Ok – I’ll admit it…. I’ve become so used to making Aintree my own that I was getting complacent.Â Last year Gary Thomas was running me close but I stayed ahead, kept my record, and was happy.Â Ish.Â But I knew the car wasn’t perfect – roll oversteer made it a sometimes tricky proposition and getting it back in line always meant a big lift and sometimes even application of brakes.Â The only closed-season work I really did to the car was to sort the geometry and to fit the braided hoses at the back that have been waiting two years to go on.
And what a dream to handle she now is!Â The biggest difference seems to be the effect of mid-corners bumps.Â Before they would throw the car around, often resulting in oversteer, whereas now the correct ride-height means the dampers can work properly.
The big problem, for Aintree, would be my utter and complete lack of track time.Â Not only did I have no time to get used to the new suspension, but I hadn’t even driven for two of the past four months, let alone been anywhere near a race circuit for six months.Â It wasn’t a good way to start the season.
First practice run was very much setting out feelers.Â Seeing where the circuit had grip, and how the suspension would react to different situations – in particular the very fast Bechers corner which has a vicious bump as you head for the apex.Â It all felt good enough, but it was a timid start with a 54.84 and Gary setting down a healthy 53.9 run – nearly a second quicker and setting an early pace.Â Third quickest was James Kerr – always a good driver but at Aintree it’s tough for the 205 cars to compete against the Elises in spite of often being more powerful and only a little heavier.
Second practice run finished with identical times for myself and Gary.Â It was going to be a close day.Â As we lined up for the first competitive runs my heart felt like it was trying to get out of my chest and do its own sprint.Â I needed to set a good early time to let myself play a little with the rest.Â And while waiting, I just had enough time to spot Gary setting his first time – a 51 something… and a new record!Â With a trap speed of 120mph at the finish line his car was also obviously a lot more powerful than mine.Â Uh-oh!Â I did my best… honest I did, but a 52.69, whilst it would have been fine a few years back, was nowhere near good enough today.Â I got in, checked his time, and it was 51.89.Â A time I felt was a long way from me.Â It’s also at this point that it occurred to me that perhaps the 160bhp he always said his car generated might be at the wheels.Â I asked him, and he couldn’t keep his face straight.Â Rumbled!Â Well… I’m not a big believer in power… but in spite of everything I could only turn in a 52.11, and a 52.04 – the latter a personal record.Â But not good enough, even though Gary never bettered his time.Â I had to be satisfied with second.
I did, however, continue to get quicker….Â At Aintree, the efficiency of the organisation means that in spite of running 140 entries, they often manage to squeeze an extra ‘fun’ run in at the end of the day.Â I usually take these as track time’s important – but I usually find myself a little slower and less commited.Â Still, this time it was important – I needed to push the car harder, to see if the Bechers bump would upset it if I threw it in even faster.Â It wasn’t a great run – the giveaway being my trap speed of 114mph.Â Yet the time flashed up… 51.89.Â Just 5/100ths slower than Gary’s record setting time.Â And there’s still some speed in the car.Â So hopefully, just hopefully, that record can be mine once more come June.