Donington Park 14/15 September 2013 - Ford Fiesta Junior

Fiesta Junior:
Donington Park, another track for Geri to learn from YouTube. Most of the other competitors were able to test on the Friday, some had been during the summer holidays, but Geri could not be excused school. As it was, we left home within an hour of him arriving from school. Unpleasant driving weather and traffic jams meant that what should have been a 2 hour journey took nearer 3. Any chance we had of Geri walking the circuit that night were both dashed by our arrival time, too long after dark, and the weather as it was raining too hard too want to be out in it.

We unloaded at the Daniels Motorsport camp, leaving the the Fiesta in their capable hands as we retired to the Premier Inn for the night.

An early start Saturday morning, with 7:55 signing on time and immediate trip to scrutineering. It's been a while since we have raced at Donington, but memories came flooding back of long queues, slow progress and even missing the start of the session once. No such problems this time, the Fiesta breezed through to collect that vital pass slip. A bonus for the morning was to find a nice picture of Geri from Snetterton gracing the race programme!

The rain had stopped but the paddock was certainly still wet. The Fiesta Juniors were second out on the track, the team had a look and decided that wets were required. The same decision was taken by all 10 drivers, all but Nathan from the Brands Hatch entry were present and correct.

The cars lines up on the Melbourne loop ready to enter the track at the earliest opportunity once the previous session was clear, and Geri was straight out on track. He was under instruction to learn the track at his own pace rather than go for the banzai outlap that has become his trademark so far.

Lap times were soon coming down in the 20 minute session, by lap 5 Geri was 6th and looking competitive. Alex was confident here, did 3 laps to bed in some new wets and called it a day, and was only narrowly beaten to fastest time by Rob. Thomas was looking good, he went straight for it and got within 2 tenths of Geri's time. It soon became apparent that the track was drying out and the more experienced drivers came in rather than search in vain for better times. Geri needed the track time to learn the circuit so we left him out to the end, he completed one more lap than any other driver but conditions were too dry for the wet tyres now and he couldn't improve on his 5th lap time

Still, 6th was good enough and all we were hoping for. At least he had a trouble free session, some were not so lucky. When he returned to the pits, we noticed that Geri's exhaust was very loud. Daniels diagnosed gasket failure at the down pipe and this was replaced in good time for the afternoon qualifying session.


Picture courtesy of Mick Walker - Sports Photographer

The weather had held off all morning, so back onto the dry tyres. Geri had a new pair of front tyres for Brands Hatch, these were fitted to the rear and another new set put on the front. The instruction was to put in a couple of brisk laps to warm the tyres and understand the dry grip levels, back off for a lap and then get the hammer down. Inexplicably qualifying was only for 15 minutes despite Donington's high entry fee. Thomas followed Geri around for a couple of laps, then when Geri cut loose he managed to put more than a second difference in. But the clock was ticking and Geri was still only 7th, Michael being the big improver since the morning. Geri saw that Ben was slowly gaining from behind and having seen Ben's pit board informing him he was 6th and there were 2 laps to go, Geri reasoned he must be no higher than 7th and knew how long he had to fix that.

The penultimate lap was fast - watch the video here, Geri's first lap into the 26s, but the screen from TSL Timing was showing that although the lap was fast, it wasn't showing as his fastest lap. He had run too wide at Redgate - but on the final lap he went even quicker, displacing not only Ben but Michael as well and ending the session in 5th, matching his best qualifying so far - watch the video here.

Saturday night found us in the same hotel as Rory and Rob, so there was much friendly banter on Sunday's proceedings. Sunday was expected to be wet, with storms, gale force winds and other similar Armageddon style weather warnings.

So a surprise to wake up on Sunday to dry, reasonably bright weather. But it would get duller, rain started to spit as the Juniors were called to the assembly area. Daniels took the wet tyres, jacks and wheel guns up to the Melbourne loop in case the rain set in but in the end it remained dry and the race could start on the dry tyres.

Race 1
Geri was 5th on the grid behind Alex, JJ, Rob and Rory. Another blistering start saw Geri drive straight past Rory on the way down to Redgate where he would have the inside line. Alex went in first but the back end let go and he ran out wide allowing JJ and Rob through. Geri had a big slide himself, but gathered it together passing Alex for third place just before he rejoined the track. Down Craners and Geri was holding his own but as they went into Old Hairpin Rory was closing up. And then it all went wrong, Rory seems to have run wide and kept his foot in as he rejoined the track, colliding side by side with Geri. They collided again as Geri went to turn for the slight left handed, then again and now Geri was spun round, Rory's car squashed across Geri's front wing before spearing off to the right across the grass. Geri managed to stay on the track, but Michael, Alex and Aaron had got by. Going down the Wellington straight, Ben also passed Geri having managed a better run through Coppice.

Picture courtesy of Jamie PE

Geri didn't realise the extent of the damage to the Fiesta, he followed Ben down to the chicane, braked where Ben braked and turned in as he done all yesterday. And missed the chicane as the Fiesta failed to turn in. The car launched across the high "sausage" kerb - doubt that will help the underside of the Fiesta - just in time to see Aaron coming back from a wide exit from the chicane. Geri ended the first lap disappointingly 7th!

Lap 2 didn't go any better as Geri struggled with the Fiesta's handling. He barely made it round Redgate as he gave chase to Aaron in 6th place. The Fiesta wasn't behaving and was offline all down Craners, and a visit to the gravel trap followed at Old Hairpin. Geri managed to get out of the gravel and rejoin in front of Natasha, he was now down to 8th as Thomas had got by. Running down the Wellington Straight towards the chicane, Geri could see Natasha in his mirrors gaining fast - too fast. He delayed his turn in to the last moment, just after Natasha went flying past and overshot the chicane! Watch the first two laps of race 1 here.

