Rounds 1 & 2
Rounds 3 & 4
Rounds 5 & 6
Rounds 7 & 8
Rounds 9, 10
Rounds 12 & 13
Rounds 14, 15 & 16
Rounds 17, 18 & 19
Brands Hatch GP
We will be following Alex throughout the season on this incredible journey which will have it's highs and lows but above all will have major enjoyment.
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BRSCC Mazda MX5 Championship Reports
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Event 3: Castle Combe
Known for being a high speed track, Castle Combe has some very technical challenges for those wishing to keep the pedal to the metal!
Its chicanes can unsettle even the most finely balanced of vehicles and both the Quarry and Camp corners are notorious for firing their victims off at speed into the walls!
A little bit of simulator work and several written-off virtual cars, had taught me to seriously respect Quarry even more than I did so the Paddock turn at Brands Hatch.
Its blind crest entry; bumps and seemingly negative camber were not forgiving of driver errors at speed, only to be claimed by a few feet of slippery grass before hitting the barricades!
Given my reservations surrounding Quarry, I pushed the boat out and did a track day the Friday before the event.
This was particularly useful as the track had been resurfaced giving it a very different character to that shown by the simulator.
The new sections of track meant some corners were suffering from “multi-storey carpark” syndrome as each time the car was wrestled round the tyres seemed to squeal like terrified pigs!
This initially spooked me somewhat as until now I’d come to associate tyre squeal with being on the edge of traction and was not expecting these tortured noises when simply cruising round!
However, Paul Austin from Austec Racing kindly jumped into No.32 for a spin and came back giving me the thumbs up.
Reassured by this I went into practise on race day with the aim of seriously attacking the track!
The twenty minute practise before qualifying saw me up my pace, but I was still shocked at the raw speed with which the top ranking drivers were passing me by!
Clearly I have plenty more to learn!
That said, I felt as though I was beginning to get the measure of Quarry and Camp corner – not a moment too soon either, as less than two hours later we were into the qualifying session.
I went into quali with my usual target to carefully complete the minimum requirement of three laps before then attempting to wind up towards setting a decent flying lap.
Unfortunately a few cars became rather intimate with the surrounding walls after brief off-track excursions which triggered red flag conditions for safety reasons. As such, everyone had to carefully return to the assembly area and await the chance to go back out on track to finish the session.
When the time came, I found myself near the front of the pack with many of the fastest, adrenaline pumped drivers behind me – suffice to say I thought it prudent to let them easily pass and hoped for some space to set my own fast lap.
Sadly I never quite managed a full clean lap and qualified a few rows from the back of the grid, but the additional practise was to prove invaluable.
On-board footage from Alex
On-board footage from Kevin
When I was at Silverstone my race starts left something to be desired. In my first race I caused the car to bog down and in my second race I briefly wheel spun, all of which cost me grid position.
At Brands Hatch my starts were not brilliant but at least I managed to hold position.
At Castle Combe though, when the gantry lights went out signalling the start of the race, No.32 magically hooked up and shot off the line to such an extent that I made up three places before the first corner!
Passing a fourth competitor and narrowly missing another car that had spun in the middle of the track, I had to begin to shift my attention from the cars in front, to the cars behind!
Behind me, but in my draft and making me work hard to defend was the No.4 MX5 of David Henderson.
Lap after lap we fought and vied for position, which unfortunately is not fast and slows down both battling race cars.
This allowed a handful of other drivers to catch up and push past, although not without incident and some spinning out in the process on a couple of occasions!
For my attempts to block them, No.32 now sports yet more dents and scrapes!
For the latter half of the race David and I continued our battle, where upon I was grateful for his clean manoeuvres and sportsmanship making for a thoroughly tiring but thrilling race.
In the end I narrowly managed to keep ahead and finished 12th, but I have no doubt that next time the roles could easily be reversed.
On-board footage from Alex
On-board footage from Kevin
On-board with Martin in race 2A
Going into race two I found myself starting in eleventh place on the grid while trying to scope out the competitors around me. Of particular interest was my team mate Kevin Brent (No.41) who was positioned a few grid rows ahead of me.
Once again, as the start line gantry lights went out, No.32 catapulted fantastically off the line and passed several cars, so that within seconds I found myself closely following the chequered GO4IT RACING decals adorning the rear of Kevin’s MX5.
As we all barrelled into Quarry corner I went wide and was sandwiched between David (No.4) and Kevin but was lucky enough to be carrying a little more speed and edge in front of both drivers.
As I focussed on the task of reeling in the car in front, another spun on the exit of Bobbies chicane as the pack I was part of headed into it and had to rapidly evade a collision with the rotating MX5.
