Donington Park GP 12/13 July 2014 - Ford Fiesta Junior

Fiesta Junior:
After the trials and tribulations from the previous round at Cadwell Park, and the tyre decision anguish from the Anglesey, all we really wanted from Donington Park was a stress free weekend. Good results would be nice too, of course.

Pre-race weekend signs were not good. In their infinate wisdom, the circuit had decided that the pre-weekend test day would be on Tuesday, not the Friday like normal. So some bright spark thought we would all like to trek up (or down) to Donington and then go back home, to return 3 days later for a weekend's racing. Double the transport costs, a great idea when money is tight and grids are small.

Good sense came from the BRSCC who resolved the situation by declaring the BookaTrack track day on the Friday as an official Fiesta Junior Test Day. So most of us booked us, instructors in tow as per the track day regulations. Upsides were that the day was open session, so plenty of time to practice, downsides were that the day was being run on the full International circuit, so included the Melbourne loop, a part of the track that wouldn't be used during the race weekend. And of course there was no timing allowed, and ovetaking by consent only. But the track time was welcome, and Chris Hodgetts got straight to work on Geri's driving of the circuit.

Geri really enjoyed the early sessions, the normal track day fare built up speed during the day, Chris has Geri on the pace from the outlap, so the little Fiesta was overtaking all sorts early on. We knocked off the driving mid-afternoon, Geri was going well enough and there was no point trashing the car. One set of tyres had already bitten the dust.

Practice 1:
Saturday morning, and the BRSCC had managed to fit in two 20 minute free practice sessions as well as afternoon qualifying. The first session was at 9:10am, the weather waS OK but would warm up later to be one of the hottest days of the year. Geri looked to be flying, by lap four he was in the 1:25s, and on lap 6 improved by a further thousandth (!) to 1:25.982. With 13 laps in the session, Geri had set the fastest 8 in a show of speed and consistancy, Michael was second only half a second slower, with Samuel and Thomas next up, both benefitting from a day with the instructor. Rob looked to be having problems, his new engine being well down on power at the top end, we expected this to change during the day. And now we were nine as Alex Tait made his debut and was only a second adrift at the back.

Practice 2:
Free practice 2 was at 10:50, the temperature was considerably warmer than earlier. Chris had decided that in qualifying we wanted to send Geri out for 3 laps to warm up the rear tyres, then fit a new set of fronts and send him back on his way. There are no airjacks or centrelock wheels in Fiesta Junior racing, so we held a dress rehearsal in free practice 2 - except we fitted an old set of fronts rather than burn a set of new ones.

While the wheel change could have gone better - and that is the point of a dress rehearsal - Geri had set a decent time on his one flying lap, and was back out on track with 11 minutes remaining. The pace he showed in the previous session wasn't there, the warmer temperatures saw to that, but his first flying lap would prove to be his best of the session at 1:26.362. Try as he might, he couldn't quite get down to that level again, but he was still posting most of the fastest laps. All the way to the final lap, Michael crossed the line 18/1000ths quicker and too late to inform Geri. So only second this session, but Sam and Aaron were half a second slower. Thomas had looked good on Friday but old tyres were hampering his efforts so far as he sat back in 5th. Rob's car was still struggling as he was sandwiched between Nathan and Jessica in 7th place.

By afternoon qualifying the temperatures were past 25 degrees, the sun beating down and drivers and spectators alike looking for shade. With Daniels Motorsport in the pit lane with 2 new tyres, jacks, wheel gun and 2 sets of new wheel nuts, Geri went out to do three laps, an out lap, a flying lap and an in lap. The flying lap was good, although he went into Old Hairpin too hot and drifted wide reaching the gravel and violating track limits. The wheel change went well, a full minute was gained on the earlier session and Geri was back out on track and straight up to speed. Thomas had set a marker, 1:27.144 on lap 4, Geri's first flyer was within 15/1000ths, the next lap Geri did 1:26.610. Geri couldn't get another lap in the 26s, a 1:27.006 was disallowed when he put a wheel wide at Macleans. But with tyres going off all round, it looked like pole for Geri. But then on his penultimate lap. Michael went into the 1:26s with 1:26.93. then on the final lap we waited for him to cross the line. He was faster, but at 1:26.829, not faster enough. Geri had his first ever pole position.

