So the first three rounds of the Fiesta Zetec Championship have just taken place last weekend and they were interesting to say the least. I made the late call to test on the Friday prior to race day and this turned out to be a good call as the gearbox failed five laps into testing ending my day but a quick trip to Mr Gearbox Mr Clutch meant I’d a new unit fitted and ready for Saturday.
When qualifying came around it was initially wet but I knew the rapid appearance of the sun would dry the track by the end of the 15 minutes. However this was the least of my concerns as I started my first flying lap I knew instantly something was not right with the car. It felt dead coming out of corners and gear changes were taking place later than they had been the previous season. After ten minutes I was sat in P12 almost 2 seconds off of pole and in fairly serious trouble. I pitted and was given the instructions to just simply “Drive the f****in sh*te out of it”. I did as I was told and somehow dragged the car up to P3 three tenths off pole however left a bit gutted that my fastest lap was ruined by traffic but nevertheless still delighted with the result considering the power issues.
After qualifying a lot of head scratching was done to work out what was the cause of the issues. With only about two hours between qualifying and the race and other team cars taking part in their qualifying we decided to change the spark plugs and hope that would fix it.
As I lined up for race one I’d a feeling this was becoming a damage limitation weekend which was soon confirmed as although I got a great start I was soon swamped into turn one with my lack of power. I was beginning to understand what Alonso felt like driving his McLaren Honda last year as I was being eaten alive in a straight line and was soon back in 7th. However a safety car followed by a red flag was a godsend as I was able to restart from 3rd on the grid. Even on the restart I was being left behind on the run to turn one but crucially managed to only drop two places. The car felt slightly more alive on the restart and I got myself back to P3 and set off after the leaders Mark Johnston and Owen Purcell. They were holding each other up big time and I was almost on the back of them but unable to get right to them as although I was quicker through the corners I was being left behind in a straight line. I crossed the line in third satisfied with what was a full damage limitation race. The problem with my engine was then traced to a lack of compression in cylinder one which was way down compared to the other three. With no ways of fixing it I was left to just try and drive around the problem in race two and three.
Race two was on Sunday and to my delight it was wet. This was for one simple reason my power deficit would be less relevant in the rain so it was game on. This race would also be the first reverse grid race of the year and no one knew how that would turn out. Two words is all that’s needed to answer that, Utter carnage! As I arrived at turn two the three leaders all spun and I was left with no options of where to go. I ended up spinning right into the middle of the pack collecting someone heavily with the rear left corner. I was then left staring at a pack of oncoming cars who luckily all managed to avoid me. As I set off there was no bad noises and the car was driving in a straight line so I knew it was time to put the head down and make a charge. I had only one thought on my mind get to P6 which would give me pole for the final race of the day. A succession of fastest laps seen me get back from P13 to P7 with five minutes to go. My dad was on the pitwall giving me updates on where I was but with a four second gap to P6 I didn’t think I’d catch them in time. With less than two laps to go I was somehow on the back of them and I passed Denis McCrudden for that vital P6 on the penultimate lap.
When race three came around I knew I’d be on ultra defensive mode from the start. I’d Michael Fitzgerald alongside me on the front row. (Ironically, a front row consisting of Kellett and Fitzgerald was a common sight way back in 2004 when my dad fought Michael for the Fiat Uno Championship!) Fitzgerald predictably outdragged me on the run to turn one which left me in 2nd and a long fifteen minutes of defending. Unfortunately my engine was even more off song in race three and I was a sitting duck to the pack behind. I can handle being overtaken fairly perfectly well and I was expecting at least one or two cars to simply outdrag me down the straight. However to be unceremoniously rammed out of the way at turn one for no real reason is a bit disappointing to say the least. After that happened, I was dumped back to 5th place and with very little pace left in the car that was where I was to finish the race.
Images from David Lachlan
For a weekend that should have been a lot worse with the circumstances and problems I faced from the get go it was overall a good damage limitation weekend. Race two has to be my highlight coming back from 13th to 6th and taking over ten seconds out of 6th place to get there. We should have my engine problems sorted for the trip to Bishopscourt in four weeks which I’m looking forward to a new track and a blank sheet of paper for everyone.
Until next time