It was a very exciting start to the year at Oulton park on 4th – 6th April. The atmosphere was amazing and the racing was even better. This was my first race weekend in cars and it was hard to believe it was really happening!
Saturday: Qualifying Troubles – Surprising Race Pace
Team HARD did a great job of replacing the engine over night after the engine problems I had during testing on Friday. The first time I was going to drive the car with this engine was now going to be in qualifying on Saturday morning. I wasn’t too worried about the 40kg ballast I had to carry as I was really just treating the weekend as test-days for experience.
As I drove out onto the track for qualifying it didn’t feel right. There was no power and a hissing sound was coming from the engine. I immediately thought it must be a boost leak but I wasn’t sure because I don’t have much experience in a car. In case I was wrong I didn’t want to risk any damage to the engine so nursed the car around for the mandatory three laps to qualify but this meant I was going to start in last place, 28th. It also meant that the first time I would get any practice in the dry was going to be in race 1.
The team diagnosed that the problem was a boost leak and managed to have it fixed by the first race. Before I knew it I was in the car with the engine running sitting on the grid waiting for the start. The lights went out and straight away there was a crash right in front of me. I had a great start and had pulled alongside another car to my right. I tried to edge him over so I could avoid the crash but there was no room and no time. I had to react quickly and steer left onto the grass and around the pile up.
The race was stopped and we were all put back onto the grid. Once the cars were cleared they started the race again. This time my nerves got the better of me and let the clutch out too quickly and stalled the car. I got it going straight away but already there was a big gap ahead of me. I pushed as hard as I could and managed to close the gap to 2.4 seconds and finish 23rd. Due to the time taken to clear the cars from the grid, the race was 25% shorter.
I later found out I was about 2 seconds a lap faster than the driver ahead of me on my best lap so I might have had a chance at overtaking him if the race was the full distance. It was exciting to know that I had the pace to catch up to experienced adult drivers. In fact, when the timing sheets were released I found out that my 1m58s pace was similar to drivers who finished in 15th!
“Damani showed surprising mid-pack pace this weekend and some great overtakes. We knew Damani had potential but to be mid-pack already with so little experience on his first dry laps at Oulton Park was unexpected. It was a shame that the car struggled with a number of technical issues over the weekend, limiting Damani’s opportunity but when he had the chance to show people what he can do he delivered way beyond everyone’s expectations.” -Tony Gilham, Team Principal, Team HARD
This was a surprise for me because I have hardly driven in a car. One of the things that I know helped in a big way was the time I spent on simulators. I practiced on Oulton Park to learn the track layout and basic lines on the simulators at Ultimate Race Car Experience in Salisbury.
I then spent some time at Pro-Sim near Gatwick getting extra coaching from Adrian Quaife-Hobbs. This helped me with my overall lines and he put me in a car that was much more powerful than my actual race car so that when I drive Oulton Park for real it would feel a lot slower and easier to drive.
After that there was no more racing until Monday. So my dad and I spent the day catching up on some video editing and watching the BTCC and the rest of the races on the TOCA package. All I could think about was when I would be back on track!
Monday Ends Early
On Monday morning my second race was due to start at 10:05. I was back on the grid and determined to make a good start. Someone had a problem on the track ahead and the lights flashed for an aborted start. Somehow, over the crest of the hill the marshals decided to use a union jack flag start instead. Most of the grid couldn’t see this because of the hill and were caught out. Then when we all realised that it wasn’t an aborted start we all went. I got caught out a bit and ended up right at the back again but was close enough to the back pack to then put in my first overtakes in a car race.
It felt awesome to be able to do this. I love the feeling of pulling off a move! I made it from last back up to 20th from overtakes and other people’s retirements then the worst thing happened. I was pushing too hard into the second chicane and lost the back end of the car. By the time I got back onto the track I’d dropped back to 22nd. I then pushed to catch the drivers now up the road and just in the last few laps the engine let go again! I had no power. I nursed the car back to the finish line. The team thought they found the problem for race three but there were still issues.
In race 3 I noticed the problem on the warm up laps so I pulled into the pits. This meant that the team could have a look at the car. They tried one last thing but when I did my pit start I had the problem straight away. After a few laps the team called me in and I had to retire from the race.
Happy, Positive & Faster than Expected
I am very happy to know that even with 40kgs of ballast that I could achieve mid-pack pace in so few laps of experience. This was amazing really as it was my first real experience of driving a car in the dry. I know that the time I spent on the simulators helped me get used to the track before I got there but driving a car for real is different.
It was a shame to end the weekend with a race retirement but I still enjoyed the times I had on the track especially when I was able to really push and pull of some enjoyable overtakes. The whole experience and the supportiveness of the whole of Team HARD and the amazing backing of all my partners has just got me more excited for Rockingham.
Look out for the Volkswagen Racing Cup Rounds 1, 2 & 3 on Motors TV from 18th April and on Channel 4 on 26th April