Cadwell Park 22/23 June 2013 - Ford Fiesta Junior

Fiesta Junior:

First, a few details to set the scene:

  • Geri had not driven the Fiesta before the morning of the event at Cadwell Park
  • Geri has never been round Cadwell Park, either as a driver or a passenger
  • Geri has only driven a car once since last October, that to take his ARDS test back in April
  • Geri was walking on crutches the weekend before after having 8 stitches in his knee due to a Paintball accident
  • And finally, Geri was 14 just last week

Now read on!

Picture courtesy of AJB Photographic

We arrived up at Cadwell Parl around 9:30 on Friday night to find most of our fellow competitors already there - and most of them had been testing during the day, some more than once this week, and at least one had an ex-BTCC star instructing them. Geri had watched YouTube coverage.

A pleasant surprise after the cutthroat attitude of karting was that both Geri's competitors and their parents were friendly and welcoming. They even offered to walk Geri round the circuit before it got too dark - in the end we made it from the assembly area, through Hall Bends, the Hairpin and Barn, down the start-finish straight, up through Coppice and round Charlies before taking a short cut across from Park Straight to Mansfield, then back to the assembly area. Geri commented that the circuit looked even narrower than on video.

We stayed at the Black Horse Inn just down the road from the circuit, as we arrived it started to rain. And when we woke up it was evident it had been raining most of the night, the roads were wet, the track would be wet and wet tyres would be order of the day.

We arrived at the track to find that David Abbott and Pete Daniels from Daniels Motorsport had arrived after setting off at 3:30am, and were setting up. They were supporting us and championship leader "JJ" Ross. We got through signing on and scrutineering easily enough, although a hint of troubles to come came when the scrutineer asked us to demonstrate the electric fire extinguisher and we had to admit we didn't know how! We were asked to ensure we did by the time we raced.

It still seemed damp enough as the first of 3 practice sessions started so we had switched the Fiesta over to wet tyres. Geri drove back from the scrutineering bay, the first time he has ever driven the car. Last week he couldn't even get into it while unable to bend his knee for fear of opening up the stitches. Mastering the hill back to the paddock was an issue, Geri has only ever driven on the flat while learning with Young Driver. This was also the first time he had ever driven a car on his own.

Saturday - Practice 1
First practice was 9:00am, we lined up Geri in the assembly area with the intention of going out last. Geri needed to learn the circuit and the car, in less than ideal conditions - the rain had stopped but the track was still just damp enough for wets - and we didn't want to be in the way. Expectations were low, we set Geri the target of finishing the races, last would be fine, and hoped he would not be embarrassingly slower than the other, more experienced drivers. Geri got in 7 laps during the session, and although there was a lot of grass on the car when it came back in, we were surprised to see that Geri's final lap of the seven was just 0.15 seconds slower than the next slowest driver, although they were a couple of seconds adrift of the next one - JJ, who like Geri had never seen Cadwell Park before and equally had not tested here. More impressive, Geri's opening lap was 3rd fastest of all the 7 drivers' opening laps despite having never seen the circuit before.

Practice 2
By 10:30 the sun was out, the sky was blue and we had swapped over to the dry tyres. Down in the assembly area, once more we felt that going out last was fairest to the other drivers so lined up to do just that. A marshall asked whether the fire extinguisher was armed, we admitted to not know so asked David to come over and show us how. After demonstrating that it was indeed armed, we noticed the lead to the extinguisher was not plugged in - when we plugged it in the extinguisher went off and emptied its contents over Geri - who moved his legs out of the way very quickly - and the engine. Aside from Geri and the Fiesta footwell being wet, we could not start this session as it was obvious we had lost the extinguisher, so Geri drove back to the paddock while we sat out the session.

Normally that would be weekend over, but David managed to borrow a manual extinguisher and cable kit from WDE Motorsport. David set about drying out the Fiesta and then swapping over to a manual extinguisher, luckily the weather remained good while we left the doors open to help dry the car. Practice session 3 was set for 13:50 so we had plenty of time, but as the time grew nearer, so the sky looked darker. Still dry though so Geri was sent to the assembly area on his dry tyres. As we waited to go out, so it started to rain, then it started to rain harder just as the session was about to start. Nothing for it, Geri was sent back to the paddock where we swapped over to the wet tyres and sent Geri back to the assembly area and straight out on track.

