Silverstone Race Review

Date - 29th May 2021


Location - Silverstone Circuit


Weather - Clear and sunny with no wind 22-25 degrees Celcius



Round 2 of the Mazda Motorsport Club Championship took place at the legendary Silverstone circuit in Northamptonshire. This was my first ever event at the circuit and to say I was excited was a major understatement. There is so much history at Silverstone that any petrol head on their first visit would be quivering never mind actually competing on the full GP track.


Traveling to the circuit was a nightmare. I still hadn't found a tow car to pull my race 2, so had to drive the race car to the track, sitting in the bucket seat and using the harness. A journey that should have taken two hours and forty minutes. However, this was a bank holiday weekend. I set off at 15:00 on Friday expecting to be at the hotel and unpacked by 17:30 with a little help from the accelerator pedal but didn't arrive till gone 19:00 with my spine in tatters and dripping in sweat from the lack of AC which I had removed in the name of weight reduction.


Fortunately, the 2RacingUK team was on hand at the hotel with a refreshing beverage and had already started working on the very simple race tactics for the next day. For the curious, these tactics were as follows. "Drive faster than the car in front". I said they were simple.


Saturday morning. Race day and I'm up at the crack of dawn and watching more YouTube videos of other people driving around the GP circuit in a last-ditch effort to learn the layout of the track before driving it in the practice session. 07:00 saw the team congregating in the breakfast bar, where two of us enjoyed a hearty morning meal, while the third thought it best to skip breakfast but did consent to nibbling on a choco pastry.


07:45 and we had arrived at the circuit and set about transforming the race car from road spec to race-ready which in short meant unpacking our tools from the boot and swapping the wheels round. At 8:40 the tannoy announced that the Mazda Motorsport club should head to the assembly area with the Caterhams 150 club with who we were to share the grid.



09:00 and we were released onto the track for a twenty minutes practice session. I followed Joe Jacobs and Kimberly Nolan out onto the track received a first-hand lesson in how bad cold race tyres are as Kimberly performed a near-perfect pirouette on the first corner. Knowing both Kimberly and Joe both had previous experience driving at Silverstone I opted to be a gentleman and allow Kimberly to recover from her spin and continue in front of me so I could follow and learn the circuit. Both Kimberly and Joe had other ideas and they disappeared off into the distance leaving me alone to learn a new circuit.


Driving down the start-finish straight I was running at full throttle looking as far ahead as I could to turn one. The videos I had watched earlier that morning, made turn one looked like a nice gentle sweeping right. From the driver's seat, the track sort of just disappeared to the right around the pit exit wall with just a bit of curb to note where the corner began. Approaching at speed I bottled my first attempt at the corner, braked hard, turned into where I thought the apex would be to find the track open as wide as a football pitch on corner exit.


This miss judgment of corner speed happened a number of times throughout the practice session as I tried to get to grips with the circuit. With all the time I was spending on the brakes during my first couple of laps I was naturally running extremely slowly which in turn meant the exceedingly rapid and highly competitive Caterhams kept catching me.



The Caterham drivers are a rule unto themselves. Even though this was just a practice session they were hurtling through corners rubbing tyres and banging exhausts at every opportunity. I exited beckets on what I think was my fifth ever lap of the circuit with two Caterham on my inside and three on my outside of the turn.


The only thing that prevented me from being mobbed by packs of rampant Caterhams on every turn was the size of my car. Although my Mazda2 is a small car, it's positively huge compared to a Caterham. This meant that a few of the Caterham drivers showed a little respect as I turned in to make an apex, giving me space to complete the corner to ensure I didn't simply drive over the top of them, which would have been easier than they knew. Sitting so low in the car and with the window line being quite high I couldn't see the Caterhams once they were alongside me. I had to guess if there was a car alongside me from the noise they made.


Due to the near-constant dive-bombing by the relentless Caterham onslaught and moving out of the way for my fellow Mazda racers. It was exceedingly difficult to learn the track layout and improve my lines. I did however manage to reduce my lap times from 3mins 17 secs to 2mins 59 by the end of practice.


Back in the pits, the Mazda comradery was great to see. It's a brilliantly friendly group of enthusiasts all of whom are eager to help. I received some great advice on how to approach different corners from a roving Mark Theakers who was to be seen zipping around the paddock on his micro scooter checking everyone was alright and the Greenhill performance team whom we had set up camp next to.




