CATERHAM ACADEMY ROUND SIX: BRANDS HATCH
Spins, sin bins and unexpected wins (well, podiums) as the championship chase hots up
Compared with the wide open spaces of our previous race at Snetterton, the Brands Hatch Indy circuit is a tight, unforgiving ribbon of rising and falling, constantly curving track, with deep gravel (which will get you stuck) or looming walls (which will get you crashed) eager to punish any mistakes. It is not a place where you push your luck.
Come the qualifying session late on Saturday afternoon, an already congested track was made all the trickier by several stopped cars. The ensuing yellow flags meant confusion and disruption and it was clear that whoever managed the traffic best - and got lucky with the flags - would be the ones to post the quick times.
On race day, the predicted heavy rain held off and, under a gloomy but dry sky, I finally made a decent getaway from the line as the red lights went out. Unfortunately, as I tried to duck inside Martin Pass ahead of me he fluffed the change to second gear, forcing me to back off and become immediately swamped by cars left and right. I managed to squeeze back past a couple of cars at the Druids hairpin, but I was seventh at the end of the first lap.
I managed to stay there until the safety car came out - allowing marshals to retrieve the beached car of Mr Needham - although a nervous restart made me over-defensive into Druids, resulting in a bit of a love-tap from Tim, who was (very) close behind me. I managed to hold him and a recovering Kurt and Martin off and was wondering whether I could chase a podium when the final roll of Lady Luck's die landed.
It stayed that way until the end of the race, giving Ross, David and me - three extremely chuffed novice racers - our first taste of the podium. It's quite good fun, this racing lark...
Pics: Rachel Horgan
Group 1 - the 'other' race:
Sadly, a late-braking lunge at Paddock that caused Mike to nerf Merlin Edwards into retirement, and a muscular move on Wesley towards the end of the race, both drew the attention of the race stewards. After the race, they decided that Mike had been 'driving in a manner incompatible with general safety', and would therefore be excluded from the result.
Although Mike was undoubtedly pushing his luck, the penalty seemed like a harsh call, all but wiping out Mike's championship hopes and leaving Wesley in a commanding lead in Group 2's championship standings.
With the race officials doling out a full race exclusion, Mike can't use Brands as his dropped score - a punishment that doesn't seem to quite fit the crime. you can have a look at the contorversy by following the links to Mike's in-car camera footage below.