Momentarily the pressure was off me as Kevin and the others suddenly dropped back while navigating the MX5 road block, however Kevin’s talent shone through and he soon caught me up again.
We are team mates and Kevin is ever the gentleman towards me on track, but we are still racing each other. As such I went into full defensive driving mode in a desperate attempt to hold him back.
Defensive driving lines are rarely fast lines and this tactic again permitted the rest of the pack to catch us up and begin hassling Kevin.
By making our cars work together on the straights we hoped to pull away a little from the others.
However, knowing that he is the faster driver, it made more sense for the both of us if Kevin led and I drafted him instead.
Accordingly, I adopted less effective defensive lines which were still by no means going to make it easy for him either!
Sure enough Kevin made his move and passed me on approach to Bobbies chicane, but another car squeezed past me in his wake.
Just as I was resigned to losing two places, both cars in front spun out and contacted!
Sadly for Kevin the damage was too critical and he was forced to retire the vehicle to the pit lane, ending his race
By this point Paul Austin had stormed up from the back of the grid with his newly repaired No.30 green MX5. I held him back briefly but he slip-streamed me on the straight and edged past on entry into Quarry.
My battles with Paul saw the No.13 car of Laurie Grant begin pressuring me instead as he took a better line out of Bobbies chicane and pulled alongside me as we raced towards Camp corner at speed.
Wing-mirror to wing-mirror, both of us were obviously determined to be the victor as neither lifted throttle and both braked as late as we each dared into the corner.
Mayhem ensued as my car became seriously unsettled on the bumps and suddenly all was lost as the tail end began to rotate around me!
Laurie was obviously fighting for control too as he careened off onto the grass verge only just managing to wrestle his car back onto the track as I frantically tried to control the spin No.32 was in.
With other race cars hurtling towards me I had fractions of a second to get the car back under some semblance of control and make it motion as predictable as possible!
When the screeching noises and tyre smoke had subsided I was left facing up the track desperately trying to fire my engine back into life before accelerating away in a bid to salvage what I could of my race.
In the end I gained two positions back meaning I went from 11th to 5th, fell back to 15th and finally up to 12th - Frustrating for grid position, but a brilliant experience and a massive amount of fun!
As a huge bonus, for not hitting anything and recovering from my pirouettes, I was presented with the “Driver of the Event” award – A big thank you to the BRSCC staff for the kind nomination.
I have two more races available to me this season, but I have already decided to do the season finale at Donington where I had my initial driver training with Rob Boston back at the start of this adventure.
As such I have some serious thinking to do as to the next race I choose – should it be Rockingham, Cadwell Park, Oulton Park or Croft?
Decisions, decisions; but do watch this space!
Event: Rockingham Raceway by Alex Soar
With steady progress from my first race at Silverstone, improvements at Brands Hatch and a glimpse of new potential at Castle Combe, I was eager to take on the challenge that Rockingham Raceway had to offer.
In the end it had a very harsh lesson in store regarding the thrills and spills of racing………..
The entire event had been organised into a one day with practise and qualification on Saturday morning and the races in the early and late afternoon.
However the day before there was a test day, so I stretched the budget and booked onto a couple of late sessions.
Dropping into the seat in car 32 felt like coming home to an old friend and its engine quickly fired ready for the mandatory noise testing – much to the amusement to the marshals when I casually cruised up to the test with the team awning still strapped to the roll-cage like a caricature Mohawk!
For those of you not familiar with Rockingham, its crown is the banked oval circuit designed for cars akin to the American NASCARs, but within the oval is an infield track consisting of a number of configurable corners that can be setup as desired for each event.
For the test day and the main race we were using about a third of the fast banked circuit and the “international long” infield configuration.
Although the weather was predicted to turn foul, the track remained dry save for a few spots of rain, something for which I was very grateful when spending time in a roofless car!
During the test session I started easy and began to wind up No.32, especially on the banked section where drivers were hugging the wall then cutting down and across the fast sweeping banked corner before braking hard for the sharp 180 degree corner at the end of the banked straight.
The track required careful navigating in places on the infield sections as some of the corners could easily upset the vehicle.
None-the-less, 32 seemed to be matching lap pace with those that I had come to consider my peers out on track and so I felt encouraged that I could really attack the track during practise and quali the next morning.
Saturday morning somewhat literally rained on my optimism from the day before!
Overnight the weather had been biblical and, although eased, showed no sign of abating any time soon, meaning we were greeted by a sodden track and the realisation that the other novices and I would be seeing our first time racing in the wet.
