Round 2 - Snetterton 200 Circuit It was an eventful day of racing, and a brilliant weekend at the MINI Festival at Snetterton. There was wind, there was rain, there was even an outdoor cinema viewing of the Italian Job. And lots and lots of cars. Luckily both me and the 9 survived in one piece without much incident - which is more than I can say for my mate John, who's Peugeot suddenly found itself driving at speed with 3 wheels, whilst watching the 4th wheel disappear across Coram Curves! I drove up on the Friday evening, with the car on the trailer, and arrived in the dark at Snetterton. Driving into the paddock I couldn't believe the number of race cars, trailers, and transporters there. Definitely the most crammed paddock I've seen at Snetterton. Racing this weekend were the MSV Trophy, MSV Championship, F3 Cup, Z Cars, various MINI series, and even the new Ssang-Yong pickup truck Challenge (which I was very dubious of, but ended up being fairly entertaining!). There were also a series of Sprint races happening on the infield circuit, which would include everything from Porsches, Aston Martins, and Lotus, to an epic Honda S2000. Compared to Round 1 at Cadwell, the itinerary was a lot more relaxed for us, with more time between sign on, quali, and the race. My friend Dave had come to be my engineer for the day as my dad couldn't make it and after a morning of getting the last bits done on the car; checking fluid levels, securing the front bumper, adjusting tyre pressure etc - I was excited to get out on track. My mate John had his car up on jacks and was fitting his new set of wheels and tyres.. more on those later. I got changed into my race suit, and then just as we were heading for the Drivers Briefing, guess what happened... it started to p!ss down!! The rain threw a bit of nerves into the mix. I haven't got much track experience in wet weather, and a few of the other drivers in this series are also rookies so would probably be in the same situation. The first ever time I drove the Civic was in torrential rain at Brands Hatch, and although the car handled it ok, I had been driving pretty damn slowly. Worth mentioning here is the tyres I am running. They are Nankang NS-2R, not a bad race tyre considering they don't cost the earth, but also not really a wet weather tyre. Other drivers were considering changing to wet tyres, but I didn't have any! The Nankangs would have to do. So at 11:00am we all headed down to the assembly area and sat in our cars, as the rain finally dribbled to a stop. It was pretty greasy on track, and I found myself driving pretty tentatively. The car felt wiggly and a bit understeery in the tighter corners, even going straight on at turn 2. Some of the other cars around me were blasting round at full speed, but it took me three or four laps to gain confidence and start pushing on. After a while I realised the understeer was just down to me entering the slower corners too quickly in the wet, and after scrubbing off a bit of entry speed, I found myself driving more smoothly and therefore more quickly. After about 15 minutes there was a very clear dry line, and I began picking up my pace. I knew there was still loads of time to scrub off of my lap, so I began carrying more speed through the first corner after the long start straight. Turn 1 'Riches' is a tricky corner, with a double-apex. I noticed that lots of cars barely braked at the end of the start straight, and seemed to just downshift with a gentle nudge on the brakes and then carry lots of speed in. After a few more laps I was able to start doing this too, and found the 9 was perfectly happy for me to start accelerating once I'd hit the first apex, and then get hard on the gas as I was hitting the second apex. This was a rewarding feeling, I love driving this car! The extra momentum made a big difference in my pace leading up to the second corner, a tricky hairpin right which would plague me all day. As the clock ticked down on our Qualifying session I was passed by the Finsport Civic, sporting its new black and orange livery. This is a quick car, and cruised past me on the back straight. I managed to keep up for most of the lap, trying to follow his line and using his braking as a reference to make me more brave on the brakes, as the track was now dry. I got my quickest lap of the session, with a fairly pedestrian but respectable time of 1:33.6 Towards the end of Quali I noticed my mate John's car pulled off on the side of the track, just after the pretty quick turn in at 'Bomb-hole'. I slowed down and realised his car was leaning over to the left - oh dear I thought. The new wheels and tyres had not worked out well and one of them had come flying off as the car turned in. Scary stuff! I qualified 24th out of a large grid of 31 cars. This sounds fairly bad but actually I was pleased, with it being my first real experience of driving a car in anger in the wet. It also meant I knew there was still a couple of seconds to trim off of my lap, giving me plenty to think about during the race. John had qualified right up on the 6th row of the grid, but now had the small matter of a missing wheel to sort out. After a seriously impressive turnaround, involving drilling out the damaged studs and re-threading them, Dave, John and the rest of Johns team managed to get the Peugeot ready for the race in the afternoon. It did mean a trip to the Dunlop stand to buy a new set of tyres, but after all the work to get the car ready it was the right decision! The rest of the afternoon passed by very quickly, with the only racing I really saw being the SsanYong challenge. My friend Matt is a photographer and had come along for the day, so we decided to head down to 'Russel Bend' to watch this slightly unusual new series in its first ever race. Our chosen spot turned out to be the right one, as towards the end of the race one