Practice 3
The rain continued through the session, the track was very wet, we were relieved to see the end of the session and the car still in one piece as Geri brought it back. But the commontator had been running down the times, surely he was wrong when he said that Geri was 5th fastest of 8? He only managed 4 laps in the session but the results sheets showed that indeed, he really was 5th quickest. We could see Geri had been trying, once again there was grass all down one side of the car where he had run off again. An unofficial height check showed the exhaust was hanging too low at the rear, so David made repairs to keep it lifted and in line with the rules ready for official qualifying.

Picture courtesy of Mick Walker - Sports Photographer

The weather was certainly having fun, if this report seems very British majoring on weather conditions all day, that is because the weather was very British. As the 16:30 qualifying session drew closer, it was getting more and more difficult to decide on tyres. During an early bout of optimism, we had swapped back to the dries. Around 16:00 we hedged our bets and went for 2 wets one side, 2 dries the other so we would only have to change 2 tyres. As we were called to the assembly area, it was still not raining so we went with dry tyres all round, but Pete and David brought the wets for Geri and JJ to the pit lane in the centre of the circuit. As the previous session ended and the drivers were about to be released onto the track, we started the journey to the pits but had not even crossed the track when the heavens opened - a message was got to Geri to drive straight from the assembly area to the pits.

Geri made it round to the pits, he said Hall Bends were very slippery, and both he and JJ were soon sent out on the wet tyres, the pit lane resembling that of a BTCC pitlane with all the activity going on. Geri only got in 4 laps, a couple of the drivers managed 6 and this time, from the pit lane, we couldn't hear the commontator so had no idea how Geri had done. We did look up towards the restaurant area at one point to see Geri seemingly slow and being overtaken, we realised after that he had missed his braking point at the bottom of the Mountain and simply ran up the grass rather than take the left/right turn on track! More grass to clean off the car. But against all the odds, Geri had qualified 5th from 9 drivers, exceedingly our wildest hopes, although we suspect the two drivers behind him who did 6 laps, did so on the dry tyres.

Picture copyright Nyssa Racing

Then the big worry - all cars were checked from underneath by the eligibility scrutineer and our car was pulled aside with little word as to what the issue might be. Eventually after all cars had been checked and one other also pulled aside, we were told there was doubt we were running the correct exhaust system. We assured the scrutineer that we had bought the full system directly from the series sponsor Vortex Exhausts and asked for the appropriate exhaust for the Fiesta race series. Eventually he was persuaded that our exhaust was correct and the times stood - phew!

We left Pete and David to check over the Fiesta overnight, coming back on Sunday morning in good time for the race scheduled for 10:30. It had been raining all night and looked like there would be no issue with tyre choice, the track was wet and it continued to rain.

Sunday - Race 1
Geri lined up 5th on the grid, he was on the inside behind JJ so we suggested he stick to the inside and try to follow JJ. JJ got a storming start straight into the lead, Geri, who had never done a standing start, bogged down and got away slowly, with Aaron starting from the back got a flyer and went past Geri. On the run up through Coppice, Rory Collingbourne who had started second seemed to spin across the track, as he came back Natasha Hussain could not avoid driving into Rory's passenger door. From our vantage point we could see the spin just as the cars went out of site, then nothing until the commontater said that just two cars had come through! WIth visions of a 7 car pile up in the first corner, we waited until more cars came through, and eventually Geri, now down to 6th. We found afterwards that he had overtaken Aaron going into Coppice, just missed clipping Rory who was now on the left of the track, then as he ran up behind Ben Wilcox, Ben dived right late on as he came across Natasha stranded in the middle of the track. Geri went left, Aaron went right and came out back in front of Geri - watch the start on video here. Geri gave chase but by the time the cars had reached the Mountain, the safety car was out on track waiting to pick up the leader, JJ.