And that despite a screw up by Geri's father where the rear tyres from the morning were replaced with a pair that should have been better, but in fact totally screwed up the handling to the extent that we had to soften off the rear to keep the rear under control. This meant the rears then got too hot and denied us the chance to go quicker.

Thomas' early lap was enough for third, with Samuel, Aaron, Nathan, Rob, Jessica and Alex making up the rest of the grid. Nathan had a meeting with the wall exiting the chicane late in the session but the team were able to make repairs during the evening.

Race 1:
Sunday morning and it was all change. Much cooler for a start. And just as the juniors were called to the assembly area, so it started to rain. Lightly at first, then a little heavier until it settled as a fine but consistent drizzle. The four cars under Daniels Motorsport (Geri, Thomas, Nathan and Jessica) were all put onto wets. We found later than Samuel and Rob had dry front tyres, Alex was on dries all round.

As we walked over to view from the top of Craners, the rain seemed to be stopping, and we bumped into Samuel's family who informed us he was on dries. With the way Samuel had been going all weekend, this didn't bode well if the track wasn't wet enough. Then we cheered up as we realised the drivers were doing two green flag laps, so plainly the circuit personnel thought it was wet, and the cars had wipers running. Maybe all was not lost.

Geri got off to a great start from pole position, Thomas also got off to a flyer and ran right up inside Michael and onto Geri's tail in the run to Redgate. Aaron moved up to 4th as the cars left Redgate, leaving Samuel 5th from Rob before a gap back to Nathan, Jessica and Alex. Geri led Thomas across the line at the end of lap 1 by 1/2 second, 3rd placed Michael a further 7/10ths behind. On lap two Aaron was pressuring Michael, with Michael defending, the front two were able to open up a gap. Aaron finally passed Michael out of Coppice.

Picture courtesy Rachel Bourne

After two laps, Geri led Thomas by 6/10ths, but Aaron in 3rd was already 2 seconds adrift of Thomas. The gaps between Aaron, Michael and Samuel were all around 1/2 second, while Rob was struggling to stay with the group. Nathan and Jessica were already 10 seconds further back embroiled in their own provate battle, which Alex would join later in the race. Geri and Thomas posted 1:27s on lap 3, Thomas being slightly the quicker narrowed the gap to 4/10ths, while the pair extended their lead over Aaron to three seconds. Michael was struggling, his power steering failed leaving him literally heaving the Fiesta round the corners. Samuel had passed Michael while Nathan and Jessica were running bumper to bumper in the fight for 7th, Jessica seeming to have better exit speed from the chicane, but not quite able to make a pass stick into Redgate.

Geri upped the pace on lap 4 as the track started to dry out, opening up the gap back to Thomas to 1.3 seconds, Aaron was slowly gaining on Thomas, while further back Nathan and Jessica's battle had allowed Alex to catch up onto their tail and turn their battle into a three car train. Lap 5 and Aaron set the fastest lap of the race at 1:27.121, and gained 4/10ths on Geri and Thomas. Michael was falling back a second a lap and into the clutches of Rob, while Jessica was still trying to pass Nathan each lap going into Redgate, Nathan defending on an inside line every time, Nathan, Jessica and Alex running lap times within 1/100th of each other.

Picture courtesy Rachel Bourne

The race had settled into two three way contests, that at the front spread over 3 seconds with Geri, Thomas and Aaron posting near identical lap times, Geri appearing to be able to control the gap to Thomas, and another at the back with Nathan, Jessica and Alex, by lap 7 less than 4/10ths covered the latter three. Finally on lap 8, Jessica made the move of the race, running down the outside of the start-finish straight, and as Nathan went inside to defend, she simply drove round the outside of him to take 7th place. From this point, Jessica was able to pull away at over a second a lap and start chasing Rob who was now running many seconds slower than earlier in the race.

Thomas closed up on Geri to just a second behind on lap 10, but a fastest lap equalling 1:27.121 from Geri on lap 11 restored the gap to 1.4, before both Thomas (1:27.079) and Aaron beat that mark on the final lap - but Geri took the win from Thomas by 1.2 seconds, with Aaron a further 1.7 behind in third. Sam was a further 8 seconds back in 4th, his best result so far, with Michael struggling with steering issues in 5th. Rob had fallen away, his car obviously not right, while Jessica has broken free of Nathan and Alex and needed just a lap or two more to catch Rob. Interestingly, both Thomas and Aaron had posted faster times on the wet tyres than they had yesterday on dry tyres in qualifying!

