One of the earliest memories I have of watching live motorsport is of a British Touring Car Championship race at Brands Hatch in the mid-1990s.
Alain Menu (I think) led the field into the Paddock Hill Bend for the first corner of the last race of the season, but halfway down the hill managed a perfect pirouette that caused what is to this day the biggest pile up I’ve ever seen.
Cold tyres were to blame, the formation lap of the short Indy circuit not being sufficient to get them up to temperature. Last time I saw a BTCC race at Brands Indy they were still doing two formation laps as a result of Menu’s spin.
The prospect of driving around Paddock, particularly at the start of a race, has excited and terrified me in equal measure ever since. I’d driven around it in a Ford Fiesta ST on a wet December track day a couple of years ago, but never in a racing car. Until this weekend that is, because Brands was the location for the last round of the Radical SR1 Cup race series.
My last attempt of the weekend at Paddock on the first lap of the last race of the season ended in a mini-Menu-style pile-up. Those who’ve followed my progress this season will not be surprised at my ability to find trouble and keep the fibreglass makers at Radical busy, but for once at least it wasn’t my fault, honest. More on that later.
One of many things to like about the SR1 Cup is the quality of the circuits it has visited this year. We’ve had the full, most challenging layouts at Silverstone, Oulton Park and Snetterton, and Brands was no different as the full Grand Prix circuit was in use.
An epic track it is, too, one that dare I say it is even Nurburgring-esque with the gradient and camber changes, kerbs you can attack, and the sheer speed in which you can tackle corners like Hawthorns and feel that lovely downforce of the SR1 at work. Throw in Paddock, a fairground ride you want to keep buying a ticket to, and you’ve got surely the UK’s most exciting race track.
Slow starts have been the norm for me this season in learning the tracks but not so in the morning practice session, a thorough video session with coach Roger Bromiley the night before, and the perfect set-up being found from the outset (a disconnection of the rear anti-roll bar allowing for more rear-end grip), allowing me to be on the pace straight away.
I ended up in fourth place behind the three outstanding drivers this season in Dave Morgan, Rob Watkins and Mark Richards. Might a challenge for a podium place be on?
Erm, no. One norm of the season that was repeated was my ability to balls up qualifying and never get a clear lap in, a combination of safety car, yellow flags, and slower cars being encountered on flying laps the trio of excuses I’m using for only managing ninth on the grid for both races. My best time was 1.1sec slower than my best in practice that morning, a time which if repeated would have put me fourth on the grid for the race.
Another norm that was repeated was a terrible start in race one. It’s tricky to get off the line at Brands, the brake needing to be covered to stop you rolling down the hill. The red lights also seemed to stay on for an age, and when they came off my reactions were slow and I emerged from Paddock in 10th. At least everyone made it round.
What followed next was the most enjoyable battle of the season. I was fifth in a group of six cars vying for fifth place. One by one I managed to pick off four of my rivals, every single move happening up the inside of Surtees heading out onto the back of the circuit. Then came the move for fifth at the same place, but my move up the inside blindsided my opponent as he cut towards the apex at the last minute. We banged wheels, I spun and was back down to 10th again.