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May 19, 2016

Zero for Two

When I train at Roark Gyms there are some benchmark exercises that are designed to borderline murder you. The level is so high and so tough that if you are left walking after each one you’re superman.

I’m yet successfully master any three of the Roark benchmarks and my season in Blancpain is starting to look quite similar.

After an engine failure at Monza I was not able to even turn a lap in the race, so when I got to Silverstone you can imagine how eager I was to get on the track and make amends.

Silverstone is a track I use extensively in video games/simulators to train as it has got quite a good mix of corners. It’s fast, it’s technical, it’s ballsy.

When my chance came in Free Practice 1 (aka “Bronze Test”) I couldn’t wait to experience the track in real life. Much to my surprise I was almost immediately on the pace. My third lap was good enough for 3rd overall and P1 in class. Never in my life had I been so quick at a new circuit before. Things were looking up.

In free practice 2, I again ended P1 in class after a mega long run with lap times that were equal to those of the Pro’s.

For Free Practice 3 (aka Pre-Qualifying… confusing I know) I was due to drive first and on brand new tyres. Before the session began we made some setup changes with the aim of improving our slow speed understeer which meant high speed corners would be a bit scarier.

After a warm up lap on the new tyres I committed fast and hard into turn 1 but misjudged my line on entry, missed the apex and got pitched into a spin at 230kph. I braced for the worst but got away lucky with a light nudge into the outside wall at Copse corner.

Upon returning to the pits my team fixed a broken rear view mirror and sent me back out. I ended up going P1 in class again but the lap time should have been better.

All things considered we had a great practice day, our pace was definitely there and a top 25 overall position in Sunday qualifying was on the cards.

Qualifying started well as my first flying lap was already a full second quicker than I had gone on Saturday. During my second lap I was up in sector 1 but got blocked into the next corner by Vanthoor in the #1 Audi. Forced to slow down I knew my tires were now passed their best but gave it one more go and improved by 1/10th of a second.

Qualifying Press Conf

In the end I got Pole Position in class by just over a second! Proud, I made my way to the Press Conference for an interview on live tele. It was a surreal moment and one I won’t forget as I sat among the fastest GT drivers in the world giving my take on qualifying first in class.

Having missed the opportunity to drive at Monza I was hoping to start the race at Round 2 but a last minute change to the strategy meant I would drive last. Generally that’s when the fastest driver can make the biggest difference.

I was torn by the decision as driving last means there’s a higher risk of not driving at all, but knew it would give us the best opportunity to win if everything went according to plan. Which it didn’t.

Stephen Earle started the race and drove conservatively in the first hour as he focused on keeping it clean and on track.

During the pit stop at the 1 hour mark Bernard jumped in and also drove a clean stint.

I was next.

I jumped into the car knowing I would have to catch up almost a full lap to the leaders in class but felt confident that I could at least get close.

While leaving the pit box after the second driver change (Bernard out, me in) I unknowingly pulled away in 2nd gear. As soon as I left the pit lane I knew something was wrong as the clutch kept slipping no matter what gear I was in.

I radioed the team and reported the slippage upon which I was forced to do another pit stop so they could asses the issue. An agonizing 10 minutes passed by as we tried over and over to restart the engine. It never came and the dreaded “Race over, please get out the car” message came over the radio.

silverstone-03

It was a difficult moment and took me a few hours to digest. My team mates had done a good job and for reasons still not entirely clear, I was not able to complete a lap and we weren’t able to finish.

The next race is in France as we tackle Paul Ricard in a 6 hour race. It’s going to be hot, it’s going to be long and it’s going to be tough.

By the time we get there it will have been close to 9 months since I have actually *competed* in a race itself, so I will look at what I can do in-between now and then when I’m back in Cape Town. A karting race would not go amiss.

These last two events have been character building and I’ve learned a lot. In fact it’s been learning overdrive and I’m eager to show my pace in a race as opposed to just qualifying which I’ve always admitted is not my strong point.

Thanks to my team, Kessel Racing, and my sponsors Peresoft, Embrace Tha Suck, Cove Coffee and Good Looking and Cooking for putting me on track. Finally I need to say thanks to Alan Macdonald, my manager, who goes to the ends of the earth to make sure I’m able to continue this mad ambition of becoming a successful racing driver.

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