Picture courtesy Kevin Henderson

Watch the opening two laps of Race 1 from Geri's front camera here.

Watch the race from Geri's rear facing camera here.

Race 2:
Race 2 took place later in the afternoon, the grid lining up in race 1 finishing order, so Geri on pole from Thomas, Aaron, Michael, Sam, Rob, Jessica, Nathan and Alex. No doubts about the weather or tyre choice this time, the sun had come out, temperatures were up and dry tyres were the order of the day.

Another good start from Geri, but as he braked to keep a tight line round Redgate, Thomas was able to run deeper aiming to take a wide line, but too wide as Thomas slid wide onto the grass before gathering up a big slide. Aaron came in tight but his back end let go, swinging into Sam's rear quarter as they rounded Redgate together and pushing Sam off the track too. Aaron got the better run down Craners passing Thomas before Old Hairpin, but Geri would cross the line at the end of lap 1 with a 1 second lead with Thomas just half a second behind. Rob had gained places with all the falling off ahead of him and had moved up to 4th place - had his team got his car working properly now?

Geri was already pulling out a big gap posting his fastest lap of the race on lap 2. Aaron went into Old Hairpin too hot, exiting sideways with the rear of the car off the track allowing Thomas to get a better run to Macleans and reclaim 2nd place. Geri was now leading by 2 seconds from Thomas who had a 1.5 second gap back to Aaron. Rob was heading a three car train 5 seconds off the front, with Michael and Sam right behind him.

Picture courtesy Rachel Bourne

Free from the need to defend, Thomas set the fastest lap of the race on lap 3, just 25/1000ths faster than Geri's previous lap and closed the gap by 2/10ths. But from that point Geri was faster every lap, stretching out the gap back to second 2-3/10ths a lap, before increasing the gap further late in the race. Geri would go onto take his second lights to flag victory of the day winning by 6.2 seconds, Thomas finishing 9 seconds ahead of the next driver, Aaron.

Back on lap 3, Michael managed to pass Rob into Redgate, Rob's car all locked up showing that not only was he down on power, but now his ABS wasn't working. Sam took advantage of Rob's woes and also passed him later on lap 3. Jessica had made a great start breaking free from Nathan and Alex and was now right on Rob's tail, the start of what would be the battle of the race. While Geri and Thomas were running away at the front, Michael set about chasing down Aaron, dragging Sam along with him. Finally on lap 8, Michael moved up to third place, although by now he was 6.5 seconds behind Thomas, and 10 behind Geri. There was just 7/10ths covering the gap between 3rd and 5th with Sam right up behind Aaron now.

Picture courtesy Rachel Bourne

Rob and Jessica were still embroiled in their own private squabble over 6th place, sometimes Rob would eke out a gap, but Jessica would come back. Most laps this culminated in Rob all locked up into Redgate defending from Jessica trying to repeat her first race move on Nathan. On lap 10 we lost Michael to fuel pump issues, Aaron regaining 3rd place with Sam just 3/10ths behind in 4th. This was another battle that would go all the way.

Final lap, Sam got down the inside of Aaron down the back straight, the two running side by side towards the chicane. Neither was giving way, but with Sam on the inside, Aaron had to concede position or miss the chicane - he opted for the latter, cut across the outside of the track rejoining ahead of Sam to cross the line in 3rd place. Post-race Aaron was judged to have gained an unfair advantage and given a 1 second penalty which had the effect of swapping positions. Rob had managed to hold off Jessica to finish 5th, just 4/10ths ahead of Jessica, Nathan and Alex a couple of seconds further back.

Picture courtesy Rachel Bourne

All in all a great day for Geri, he pulled back 13 points of his 38 points deficit to Rob, and 9 from Michael. Thomas has moved right into contention with his 58 point haul, only 4 less than Geri.

More good news came a couple of days later when it was confirmed that the MSA had upheld Geri's appeal against disqualification at Cadwell. With the win and points from that race reinstated, Geri now leads the championship with 236 points from Rob (227), Michael (222) and Thomas (217). With three rounds remaining, it looks like a four way challenge for the championship.

Watch the opening two laps of Race 2 from Geri's front camera here.

Watch the opening two laps from Geri's rear facing camera here.

Please see the official race report here.

Check out the Fiesta Junior points standings.

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