At Snetterton, I’d had the whole day to get to know the car and the circuit, and there was no competitive element at the end. The reverse was true at Bedford: the pressure was on this time, from the clock as well as the competition. And the car now even had its full Autocar livery on it, so there was no hiding this time.
After a pep talk from my instructor Roger Bromiley, with whom I was reunited after he helped me through my first day Snetterton, I set out for a few sighting laps.
Luckily, I’d remembered all the controls and subtle nuances required to get the car going (so no stalling in the pit lane or first lap spins this time), but I was struggling to get back up to speed while having to learn a course that was completely alien to me.
After half a dozen laps I knew my lefts and rights well enough to try and push a bit more. So, conscious of time and wanting to make the most of the expert tuition on hand, I got Roger into the passenger seat to help me with my lines and use of the pedals first-hand.
It was a qualified thumbs up from Roger as we chatted in the pitlane after a few laps in the car together, but some bad habits from Snetterton had carried over into Bedford. Namely, I was turning into corners too early, setting myself up on the straights too early for the next corner and missing some apexes.
Bedford also had some new challenges in the form of a couple of sequences of fast chicanes. In most instances I lost speed through the first part by turning in too sharply and still missing the apex, which then meant I lost speed and missed subsequent apexes by being off line.
We hooked up the video camera for the final 20 minutes or so of the practice session to see if I was putting into practice what Roger had told me, and, after a spin on the second lap at the chicane, (at least it confirmed I was going for it a bit more), I felt fairly au fait with car and circuit as I pulled back into the pitlane.
Then I saw Roger’s face: I was four seconds off the pace. Hmm. It didn’t feel that slow. It wasn’t; my leg had been firmly pulled, and a look at the timing screens revealed I was third fastest, and under a second off the two pace-setters. A big gap, yes, but I felt there was more time out there.
The video confirmed this: I still wasn’t hitting those apexes, still turning in too early and still not nailing the chicanes as best I could.
So I knew what I had to do when it came to the three laps. We’d go out staggered in groups of three at 20-second intervals in order to avoid tripping over one another. I surprised myself by staying remarkably calm in the pitlane as I sat by the red light waiting my turn, despite feeling under more pressure than I probably should have.
Then on my out lap a wire in the back of the steering wheel that connects to the transmission came out. So, stuck in second, it was run aborted and back to the pits to get it back in before getting going again.
My strategy was to get a lap ‘in the bag’ with the first or second timed one, before going all out and taking the odd risk on the third. Lap one felt good, so I pushed more on lap two, which also went well. Struggling to see how I could get the right-hander wrong at the last corner on my second lap, I kept it in fourth and floored it around the corner.
A moment duly arrived, the back-end coming out, but much to my surprise I kept it going in a straight line. Although I’d saved it, I crossed the start-line much slower than I would have liked, losing a few tenths at the end of the second lap and at the start of third. Good job I had the one in the bag.