Geri struggled around for a couple of laps, was promoted back to 7th as Aaron retired from the race crowning a miserable weekend for him. Now understanding how the car was handling, the steering wheel was now at more than 20 degrees to the right just to go straight, he managed to improve his lap times by a couple of seconds, but still a couple of seconds off the pace. Geri was comfortably clear of Natasha and couldn't make an impression on Thomas, he continued to drag the Fiesta round to complete the race in 7th place where a podium might just have been on.

Watch the whole race video here.

Back in the paddock and the Fiesta was straight up in the air. Bodywork is not looking too pretty, the front bumper will at least need repainting (again), we need a front wing and the door is a bit wrinkly. Mechanically Daniels soon found the issue. Two of the front wheel studs were broken, when the wheel was removed, the steering arm could be seen to be very bent. Small wonder the Fiesta didn't handle any more. Daniels got to work, again showing the value of good race day support. The steering arm was replaced, the broken studs extracted from the hub and replaced, camber double checked to ensure within the rules. We would be out in good time for the late afternoon race.

The weather was all over the place during the afternoon, rain came and went, but the track seemed to have dried out again by the time the Fiesta Junior cars lined back up on the grid. Wind was up, many had taken their marquees down, including the Ford Racing UK organisors.

Race 2
Starting positions were based on the previous race finish, so Geri was 7th on the grid with Thomas in 6th and Michael 5th. Rory would be starting from behind Geri having failed to finish the first race, Aaron's car had mechanical issues which could not be fixed so he was missing from the grid.

Geri got off to another great start, he does seem to have starting figured, and went rapidly past Thomas while equally fast starting Michael in front went past Ben who had started third. Geri was closing in on Ben and about to make a move down the inside into Redgate when Ben closed the door leaving Geri 6th. Rory had come steaming down the outside and was closong right up on Geri who took a tight line through Redgate. Geri was wary of Rory's presence as he ran down Craners and through Old Hairpin. Ben got a better exit and passed Michael on the run uphill, Geri couldn't quite follow him.

Picture courtesy of Mick Walker - Sports Photographer

Geri was slow through Coppice, the gap to Michael moved out while Rory was now getting close. Running down the straight, Geri maintained a defensive line down the middle of the track, this slowed him through the chicane and Rory got a better exit. Rory pulled alongside as they crossed the start-finish line, heading towards Redgate it looked like Rory would make the pass. Geri braked later just as Rory had almost got by and took the inside line into Redgate. A good clean run through Craners, but a late entry into Old Hairpin saw Geri run off the track and across the grass. He kept his foot in and made it back on track still in front of Rory. Out of Macleans and Rory tapped Geri from behind. Geri was defensive into Coppice but fast enough out to run down the outside of the straight. Another tap from Rory, a little harder this time but Geri maintained momentum and track position. Geri crossed the line at the end of lap 2 just 3/10ths ahead, but that was an improvement on the previous lap where the gap had been 3/1000ths.

Geri went in too hot at Redgate, the back came round and while catching it, Geri ran through the gravel trap allowing Rory to go by. Thomas was now closing up on Geri and passed him at the top of Craners. Another big slide at Old Hairpin, but Thomas ran wider so Geri actually gained a little. By Coppice Geri was right behind Thomas, the cars already moving around, grip levels not seeming as good as in the earlier race. Geri couldn't quite pass Thomas on the run into the chicane, he bided his time and on the next lap was about to overtake going into Old Hairpin when Thomas ran wide again making the move easier. But Geri had lost three seconds to Rory while running behind Thomas.

Lap 5, Geri was gaining slightly on Rory but then it started to rain, lightly at first. By lap 7, it was all change. Alex had fallen away after an off at Old Hairpin and was now 6th, just in front of Geri while Rory had got by Michael and was up into 4th. Only Rallycross driving JJ Ross managed a sub 1:30 lap, only he and Rory (just) were faster than Geri in these conditions. Alex was a distraction to Geri, trying to follow him left Geri scrabbling through the gravel at Redgate. A wayward slide all down the Craner Curvers followed by a loose back end going into Old Hairpin added to Geri's woes that lap and allowed Thomas to catch right up, gaining 6 seconds on that lap alone.

Conditions were now massively slippery, the wipers were on full time and as Geri came through the chicane he saw Alex on the outside of the track, nose seemingly into the wall. Alex did make it across to the pits for his team to check out the car and then returned into the race, in last place. Thomas was closing the gap on Geri, his excellent display in the damp practice session on Saturday proving to be no fluke. At the end of lap 10 there was just 3/10ths in their battle for 6th place. Thomas' turn for drama on lap 11, Geri was now down to 1:36 such were the conditions, but still gained 2 seconds on Thomas. As a measure, fastest lap 11 went to JJ, now in the lead but being pushed by Rob and Ben, just 4/10ths faster than Geri.

Picture courtesy of Mick Walker - Sports Photographer

Three more laps in these conditions saw Geri maintain the 6th position and close a little on 5th placed Michael. One late drama was when Natasha spun off on the inside of Redgate and proceeded to doa U-turn onto the travel just as Alex was entering the corner, being ever the gallant, Alex stopped and waited for Natasha to rejoin. Karma did not repay him as he was unable to pass Natasha before the end of the race.

Watch the whole race video here.

See more photographs from Donington Park here.

Its a 6 week wait now until the final round of the championship when the Juniors return to Brands Hatch for the Formula Ford Festival. Geri is especially looking forwards to it as it will be the first time he has returned to a previously raced circuit.

Please see the official race report here.

Check out the Fiesta Junior points standing.

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