May Bank holiday was spent at Thruxton race circuit in Hampshire for Alex Sedgwick, for rounds 5 & 6 of the Ginetta Junior Championship.
As the sound of the school bell faded and the school holidays started, Alex was packing his bags to head to the UK’s fastest race circuit Thruxton, in support of the British Touring Car Championship. Having spent most of April sitting or preparing for his GCSE mock exams, he had not been able to do any testing at the circuit.
With no prior testing, Alex had to learn the track and set up his car in the single 15 minute free practice session on Saturday morning. Always ready for a challenge, he knew he would be on the back foot and would need to make the most of the available time. Unlike normal UK bank holidays, the weather over the weekend was hot and sunny and not wet and windy which would have favoured Alex, as the only time he had visited the circuit before was for a very wet test day back in February.
So with blue skies and warm British sunshine, welcoming Alex on Saturday, he had to drive a circuit in the dry he had only ever driven in the wet. Not having time to work on different set-ups, Alex’s race team, JHR Developments, had to use their experience to decide on a set-up for Alex to try in the 15 minute free practice session. With no previous dry track experience and with a lack of grip in the fast corners, free practice did not go as planned. At the end, Alex set the 13th fastest time, of the 20 competing drivers. “Finishing 13th fastest in free practice was disappointing but, bearing in mind this was the first time I had driven around the circuit in the dry, I suppose it could have been worse. With no previous data from the circuit, the set-up of the car was not ideal and I struggled for grip. With some changes to the car I am sure I can find some more speed for qualifying,” said Alex.
Whilst checking over the car before qualifying, the team found one of the front shock absorbers was incorrectly set which would have affected the overall grip of the car. With this corrected, Alex only had 15 minutes to set a fast time to determine his starting positions for the two 9 lap races on Saturday and Sunday. With an average speed of 92 mph for the 2.356 mile circuit and some of the fastest and most demanding high speed corners on any UK race circuit, having confidence in your car is very important.
With a total of 15 minutes of dry track time under his belt, Alex entered qualifying in a confident mood and was determined to give it everything he could. As the chequered flag fell at the end of the session Alex had set the 15th fastest time. “The car was sliding around a lot and in the very fast corners I had to apply a lot of steering action to keep the car on the track. Then half way through the session the brakes went off and I could not stop the car. I nearly crashed, but luckily managed to over shoot the corner safely. I had hoped for a top ten starting position,” commented Alex.
With not a lot of time between qualifying and the first race, Alex’s race team had to quickly try to sort out the car ready for the first race. Checking the car back in the pits, it was decided to change the rear shock absorbers and check for any air in the braking system. As the clock ticked down, the brakes were sorted but there was not sufficient time to replace both rear shock absorbers, so Alex lined up for the first race with only one new shock absorber and not quite sure how the car would perform. Starting at the back of the grid was a new experience for Alex but a good start saw him gain three places on the first lap. On lap 2 he gained another place moving him into 11th overall. He held this position until the fifth lap when he could no longer keep up the same pace and dropped back to 14th overall at the chequered flag.
“The car felt OK for a couple of laps but then I had no rear grip in the fast corners. The brakes were OK so I could brake as late as I wanted but with no grip in the fast corners I lost so much time and could not stay with the other cars down the long straight. I am disappointed but hopefully we can sort out the car and I can find some more time in myself now I have completed a few more dry laps around the circuit”, said Alex.
The second 9 lap race on Sunday was not planned to start until 12:52 pm so it would give Alex’s team enough time to thoroughly check over his car. Sunday was another dry and sunny day, and the thousands of motor racing fans who packed the Hampshire circuit could not have asked for better weather. Starting again from 15th on the grid Alex knew it was going to be an uphill struggle. Never one to give up and with the team now able to finally complete all the required changes which they had not been able to before the first race, anything was possible! With the ITV cameras focused on the start, the lights changed and the 20 Ginetta junior drivers raced into the first three corners. In the melée Alex lost one place but as the laps ticked by he gained back two places and then on the penultimate lap moved up a further place into 13th, where he stayed until the end of the race.
“On face value it could be seen as a disappointing weekend, but on reflection with having no previous experience of the track in the dry and having to learn everything in one 15 minute practice session, it is not as bad as I first thought. At least I have now completed a total of 34 laps in the dry so returning next year should not be so difficult,” reflected Alex at the end of the race. With two points’ scoring finishes, Alex moved up into 12th place overall in the championship and became the 6th highest place rookie driver of the 15 taking part in the championship.
The Championship now moves to Oulton Park in June.