After what seemed like an endless drive down to Kent, Mike and the Close Racing team finally arrive at the famous Brands Hatch circuit. When it comes to checking in to accommodation there’s no posh trucks here just old school camping. Tents assembled, team settled in for the weekend, it’s time to get Mike down to see the AK Automotive guys and check on the car. What’s good to settle Mike’s nerves?…. a look down the infamous Paddock Hill Bend. Then off to bed.
The next morning Mike and the team are awoken by the glorious screams of the Blancpain GT cars getting their eye in. “Someone should make an alarm that sounds like that!” to quote Mike as he sorts through his race gear. Good and ready, time to get down to the paddock and get Mike signed in. What’s scrutineering without a nearly dead battery and breakfast on the go! Now all the official checks are done and passed, time to get mikes head in the game. Last brush up on the track before getting Mike in the car and settled ahead of qualification.
The call goes out and the team fire up the car, heading under Paddock Hill Bend and into the back of the pit lane for the first time of the weekend.
“It hits me at this point what’s coming and the fact that this is the first time I have driven this car, No pressure” – Mike Close
Qualifying did not go off to a smooth start with trouble getting Mike harnessed into his seat correctly lead to going out on to the track late. That mixed in with the other cars, a safety car period and blue flags meant that Mike did not achieve a flying lap. That being said, he did complete the necessary three laps to set his place in the following days race. After qualification with time to spare Mike and the team get together, watch the “big boy” races and end the day with a dusk track walk.
Sunday morning, the sun is up, the forecast is clear all day Mike and the Team are ready for it now. Mikes first race isn't until later on in the day so there is time to add a bit extra weight to the car with bacon, sausage, eggs, hash browns...
With the loudspeaker kicking in Mike is summoned to the pit lane once again but not without having the belts already secured this time round. Mike heads out onto the track and into his grid slot. Final checks completely just in time as the front cars pull away for the green flag lap. Mike knows the track this time, where it’s going and when. Brakes warm, tires warming, drivers nerves calming, back round to the grid. Mike lines up his window with garage 19 so he knows he's in the right grid slot, and on into first gear.
“It’s calm, quiet, almost peaceful, the sun warms my back, with a million miles of blue sky above me, I could drift away as if on a beach somewhere warm” – Mike Close.
The peace shattered by the 5 second alarm, the revs begin to rise, the lights come on, 1-2-3-4-5, then hold, lights out! He’s off! This is it, his first race.
The red car of David Henderson in car number 4 slices across in front of him cutting off any advantage Mike could have made at the start, the cars bunch onto Paddock Hill Bend for the first time allowing Mike to sneak up and bag a place or two before entering Druids. The cars begin to spread out from this point meaning Mike’s overtakes have to be calculated and worked for. The safety car is out and Mikes been unfairly overtook whilst behind it (video here) Mike’s now settling into the rhythm of the race and managed to make up 9 spaces before crossing the line just mere inches ahead of Patrick Collins in car number 99.
Mike gets back to his team to sort out a few little issues with the car before what seemed like an immediate turn round before heading back out for race two.
“I had my eye in this time and wasn't planning on holding back or as much as my skill allowed” – Mike Close
The lights go out and Mike immediately makes up 2-3 places on his way into the first corner. Once the Group A cars have pulled away it’s clear to see little packs forming throughout the track. Mike finds himself in a group that is battling endlessly lap upon lap with paint being shared and a few hand gestures, Mike has pulled it out the bag and fought for his podium position of 2nd in class. The mix of emotions on Mike’s face is clear to see.
“Overall the weekend was an amazing eye opener and definitely something I will pursue further. My only regret is that I didn't do this earlier” – Mike Close #117