We arrived at the circuit at midnight and found ourselves a quiet spot two-thirds of the way up the old runway. By the time we’d pitched the tent and got ourselves sorted it was about 01:00 before I got off to sleep. It’s perhaps not such a surprise that, contrary to expectations, I wasn’t quite raring to go the following morning. Rising 25 minutes later than planned, I found that the car didn’t like starting when cold and damp. After some frantic manoeuvring of the van I managed to get it jump-started and warmed up, taking a few gentle runs around our corner of the runway to get some charge into the battery. The next job was to find Matt Gilmour who had kindly offered to bring me an aeroscreen and mounting bracket. The regulations state that you must have a screen of no less than 75mm tall and 250mm wide. I just hadn’t had the time to get this done. Unfortunately Matt was still on-route and I was starting to worry that I might fail scrutineering. Fortunately Ivan, Matt’s father, was on site and had the screen. He helped me fit it, turning the bolts from above while I lay uncomfortably below the scuttle with my feet up in the air. “Thank goodness that is done.” I dashed back to the tent to get my racewear, then to the signing-on office, returning to the car just in time for scrutineering.
I was one of the first in-line. Unfortunately, the car failed on the first test – no brake lights. These had previously been working. I returned to the pit garage and was greeted by Matt. He told me to calm down and went to get a multi-meter. We soon found that the brake light switch was not getting 12v and decided that the best course of action was to run a jump-wire from a free terminal on the coil. With brake lights working I re-presented the car which sailed-through the other checks. It was a shame that I’d left the signing-on slip in the garage so the scrutineer couldn’t issue me with a card showing that I’d passed. I drove the car back to the garage and then jogged back to the scrutineering bay where I was finally issued with the critical piece of paper. To say that I’d had a fraught start to the day was a bit of an understatement!
There was now really only time to get togged-up and strapped-in ready for qualifying. Until now the furthest that I’d driven the car was from the camp-site to the pit garages; Gulp! Matt was again very helpful and told me to follow one of the regular racers to the staging area to wait for our twenty minute session. He then met me there and just told me to relax and enjoy it. To be honest, this was the most relaxed I’d felt all morning. I set myself the goal of not qualifying dead-last. After the first lap I was sure I was going to fail to meet my goal. It seemed as though everyone was streaming past me. The car seemed very neutral but then gave no warning before the back-end would lose traction. It certainly felt a whole lot less forgiving than my Striker. As a result I spun three times. As the laps went on and I started to get used to car and circuit, I felt like I was getting a bit quicker. The one thing which was making it difficult was that the throttle pedal was a huge distance from the brake. I’ve since had some debate about whether or not heel-and-toe is necessary or desirable in Locost racing but when you’re used to applying the technique, not being able to do so made my driving feel very clumsy. Worse still, the pedals were so far apart that on more than one occasion my boot just fell between the pedals and I found myself pushing on bulkhead!
It wasn’t long before the chequered flag came out and we were marshalled back into the pits. I felt relieved but was sure that I’d be at the back of the grid. Oh well, I’d never driven the thing before. About twenty minutes later a few time-sheets appeared. To my surprise I’d managed to qualify 26th out of 35. Goal #1 accomplished.
The parade laps were useful and Kate commented that I looked faster than I did in qualifying! This probably wasn’t far from the truth. Mid afternoon came and went and it was soon time to get my gear back on and get myself strapped-in for my first ever race. This really was something that I’d wanted to do since I was 16 so I was delighted that I’d made it. All the months and years of studying and grafting and striving to get up the career ladder suddenly felt worthwhile as I’d put myself in a position where I could afford to take my first tentative step in motorsport proper.