29 June 2018

David Pattison’s Diary of a Gent Racing Driver: Silverstone 500

David Pattison’s Diary of a Gent Racing Driver: Silverstone 500

His race might have lasted less than a lap but Tolman Motorsport’s David Pattison has still mustered 2399 words for his latest blog. British GT salutes you, David!

 

I’ve got the blues. The Silverstone 500 blues. It’s been two weeks since the British GT Silverstone 500 race and I still haven’t really got over the disappointment of being taken out of the race at Turn 12 on lap one.

 

It’s also taken me two weeks to work out that a blog based on an 11-and-a-half-corner race would either be incredibly short, detailed or boring. Or all three.

 

In an attempt to do none of the above I will try and broaden the scope from the race and detail the first ‘tiff’ that I can remember having with my Pro co-driver Joe. In case there is any doubt in advance, depending on who you listened to, I was obviously right and so was Joe! 

 

The Silverstone 500 is the blue riband event of the British GT season. It’s a three-hour race, with three pitstops, an extra test session on the Friday, loads of championship points up for grabs, huge garages that give lots of room for hospitality and it’s the one the drivers really want to win.

 

Silverstone is fast, technical and long. I love the challenge and love driving there. For this season the circuit had been resurfaced and that had lowered the lap times significantly.

 

Set against that was the fact that this race had never been kind to me. Three years ago we had been crashed into and lost 20 minutes in the pits. Two years ago, in my GT3 season to forget, I was leading the race under the safety car and was then on wet tyres when they needed to be slicks. Last year we managed eight pitstops through a mix of punctures, penalties and refuelling. This year turned out to be the worst of the lot.

 

The real shame was that we were in the best shape ever to get a good result. Or rather I was. I had arrived for the extra practice session on Friday in high spirits. We had won at the previous round at Snetterton, were leading the Pro/Am championship and were fifth in the overall rankings. I had also decided to stop taking everything so seriously and just enjoy it.

 

Friday’s session was a bit mixed, but it got the rust out of the system and both Joe and I did a new tyre run. Nothing that special from either of us, but we knew there was more to come and the track, whilst faster than last year, was slower than our test day a few weeks beforehand.

 

For the British GT series, there is a limit to the number of new tyres you can use over a weekend. For all weekends, except Silverstone, you are allowed three new sets of tyres and a carryover set from a previous race weekend. For Silverstone there was an extra new set available and our carryover set was an unused new set from the wet weekend at Oulton Park. So, we had five sets of new tyres. Our plan was to get as many new sets as we could for the race.

 

For the Friday test the tyre use was separate from the race weekend allocation, so we did our qualifying ‘test’ runs on the Friday on new tyres. We then planned to use only one set of new tyres from our race allocation across the two hours of FP1 and FP2. A challenge but just about do-able. That would then leave us four new sets for qualifying and the race. I could see Joe, along with the salesman from Pirelli, salivating at the thought of all this new rubber!

 

It would be fair to say, mainly because Joe said it, that the Saturday of the race weekend was the best Saturday we have ever had at a race weekend. The team made sure that the car ran faultlessly, I was quick and consistent, and our tyre strategy worked well.

 

For FP1 I was to go out first. This never happens, as Joe would normally go out to check the car was well set up before handing the car over to me to try to get quick, quickly.

 

We had decided, alright Joe decided, that it would be a good discipline for me to go out ‘cold’ on new tyres for a quali simulation. It felt very relaxed and my time was ok. After three laps I came in and Joe then used the last of the tyre freshness to set a target delta for me for the rest of FP1 and FP2.

 

I spent a lot of time in the car across the two sessions and had an amazing time. By about halfway through FP2 the tyres were really struggling, but I was able to get the car to behave just as I like it: early turn in-induced understeer. The car was drifting through the corners and I was loving it. I didn’t really care what the times were as I wasn’t really looking, but the radio was quiet and that normally means all is ok. And they really were ok.

 

The radio ‘relationship’ is an interesting one when you are in the car. Rob, our engineer, and Joe have pretty much worked out what they need to do to get me quicker. The normal ploy is, just before I start a lap, ‘box this lap unless you are improving’ and surprise surprise, I normally improve. They use one or two other ploys, more of which later. As an aside, for Joe you just need to tell him that there is a faster McLaren on the track and that always works.

 

Qualifying went pretty well. I made a mistake coming out of the last corner which cost me about three tenths. Having said that, the two drivers I aspire to race were closer than normal. I was within three tenths of Adam and closer to Graham than I had ever been. I even beat two of the Pro drivers in our session. Joe did well but the BMWs and the Mercs were down the road from everyone.

 

Our combined times put us fifth in class and 15th overall, although it felt like we deserved to be further up the grid.

 

The kids in the other two cars were looking good and Jordan in particular had been on it all weekend. He was proper quick and him and Lewis looked well placed for the race, which turned into a reality come race day with a second place podium overall. Congratulations to them.

As the day had gone well, and there hadn’t been any major mechanical dramas, clearly what the mechanics needed was something to do. So, setting off the fire extinguisher when there was no fire seemed to fit that bill. No names, no pack drill, but it wasn’t me and it wasn’t Joe’s nose.

