Silverstone National 6 April 2014 - Ford Fiesta Junior
The long awaited first race of the season - the two pre-season tests at Silverstone and Snetterton had suggested that Geri might be one of the front-runners this year, but testing times mean nothing if you cannot do it on race day.
There was a one hour test session on the Friday afternoon, once again we engaged Chris Hodgetts to work with Geri. Right away, Geri was looking good, even with the ballast of a passenger and scrubbing in new tyres ready for Sunday, he was only losing a car length or two to Michael in the early laps. Of course we don't know what Michael's strategy was. Late in the session, now running alone, but still carrying the passenger seat and harness, and back on old tyres, Geri did a full race simulation. We only timed the last 12 laps, the average was 1:12.0, with some in the "11s" - last year the quick drivers were posting high elevens, so confidence of a decent weekend was high.
Sunday morning, all was different. Friday had been bright and dry, but rain had fallen overnight and as we drove back to the circuit for our 7:30am arrival time, the rain started up again. Daniels Motorsport had been at the circuit all weekend, with the senior Fiesta drivers racing over on the International circuit while the Juniors lined up on the National circuit. So our car was already waiting in the garages, had already been through scrutineering and had the engine and ECU seals applied. All we had to do was sign on and present Geri in his suit to the scrutineers.
Picture courtesy of James Roberts
A wet track meant wet tyres, and wet suspension settings - we told Geri to take it easy and build up speed to better gauge grip levels, but as he came down the Wellington straight for the first time, he was already overtaking the other drivers, with Rob Cox in seemingly hot pursuit. Geri and Rob looked to be setting the pace, Geri had the fastest out lap, but then Rob progressively set faster times to lead the board until lap 10 when Geri posted a new "pole" time. And then promptly spun at Brooklands the following lap going in too fast and hitting the stream of water across the track.
The track was starting to dry, Rob posted new fastest times in laps 11 and 12 while Geri worked on getting his rhythm back - he posted consistent times to the end of the session but could not improve on his previous best, while Rob lowered the mark again on his final lap to finish 0.234 ahead of Geri. Next up were Thomas Grundy, Aaron Thompson and Michael Higgs, separated by a little over two tenths but Thomas was almost a second adrift of Geri. A promising start!
Further back, Sam Watkins, Jessica King (in her first race with us) and Nathan Edwards completed the grid.
At the end of the session Rob, Michael, Geri and Aaron had a trip to see the Clerk of the Course for a friendly warning about exceeding track limits, they had all done so on two occasions - but the wet track had been taken into account so no flags had been shown.
The rain had stopped but the track seemed damp still - a quick check with the drivers who had just come off the track confirmed a late change to dry tyres, but with the suspension left on wet settings. This time Geri hung right back, and a slow opening lap followed by an even slower second lap, warming the tyres up, left him at the back and a long way adrift of the cars in front. In other words, he had a nice clear track in front of him for a few laps.
Rob set the early pace, but on lap three Michael set fastest lap on 1:14.137, Geri exactly matched that time the same lap but crossed the line a lot later. Michael lowered the mark over the next laps before Geri went to the top with 1:13.180 on lap 6. Geri lowered this again on laps 8 and 9 before Rob took over with 1:12.662 on lap 10. Geri's response was to back right off for a lap, unfortunately losing tyre temperatures - Michael came into the pits and went back out on a mission. Michael fleetingly held pole on 1:12.552 on lap 14 but Rob crossed the line 20 seconds later and setting the final pole time of 1:12.252. Geri tried to come back but could only get within 2/1000ths of Michael's best to line up third. Qualifying ended Rob, Michael, Geri, just 3/10ths apart, then a gap back to Aaron, Thomas, Sam, Nathan and Jessica. The curse of track limits caught Geri again as he lost a lap for this third violation, luckily not his quickest.
By now the track was dry and Geri's car was now on full dry settings. They lined up on the grid, the lights went red, and then out. The season had finally started. The front five all got decent starts so no-one really gained on anyone or lost ground. Rob lead into Copse, Michael and Geri tucked in with Aaron in close behind. Coming into Brooklands for the first time, Geri had to defend from Aaron which allowed Rob and Michael to pull out a small gap, though just 3/10ths separated them. Lap two, Geri sets the fastest lap on 1:12.905, on lap 3 only Rob was quicker so the gaps either side of Michael started to level out. On lap 4 the rain started to drizzle. Lap times rose and it looked like Geri would already have fastest lap in the bag. It wasn't all going his way though, on lap 5 Aaron got a better run through Copse and was able to pass Geri before Becketts. It was now Rob, Michael, Aaron and Geri. Worse, for Geri, Thomas had now closed up and was just behind Geri. Sam was already 7 seconds adrift of Thomas, and while Nathan and Jessica were a further 10 seconds back, they were enjoying a close battle amongst themselves.
