Paddock diary: Confidence gets the better of me in the season opener

Thursday, 18h00 – Packing, my worst nightmare 

I rushed home from the office knowing I had a lot to get done before nightfall. Load and hook up the trailer, pack the car and get all my ducks in a row – something I’m not very good at. True as Bob, I left my camping chairs at home. Next time I’m doing a checklist. 

Friday, 08h30 – Arrival, in good time?

I arrived at Red Star Raceway with an hour to spare before the first practice session which seemed plenty. I’d already done all my nuts and bolts checks in the week preceding the race, so what else could go wrong? I offloaded the car and got to saying hello to my fellow competitors. Then I realised too late that I hadn’t hooked up my timing equipment, or checked tyre pressures. About that checklist…

Lotus 7

Friday, 09h55 – A solid first practice

Arriving back at the pits I was feeling alright. It was a decent first session. The car ran well and felt okay – even on my old tyres from last year – which were destined to be my practice set. No idea what times I had done, of course. But soon Ben came up to me and said, “You were quick!”

It didn’t feel that way but the timesheets reflected otherwise, showing me fastest by a margin. Thinking back on the lap I had a sensation that I’d absolutely nailed the penultimate corner, so it seemed to add up. “Great. I’m on it”, I thought to myself. 

Friday, 10h20 – Oh dear…

Having won “Rookie of the Year” in 2020 I came into the new season with a bit of confidence. Setting the fastest lap in the first session confirmed it for me. Confidence is a dangerous thing when you still have a lot to learn, though. 

Rolling out the pits, I had planned to take it easy as my timing device needed to calibrate to the circuit configuration, which meant I needed to push a button every now and then at the various sector splits to have it register the layout. I stayed out of the way and did that for two slow laps. With that done, I decided to turn up the wick and soon found myself behind André and Juan. Into turn 1 I thought I’d have a go passing Juan when next thing I lost the car and felt a thud. I spun around and caught a glimpse of Juan headed into the veld.

Lotus 7

Friday, 10h45 – Assessing the damage

I limped back to the pits, having waited the session out next to a marshals post. I knew something was bent given the angle of my left rear wheel. I whipped off the wheel and saw a mangled upright, needless to say I was angry with myself for such a stupid error, in practice of all things. At least Juan’s car was fine. Head down, I set to changing the broken pieces with some help from our car supplier, Leet Racing.

Friday, 15h10 – Finally back on track

I don’t think I’ve ever got my race suit on and into my car so quickly. Just in time to make it out on track for the last session of the day. I didn’t have time to check alignment yet but the wheel was on and pointed in a much better direction. This time I had put on my race tyres to get them scrubbed in, which was perfect because I needed to take it easy to make sure the car was okay. All felt fine, so that was a massive relief. It was time for a braai. 

Saturday, 08h40 – Qualifying, form continues

I had a habit last year of being quick on Friday and slow on Saturday. Turns out nothing has changed. Qualifying was a frustrating 15 minutes as I just couldn’t work out where my pace had gone, especially in that penultimate turn. The timesheets showed me in third, 8/10ths of a second slower than Friday and on fresher rubber. It just made no sense. 

Saturday, 10h00 – Lights are out

The red lights flashed and off we went. I made a decent start and held my third position, even fighting for second for a couple of laps. Then I got mixed up with a back marker from the class above and fell off the back of the leading two. Frankly it would have happened anyway – my times just weren’t good enough. What made it worse was how Pieter – in fourth place – was catching me lap after lap, ending just 0.6 seconds behind. 

Saturday, 11h00 – The cool down

I decided perhaps my alignment did need checking after all. It was out of kilter, but not by much. More time sitting around pondering why I was so slow. More so when I saw I’d be starting race 2 from fourth place (race 1 acts as qualifying for race 2 based on lap times). It came as no surprise really when I considered Pieter had caught me. So he was obviously faster.

Saturday, 14h10 – Final heat

Lights are out and I’m away like a scalded cat. Straight into third place and safely through turn 1. I was being attacked by Pieter behind me while doing as much as I could to worry André ahead. At one stage I was neck and neck for second place, then once again I started to drop off the pace and Pieter started to reel me in. This time I wasn’t so lucky, though, finishing fourth with a gap of 1.2 seconds between us. The significance being that on total race time Pieter had just snatched third place overall for the day by a mere 0.6 seconds. Gutted. 

Saturday, 18h00 – home time

Arriving home that evening I’d had a long time to reflect on my two days of highs and lows. Good things included the knowledge that I can be fast and that I’d taken a decent load of championship points. Bad things were that I’d caused an accident in practice and that I was slow on race day. Remedy? I’ll be spending lots of time poring over my practice and race data to understand why. I’ll also be making a preparation checklist. 

I can’t wait for Round 2 at Phakisa in April.

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