I’m back again! 2016 sees my Mini on the receiving end of some much needed love and attention. At the final race of 2015 it was smelling horrible and not revving anywhere near as high as it should have been. During winter it’s been treated to a top end refresh, new shock absorbers and joy of joys a fresh set of Yokohama A032Rs. The Mini is now easliy the best it’s ever been and I think I’m getting to the point where I understand it. Some unofficial shakedown tests on a go kart track have confirmed that it’s quite good.The first race of the season was cancelled due to it being on the same weekend as a referendum (bloody socialists), the second race was miles away and I couldn’t be bothered going, so here we are at race number three. Said race is held in a small town outside Arezzo and by hell if the locals don’t welcome you with open arms! This is a welcome change of pace compared to some hillclimbs, where residents treat you as a nuisance and local authorities as a necessary evil to get some bums on restaurant chairs.
This place is special, the entire town of some 3100 souls is buzzing with excitement and energy, more than 200 volunteers are involved and they go so far as to paint some of the insides of the corners with red and white paint to mimic kerbs, it’s fantastic! Unfortunately the weather isn’t, actually it’s completely shit. Fridays pre-race scrutineering and registration is completed under a torrential downpour. Hopefully Saturday will be better.
It isn’t. I’ve got two practice sessions to get through today, the first one in the morning sees the road completely soaked. So here I am, I’ve never raced on this road before in my life, so I don’t know where it goes, the road is wet and my tyres are brand new and haven’t even been scrubbed. This is going to go exceedingly well. I take the first climb somewhat gingerly and make it to the top of the hill without breaking anything, unfortunately my 4 minutes 50 second time puts me fourth out of five cars. Still it could be worse, the fastest guy in our class crossed the line and most of the front of his car explodes into an enormous steam cloud, his weekend’s racing is over.
Second practice is a lot better, the roads have dried and I think I can remember some parts of the course, the first part is already pretty clear in my mind. Unfortunately it’s also the slower, less demanding part of the course, past about half way you get into the trees, it’s quite fast and a lot of the corners look alike so you can mistake flat in third for brake and second with some ease, the results of which could end up being quite troublesome. About 1km from the end of the race I catch up to the guy in front, seeing as this is only practice I don’t want to make a stupid move to pass, luckily he very kindly pulls over and lets me past despite the marshalls not waving a single solitary blue flag at him for the three marshall posts I pass stuck to his rear bumper. I cross the line 26 seconds faster than first practice. I’ve moved up one place, two if you count the non-starter with the fried head gasket, so I’m second in class, third place is 1.5 seconds adrift. Holy crap, that’s silverware territory!!! Hopefully tomorrow I can make this all work.
Sunday comes, it’s rained a lot during the night, but the locals are running up and down the road in their cars like nutcases drying it, I told you they were committed! By the time we start, everything is dry and yesterday’s times are set to tumble. I get an uncharacteristically good start with no unnecessary tyre smoke. I’ve asked the organizers for an extra 30 seconds between myself and the car in front so I shouldn’t catch him. I mess up a couple of corners but the run feels solid, I cross the line and I’ve managed 4 minutes 15 seconds. A further ten seconds faster than yesterday’s dry practice, I’m five seconds adrift of P1 in class but I’ve got a solid six second margin on P3, so come race 2 if I play it safe I should manage to keep second place!
Overhead, clouds are forming and the sky begins to look ominous. While we wait for race 2 to start, this happens.
People with the fast cars are in a mad dash to change slicks for wets, I just sit there and watch, while noticing that the doors on the Mini are not even remotely watertight. Something which warrants further examination later on. Then as quickly as it came, the rain buggers off, replaced with a scalding sun. This places people in a conundrum, what happens next? Will the road be dry? What conditions will I face? I just sit in the car and watch the puddle in the passenger footwell gradually disappear. When I finally start the bottom half of the course is patchy, while the top part is still quite wet. Best play this one safe. 4 minutes 28 seconds is not great, but it’s only a second off the fastest in our class for that second run. So my total for the day is a good 7 seconds off the fastest but a good 9 ahead of third. Fuck yeah silverware!
Another all-Mini podium is a great result. I think I have easily the fastest car of the three, but I still need to get better at driving the damn thing!
See you in a few weeks...