I had a very useful testing session the day before, where I tried various different suspension settings, tyre pressures and driving techniques - and also learned the track. However by Friday evening I had managed to destroy two brand new front tyres, and I spoke to several people about my driving style and car set up to try and understand why this was. My best time during Friday testing had been a 1.12.6 (lap record is 1.12.0 for Group One class D).
Pre 90 qualifying was dry and sunny, so after a few warm up laps, I tried everything I had learned (with a slightly different set up on the car) and immediately my in car lap timer showed an 1.11.6 - enough I thought, and I cruised around for the rest of the session trying one or two different lines here and there. Result was a qualifying position of 9th place, just ahead of David Howard's V12 Jaguar for the first time - the official time showing as a 1.11.9.
Group One qualifying proved to be much the same - a few warm up laps, find some space, then go for it. Lap four showed a 1.11.3 on the in car timer, so I thought that would do nicely. The session was then red flagged (Mazda spun at Honda Curves) so I pulled in and called it a day. When the time sheets were issued my time was again showing 1.11.9 rather than 1.11.3, but I was still well ahead of the other class D cars - job done.
After two days of driving around Pembrey, I was beginning to think this Pre 90 race was surplus to my requirements - I didn't want to damage the car before the all important Group One race, so couldn't really risk racing tooclose to anyone. Anyway a race is a race, so I made an average start and followed the Rover SD1 of Kingsley Marten through the hairpin. He then got a bit sideways and almost stopped on the apex of the corner, I was stuck behind him and had to watch about four cars cruise past round the outside - bollocks. I gave chase and caught up with a small group comprising an M3 (who I raced at Lydden), a red Capri and the yellow SD1 of Steve Barber.
Unfortunately the red Capri was pouring out petrol round Dibeni, so the M3 and I had to drive offline and we couldn't risk trying to get passed. He was black/orange flagged three times, before eventually being black flagged on lap 8. I dived past the M3 at the hairpin, but he returned the favour the following lap and I slotted behind him to finish with a best lap of 1.12.4.
I woke on Sunday morning delighted to see dark clouds and damp conditions - and there was a light drizzle starting as we completed our two green flag laps. The Golf is superb in the wet, and I made the best start of my racing career, shooting down the middle of the grid and passing the Rover SD1 of Kingsley, the similar car of Subir Gupta and the Capri of Martin Bird.
I consolidated for a few laps, excelling in the wet conditions, and caught the Rover of Sean Hayes down the back straight (who qualified 3d overall). The track was drying out however, and an overtaking move was out of the question. Before long I had Malc Best's Capri and Subir's Rover all over the back of me, so I turned my attention to fending them off instead. They were both way quicker down the start/finish straight, but I could easily outbrake them into the hairpin to stay ahead. Malc Best then got a run up towards Honda Curve and dived for the inside - I had to give room, lost momentum and this allowed Subir to pass also approaching the hairpin - I was back down to 10th place. The Capri passed the RX7 of Will McAteer who was also in the middle of our little battle. I then approached the hairpin to see Subir taking a very wide line indeed, braking very earlier. I flew up the inside and slotted in behind the RX7 to take the inside line - only to see Subir come across the apex and cut the corner off, giving me no room and making contact with the front of the Golf - bugger! I immediately gave chase and was all over the back of him through Dibeni, then realised I need to get class points, and couldn't risk getting punted off by cars I wasn't really competing with. It was a pity, because until then it had been a great race - but I wasn't sure if the front nearside wheel was damaged and I couldn't risk further contact. It was also drying out rapidly so I was starting to lose ground to the more powerful cars around me.
I managed to pass Will in the RX7 after two laps of chasing (he pulled wide with mechanical problems to allow me through). I then held back a little and cruised to the line, holding off the Rover of Kingsley behind me to finish first in class D and 9th overall. Unfortunately because I was holding back on the last few laps when the track was getting dry, I missed out on fastest class D lap - losing another point to Sean Cockerill in the championship. That was not good news, considering how much quicker I had been in qualifying.
After the race I went searching for Subir to 'ask his views' on the incident, he was adamant it was my fault because the rear wheel arch of his car had hit the front of mine (so I wasn't more than half way along?). I was a bit annoyed with this since I wasn't trying to pass, I had slotted in behind another car approaching the corner (which I am perfectly entitled to do) and he hadn't been aware enough to notice I was there, and had therefore cut the corner to try and attack the RX7 through Spitfires (the next bend). My car now needs a new wing, bumper, indicator, headlamp and front panel - all of which I have to pay for out of my own pocket.
Still, you have to live with some panel damage in touring car racing (and this was my first in 20 races) - there was certainly no deliberate intention on Subir's behalf to hit me, so we agreed to put it down to a racing incident.
Next race - Oulton Park, 29th September.