Last weekend was a first of many things for me. First ever qualifying first ever circuit and also the first time driving the vastly different Nissan Micra to what I had last season. After spending most of the winter stripping the car to a bare shell and sourcing parts to transform the car from 1.0 Junior Rallycross spec to 1.3 Race spec it still ended up being a typical late Thursday night finish of the car.
Turning up to afternoon testing on Friday we had no idea about how quick the car or myself would be or even was the car going to run properly. Dad drove the car for the first session and it had horrendous fuel surge issues to the point it was dying coming up out of Duckhams. With no other solutions other than to brim it with fuel and hope for the best. As I prepared to get in the Irish weather turned what was a lovely sunny day into an awful wet miserable track. Jumping in at the deep end the differences between the car from last season was instantly noticeable. Despite some wayward slides which required the car control learnt from Rallycross we went home fairly happy with the day’s work.
Saturday morning brought dry sunny conditions and we would see the car’s true pace for the first time. Despite the monumental amount of traffic I ended up lapping in the 1.09.4s which was right on the pace but there was another worry as the car was trailing blue smoke all morning and we weren’t sure the engine would last much longer.
After deciding not to pack it in it was a long wait till the 5.00 qualifying. After a shower of rain earlier on the track was drying out until as we left the assembly area spots of rain began to appear on the windscreen. It became a case of forget tyre warming and bedding yourself in and more of just having to go for it and hope you got the two quick laps needed for the two sets of grids. I managed to somehow qualify the car P6 for race 1 and P5 for race 2 just as the rain came and that ended the times. We decided to change the shock settings to use the rest of qualifying to try the car in the wet again which was to be the downfall of me in Race 1.
As Sunday morning rolled on the nerves kicked in big time and it wasn’t until halfway round the warmup lap I felt calm enough to concentrate. After nailing a flyer of a start I tucked in behind the fast starting Timmy Duggan in his Seat and Adrian Dunne in the Saxo. After the first lap the car began to understeer badly and as the race wore on the brakes began to fade away badly. I began to drop through the field and my race was well summed up on the last lap when the seat bolster fell out and got jammed under my feet heading through turn 2 resulting in a very wild bounce across the grass.
It later turned out we forgot to stiffen the shocks after qualifying which was the cause of the handling problems. I finished P11 on the road but then was moved up to 9th after the barrier time penalties were applied.
After changing the pads and discs and putting some newer tyres on the front I hoped that race two I could have the chance to gain some places. That plan fell apart spectacularly as I failed to give the car enough revs off the line and it stalled. Lucky not to be collected I fired the car up and set off dead last in 22nd place and the leaders heading through turn two as I went under the bridge. With no choice but to go for it I drove the wheels off the car and began to pick off the slower cars pretty quick but after passing Willie Tighe’s MK1 Punto there was nothing but empty road and far in the distance I could see the 10 car train for the lead. I was helped somewhat by the “tactics” being used at the front and was lapping one and half to two seconds quicker than anyone on track. With just under 3 minutes to go I caught up to the back of the train and spent the next two laps racing MJ Farrell in one of our old MK1 Puntos from back in the day. Heading onto the final lap there was an issue up front and as we rounded the final corner Brendan Travers was crawling around the corner allowing me to get down the inside of MJ and chase after Tommy Byrne in another MK1 Punto. I knew I’d only one lap to try and pass him and he was using his experience to defend heavily but he then defended too heavily into Southside Corner and I got the run past him to the line by one tenth of a second. I had really enjoyed the charge back through the grid and was even more delighted when I learned I had finished P9 with fastest lap as well. Not bad for a first weekend where i expected to be down the back with being new and in at the deep end so two top 10s and a fastest lap is way over the expectations I had before the weekend.
As ever in Motorsport there is always people to thank so thanks to Barry-John McHenry of DMC.ie , Barry Hallion of JH Autobody, Alan Dawson of Mr Gearbox Mr Clutch and to my family especially my dad Alastair Kellett who spent countless late nights building this car and letting me drive it. Sadly a date clash with the UK Fiestas means I’m not out in June but will be back for a crack at the top 5 in July with some tweaks and upgrades to the little Micra.