Rockingham 20/21 September 2014 - Ford Fiesta Junior
Eight points ahead, two rounds to go. But mathematically Geri could win the championship at Rockingham if he gained all 64 points, pole, win and fastest lap in both races. No-one had achieved the clean sweep all season, so it was a long shot. But a shot worth trying for. With that in mind, we sent Geri out for a test session with Chris Hodgetts during the week following Silverstone. Not quite the full circuit that day, taking the short cut through Rockingham Curve rather than using PifPaf and Kirby as the drivers would on race day.
We figured it was still worth learning most of the circuit, indeed the test day went well, although we also learned the Rockingham track is very abrasive as Geri all but destroyed 8 tyres during the day.
And it was just as well we had put in the test along with the other Daniels Motorsport drivers as Rockingham in their infinite wisdom decided that instructors would not be permitted on the Friday test day.
We went up early in the morning even though the first of two test sessions for the juniors would not be held until after midday. We were greeted by low lying mist, could barely see across track once inside the bowl. But this would burn off during the day, even though the sun never did break through and the day remained very grey. Our main reason for arriving so early was so the team could fit our new Racelogic Vbox. We have intended to have data logging all season and some form of accurate lap timing with live delta, but we couldn't get the Race Technology system borrowed from the Nyssa Racing Lancia kappa to work correctly. Time was running out so we bit the bullet and bought the Vbox system.
All drivers bar new boy Elliot Wilson were out testing on the Friday, even our closest competitor Rob Cox. The team had turned up with two cars again, but Rob only raced the original car all weekend. Michael looked quick and consistent, but with Thomas also running a Vbox for the weekend, we were able to compare data and overlay. Thomas could put in the quicker lap while Geri was a little slower but more consistent. By the end of the second session we could see Geri was running consistent 1:48.4 laps while Thomas had done a 1:47.9. The Vbox enabled us to see where Thomas was faster, but Geri was still left wondering how he would find half a second, let alone another second to get down to JJ Ross' 2013 lap record of 1:46.824.
Saturday morning and yet again an early start with 07:30 sign-on and 09:00 first session. The track was borderline foggy this time, light drizzle hung in the air. We sent Geri out on dry tyres, it seems the other drivers did the same, but Geri only completed 1 lap and then came straight back into the pits stating that the track was too slippery and there was no point staying out given there was a championship at stake. He did at least see which way PifPaf and Kirby went but otherwise it was a wasted session. We weren't too worried that Geri finished 7th in session, some 15 seconds adrift of Rob, we knew conditions would improve and some drivers tried wets on the back in order to find grip - we chose to sit out the remainder of the session. Elliot had missed out the session with car issues that were not resolved in time to go out.
By lunchtime, the fog had gone, the weather had improved and dry tyres were the order of the day. The track was a little slippery, Geri did two exploratory laps before coming back into the pits for a change of tyres, so far we had been using the remains of the tyres from the test session 5 weeks earlier. With fresh tyres Geri went back out for three more laps, the final two were the only 1:48s of the session. Geri was fastest in session, 0.85 seconds faster than Thomas, in turn Thomas was a tenth clear of Michael with Sam, Aaron and Rob back in the 1:50s.
Mid afternoon and the third twenty minute practice session of the day, well played BRSCC for swinging so much track time. Michael and Sam sat out session three. Geri went out to warm up his tyres before coming in and asking for a rear suspension adjustment as he wasn't happy with the balance. The change did the trick in this session, he went straight back out and ran a string of 5 1:47s, the third one being the best at 1:47.065. 1.2 seconds clear of Thomas, 1.5 clear of Aaron. Rob was fourth but 2.5 seconds back from Geri, clearly the issues with his car's power were not resolved.
With Geri now running within 2/10ths of the lap record, confidence in the team was high. We had sent Geri out with a list of things to try during practice, things we had identified from going through the Vbox footage - how have we coped all season without one? We now knew what Geri needed to do to set pole in the late afternoon qualifying session, what would work and what wouldn't.