Besides the obvious, the theory behind wet track driving is very different to that of a dry track. Whereas on a dry track you are seeking apexes and the common racing line, there is often a lot of rubber deposit on that line which provides precious little grip in the wet as it becomes greasy.
Consequently when out on a wet track it is often faster to take the lesser used lines while also leaving additional braking distance and being extremely smooth with the car controls.
My apprehension at being out on track in the wet with the faster drivers was at least partially alieved by the knowledge that I was considered by my mentors to have smooth car control and should therefore possess a good “wet” foundation to work upon.
Accelerating out from the pit lane onto the banked circuit felt fine, but I was frankly shocked at the lack of traction that then greeted me on the infield section!
Braking had to begin faint but progressive, steering and accelerating required exceptionally delicate inputs often followed by quick opposite dabs of the steering to halt the beginnings of a slide.
The “Pif-Paf” corner sequence in particular seemed to be lethal with numerous drivers both experienced and novice alike exiting the track at regular intervals.
The pace of the cars felt ludicrously slow compared to previous tracks, yet it was a challenge to keep the MX5s under control.
With this in mind I had to reset my learning curve and get on with experimenting with the best lines, braking distances and throttle control to suit the new situation, along with closely watching the tactics used by the faster drivers.
The reason I hadn’t been racing before winning the “Go4it” competition was due to the cost – especially with a young family, so as such I was using cheaper part worn tyres.
For Rockingham I had bought a set with a little more tread than those I used at Castle Combe but had frustratingly managed to put a flat spot on one of them – presumably when I was exploring the braking limits at the end of the banked section during testing.
Driving out to line up for quali, the vibration was not reassuring, so I returned to the pits where a quick diagnosis by Jez, Liam and Adam saw the wheels swapped.
Luckily I was allowed out for the second round of quali but soon became acutely aware of how No.32 was sliding about seemingly a lot more than my fellow competitors and thus made sure to keep out of their way and be as predictable as possible.
I focussed hard on trying to find a way to make the car behave and match the entry speeds and drive out of corners I was witnessing from even other novices, but alas my efforts were fruitless as I qualified a disappointing last place!
Back in the pits the crew worked hard to review the suspension geometry on my MX5.
These settings play a critical part in how a car behaves and handles.
Due to circumstances 32 hadn’t had a full geo since Silverstone and surprisingly my steering (toe) had been slightly uneven, all of my cambers were slightly different and the stiffness of the shock absorbers was significantly different from front to rear.
Liam had engineered a nifty set of standing plates to level the car and assist in improving the geometry setup, which the support crew trio knuckled down to and soon completed.
With this in mind I felt more hopeful for the first race.
Lined up on the grid for the first race with the rain constantly drizzling down, I could see the entire field of MX5 race cars lined up ahead of me.
As we cruised around on the sighting lap I was already a little alarmed at the pace of my competitors, even those close to me, as I had to carefully focus to keep up – this just didn’t seem right!
When the gantry lights went out every car squatted and powered off the line with some wheel spinning in the wet, others tramping slightly sideways but many were gingerly applying more throttle.
I had a reasonable start, hooked up and steadily moved up past several other MX5s as the spray from their rear tyres kept my windscreen wipers working hard.
As we all charged into the first corner the first casualties of the conditions became apparent with some light paint exchanges and some cars overshooting the corner.
Easing 32 into the corner I could already feel the tail end wanting to step out as I carefully feathered the throttle as much as I dared.
However I was putting on a poor show as the cars in front steadily pulled further away from me with every corner and I found myself closely watching the mirrors to defend from the blue and white flashes of Matt Pickford’s MX5 as it danced from side to side.
Heading down the banked section I pulled away slightly from Matt and the other cars behind me, but he obviously learnt from the action as it did not work so well the next time around whereupon he was close behind me entering into the 180 degree turn when 32’s tail end finally gave up traction and entered into a lazy slide.
Although not a proper spin it cost me dearly as every competitor previously held back behind me passed on by.
For the next few laps I tried in vain to catch them back up, but it seemed impossible to match their entry, cornering and exit speeds. Closely watching their lines and braking points while attempting to copy them was rewarded with my own car attempting to throw me off track on every occasion.
It was incredibly frustrating considering previous performances!
However I reasoned that it was all good experience and stayed out on track hoping to discover the ever elusive answer to my troubles.
Although I desperately tried to push 32 as hard as it would go without breaking its grip on the track surface, on the last lap I had the indignity of being lapped by four of the front runners.
Coming into the pits I felt a wild range of emotions – frustration was prominent, but sooner or later that feeling is inherent to racing and often keeps us coming back for more.