With a better understanding of the track layout and what to expect for the other racers sharing the circuit, qualifying went far better than the practice session. I found myself in a group of four cars being led by Andrew Stacy in his Green Mazda2, followed by first-time racer Marshall Glyn in his mk3 MX5 and Joe in his Mk1 MX5, with me bringing up the rear. This was brilliant for me as it gave me the opportunity to learn the circuit by following similar-paced cars.


After four laps the Caterham's came round again and spoilt my education by spreading the four of us out. Andrew and Joe disappeared off upfront leaving Mashal and I to figure things out as we went. This was a case of the blind leading the blind as our combined experience totaled no more than fifteen laps. Marshal would scamper off down the straights and because I could see where he was going I'd chase him down through the bends.


Marshall made a point of coming to talk to the 2RAcing team and told us he was impressed with my driving but did wish I'd F*!£ off and let him get a clean lap in without worrying I was about to sail up his inside into a turn. We had a right laugh when I replied the only way I could put a fast lap together was to follow him a close as I could because I didn't know where I was going.


In a later conversation with Marshall, he revealed he is using the MX5 racing as a practice for a charity event he is participating in at Monza where he's driving a classic Alfa Romeo. His charity is called Camino Way Ltd. It offers financial support for youngsters to help them reach their full potential. I remember this as it ties in well with the work 2RacingUK is doing with the British Dyslexia Foundation. Should anyone wish to support Marshall please get in touch and I will pass on your details.


Race one. The temperature had risen to the point it was unpleasant to sit in the car with a race suit and helmet on. My gloves were damp before the start lights went out. This was the first race this season that spectators had been allowed into the grandstands to watch. Huge thanks to David, Teresa and Andy who came to support 2RacingUK. I hope you remembered to take your suncream.


Due to an issue with his car, the extremely fast Paul Rodison was unable to take part in qualifying which meant he had to start from the back of the grid so this is probably the first and only time I will start a race ahead of a Mk4 MX5. I didn't stay ahead for long though. From the lights going out I barely had time to release the clutch before Paul had passed me, Passed Joe, Passed Marshall, Andy and Kimberly and was off after Ben Taylor who was driving an RX8.


I made a clean start gaining a couple of meters on Marshall. To my right, Joe made a blinding start just like he had at Cadwell Park. He passed Andrew in the green Mazda2 only to lose the place again at turn one, Andrew must have kept his foot planted as he drove around the outside of Joe. I tucked in behind Marshall for turn one, my right foot pressing so hard on the accelerator that there is probably a dent in the bulkhead. We rounded turn one , Copse and charged off towards Maggots and Becketts.


We were using the old pitlane so started our races on the straight after Woodcote.



I entered Maggots and Becketts complex behind Marshal but nipped up his inside as we turned right, exiting the complex into Chapel onto the hanger straight. I did my best to shut the door and prevent Marshall from coming back at me but he simply switched sides of the track and out dragged me down the straight. The engine carbon clean from Manchester Carbon Cleaning had definitely made a difference and help performance but there was no way to hold off Marshall's MX5. We both went hard on the brakes for the next long right turn at Stowe with me turning early running up the inside of Marshall again and once more trying to shut the door on the exit of the corner. Next was a short straight with a 90 degree left and 90 degrees right sequence at the end called Vale and Club. Marshall closed on me but couldn't get past again on this section of track. Coming off this sequence is the new pit straight used by the formula 1 teams. This new pit straight ends in the very fast right turn of Abby with a small straight with a gentle left at Farm before braking hard for a tight complex at Arena. The whole of this was flat out in the Mazda2.




Approaching the tight Arena complex I noticed I had gained on Joe. I don't know if he'd had a moment somewhere but I was suddenly within striking distance. Joe braked for the turn I didn't. Joe had slowed for the corner when I started to brake as hard as I could without setting off the abs. I was alongside Joe running door to door. I had the inside line for the right turn as we both gave a squirt of throttle before lifting and carrying as much speed as possible through the tight left turn which leads to the longest straight on the circuit. Joe had stayed with me keeping the racing door to door but now had the inside line for the left. I got on the power as soon as I could but Joe must have beat me to it as he gradually eased back ahead of me as we entered the straight and gradually increased the gap between us. My attempt to pass Joe had slowed both of us and allowed Marshal to get a clean run onto the straight and he breezed past me before we were even halfway to the next corner Brooklands.


