Donington Park was, for us, the event that just never happened, and probably best forgotten. The Team rocked up fairly organised after Brands Hatch, with modifications carried out to the cooling system to lower engine temperatures and therefore gain higher straight-line speed. The Proton has very little room to package the radiator and intercooler, along with the cooling ducts for the air filter and brakes. This restricted space makes things quite awkward, although the improvements were clearly visible and within tolerances.
For once, Dan was not very fast exiting the Old Hairpin, causing much head scratching. Small adjustments to the suspension sorted this for qualifying, which was to be a drying affair after the rain, with the last one across the line actually holding the advantage.
With a banked lap in the wet, and Dan was back in to revert to a dryish set-up, only to be stopped at the end of the pit lane by red flags! A disaster, after heating up the rear tyres and being ready to go with only a few minutes left on the clock.! But as it turned out, being first out onto a drying track would benefit a ‘one-lap-dash’! What was rather a nuisance, in fact enhanced track position for the final couple of laps’ scramble to the flag, and ensured everyone gained an extra lap. As Matt Jackson impatiently tried to dive past Dan on the wet line, he spun across the bows causing a red flag on the last lap. Dan, like many others, was affected, and lost what would have been a very good start position.
Personally, being old and grumpy(!), I think last lap ‘heroics’ in qualifying should receive a penalty, for example the loss of fastest lap to date, as it quite often mucks up a number of other competitors attempts at their fastest lap. If you are already up there, why not just settle for your achievement and retain grid position!
Dan slowly and carefully made his way forward towards the points, following Rob Austin. But after slipping past Austin and holding an inside line, Matt Simpson out braked himself, firing Dan off deep into the chicane gravel trap at Coppice. Unceremoniously, while still out of control, Matt crashed into the stricken Proton, which by being wedged deep into the Gravel, sustained serious body and three corners suspension damage.
The mechanics worked so hard in the break, finally aligning the tracking (or at least having the wheels pointing forward) to ensure the car made it on to the grid with 30 seconds to spare.
Again, Dan worked forward, with the car handling quite well. However, a high speed vibration appeared. After close racing, with Jason Plato, who never gave an inch but raced in a totally fair and professional manner, the inner wheel arch dislodged itself, and cut the inside tyre wall. This deposited Dan off halfway down the Craners, totally filling the car with mud. Off to the back of the grid again young man.
Again moving forward on the soft tyres, all seemed well… until the softs started to fall off. At the same time, we lost 5mph straight line speed due to a stone piercing the intercooler, probably from previous damage, and Dan elected to just bring it home and not sustain any further problems as a rebuild was required to get all back up to scratch.
Could we have done anything differently? Probably not. But one noticeable difference, which no doubt is the same at the start of all seasons, is the unnecessary wheel banging from drivers who do not recognise when to concede and keep momentum to go forward. Dan has had a couple of years with a low boost Engine, pulling over not to impede faster competitors on the straights. With this problem no longer an issue, possibly it should be recognised by the few, that Dan is a very experienced racer and just not easy meat!
Looking ahead to Thruxton
Dan’s local and favourite circuit. Having enjoyed great success in Ginetta and SEAT Super Cupra’s, he has had unfortunately had his fair share of tough meetings in the BTCC at Thruxton; destroying two gearboxes due to driveshaft length, a high speed accident entering the Chicane on the grass and last year’s puncture firing Dan into the armco with unrepairable damage, have preceded Dan’s initial joy. If we add in Ollie Jackson’s incredibly lucky escape into the trees, it reminds us that this is a very high speed, but also highly enjoyable ‘old school‘ circuit that certainly demands respect.
The difference between the new RML Kit and the original GPRM suspension is certainly starting to show advantages both in low speed turn in and high speed corners. Arron Smith has been doing exceptionally well and could even win, but with a balance of performance he would be further up. Dan is getting the maximum from the old kit, and at present we do not have the budget to upgrade so we’ll simply just get stuck in and see how we go.
One advantage of experience, is that Thruxton does not have much in common with ‘usual’ BTCC practice, and with the high-speed ‘totally committed’ nature of the fast-flowing circuit, advantages can possibly be gained. Interestingly, tyre wear and sidewall failure when cold are huge factors, which is the reason Dunlop instigate a harder compound and construction tyre which is ONLY used at Thruxton.
At present the Team is repairing the Proton, catching up with all the small jobs that build up and planning to have a weekend off.
Not always do things go to plan!