 

What it did do was make a big wet white mess of the electrics inside the car. A job that took until one o’clock in the morning to sort out. All done without complaint and done perfectly. Well I assume it was without complaint, as I was tucked up in bed getting my racing driver’s beauty sleep. However, I was mightily grateful for all the work and the attention to detail.

 

Even the Sunday morning 10-minute warm up went well. Joe’s radio motivation techniques were to the fore, as he announced that Adam had done a 16.8 just as I went over the line in a 16.6. Boom! Actually, Adam hadn’t done that time at all, Joe just plucked it out of the air. I then went on to go more than a second quicker over the next two laps. This all looked really good for the race and I was feeling chilled and smiley.

 

Coming into the pits it was decided that we would do a full practice pitstop including a refuelling. This was to be the kernel of the first ‘tiff’ I can remember between Joe and myself.

 

When you come into the pits there is always a lot to do. We were early in the lane and I was busy with belts and nets and pit speed monitors and the radio. There is also a board that you need to aim for and stop about an inch from. This positions you for the refuelling and the tyre changes. I have always, always, always positioned the board in the middle of the bonnet. Apparently, it should be in line with the driver’s side. Apparently, I have been told this. Nope.

 

As I came into the pits and positioned the car just as I thought I should, I missed a startled Joe by about three inches. His impromptu lesson on the correct positioning of the car with the board was both short and sharp, his mood having previously been darkened by a disagreement elsewhere prior to the pitstop practice…

 

Cue a very stony-faced and silent driver change and pitstop practice and a slightly awkward wait for the data run-through in the truck office.

 

Joe was first to go. In slightly more colourful language than this, he pointed out that I knew, and had been told, that I should park the car with the board opposite the driver’s seat and that I had missed him by an inch. 

 

My rather well constructed counter punches, well I thought they were, in equally colourful language, were based around him being in front of the working line, a transgression that we would be fined for in a race situation. A disagreement elsewhere shouldn’t be taken out on me. If I had ever been told how to position the car that’s what I would have done. And finally, why wasn’t anyone saying well done on my fastest times of the weekend on used tyres? Ner ner nee ner ner.

 

Our engineer Rob was the slightly uncomfortable witness to this. He normally, rightly, takes Joe’s side as it is usually me that makes the error. He ended up right down the middle on this one, so I know I was right! I don’t ever remember standing up to Joe before, so maybe I am turning into a proper racing driver diva?

 

Glints in the eye and smiles breaking out on faces softened the atmosphere. We both agreed that we were both right, although I was obviously more right! Time to relax and get ready for the race.

 

Ok, let’s get it over with. The race.

 

Another good start found me making up four places before turn one. Lost a couple as I was baulked through Maggots and Beckets but net net, I was up. Sigh of relief as the first four or five corners were incident free. So, I started to relax and get into the race. Coming into the slow left-hander at Turn 12, a quick check in the mirror and nothing close enough to be an issue. When I got to the apex there was a loud bang. I had been hit really hard on the rear right corner by a big lump of Mercedes. It must have been doing some closing speed to get there that quickly. As I spun around there was another whack just to be sure. It was clear very quickly that the rear suspension was broken. Along with my racing spirit!

 

My three-hour race was over in under two minutes. The other car was disqualified, but that didn’t bring back our race. All I wanted to do was go home but we had to hang around for the stewards’ enquiry. They did their job and eventually we got an apology. But it was another disappointing Silverstone 500.

 

The following day was the worst feeling. No matter what I ran through my head I couldn’t change the result. My thoughts wandered to the effects of this race outcome. Before the weekend, we were really competing in both championships and now I felt like we were nowhere. It would take a real set of good circumstances and great driving to get us back into contention.

 

The team had worked really hard to deliver a great car and they deserved better. Then there is the financial cost. If you add the cost of the weekend, the cost of the damage and the cost of the two test days I reckoned that my race cost me about £4000 a corner. On the upside we have a lot of new carry over tyres for the rest of the season!

 

Of the seven races I have taken part in so far this year (six British GT and one Euro GT4), three had been ended by big hits from behind. Although one French race steward disagreed on one of them, none were my fault. I think I saw him in Specsavers recently! Joe would say it’s because I am quicker this year and therefore more in the mix, but you have to question the driving standards sometimes.

 

Having said all that, I guess there will come a time where I make a mistake, and I have in the past. So, none of us are perfect. Although Joe tells me that he is.

 

Part of the difficulty of dealing with the Silverstone blues is the gap between races at this point of the season. There are six weeks between Silverstone and Spa, when all you want to do is get back in the car and get a half decent result.

 

Spa is on the horizon and a two-day Spa test is even closer. A lap of Spa is the perfect antidote and taking that deep breath as you enter Eau Rouge and the satisfaction of getting out the other side on line and at full tilt is a special feeling.

 

I was going to say that we will need some luck. The truth is that there are very few parts of the racing cycle that require luck. I think there are only really three ‘lucky’ areas: a part of the car failing when it shouldn’t, another car driving into you and a safety car at the wrong time. Everything else should be covered by good preparation, good systems and discipline and good track management.

 

There, all done. I feel better now. We now have a bit of a mountain to climb. There is a big challenge ahead for the team and the drivers. Bring it on.