The Grand Prix alternatives

I find nothing more frustrating than listening to over pampered Grand Prix drivers moaning about the amount of travel in their job, firstly, because the title World Championship indicates frequent flights, and secondly, because they get to race in China, Brazil and the USA. There are worse jobs.

Over in Formula Vee ‘international’ extends about as far as a trip to Pembrey in Wales, which is where I was racing this weekend.

For anyone who have never been there Pembrey is remote. It makes Croft, Thruxton and Oulton Park seem like metropolitan centres.

This is fine from a purely racing point of view, after all when you are at the track your attention is focused on the business at hand. But away from the track in the evenings it provokes nothing but near-terminal boredom.

I was staying in Llaneli, which was the nearest town. Meaning no disrespect, for those that have never been there, don’t, and for those living there: why? It is no great exaggeration to say that the only place I found open after 6pm was an ASDA Superstore. There are better ways to spend a Friday night than perusing yoghurt.

That there is nothing to do is a shame, because Pembrey is a cracking little circuit, requiring precision and commitment from the driver. The lap itself, with the exception of the extremely slow Hatchets Hairpin, is fast with several flat out, or nearly-flat, turns. Passing is difficult; meaning the best way to get through is to force an error from other drivers. Facilities are, however, on the basic side and it is hard to believe that the track once staged both BTCC and British F3 meetings. The circuit is also comparatively short at around 64-67 seconds even in a Formula Vee.

Friday was a test day, and having never been to the venue before this meant learning the circuit, whilst also getting the car to do exactly what I wanted it to. Easy??????

Pembrey is interesting in that it is fairly easy to set a reasonably fast time but to get below that takes a lot of effort. Consequently it only took about 10 minutes to really learn the layout of the track, and then came the task of chipping away at my times. Testing is not glamorous, but it is loads of fun, especially on such a fast and rewarding track. By the end of the day, having done around 50 laps I had a good set up for the car and was setting reasonably strong lap times.

Race day dawned sunny and warm (an unusual experience, especially in Wales), so by the 9am qualifying session I couldn’t wait to get out on the track. Qualifying was, as usual, chaos. 32 cars on a track just over a mile long doesn’t really work. It especially doesn’t work when someone blows their engine on the first lap out of the pits and trails around dropping oil on the racing line. Cue several near-misses. Eventually a couple of drivers did the job properly and drove into each other at the hairpin. Given that this was only qualifying it doesn’t bode well for a clean race.

For the race I was 16th out of the 30 qualifiers, right in the middle of the midfield ‘suicide squad’. However I’m pleased with the position as I’m not a good qualifier and should gain in the race. After a seemingly endless four-hour wait we line up on the grid just after 1pm for a 13 minute plus 1 lap race. This is when the fun starts, as all the work of the past two days reaches its culmination. I make a good start and pass a couple of cars off the line, before consolidating my position into the Hairpin and avoid being taken off.

The next few laps were a blur, I slotted in behind my team-mate Paul and follow in his tow letting the car and tyres come up to temperature. Then it all got chaotic. Coming out of the hairpin Paul missed a gear and I rammed his gearbox, trashing my nosecone and letting the car behind through. Luckily the clash cost nothing else but time and I was soon fighting for position again. However, the following lap a couple of cars collided and blocked the circuit, bringing out the red flags.

For the restart I lined up 13th for a 5 minutes plus 1 lap sprint. Unsurprisingly the restarted race was like driving through a ‘Havoc’ video with cars flying off everywhere as everyone fought for position. I managed to keep out of trouble.

Throughout all this I’m involved in a mega dice for position which was unresolved by the time the red flags come out again after four of the leaders once again drove into each other blocking the circuit. It is no great shock when the organisers decide to abandon the race and declare a result. I’m classified 7th overall which as far as I’m concerned is a decent result and easily my best of the year.

Once again Formula Vee has provided me with an awesome weekend’s racing with some really close dicing and scraps for position. Furthermore it was super to finish in the top 10 in only my second race in the series, boding well for the future. Although Pembrey and Formula Vee may not quite be the British Grand Prix it is great fun and provides better racing than many of the TOCA tour series.

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