Arriving at the track, us newbies got bombarded with stories of Potter's Pass, how crazy it was, the dangerous crashes there, the minimal run-off area, and how scared we were going to be. I just shrugged it off. My whole mindset was like that going there. There was no expectation, and I was going to take things as they came to me. So, I'll make my own judgement on Potter's Pass when I get to it.
I got to it in the 1st practise, and didn't take it flat out :P My mind was so focused for this weekend. I had 3 practise sessions and qualifying on the Friday, so I thought I'd go at my own pace such that I reached some sort of limit by quali. Courtney and the other new guys went balls to the wall from 1st session, I didn't feel the need to :) Nobody timing me again, Alan Holm rocked the track in a 1m32.9....the next guy was in the 1m34's hehehe. I was liking the track, the speed you reach is incredible....there's nothing like it, screw computer games :D I was also enjoying that midfield section, it was quite tricky and challenging!
Well I got going at my own pace. In 2nd session, Potter's Pass was flat out the 1st try....was awesome :) Just because it was fast. With the new Dunlop semi-slicks, this corner was just an above-average-sweep. Quite an overrated corner I thought, to be honest....so that was done. Went at my own pace to get the braking sorted out and learn some other corners....was a very physical track, my arms were really struggling hehe. But I was getting close to the limit without much risk. I didn't run off-track once....even though a couple sideways situations. Comes with the territory. I was even experimenting with some setup changes....which worked too. Things were running smoothly.
Qualifying arrived and I just put the corners together, not really on the full braking limits. Tried to slipstream others but got caught up with the drivers in other parts of the lap. Things went ok, but other drivers were eyeing me out in the pits after that. They reckon I was going well....and I think I was going ok. Ended up 5th on the grid....so things were not too bad!! But was still 2sec down on Alan Holm...the guy's engine was incredible...in practise I tried to slipstream him, but all I did was keep up!!! Down that long straight, I should have passed him even before Potter's....but I didn't even catch him.
I got noticed after that qualifying....even got a TV interview hehe....so ermm...I'm not too good at chatting in front of a camera....but I think it went pretty well :D Will see when it comes out on SuperSport later.
I was pretty focused. Knew what I had to do: just stay in the leading pack's slipstream. I could keep up with them throught the rest of the track just about, in practise I kept up with frontrunner Dennis Johns like that.
But I missed the lights going out at the start. Noob. It wasn't so bad, but the wheelspin I had added to the bad start....I just got swallowed up by the pack!! Crap...after that I thought I could get back with them if I just drove decently and kept up the pace in the slipstream....but...enter Trevor Bland. The guy was dive-bombing me in every corner he could get a chance. It was so dangerous sometimes, we actually hit wheels the one time, and I dived onto the grass to avoid him. I was not impressed at all, with this stupidity we were losing touch with the front guys.
I also started being a bit aggressive with him when defending my lines, and that became a whole other story in the pits after that....I did nothing illegal, I made sure of that. I was just harsh. Just like he was doing to me. I may have done a couple moves that I shouldn't have, but it should have been dealt with better. The politics of him knowing everyone and me not knowing anyone...things got annoying in the pits. Oh yeah, I finished that race in 8th. That fact really feels like an aside comment, since this Bland thing destroyed my name in the pits.
I put aside the bullshit going on in the pits, it wasn't that big, just a vibe I got from people that Trevor obviously got to first. Anyway, even though I was damn unfit, and really tired at the time, I got my brain in order. Watched the lights properly this time (hehe) and got a decent start off the line....just followed everyone down to the 1st corner...sliding around on cold tyres flat out through Potter's and Rifle....down into Cocabana...I enjoyed that corner. It was banked and dipped at the apex, and just rose on the way out....like a mini roller coaster going through there :)
The infield section was great, tough on cold tyres....not a lot of grip through here...but this was the part of the track that scared me the most, even though it wasn't the quickest. So easy to lose it and wipe out into the wall :/ The sweep after that section is aggressive. You have to fight the car to keep the apex, and also let go of the steering wheel with one hand to shift to 4th gear halfway through the sweep...it's intense.
The race was going well. I was keeping up with James Leach, but the lead pack was breaking up as those front guys were just insanely fast. I was having a nice dice, but keeping momentum so that we still had a chance of catching guys in front of us....I wasn't making any errors, things were going great. The only gripe I have with this moment was that I did not latch onto James's arse through these laps. I always kept this 0.5sec gap in front of me....I was not confident in running right behind him. It is something I must work on in races to come...
With 2laps to go, I was running in 6th position, working 'together' with James Leach with slipstream to catch the guys ahead of us....but then my accelerator cable snapped :( That was quite disappointing, running in a strong position, and my first DNF :( But that's racing, it was going to happen sooner or later.
So as my pace and consistency improves, I am learning other aspects of real racing too. The little politics in the pits, and even more crazy close racing. There are a lot of mindgames to play and follow, it was never just about the racing on the track. This championship is going to be interesting indeed :)