I just arrived back home to Manitoba after completing the first 3 races of the 2016 season which began at Motorland close to the city of Alcaniz in Spain. Alcaniz is located approximately 2.5 hours west from Barcelona so just getting to the race circuit is a wonderful drive down the Mediterranean coast followed by winding roads up over the hills towards the circuit.
We were fortunate to have some excellent conditions throughout the race weekend as, apart from some moments of rain during Race 2, it was bright, sunny, and even soared up to a beautiful 26 degrees. One of the biggest challenges we had faced during pre-season testing at Motorland was the intense wind. When you are driving a car that only weighs 1,100 pounds it tends to get pushed around very easily by the wind, and once you are on the limit of the vehicle, any sudden wind gust can quickly unsettle the car. Fortunately the wind remained calm throughout the race weekend.
After a day of practice on Friday it was time to get down to the business of qualifying on Saturday, and because we had 3 races over the weekend, the first qualifying session would determine your starting position for the first two races. I spent the first lap of qualifying weaving from side to side to scuff the brand new tires and tried to be as aggressive as possible on the brakes in an attempt to bring everything up to optimal temperature as quickly as possible. My 2nd lap was a sightseeing lap to make sure everything felt comfortable and helped build towards doing a banzai 3rd lap that would hopefully set a great time. I was able to post a respectable time but on my 4th lap while pushing even harder, I unexpectedly lost the rear end of the car and snapped around into a huge 360 degree spin. Fortunately the car straightened itself out just prior to impacting the wall but it left a massive flat-spot on my front tire which in turn caused an enormous vibration throughout the car. We were able to change the tire prior to Race 1 but it certainly made for a challenging remainder of the qualifying session.
In the first race of the year you never know what to expect as there are a lot of new drivers and you’re worried if their nerves will get the best of them causing unnecessary risks. But apart from a few small on track incidents it was a fairly clean race and I was able to improve my position throughout. The challenging time took place during Race 2 when clouds rolled in and the temperature suddenly dropped by over 10 degrees. Spots of rain began to fall across various parts of the circuit so every lap required intense concentration as the grip levels of the track surface were constantly changing.
Race 3 on Sunday was another beautifully sunny affair that took place in front of packed grandstands so it was a wonderful atmosphere. This was probably our best race of the weekend but also the most challenging. From lap 2 until the end I spent my time trying to chase down the car ahead of me. It can be very demoralizing when you do one of your quickest laps but then see the car ahead of you still stretching it’s way into the distance. However, on the flip side, once you begin to put pressure on the driver ahead, you can start to see their mistakes compound. On the last 2 laps of the race I was able to post my fastest times of the entire weekend and narrowly miss out on passing the car ahead, finishing just .8 seconds behind.
I was very happy with the progress we were able to make throughout the race weekend. We proved that despite our tiny budget and significant lack of practice over the last few months, we are capable of competing against the best young drivers in the world. The challenge now focuses on heading to Monaco at the end of May and finding a way to stay sharp and prepared without being able to have any practice between now and the next race.