A weekend that no Caterham Graduate racer will ever forget. Firstly because, it’s an amazing opportunity to be able to race at the worlds best, most famous, iconic racing circuit and secondly, the poor weather conditions. I know that Spa is famous for having its own weather climate and that it could be raining at one part of the circuit and dry at the other, but no Caterham Graduate was quite prepared for what challenges were lying ahead of us.
With only 2 x 30 minute practice sessions to learn the circuit the challenge was on. Friday’s session was damp and I soon learnt how and why Eau Rouge has been the scene of some famous and nasty accidents. Luckily I survived (just) to tell the tale.
Thankfully second practice was dry and this was a much more enjoyable experience.
Qualifying was dry and even this session was not uneventful. Still learning the circuit but having fun at the same time, I managed to get an amazing tow from ‘Caterham Grad Super’ driver Barry White up Eau Rouge and down the Kemmel Straight.
Unfortunately a couple of corners later the car began to splutter. Thinking the worst ‘Oh, no I’ve stressed out the engine too much’ I slowed down and entered the pits to get McMillan to look at the car. They quickly got to work and couldn’t find anything too serious and let me back out with only enough time for a couple of laps. The chequered flag seemed to come out quickly. I had no idea where I had qualified as most of the session I was sat in the pits.
Back in the paddock the car went back to McMillan and they retuned the carburettors. After talking with Andy Mac about the problem he also kindly cleaned the fuel filters. While cleaning the filters he found a massive clump of fluff and dirt. No wonder the engine was spluttering, the fuel couldn’t get in past the clogged up fuel filters! To then find out I had qualified 3rd in class and the fastest classic driver that had never driven the circuit before, it was a great relief. The car was ready for racing.
An hour before the race the clouds started to become greyer. The main question on everyone’s lips was “What will the weather do?”. Many people were getting on their phones for an up to date weather forecast. The real thought was “It doesn’t really matter what the weather man says – this is Spa – It is more than likely to rain”. With the weather still dry we were getting close to being called for assembly. Decision time. Dry tyres or wet tyres. I looked at Graeme Smith and copied the rain master and went for wets. I get to the assembly area and it starts spitting. We get to the grid and it starts raining. We start our green flag lap and its now heavy rain. We grid up for the race start and its now monsoon weather. F1 drivers get paid a lot of money NOT to race in these conditions. It was utter madness.
This was my first wet race and what a place to have it! It was the most frightful experience of my life. 65 Caterhams starting on the same grid and I am unable to see more than 3 metres in front of me! Driving only with the guidance of the rain light and brake lights in front of you.
I didn’t push the car, I had to bring it home and I had to finish. I could not afford any damage. Somehow I achieved this and I managed to finish 10th out of 11. My worst result in racing but an achievement to finish! Unfortunately many cars did not and there were some very sad and battered Caterhams at the end of it.
With race suit, helmet and gloves, dried out from race 1, the weather looked like we might be lucky enough to have a dry Race 2 and it was.
Starting from P3 again in class but towards the back of the Caterham Grad’s grid the dry start was still pretty hairy. So many cars piling into La Source. The first lap went ok, however there was a bad accident at the front that brought out the red flags and the race was stopped. During the first lap I had felt a small vibration in the steering and was concerned that I hadn’t felt this before. Thinking the worst (again) I thought that a wheel was going to fly off. When the red flags came out I decided to go into the pits to get it checked. Given the all clear, I waited at the end of the pit lane for the restart. I was going to be dead last and the weekend was turning into a nightmare. The race was restarted behind the safety car. The safety car was in after one lap and the battle was on! I managed to gain one place at La Source, but by this time the next cars were already some way ahead of me. Head down I managed to catch up with the next pack.
I get past the next two and manage to get behind the 6 way queue for 4th. I then had an amazing battle on my hands. Some awesome slipstreaming saw me go from the back of the pack to the front. The video really is worth a watch.
On the last lap I was in 4th and made a mistake going into Pouhon and I ran wide. Two cars past me. Doh! By Stavelot I was lucky enough to be in their tow and managed to pass both of them again at Blanchimont. Keeping a tight defensive line into Bus Stop I managed to cross the line and finished 4th. What a great race.