Any kind of motorsport is nerve-wracking. Any kind of competition is tense, really, because it involves plundering your reserves of skill and expertise (however shallow they might be) and pitting them against the clock, an opponent, or a whole team of rivals. There's nothing quite like competing, whatever the discipline, to get you fired up.
Sunday's Brands Hatch Indy round of Restoracing felt even more pressured than the Donington season opener. Not only did I want to atone for the mistake that had arguably cost me, the car and Premier Panel Skills a second podium then, but Brands Hatch is a bit of a bogie circuit for me - the last race there I didn't finish. Plus the fact that some Restoracing drivers had tested on Friday, while others had raced in a separate Porsche championship on Saturday. On a drizzly Sunday morning I had to get in the car having not driven it since April, and having last been around the track in a Ka. Super.
Handily the circuit had pretty much dried for qualifying, but most of it was spent as a test session, trying to work out braking points, turn-ins and so on. To be honest, it still felt like more was in the car - that's in chapter three of the racing driver cliché book - a combination of mistakes and traffic making the job trickier. Still, my two quickest times (the grid for race two decided by your second fastest quali lap) of 55.946 and 56.003 put the #35 car fourth and third on the grid respectively.
Sadly, race one was marred by a lot of time under the safety car, Ollie Coles' start line drama and a separate Paddock Hill incident - one of many during the day, more of which in a bit - meaning nine of 21 laps were spent in a yellow flagged procession.
The last five minutes, though, were brilliant; Ben McLoughlin in the Bournemouth car was making a break for the victory, Will Heslop (Wolverhampton) had got past Josh Morris (Bolton) and was in hot pursuit, and there I was in fourth desperately trying everything for a podium. Sadly it wasn't to be, Josh's dogged defence ensuring that third remained his, despite running so close that number plates touched... But fourth was better than nothing, and a fastest lap of 55.627 was good for confidence going into race two.
Race two will go down as one of the best 30 minutes I've ever had. Don't tell my girlfriend. Having retained third from the start, Morris finally left enough of a gap to squeeze through at Clearways. Well, enough of a gap, and some fantastic brakes in 'my' Boxster; the fluid has been uprated since Donington and the pads were fresh, meaning more confidence than ever and what felt like the ability to brake a bit later. So it was the car as much as anything. Then the mission to chase down Ben was on. Carrying 60kg of success ballast against our 15, I did have a weight advantage; Ben was probably quicker at the end of the lap, my speed maybe just superior at the beginning. The gap fluctuated, closed a little, then disaster...
What seems to have happened is that in their battling over third, Will Heslop and Josh Morris had made contact, puncturing the radiator of Will's Pink Pig tribute and dropping water on the track at Paddock Hill. For whatever reason, Ben and I were first on the scene; apparently there was a slippery surface flag, but neither of us saw it. Ben braked and went straight on; I braked and went straight on despite desperately trying not to, careering into the gravel on corner exit. In the frantic dust cloud skirmish to exit our cars touched - sorry Ben - and I emerged first, Josh in third bearing down on the way to Druids. Mercifully, a safety car was called, giving some chance to clear gravel and work out what the heck was going to happen now the Premier Panel Skills Boxster was in the lead of the race.
The safety car ran from lap seven to 11, or about six miles. It might well have been five laps of Le Mans for the time it felt to have taken, tidying up the oil and water from Will's car. Having never thought about a restart before, let alone having executed one, I was petrified; a feeling only added to by having never actually seen what we went off on in the first place. The plan was to go not long after the safety car had vanished and see what happened, the hope was for Josh to keep Ben occupied for a little while to aid my escape, which he did - for all of the pit straight. Then Ben was past at Paddock Hill, the gap established at the restart looking nowhere big enough. A mistake braking into Clearways only heightened the pressure, that yellow and red Bournemouth car looming not far behind.
But then a strange thing happened: there weren't any more stoppages, a rhythm emerged and the gap back, slowly but surely, began to grow. The wonderful little Boxster just kept on giving, feeling better and better, and faster and faster, as the time passed - a best lap of 54.865, more than a second quicker than qualifying, was recorded on lap 19. We were going to win this.
I stopped looking at the clock with a few minutes to go, terrified of screwing up. Having known only too well what one mistimed brake can do at Brands Hatch, and indeed what it can do in this Boxster, I desperately tried to just keep circulating quickly but safely. Ben was still in the mirrors, and wouldn't need a second invitation to get back through.
But there it was - the chequered flag. We'd only gone and bloody won! While I'm gutted there isn't a video to re-watch a crazy race unfold, that nobody beyond the marshals will ever see my delirious celebrations is most certainly a positive. Let's just call them enthusiastic. As in any sort of competition, on four wheels, two wheels, two feet or something entirely different, the feeling of success when you've given everything is like nothing else, and worth all the angst, fear and apprehension in the world. That post-race scrutineering revealed the Premier Panel Skills car to be 20kg heavier than it needed to be has to be a good sign, too.
All well and good, you're probably thinking, but what's the point? Well, more and more rumours are now circulating that the Restoracing series will be opened up to the public next year, which would naturally make the series far more appealing. Making a race car is never going to be truly cheap, but then Boxsters are never going to be more affordable, and it won't surprise you to learn they make fantastic motorsport tools: lithe, responsive, loud and tremendous fun, you couldn't want for much more from an entry level Porsche racer. All the guys did between qualifying and races was check fuel levels and tyre pressures, so it's not some high maintenance sports car. And while reliability issues will continue to surround the 986 Boxsters, there's not been a single retirement thus far owing to mechanical breakdown. Should it become a championship with more open entry criteria, it could hardly be recommended more highly - because we all dream of being Richard Attwood, Marc Lieb or Nick Tandy in our Porsche sports car at some point, don't we? Just leave that fastest lap alone, please; I'm quite proud of that.
Huge thanks to Ian, Jamie, Justin, Costa and Lee from Premier Panel Skills for your help over the weekend - you're all superstars.
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