The Cheshire village of Little Budworth and the famous and historic venue of Oulton Park was our destination for round 4 of the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship.
The track is very challenging and demanding for the driver, perceived as being narrow with few overtaking opportunities. But it has real “racer’s corners”, requiring courage and full commitment from the driver, braking late and deep and getting the exit just right. Plus it means the car’s setup is completely different for Oulton Park than for any other circuit. Unfortunately, not a track I’m fully experienced with, especially after the engine problems last year that meant I became a spectator!
Therefore Saturday became a bit of a struggle for us. Throughout the practices, the car wasn't right. In heavy braking zones the rear wheels were lifting, causing very snappy oversteer, and this issue continued into qualifying which didn't leave us in the grid position that we were aiming for.
Saturday evening the team worked hard on the setup of the car, race engineer Paul Ridgeway examining the data and using his experience to suggest changes.
So with the new setup, for the first race so I went out onto the track, unsure of what to expect. But the car was feeling good — thank you team! — now it was up to me to get to grips with the circuit!
The other aspect that all the teams were dealing with this weekend was the new tyre that Dunlop had introduced for the Oulton Park races. We found that the new “Dunlop Sport Maxx BTCC Medium” was as temperature sensitive as the “Dunlop Sport Maxx BTCC Soft” tyre that we have to use, and doesn’t perform at its best until the tyre is properly warm. Fortunately on race day, the track temperatures were relatively high, and even higher by Race 3, which also benefited the drivers running on the soft tyres.
Our finishing position in Race 1 wasn't great but with the new rules for the starting grid for Race 2, I focused on a lap time, and got one good enough to start on the grid at p12.
In this race, I had a good start and enjoyed a good battle throughout the race. In the middle part, Martin Depper hit the right rear of the car fairly hard which resulted in the car not feeling the same and being very unstable, but we got some good points in p13, which was then swapped to p12 due to the incident.
In the final race, I had a close race throughout with a bit of contact to and fro with Rob Austin, eventually finishing in p11, which I felt was a strong result and gave me much needed experience in this entertaining (both for the drivers as well as the spectators!) circuit.
I’ll finish with a story that I was told on the Friday evening regarding the reason for the name of the famous “Knickerbrook Corner”. Many years ago the famous (or should that be infamous) Blaster Bates was removing tree stumps with his trademark dynamite close to the corner. After the first charge went off, a young courting couple were seen running from the bushes at the side of the nearby brook. As Blaster Bates and his colleague checked the surrounding area before any more charges were let off, they discovered some ladies’ underwear in the brook, and “Knickerbrook Corner” was named! I don’t know if the story’s true or not, and I’m afraid I can’t ask Blaster Bates!
See you at Croft.