was able to avoid. I then told myself “the best and most experienced drivers could having this car running in a better position to me from adapting to driving it, so no excuses.” I focused more on entry and mid corner to find time and I found my pace to be much more competitive to the leaders than in the previous race, and with few green flag laps I finished ninth.
Reflecting on the weekend, it was the best we’ve had this season and it’s something we should be pleased about. I know our potential was better, but through our struggles we were still able to come away with three solid finishes. Speaking with the team afterwards, they believe the ill handling could have been gearbox related and explained to me the sensations it could’ve caused. It’s valuable knowledge that in the future I’ll know the difference between that and general “exit understeer.” It’s making me a better driver very quickly, and I can’t until we make steps to compete at a higher level so I can confirm that this Oldfield Motorsport team is capable achieving similar results to last year.
After 10 months of living a real life at the end of last year, I’m back in fantasy land now and my imagination is roaming. I always look back on the journeys I had in the previous few years with so much emotion, no matter the results. And I’m getting to do things now that most people never get to do in life. Also, for the first time I don’t feel pressure to achieve certain results and I’m able to relax and learn properly. I know this experience will help me in whatever I get to race in the future and whatever I do in life. To those of you that are financially supporting, thank you a lot. I’m having a great time and you’ve changed my life!
Next on the calendar is Croft Circuit in the north of England on July 6/7. This will be another new track for me and I can’t wait to learn it! I’m back home now, enjoying the hot weather and working a lot. Hope you’re all staying busy enjoying life.
Thanks for reading! Aaron