We sent Geri out with a new pair of tyres on the rear, the idea being to warm them up and then put on the front, so we weren't expecting much to start with. And suspension settings back to where we finished the August test session now Geri's confidence in the handling was back. So the first lap of 1:48.1 (faster than anyone else had gone so far today) was a shock, not as much a the 1.47.245 the following lap after which Geri came back into the pits. We thought about parking up there and then, but rather than swap the rears and fronts, we simply changed the fronts and sent Geri back out. Another two low 1:47s followed before a slow lap and then Geri came back in and parked up. Only 1:47.178 but still pole by 6/10ths. Thomas was next up, a late run of high 1:47s pushing Michael down to third on the grid.
Aaron was next up, having set his time on the first lap of the session, from Rob, Sam, Nathan, Jessica and Elliot who was now much closer to the pace. So Geri and Thomas on the front row in the morning, from Michael and Aaron with Rob back in 5th.
Another early start, 09:00. And for the first time all weekend, it wasn't foggy. The cars lined up on the grid, but we lost Rob on the green flag lap as his gearbox broke, unfortunately all but ending his championship hopes. We were concerned about the dash down to Deane. Geri got a great start while Thomas had initial wheelspin. As they raced through the banking, Thomas started to gain on Geri, we've known all season that Thomas' car is just a fraction quicker than Geri's, and Vbox data here had proven it to be a couple of mph quicker going round the banking. Thomas moved outside as they closed into Deane, Michael was catching them under braking. Geri got round cleanly, Michael just brushed Thomas as he turned in but Thomas held the slight slide and kept second place. Geri went into Yentwood a little too hot and the back end let go, but he caught it and seemed to pull out a bigger gap, as if everyone else lifted off waiting for the accident?
All photos on this page courtesy of Rachel Bourne
By PifPaf Aaron had passed Michael to move into third and Geri was already pulling out a big gap. At the end of the first lap, Geri led from Thomas by 1.3 seconds, Thomas in turn 1.2 ahead of Aaron, followed by Michael, Sam, Nathan, Jessica and Elliot. Lap two and Geri set a new lap record for the Fiesta Juniors, lowering JJ's old record by over 1/4 second to 1:46.547. Three more 1:46.8s followed, and despite Thomas running in the 1:47.0s, Geri already had a gap of over 3 seconds back to Thomas, and was 8 seconds clear of the third place battle between Aaron and Michael.
Thomas had figured he wasn't catching Geri so started playing with the wall - how close could he go? The scrape marks on his mirror suggested pretty close. Geri slipped back into the 1:47s on lap 6 and 7 but both were still faster than his pole time. After this the tyres were starting to go, and lap times would slip another 3/10th. On lap 7 Thomas started to run into trouble, a hard hit on the sausage kerb had caused some damage and dropped over a second to Geri. More importantly, Aaron and Michael started to gain on Thomas, just a couple of tenths, but the following lap Thomas dropped two seconds to Geri, who was now 6.7 seconds ahead. Michael had regained third place from Aaron and was now gaining quickly on Thomas. While Geri's win was looking safe, Thomas' second place was now in danger.
Lap 9, Thomas was visibly in trouble. Geri's lead was now 8.5 seconds, but Michael was now only 5 seconds behind Thomas. Thomas looked like he was back in it on lap 10, dropping just half a second to Geri and only 4/10ths to Michael. Lap 11 and it went wrong for Thomas who ran out of brakes and dropped back to 5th place, now behind Sam. The final lap, Geri crossed the line to take the win by over 14 seconds from Michael with Aaron third another 5 seconds behind in third. Sam missed out on a podium by just a second, but 18 seconds ahead of 5th placed Nathan, who finally won his race long battle with Jessica. Thomas didn't realise it was the last lap, so came into the pits where he had to cross the line in pit lane to take 7th with Elliot finishing a little further back in his first race.
Watch the start of Race 1 from Geri's rear camera.
