Mallory provided tight, exciting battles - as did all the races
"It's going to be a destruction derby, the final round of a season always is." These were the prophetic words of RacingPete as we discussed the fast-approaching Mallory Park meeting, Round Seven of the PistonHeads.com Caterham Academy and my last chance to nab a bit of silverware (oh all right, nameless metalware) for the PH office.
Besides, after the previous round at Brands hatch I was in a comfortable fourth place in the championship, and just three points behind nabbing an overall third from Tim Abbott. Provided I finished in the upper half of the field, my fourth place was safe, while a good race for me and a bad one for Tim might just secure third.
Even so, I knew from a day spent marshalling that Mallory was an unforgiving place should things go wrong and I feared that Pete's predictions might come true; the trick was surely going to be to avoid the carnage.
So it proved. I fluffed my first front-row start and was down to fourth at the end of the first lap when a multi-car pile-up that had happened earlier in the lap behind us caused a red-flag to be thrown. The first two cars backed off at the first sign of a red light, but an unsighted David Menzies in third went hard into the back of Ross Macindoe's car, sending Ross into a tailspin right in front of me and himself into the pit wall and a fairly dramatic roll.
It turned out that three cars had gone into the second corner side by side, one (James Needham) carrying on and two spinning (Chris Bingham and Tim Abbott), while Andy West's car was tipped into a dramatic series of cartwheels. Thankfully nobody was even slightly injured in all this (You can have a closer look at the action in the videos and pics at the bottom of this article to see how amazing that is), but the net result was that five cars were missing from the restart, and several others were severely bruised.
I managed to get second back from Martin with a (possibly over-brave) dive up the inside into the first corner, a move he nearly replicated at the super-tight Shaw hairpin with a late lunge that resulted in a smoky lock-up that sent him too deep into the corner.
Martin spent the rest of the race fending off Ross in fourth, while I set about chasing Kurt - in vain. We were separated by just 1.3secs at the end.
Over in Group 1, Wes Fox took the race win, making it three out of four race victories, and landing him the championship trophy, while Rockingham race winner Jon Mortimer took second in the championship, and Merlin Edwards the final podium spot.
So that's it. It's been a pretty amazing experience, this racing thing, and I've fulfilled so many ambitions that I never dreamed of achieving: racing at Brands Hatch, having a pint in the Kentagon (as a competitor) the night before a race, standing on a race podium, being given a trophy, spraying champagne. They sound like little things, but they all add up.
I've also enjoyed fantastic banter and some great racing with people who I would not hesitate to universally call friends. This might sound like I'm being too gushing, but it really is that good. If you're thinking about doing it, go for it (though you might have to wait until the 2012 season now). Sell parts of your body to science if you have to. It's worth it.
Pics: Rachel Horgan and James Gray
And now for the main feature... (well, the crashes)