Lesson learned don't make half-hearted overtakes. Make sure it will stick otherwise it will cost a place not gain a one.


Marshall must have felt sorry for the ease of his overtake as he moved over in front of me offering a great slip steam and keeping me in touch for the next two corners to complete the first lap.



Marshal and I continued to have a great cat and mouse battle for the next six laps. I challenged through the bends sometimes making a pass only for Marshall to either drive past me on the straight or have a nose up my inside preventing me from carrying any speed through the next corner we were contesting. This was brilliant fun. I was so engrossed in my contest with Marshal I hadn't even noticed Joe had driven off into the distance while Marshal and I battled.


With two laps to go the last of the Caterhams were coming through to lap Marshall and I. I let the infernal contraption pass on the pit straight. I expected the Caterham to disappear up the road but it braked at turn one. A corner I now had the confidence to take flat out meaning I was just millimeters away from the back of the Caterham as we exited the turn. He put his foot down and pulled a gap entering Maggots and Becketts only to brake again at each change of direction while I kept my foot planted. I was gaining on the Caterham through the complex now running no more than a meter off its back bumper. On the second left, the Caterham braked hard. I'd already turned into the corner, still accelerating as the Caterham hit the brakes meant I had two choices crash into the Caterham or hit the brakes as hard as I could and hope all would be well. I hit the brakes, the weight of the car shifted forwards taking grip away from the rear and I was spat out of the corner sideways in a slow-motion spin coming to a stop pointing the wrong way. I did however get mentioned by name on the live stream commentary for my evasive actions.


While facing the wrong way I noted the lead Caterhams were rapidly approaching while I was stranded in the middle of the track. Fortunately, they parted like the red sea and flew past me on both sides. With the track now clear I was able to spin the car around and set off in the right direction. Having no one to race I backed off and drove to the end of the race keeping out of the way of the mk4 MX5s as they came round to lap me.


In parc ferme, I found Joe and Marshal both with grins as wide as Cheshire cats. Marshal had apparently managed to catch and pass Joe in the latter stages of the race. I told them both of my encounter with the slow Caterham and began the banter and metal war games in preparation for race two.


The day's temperature was still rising when we were called to assembly for race two. I had both side windows fully down in an effort to get some air moving through the car. I kept looking at all the MX5 drivers in their open cockpit cars and hating them the amount of fresh air they were getting.



We lined up on the grid ready to start race two. The Caterhams got away fine. We were to start twenty seconds after them only we didn't. There was a miscommunication from the start Marshals which led to half the Mazda entrants jumping the start. If anything the confusion this caused mixed the grid up and gave some drivers the opportunity to run higher up the order than they would normally.


Same as in the first race as we started, I tucked in behind Marshal who kindly gave me a great tow all the way round turn one to the first complex at which I made an early decision to complete the overtake him in the first left-hand bend and position myself so that I had the advantage in the second half of the complex. I made my move gaining a position from Marshal and kept the pace while completing the next two turns. I entered the first straight with enough of a gap to prevent Marshall from regaining his position but when I checked my mirrors Marshall was a long way back. He had already backed off due to something not feeling quite right with the car. I'm still going to claim I made the overtake before he backed off. Just to give myself a confidence boost.


The field had spread out quickly at the start of this race helped in part by the antics at the beginning. I could still see Andrew and Joe but try as I might I couldn't close the gap to them. I had hoped that the overtaking Caterhams might have brought me closer to Joe as I followed them around the circuit but I had no such luck. I tried everything I could think of to gain on the cars ahead but nothing was working. I had to settle for the one place I had gained with Marshall backing off.



At the end of the day, we had once again proved the Mazda2 can mix with faster cars on a race track. The Mazda Motorsport Club is a great way into competitive racing and I'm loving every moment of it. Many thanks to all the marshals and officials who help to run and organise each event. I know it's cliche but they don't get enough thanks.


Stay safe and should you be thinking of getting involved in motorsport get in touch. The Mazda2 is a great place to start.


Regards


Neal

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