Picture courtesy of Mick Walker - Sports Photographer

The cars followed the safety car for 3 more laps before Natasha's car could be recovered with broken steering linkages. We were concerned, we had gone through most scenarios with Geri but had forgotten to cover the possibility of safety cars. Luckily Geri has watched enough BTCC racing on TV and knew what to expect when the safety car lights went out. He hung back from Aaron hoping to take a run through Barn and pass him down the straight, but Aaron was on the ball too and Geri couldn't quite get past. Geri chased Aaron round for a lap and a half, coming out of Mansfield he was getting closer, up through the Mountain, closer still. Geri closed right through Hall Bends, maybe the pressure paid off as Aaron ran wide through the Hairpin. Geri went for the overtake but put a wheel onto the wet grass and the Fiesta tipped into a spin. 180 degrees later, the near side rear corner clipped the tyre wall. and the last two cars went by relegating Geri to 8th and last. Despite his inexperience, Geri had dipped the clutch and kept the engine running, so simply turned round and drove off in chase - watch the video here. The other cars were too far ahead and despite putting in a lap some 4 seconds faster than in qualifying, he couldn't make up the lost ground and finished in 8th place, 10 seconds adrift of 7th. But that is still 8 points on the table and Geri's objective to finish his first race achieved.

Picture copyright Nyssa Racing

Watch the first race on YouTube here.

Back in the paddock, David and Pete set about repairing the damage enough to race again - the rear bumper and taillamp were taped up, the rear corner drilled so the tailgate catch could be moved to line up again. Further checks on the car showed a new problem. The Fiesta race cars have the air conditioning system removed, a dummy pulley fitted where the compressor used to run, and a small spacer to keep the belt aligned. The spacer had distorted, the bolt was shearing and the pulley was about to say goodbye to the engine - another lap and maybe it would have failed. A suitable bolt was found and David was able to make the repair. Geri would be able to race in the second race after all.

The day was running behind schedule due to an accident in an earlier race. But as the afternoon progressed, so the rain finally abated, the track dried out and we were confident enough to swap to dry tyres with an hour to go before the race started.

Race 2
Geri lined up in 8th place, just Natasha starting behind him. But this time Geri got a great start and passed Aaron and Michael Higgs, moving up to 6th by the start of Coppice. The front 5 were running in close formation about a second ahead of Geri who was chasing hard to keep up. As he turned into the Gooseneck, the back end let go and Geri was completely sideways trying to catch the Fiesta - watch the video here. He did so, but was now on the grass to the left of the track as the last 3 cars went by. Again, Geri had kept the engine running and set off in chase. The following lap after a big spin Rory got past Natasha coming out of Mansfield and Geri was chasingv after her. He was approaching through Hall Bends when Natasha's car went out of control and spun to the left of the Hairpin allowing Geri though - watch the video here.

Geri was now 3 seconds adrift of Rory who was gaining on Michael, and although his lap times dropped down by another 6 seconds as Geri became to understand the dry grip available, he could make no further impression. On lap 8 Geri overdid it at Hall Bends, running along the outside on the grass - watch the video here. On lap 11 despite having no-one in sight to chase, or gauge his speed against, Geri set his fastest lap of the race - watch a lap with Geri here.

Last lap, Geri was still pushing hard but as he came through Hall Bends to the Hairpin, he missed second gear (in race one he had taken the Hairpin in third), locked up and hit the wall on the outside of the track - watch the video here. Geri started up the car, got back on the track and blasted off to the finish line before Natasha had managed to catch up. With Alex Reed having retired mid-race, Geri was 7th and added 9 points to his total.

Picture copyright Nyssa Racing

Watch the second race on YouTube here.

See more photographs from Cadwell Park here.

We have work to do before the next round at Snetterton - the Fiesta needs repairing, and Geri needs gear-changing practice! Not easy to arrange when you can't legally drive on the road and you need to be in school all week.

Please see the official race report here.

Check out the Fiesta Junior points standing.

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