Friday evening and once again Close racing are on the road down south for another promising weekend of action packed racing in the BRSCC Mazda MX5 championship, this time its from Rockingham Motor Speedway.
After a long drive down in weather that was less than desirable, erecting a tent was to be a near impossible task in the dark so all non-essentials were placed under cover and the boot/back seat of the car became the hotel for the night (nothing but the finest accommodation will do).
An early morning start with sign on starting at 0730hrs, the weather today was not going to rival that of the Mediterranean. Cold, damp, and not an inch of blue sky to be seen, welcome to British racing. Scruteneering over and done with Mike was planning ahead to practice and learning the track for the first time. Then it happened, the ‘R’ word, at this point the paddock lit up with people furiously pulling ‘wet’ tires out from the back of trucks and softening dampers. Mike thought, seeing how he didn’t have any wet tires, a cup of coffee will have to do, optimistically the boys from AK Automotive did there best and making up for it with damper settings.
The claxon sounds and the track is live for free practice, the track had mercifully dried a reasonable amount by the time the first cars were on track, this lead a few of the teams to reconsider their ‘wet’ setup. The track was still very greasy in places though, namely the ‘Deene Hairpin’ and ‘Pif Paf’. Mike still set a reasonably competitive time, which lead him to set a similar pace in qualifying and start race one 5th in group B.
As the cars headed out onto the track for race 1B the weather was showing very threatening signs of a heavy downpour. All competitors ushered into their respective grid positions ready for the ‘green flag lap’ and that was it, something caused a delay and everyone sat for no less than 10 minutes on the grid. During this time the British weather gave everything it had, the track was soaking, the drivers were soaking, and Mike was still running on 'dry' tires. Green flag waved and everybody sets of in a steady convoy of cars, even pulling away from the line in a reasonably civil manor the rear tires still lit up, this was going to take a very steady smooth right foot to go anywhere.
As the lights go out the engines roar into life! And nobody seams to go anywhere. Eventually traction is gained and the race begins. Mike makes a reasonable start all things considered and nips underneath car 55 of Graham Colby into the first turn however that was to be it really for Mike as nearly every corner after that he fought for grip throughout the whole turn, it was only on the straights when the engine built by AK Automotive really shone allowing him to power up to the back of the pack. With this in mind Mike knew that his only chance of taking any sort of points from this race would be to get the power down nice and early on the pit straight, hold his breath through the banked corner at ‘Yentworth’ and hope it stuck. Thank fully it did, meaning Mike managed to keep himself out the back few rows for race two.
Race two. Mike was well aware that it was all about damage control now and taking as many points as he could.
As the cars headed out to grid it was thankfully only a light drizzle in the air, however the track was still soaking wet and Mike knew he wouldn’t have much of a chance again against everybody running a ‘wet’ setup. The lights went out somehow Mike just drove away from the line, no wheel spin, and no dramas, just drove away. This fired him straight up the pecking order to the point where he was almost in touching distance with the front runners and sat just off the back of car 7 of Courtney Milnes. With the track drying slightly, it meant that Mike could at least battle in the entrance and exit of corners however mid corner he was still left wide open for the taking. With a good few battles developing Mike was beginning to get hopeful of an acceptable finish, this however was not to be, a mistake by Mike left him wanting for more stopping power coming round the back of the paddock and he overshot the chicane. This cost him around 3 positions and a good run down the pit straight, which ultimately cost him more. The key to racing in the wet is finesse and remaining calm. Unfortunately this was hard to come by when cars are passing you and you have nothing in your arsenal to fight back with. This lead to the same mistake happening again as Mike tried desperately to make up for lost ground, costing him yet again.
“I was killing myself, I just couldn’t accept it”. Mike Close
Mike found his rhythm again and was doing his best to manage his race when he caught a slippy patch of tarmac on the heavy braking zone into the ‘Deene Hairpin’ and collided with car 118 of Greg Edwards who was recovering from a similar incident. This pushed Mike’s front right wing on the tire and forced him to return to the pits in order to have it ‘adjusted’. Mike only lost one position while in the pits and managed to fight for it back in a ‘one-lap shoot out’ with car 80 of Anthony Hutchins.
All in all the weekend seamed a disaster, however if there was anything to take away from it Mike now fully understands how the car behaves when over steering, and he has now purchased a set of ‘wet’ tires.