Trackslag: First race weekend

Posted on 24th September, 2019

PGTI Donington Park: First Race weekend.

 

Thanks to Trackslag Director, Mat Rhodes for sharing his thoughts on his first race weekend with us in the Production GTI Championship.

 

Here at Trackslag, we've been involved in motorsport behind the scenes for a number of years, and in doing so been a part of helping people to win lots of silverware with our exhausts.

Finally, it was time to see things from the driver's seat. Literally.

To start with, it's worth mentioning that this little adventure wouldn't have happened without MLP Developments.

 

The conversation which put the wheels in motion happened in June, when I mentioned to Wes Chatterton (Engineering Director, MLP Developments) that racing in the Teekay Couplings Production GTi championship would be a big tick on my list of things to do.

Things really started to gather momentum in July after driving car #25 at Curborough, when we did the mk2 owners club national meet.

 

This is the car that Wes raced prior to moving across into running the team. 

It was laid idle after a fresh rebuild for the Auto sport show in January.

A generous helping of Gin on the Saturday night and the arrive and drive deal was finalised for rounds 10 and 11 Donington!

 

Having very limited experience of Donington and only driven the car a couple of miles, it was clear that we needed a bit of testing before the race. Luke Wales (Race Director MLP Developments) suggested that we book an hour on the Thursday before the race. 

In that hour we shared the circuit with a group of GT4 cars... Turns out that we were sharing the track with past Le Mans winners. Not the best time to be finding your way around an unfamiliar track in an unfamiliar car, wearing full racewear for the first time and struggling with visibility in the mirrors!

 

Comfortable pace was about 2.01 but needed 1.58 or better to compete.

Luke analysed the data from datalogger and made suggestions as to where improvements could be made. This was done in a supportive way with plenty of encouragement.

To find those extra 3 seconds you need to forget everything you thought that you should do with regard to driving the car and start again.

 

Saturday was spent prepping the cars. General checks, brake services seat adjustments, alignment, fuel etc.

 

Sunday morning came around in no time at all. 

Drivers briefing was 08.20, at which I received a warm welcome and was quickly made to feel at ease by everyone (Thanks everyone, it made a big difference to the experience).

 

Wes and Luke had been busy since around 7am preparing the cars, so when it came to qualifying at 9am, everyone was calm and ready to go.

 

Being so focused on what I was meant to be doing, it never even occurred to me that all 3 MLP Developments cars had Trackslag exhausts until we were noise tested before heading out. 

All 3 cars were valvers, two of which had the 2.25" exhausts measuring 89db static and the other with a 2.5" exhaust, measuring 93db static.

 

Your biggest fear when driving someone else's car, as the new boy, in a championship that you're joining in the penultimate round, is firing the car at the scenery and taking someone with you. With this in mind, we were released for qualifying and off we went! 

 

By the time I'd hit 3rd gear the drivers door mirror had vibrated it's way skyward again and all I could see in it was blue skies! This really rattled me, but I just had to get on with it.

 

Slowly building up the pace, on the 5th lap I decided that it was time to push for position. Coming out of the Melbourne hairpin, I went for third and lost all the gears. Luckily I had enough momentum to get into the pit lane. 

 

A part of the gear linkage had snapped. No one to blame, just bad fortune. Could have been worse as it could have happened in the race. 

 

As it happens, I had done enough to put myself 6th on the grid.

The first race was hours away, so to occupy my mind, I took responsibility for repairing the gear linkage and getting the mirrors where I wanted them to stay.

In what seemed like the blink of an eye, we were being called to the holding area for the first race.

 

Nothing prepares you for how hot you get whilst wearing full fireproof racewear on a hot summers day, sat in a hot car with no ventilation, in state of mild panic. 

After what seemed like hours, slowly cooking, we were released onto the circuit and given our grid positions. 

 

With the sighting lap completed we all found our places on the grid, the red lights illuminated and after a short pause, we were off! All apart from the Mk5 in front of me! 

I won't bore you with a moment by moment account of the race but it's safe to say that I was very happy to have finished my first race without damage or incident and somehow found myself 5th in class.

 

Feeling a bit disappointed that I hadn't really got stuck in on the first race, I was looking forward to race 2.

After a cautious start, I went with the "send it" approach and found a better pace which ultimately bagged 4th in class.

 

 

It's not until you've been a part of a whole race weekend and the build up to it, you see that you've had a total lack of realisation for how committed the people who do this are. 

It's crazy how much went on behind the scenes before that weekend at Donington, in both car and driver prep.

 

The other stand out memory for me is how welcome I was made to feel by everyone, both fellow drivers and organisers alike. You'd think that the walls would go up when the heat rose, but whilst there was a clear air of competition, manners were always at the forefront.

So, did I enjoy it? Yes! 

Would I recommend it? Yes! 

Will I be doing it again? Hell yeah! Next weekend at Brands Hatch actually!

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