The Brands Hatch American Speedfest is the only UK race in the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series, and last year it was also Alex’s first race with Braxx Racing.
Now in its seventh year the event is one of the largest motorsport events in the UK and this year the UK fans were presented with some of the best racing ever seen on the circuit.
The race weekend started on Friday with the normal practice sessions and Alex could not wait to get on track in his #90 Braxx Racing Chevrolet Camaro.
“The first practice session is all about developing the set up of the car and ensure we are on the pace to set a fast time in the second practice session,” commented Alex
For the first session the team applied the same set up as Alex used in Franciacorta, where he had been very competitive until the rear half shaft broke and he had to retire the car in the second race.
Having raced at Brands Hatch before, Alex did not need to learn the circuit so was able to just concentrate on car set-up. The first run, however, did not go to plan as the set up which had worked so well in Franciacorta, was too soft and Alex struggled for grip and feel. A dash back to the pits to change the set up meant Alex lost precise set up time and ended the session well down the time sheets.
In the second session the team stiffened up the car’s suspension to try to correct the lack of grip. The changes did not improve the car and Alex continued to struggle for grip and he end the two sessions with a combined position of 16th. This would mean that Alex would enter qualifying on the the “back-foot” and not in an ideal starting position for a compact track like Brands Hatch.
“The new General Tire and the suspension changes introduced this year have meant everything we learnt last year, does not now work anymore. We had a really good set up last year when we ran the previous control tyre and when we used this as a reference, the car was undriveable. The new tyres are so different and we are still learning every race how to make them work,” remarked Alex.
Starting down the running order for qualifying and not in his usual top ten position meant Alex would start the ten minute qualifying session, in the middle of the pack of cars.
As much as he tried he could not find the space to get a clear lap, without catching a slower car, and for the first time since joining Braxx Racing he did not get into Superpole.
“Missing Superpole was frustrating but with so many cars on the circuit I could not find the space to get a clean lap, I just kept catching slower cars in all the wrong places,”reflected Alex.
In the end Alex qualified in 14th place alongside former F1 World Champion Jacques Villeneuve, who was a mere three hundredths of a second faster than the time set by Alex.
Unlike the usual UK weather experienced at Brands Hatch, Saturday’s race was run under blue and cloudless skies. With the high ambient temperature and the resulting track temperature, the management of the tyres was going to be very important if the tyres were to last for the whole race weekend.
A great start saw Alex immediately leap frog Villeneuve and as the first lap was completed he crossed the line in 11th place, whilst Villeneuve had dropped two places down to 16th.
By the fourth lap, Alex had caught and passed Frederic Gabillion, the series runner up last year, who would start his 78th race in the series over the weekend.
A further 34 laps of bumper to bumper racing saw Alex finally cross the finishing line in 10th place, but more importantly with the fifth fastest race lap time, earning him a fifth place starting position for race two, on Sunday.
“Battling through the field was great fun! The changes we made before the start of the race paid off and the car was transformed from qualifying and practice. I would have liked to have got further up the leaderboard but Brands Hatch is very difficult to overtake on, especially when drivers block and drive on the “white lines”. I tried a number of times to find different lines but some robust blocks by the other drivers damaged the bodywork on my car and I had to settle for 10th place, said Alex.
Sunday was expected to be another hot day but the expected blue skies were replaced by an overcast day, changing the track conditions again.
Sunday’s race started with the traditional grid walk for the fans which meant the cars sat on the grid for a long time prior to the race start. With the fans back in the stands the cars left the grid to complete the two rolling laps before the 30 car field crossed the start line, to get the 38 lap race underway.
Another strong start saw Alex maintain his fifth place but as the cars started the second lap the safety car was deployed in response to a car going off into the gravel at Paddock Hill. Six laps were run under the safety car before the cars lined up for the second restart.
At the second restart the leading cars immediately pulled a gap on the main pack and Alex completed the next lap just eight tenths of a second off the leading car. The front six cars continued to battle until on lap 14 Alex moved into fourth place which he held until lap 16 when the safety car was suddenly deployed again due to a car leaving the track in a dangerous position.
It took a few laps to recover the car before the cars lined up again side by side for the second restart, with just 18 laps to go. Another strong start saw Alex maintain his fourth place position with a fantastic drive around the outside of reigning Euro NASCAR champion Alon Day who had been battling with Alex since the start of the race.
“The car felt good throughout the early laps and through the two restarts. On the second restart I started on the outside in fourth place and Alon started on the inside in fifth place. I got another good start but as we went down Paddock Hill, Alon got his car on the inside of me at Druids, as the cars on the outside were slightly slower away. As the other cars pushed there way into the inside I had a good feeling in the car and was able to drive around the outside of Alon, maintaining my position and getting back in front of him before we reached Graham Hill bend.
The car felt good and I was starting to catch up with the third placed car when we went into Druids on lap 24. This time as I turned into the corner the car just understeered and I was unable to hold my line and I lost fourth place to Alon. I recovered, however, my position and managed to get back to fourth as we both passed the third place car. Then on lap 27, as I entered Druids I found I had no grip at the front, the tyres had gone and I was unable to steer the car. When I turned for a corner I was on a huge amount of lock and as soon as I applied the power the car tried to pitch me off the circuit,” reflected Alex.
With just twelve laps remaining Alex was a sitting duck and lap by lap he fell down the field until at the chequered flag he crossed the line in 20th place.
A certain strong finishing position had been taken away from Alex by the loss of grip which he was powerless to prevent.
After the race the team checked the car and found that the front tyres had worn excessively exposing the metal cords, due to the car set-up, the durability of the tyre and the higher than expected increase in tyre pressures.
Overall a disappointing weekend of ups and downs summarised Alex’s second Brands Hatch American Speedfest race weekend.
Now Alex has a small break before he heads to Most in the Czech Republic for the next round at the end of the month, where he will be aiming to put behind the disappointment of Brands Hatch.