Stephen Daly: Back to basics
November 14, 2012 by Stephen Daly
Hi all, I was back to basics racing the FF1600 again but this time across the water in the Formula Ford Festival at Brands Hatch UK. The Formula Ford Festival is one of the most prestigious races in the calendar. Drivers from across the world come to contest and win at the Festival. The Festival in previous years had been the hardest race of the year and proved a challenge to even get into the final. This year proved to be no different!
Bright and early, the week before the FF Festival, it was time to go testing. Wet and windy was the theme for testing, the majority was wet running but it was fantastic to be back in the car. Slowly easing myself into the track, I realised that if you weren’t going off at every corner you weren’t trying hard enough, which had me smiling after every run. Testing thus proved to be mighty fun to drive in and entertaining to watch back on the on-board camera with many excursions. Throughout testing my times improved every session with making adjustments to the car. At the end of testing I was a lot sharper on the circuit and was on the pace in the wet but still needed time to refine the car.
Saturday morning crept in and for a change it was dry! Qualifying got underway and we were soon up to speed, setting quick lap times and I was positioned 7th for the quarter-final. I was confident after qualifying that there was still time to get from the car with a few adjustments. The heavens opened once again with hailstones this time and the car was slotted into its wet settings. On the warm up lap the track was flooded but I liked the challenge and the way the car was handling. The race started and I got a great start up to 6th before the first corner but only to be squeezed through paddock hill bend by another car, which spun me out and dropped me down to 18 th. Within 2 laps I recovered 10 places and I was up to 4th place with 5 laps to go and I could see the leaders and had my eyes set on 3rd place until a safety car was brought out for an incident on track. On the restart I ran out of luck, getting ready to go, I positioned the car to get a good run on to the main straight but unluckily aquaplaned on standing water and slid into the gravel where my race was ended. This meant I started from the 10th row for the quarterfinal but I set the second fastest time in the race only beaten by the winner, so I was confident we were on the right track with setup.
Sunday arrived and once again it was chilly and damp. The track had a dry line for the semi-final but very damp off line. Starting from 20th I was confident I could make up the places to get into the final. The race started calmly working my way through the field of cars so not to end up in the gravel. After 5 laps I was up to 13th position and about to pass a car for 12th, until I had to avoid him and go off the dry racing line, which resulted in sliding into the gravel trap. I got to drive out of the gravel trap but only to re-emerge down in 17th position. The red mist was now down and I had to fight back up to 12th to get into the final. Coming through the field once again the drivers were not keen to give up positions, which held me up but eventually I made it to 10th position and nearly got 9th on the last lap. I was thrilled to get into the final after my visit to the gravel traps. I hadn’t made as many places up as intended so I was starting 20th on the grid for the final but it was great to be there.
Car, helmet and ego polished I was raring to get racing in the dry Final. Starting 20th was going to be difficult but gave an event filled race. On the grid I could hardly see the red lights but launched the car of the line and made two positions before the first corner. Steady through the next couple of laps I went from 20th to 8th position fighting for 7th behind one of the CDR American scholarship drivers. To this point I had great pace and set the 5th fastest time in the race only 3 tenths off the leaders and improving every lap. Coming up to Druids corner I passed the American on the brakes but he was able to cut back down the inside line to Graham Hill bend and retake 7th position. We both continued to the next corner where I had to avoid hitting the Americans’ car while braking into Clearways corner. This spun me off the track only recovering to 9th position. Confident I could pass them again, I continued for another lap but the race was cut short with a red flag on lap 14 resulting in the race being finished and I maintaining 9th position. I was thrilled to finish the final and knew I had the pace to finish 5th.
Setbacks aside I had a fantastic weekend back racing the FF1600 at Brands Hatch and can’t wait for the next time. Thanks to everyone who helped over the weekend and everyone who made a special effort to get there, it all makes it worthwhile. Now what’s next?