We worked out that with the 32 points in the bag from race 1, and the pole point for race 2, Geri would win the championship if he finished race 2 on the podium.
Race 2 was mid afternoon, the sun had been out and although darker clouds appeared as the cars waited in the assembly area for cars from the previous race to be collected, there was no real danger of rain. A number of incidents meant that there was oil on the track and it was slippery in places. Geri lined up on the grid on pole next to Michael, who was now the nearest championship contender. With the knowledge that he didn't need to win, Geri knew he could follow Michael home if he didn't get a good enough start. The grid was now back to 9 cars as WDE had repaired Rob's car with a replacement gearbox.
Geri was in no mood to settle for a lower podium position. Another good start and although Michael edged slightly in front as they approached Deane, Geri kept a tight inside line and came out of Deane in front. More drama back on the grid, Aaron had moved a couple of feet too far forwards, and as he went to correct, the lights went out and Aaron stalled. Nathan was a surprise third going through the banking having reacted fast to go round Aaron, with Sam next up. Thomas had started back in 7th but had shown good speed all weekend, so no way was he staying back there. Sure enough, Thomas was already up to third by Gracelands. Geri crossed the line at the end of lap 1 1.2 seconds ahead of Michael, Thomas was just 1/2 second behind. Nathan had held on to 4th place but 2 seconds behind Thomas, with Sam closing in from Jessica and Rob. Aaron had managed to catch Elliot but was 5 seconds behind 7th placed Rob.
Lap 2 and fastest lap was in the bag for Geri as once again he beat JJ's old lap record, this time a 1:47.746, extending the gap to Michael to 3.6 seconds. Thomas had closed to 2/10ths behind Michael, could he get back the second place he cruelly lost in race 1? Thomas had got alongside Michael on the School Straight, but being on the outside at Brook, had to concede the place. Thomas dropped a second on lap 3 while Geri increased his lead by another 7/10ths. The race would surely be his? Thomas was back on the pace by lap 4 as he and Michael would start running similar lap times, Geri running just a little faster but not quite at race 1 pace.
Sam was still 4th but unable to match the pace of the front three, Nathan was still a second in front of Jessica, while Aaron had now moved up to 7th by lap 5. Lap 7, Geri led by 5 seconds, but Michael was now gaining at just a tenth a lap, and had now broken free of Thomas. Aaron moved up to 5th on lap 9 passing both Jessica and Nathan that lap. The gap at the front had fallen to 4.7 seconds, but lap 10 saw it increase back to 5 seconds, Geri able to maintain pace better than Michael over the final laps to take the win by 6.5 seconds, and with it, the championship.
Michael took second place again, with Thomas finally getting the podium he deserved. Sam finished 4th with Nathan 5th and Jessica 6th after Aaron's car expired in a cloud of smoke on the final lap.
It takes a team effort to win a championship - so a few credits and thank yous:
Daniels Motorsport - to win a race, first you have to finish. Geri has 14 finishes out of 14, including 6 wins, 3 seconds and 3 thirds. The car has not missed a beat all season, a credit to the work that the team have put it on the way to winning the championship for the second year running.
Chris Hodgetts - Geri's instructor has brought him along from competing forpodiums at the beginning of the season to not only winning races, but dominating them. Six wins in the final 9 races was championship winning form, double lights to flag victories at both Donington Park and Rockingham a measure of how far he has come.
Guy Croft - for building an engine that Geri couldn't break, for giving us the confidence in revving it out where necessary but knowing it would finish every race as strongly as it started them.
Julieann Bates and the BRSCC for the running of the championship, taking over late in the day. The series will only move on to bigger and better things next season. We hope to be part of it and run with the number 1 on our car.
Simon Crawford - for introducing us to the right instructor.
Sadly we will not be racing in the final round, a freak set of circumstances could take the title away from Geri after he has worked so hard to win it. We are now talking with a Ginetta Junior team to see if we can get Geri out in the Ginetta Junior Winter Series in November as a reward for his success.
Please see the official race report here.
Check out the Fiesta Junior points standings.
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