Geri set about chasing Aaron, a great exit from Luffield saw him contemplate a lunge into Copse, but discretion kicked in and Geri tucked in right behind Aaron and then saved his lunge to the left kink before Becketts - when Aaron moved over Geri aimed straight for the apex. Door mirrors touched, it was that close, but Geri made the move stick as he now had the inside line into Becketts. Thomas was closer still to Aaron now, this would take the pressure off Geri as Aaron would have to watch behind as much as in front. At the front, Rob was the fastest car on the track and extending the gap back to Michael - on lap 7 he pulled a full second further clear. Then another second on lap 8 - the race was already Rob's barring disaster.
Geri was slowly closing the gap on Michael, but only by two or three tenths per lap, while Rob was extending his lead. By lap 10 Geri had the gap to Michael down to a second, but was shown the driving standards flag for a second off track excursion - one more and there would be a five second penalty which at this point would cost him 2 places. A slow lap 11 saw it back to 2. Three laps later, Geri was just 0.6 behind Michael, this looked to be going to the wire, even if Rob was controlling the race out front.
Thomas and Aaron were now swapping places but Aaron still had the better of Thomas, until suddenly on lap 12 Aaron's car speared left into the outside wall on the entrance to Becketts, the impact was hard. Thankfully Aaron was OK, a bit bruised, but his car wouldn't run again today.
Lap 16 and the drizzle had stopped, Michael posted the fastest lap since lap 2, 1:13.0. Suddenly Geri's fastest lap point was in danger - and the following lap Michael lowered the mark to 1:12.882, he held fastest lap for just half a second as Geri crossed the line on 1:12.592. One lap to go, Rob put in a 1:13.0 to take the flag more than 3 seconds ahead of Michael - Geri ran wide out of Luffield with two wheels in the gravel as he gave chase and finished third, 1 second behind Michael.
Watch the Race 1 Video.
Watch the Race 1 - Rear Camera video.
Race 2, just seven cars this time as Aaron's car was already on the trailer. The grid was Rob, Michael, Geri, Thomas, Sam, Jessica and Nathan. Nathan got the better of Jessica straight from the start - at the front all three got away well. Geri had learned from race 1, and instead of worrying about the car behind, didn't even look backwards for the first three laps. This approach paid dividends, at the end of the first lap, Rob lead Michael by 2/3rds of a second with Geri 1/3 behind Michael. Sam had crossed the line hundredths in front of Thomas, but was already 2.5 seconds adrift of Geri. By lap 3 Rob had moved the lead out to a full second, while the gap between Michael and Geri remained constant. Thomas had repassed Sam but was already 4.5 seconds behind Geri, almost out of view.
Rob was still slowly pulling further clear, by lap 5 the gap was now 2 seconds, while the gap between Michael and Geri remained constant, one would be a couple of hundredths quicker, then the other. Geri was trying everything, different lines, ducking out from behind Michael or running the other side of the track - even flashing his headlights. But to no avail, Michael was driving well and making no mistakes. And they were getting quicker despite the battle - by lap 9 both had posted laps in the 1:11s, though Rob had been doing so some laps earlier.
Thomas and Sam were still enjoying their contest for fourth place although by now they were 20 seconds adrift of the front three. Nathan had made the most of his better start and was running about 3 seconds ahead of Jessica while they posted similar lap times. The race continued, the front three now running similar times as Rob didn't need to push any harder, the gaps remaining constant. The feeling was that Geri might have been able to go a little quicker, but only if he could pass Michael. Michael was driving flawlessly giving Geri not a single chance to make a move. Geri dropped 3/10ths on Michael on lap 13 to open up the gap to a second, four seconds later as they crossed the line, four quicker laps by Geri had pulled the gap back to 0.48 seconds, Rob winning by 2.8.
Thomas opened up a 1 second gap to Sam late in the race, but was 36 seconds behind Rob, while Nathan held off Jessica to take 6th place.
Rob sets the early championship place with 63 points (out of a possible 64), Michael has 56 to Geri on 55. The season moves on to Snetterton over Easter weekend.
Watch the Race 2 Video.
Watch the first three laps through the Race 2 - Rear Camera.
Visit the Silverstone Gallery with more pictures courtesy James Roberts
Please see the official race report here.
Check out the Fiesta Junior points standings.
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