Back in the pits the decision was made to go even softer on the suspension dampers in the hope that the additional handling compliance it would lend the car may aid me on the infield sections.
Sitting in the assembly area for the second race my mind was awash with everything I had tried and anything new I could try to somehow match what I was seeing from the other cars.
The rain had eased in comparison to the first race but was still producing a fine mist that showed no intention of abating any time soon!
Again, the general pace maintained during the sighting lap was not easy to match and had me seriously doubting the sanity of what I was about to do.
None-the-less, as the race commenced I carefully dialled in the power but still experienced a little wheel spin as I overtook some of the other race spec MX5s around me.
I was darkly amused to notice Matt’s MX5 once again filling the view in my left wing mirror as we headed into the ominous 180 degree turn.
Matt braked later and moved up beside me to take the inside line through the corner only to suffer from the now greasy rubber laid down there and spin giving me momentary solace from a repeat of race one.
However this was not to last as the now soft suspension felt to be masking some of the movements 32 was making underneath me. Being strapped tightly into the car I could previously feel the car’s movements and quickly correct, but now that same “feel” was confused by the increased body roll.
Inevitably, the tail end began to step out of line and I didn’t notice until it was fractionally too late and the MX5 began another slow rotation.
Again, everyone passed me including the previously spun Matt.
I mentally locked onto Matt’s car and concentrated hard on copying everything he did just so as to not lose sight of him.
My efforts were proving fruitless as Matt again steadily pulled away from me and even on the banked circuit he had picked up his pace thus removing the one advantage I previously had.
By the third lap I was uneasy and considering pitting as the situation was, for whatever reason, beginning to feel dangerous.
However I was there to race, which is the whole purpose of this adventure, so resolved to catch Matt and (somehow) not be last!
Unfortunately I never got the chance.
Following Matt’s silhouette around the banked circuit section, the tail of 32 broke traction at speed!
I was momentarily shocked as it had been a steady steering input and the one place I least expected the car to start to spin, but spin it did, as it turned backwards and hurtled towards the upper concrete wall.
The controls seemed to have little effect and I had fractions of a second to resign myself to the fact that I was going to crash – 32’s rear left quarter slammed hard into the wall, whipping the front end round into the concrete and leaving me momentarily stunned. Crash footage here
The impact had been a glancing blow though and my MX5 ricocheted off backwards towards the lower concrete wall as well. Looking at what was about to happen I put my head back into the seat, only to instinctively put my head forward again at the last moment before the square-on hit into the wall whipped my head back, again leaving my senses rattled.
It took a couple of seconds for the world to stop spinning and to realise that I was actually ok, whereupon I exited 32 as it was off the track just near the pit exit.
The medics checked me out and I was sent to the medical centre as a matter of precaution but save for a cracking headache and some pulled neck muscles I was surprisingly fine.
When I had initially climbed out of 32 it hadn’t actually looked in too bad a state, but once the car had been returned to the pits a sobering report of the damage awaited me.
The team were surprisingly good natured about it all and made light hearted jokes although I had a heavy heart as the destruction was documented.
In the end 32’s engine mounts had snapped, differential support beam had cracked, snapped wishbones, bent steering rack, bent rear sub-frame, bent chassis, distorted body shell, crumpled superstructure and the rear left wheel had almost been torn off!
It was an incredible list of damage that sadly meant my mechanical companion will never race again.
The Go4it guys have a vault of spare parts including a rolling body shell.
As such, steps are in place to rebuild the new body shell into a race car using new and salvaged parts from 32.
In hindsight, even as a novice, I tried every action and tactic I could conceive to try and coax 32 into matching even the slowest cars on the grid; leaving me to think that I should not have tried to save money by using part worn tyres and should have blown the budget on new tyres with plenty of tread and compliant rubber.
The part worn tyres I had been using until then had been fine in the dry, but perhaps not suitable for the wet, as age and numerous heat cycles can harden the rubber along with reduced tread to disperse the water.
Tyres are your sole contact with the track, so my advice to everyone is that they are worth investing in!
I’m frustrated by the performance, saddened by the incident and glad to be unharmed, but that is all part of racing and it’s certainly been an epic experience to date!
I’d like to give my thanks to Liam, Adam and Jez for all their efforts in setting up and running the car, Go4it’s Martin and Kevin for their continued support as well as Wendy and the team at Creative Design for all of the vinyl designs.
At the time of writing there are a lot of unknowns with respect to a potential next race, but hopefully with a rebuilt car and sufficient sponsorship, I’ll be back out on track again this season racing a “Go4it” MX5!
Facebook Album of Rockingham click here
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