of the two-tonne trucks came flying off the circuit and straight at us, smashing into the armco just two metres away and then bouncing off into the tyre wall. The driver was fine, and the truck seemed to survive the huge impact reasonably well. Not the most scintillating racing I've ever seen, but the drivers definitely looked like they were enjoying it. And so onto the race. I decided that my main concern was to avoid contact in turn 1 and turn 2. The race organisers had made very clear that these corners encouraged contact, and with the high speed entry to turn 1, and then very slow hairpin at turn 2 I could see why. I decided that I would aim for the outside line and not get caught up in fighting over any track. The race is 45 minutes long, and risking ending it after just a few seconds is simply not worth it. With two very long straights, the finishing positions at this track would ultimately be sorted out on those straights. Waiting on the start line I felt much more aware of my surroundings than at the first race. Cadwell Park had been a bit of a blur, and the lights had come on almost before I'd had a chance to ready myself. This time it was different and I found myself looking around at the cars next to me on the grid, and taking in the excitement. Anything could happen! As the 5 second board was shown, the engine noise built and I had a massive surge of adrenalin. I dumped the clutch as the lights went out and away we went. The 9 is superb off the line and I took a slightly outlandish move around the outside of the car in front, with my wheels touching the grass as I went. Into turn 1 I kept left, passing one or two cars on my inside. Turn 2 appeared quickly and again I kept left, keeping out of the way as 1 or 2 cars outbraked themselves and ran wide. The cars that I had passed at turn 1 came back on my inside but I was happy to let them go as we all made it safely through turn 3. After the first lap I had somehow made up about 7 places. Job done! Well, there was still 45 minutes of racing to do, but I had passed my main aim of the day which was to survive the first lap, and could now enjoy the rest of the race. The race was more action packed than round 1, with lots more overtaking, especially on the long back straight. I found myself overtaken a few times in the opening few laps as the cars I had overtaken on my first lap passed me again. I was still clearly off the pace, but I felt my confidence growing with each lap and my speed was definitely going up. I found myself entering turn 1 much faster than I had in qualifying, and also started speeding up through the legendary 'Coram' towards the end of the lap. Coram is a long long right hander, which almost doesn't have an apex (or at least I couldnt find it). Left to my own devices I was going far too gingerly through this turn, but as I followed other faster cars I started to push much harder through here. Chasing one of the BMWs I picked up more time by being braver through Coram. I had a great battle with one of the Fiesta ST's with both of us overtaking each other and then being overtaken again. I had slightly more speed on the straight, but he was clearly a better driver through the corners and we had a great time. I really enjoyed the back and forth, and also appreciated the amount of space the drivers were giving each other. We were racing, but no one had their elbows out. I was having a blast! In the pit stop window I saw that alot of cars seemed to come straight in. Just as I was thinking of coming in for my mandatory 2minute stop it started to rain again, so I decided to stay out and grab another couple of laps before the track got wet. My pitstop went smoothly, although I worried I may have cut it a little fine. If you are in the pitlane for less than 2:00 in total, you are given a big time penalty. Checking the data after the race I found that I went over the pitlane exit exactly 2:01 after I had entered.. probably cutting it a little too fine! After the stop I had a great race with a couple of Clios, and also found myself being overtaken by some of the leading cars. The Big Bear Motorsport Seat Ibiza is absolutely rapid, and went round me at Coram. I followed him up the start straight and into turn 2 where he then went straight on as I sneaked back up the inside! But it was a fruitless move as he came storming past me at the back of the circuit 30 seconds later! The following lap I saw one of the BMWs go straight on in the same place at turn 2. I could also feel my tyres starting to slightly go off, so I guessed this was happening to the faster cars. I managed to catch up with John's 306 after the driver change, with his team mate at the wheel, and gave him a big grin and a thumbs up as I passed him on the straight. As the final lap approached I saw the fast Finsport Civic coming up behind me. I mounted an effort to keep him behind me for the last lap but he came by and lapped me just as we crossed the finish line and the chequered flag. What an absolute laugh that was, I was grinning like mad as we slowed down and waved to the marshals on the warm down lap. I had finished P.16 out of 29 finishers. An improvement of 8 places on my starting position on the grid. I was pretty pleased with this, and even more pleased to have completed my second race. It was a massive learning curve driving the car in the wet, but after a slow start in the morning, I had clocked a best lap of 1:30.4 during the race. A massive improvement of 3 seconds off my best qualifying time. All in all the race had been huge fun, with more overtaking and being-overtaken than I had possibly expected. And it was all good clean fun. As we packed up after the race, Dave, Ben and Matt headed for home, but Johns team convinced me to stay for a beer, a bbq, and to watch the Italian Job on the big screen out on the track. A good way to end a great weekend.