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My Race Weekend!

Friday: (Dry – Some sun)

I arrived at the circuit early on Friday morning, with one goal, to get maximum track time and not to spin or lose any track time.

First Practice 1 (45 Minutes)

Looking for gravel?
Stancombe Vehicle Engineering at work

I was kitted up and ready for action (and strangely not at all nervous), we trundled around the paddock to the pit-lane ready for our session. I wanted to build up slowly (for once) to ensure I didn’t lose laps. ..the first lap was an eye opener, the other drivers weren’t doing the same!

I did 3-4 laps and was beginning to feel the car a little and as I went into Yentwood the back stepped out, I panicked a little and hit the brakes, this put me into a half spin, that ended in the gravel, my one goal for the day ruined, it was a stupid mistake and I wasn’t pushing hard at all, I was so, so annoyed with myself. I simply hadn’t generated enough heat in the tyres by taking it too easy and got caught out on the first right hander on the circuit. A mistake not to repeat the rest of the weekend!

It took what seemed like an eternity to get me out of the gravel, and back to the paddock. I made it back to the team in the pit-lane and had to explain that I’d spun, and so they took time checking the car wasn’t full of gravel anywhere it shouldn’t be, and then with around 10 minutes of the session remaining I got back out again, I was going to drive “moderately” to see if I could lean on the car a little bit to learn something, but not go so fast as to have a mishap.

Mark Gibbons working hard at the track
Not getting to grips with Car or Track!

I am getting more confident in the car and start to lean on it a little in the braking areas, and as I am braking for the first hairpin (Deene) the car loses drive, from within the car I try going up the gearbox but the display says gear 3, but still nothing, I cruise to a stop at the side of the circuit. Session ends with me watching from the side. I got around a dozen laps in and am 4.5 seconds off the pace. Not what I was hoping for from my first session.

The car was towed back to the pits and the team check the car. They find nothing wrong with it, start it up and instantly it is working. This was embarrassing. After discussion with the team they decided that I'd got the car into a "false neutral" and should have tried going up and down the gearbox to get a gear again! They also deduced that this was likely caused by being too soft with the gear change. I agreed to hit the stick on the down changes from now on!

First Practice 2 (45 Minutes)

After the first session I needed a better session to learn more about the car and the circuit. I was determined to get all my laps in.

Mark Gibbons in the Air Asia Renault Clio Cup
Session 2 and down to business

I was beginning to feel the car / tyres and grip from the few laps of the first session, so I had a bit more confidence going into this session. I quickly started getting the times down, and was making good progress until about the 9th/10th lap and then I felt that the tyres had given up on me, they were still there, but I definitely didn’t have grip that I had at the beginning of the session, so I decided to drive around at 80/90% making sure I was getting all the lines, before trying to push again at the end of the session when I thought the tyres might come back a bit. They didn’t, Colin explained to me why after the session and I learned something. I did push at the end of the session anyway and I set my best lap time of the weekend so far on my last lap and was clearly getting a 1/10th or 2 each lap. This was a much better session, but I was still 3.5 off the leaders pace. Honestly, this was a lot more than I’d expected, but I wasn’t expecting this to be easy!

De-briefing / Telemetry / Video footage

Mark Gibbons and Paul Rivett discuss driving technique
Putting theory in to practice

After each session Paul (team mate) and I were reviewing my driving and discussing how I needed to drive the circuit, it became obvious after the 2nd sessions that I was over working the tyres (As Colin took great delight in pointing out), with a nice combination of excessive steering lock and corner entry speed, the tyres really don’t like this technique, and I was never going to find more pace, driving this way. We agreed a slightly different technique for the next session to help improve the situation and I was driving the circuit slightly wrong in 4 places. Trouble was next session was qualifying!

Physical issues

Driving a race car on the limit is physically and mentally demanding and I've prepared myself for years physically so that fitness is never going to be an issue for me in the car. I also use my simulator to ensure my brain is prepared and alert to the challenges of driving a race car.

What is an issue for me in a race car generally though is my size, I am built like an olympic rower (a consequence of my fitness level) and this means fitting into a race car can be difficult, my height and weight are the reason I desire Saloon car racing and not F1.

After the second practice session I couldn't climb out of the car and I couldn't walk un-assisted. This wasn't a fitness issue, it was a comfort issue. The seat was too narrow for me, and although I'd squeezed in, the effect of doing my 45 minute workout in the car was that sides of the seats had stopped circulation in my butt cheeks, and this had spread to my hamstrings.

This was horrendously uncomfortable, and I struggled to climb out of the car and it took me about 5 minutes to make my way up the 4 steps into the team's truck, and then I couldn't sit down.

The pain didn't go for about 3 hours after that session, and part of my evening was spent with a hot bath and an overdose of deep heat. There was nothing we could do with the seat, Colin had already trimmed the seat simply to able to get me in the car.

To get around the issue, I stopped wearing my fire-retardant underwear, a risk, but my only choice. This eased things just enough so I could step out of the car on my own after each session.

Saturday: (Cloudy, but dry, some sun!)

Driving to the circuit in the morning I was driving too fast and taking risks. Made mental note to remember to keep this to the race track!


Rockingham Sectors and Split
Putting theory in to practice

I knew I wasn’t going to qualify competitively so I was just going to use the qualifying session as another test session and ensure I didn’t hold anyone up. I’d spent the whole evening thinking about what I had discussed with Paul the day before, and where I had to improve / change. I was determined to implement this. I drove on circuit for the full 30 minutes and was improving each lap and eventually finished 2.8 off the leaders pace. Back in the pits Colin showed me the state of the tyres and they were grained, and had loads of pick-up (bits of rubber that sit off line / marbles) on them, he said things had improved, but I will still getting a lot more tyre graining (surface damage to the tyre) than Paul.

When racing at the circuit each car has a transponder fitted. This transponder signal is picked up by beacons around the track. The race timing people pickup this information as the car passes each beacon and this records the split and laptimes. For this race the circuit was split into 3 sections. At the points where each section starts there is also a speed trap, this records the top speed of the car at this point. When the weekend is over this data is provided to all competitors. In addition to this timing, each car has it own data-logger installed that records far more information (continiously), such as throttle position, gear selection, braking, speed, steering input, RPM. In the Air Asia Renault Clio Championship this data can be obtained from Renault if you ask nicely. Additionally the cars all carry a wide angled video camera, that records every session. This data can be used by the stewards in the event of incidents to help make decisions on who to punish.

We had the luxury of access to the telemetry (for my car and Paul's) for most of the sessions, and we had video for some sessions, the rest of the work was done on improving the driving is from driver memory.

An overview of my Qualifying session pace
Split 1 Split 2 Split 3 Theoretical Best Actual Best
DIXON 47.581 GOFF 24.228 GOFF 18.382 1:30.243 GOFF 1:30.271
GIBBONS 49.111 GIBBONS 24.937 GIBBONS 18.885 1:32.933 GIBBONS 1:33.101
  + 1.53   + 0.709   + 0.503 + 2.742   + 2.830

After discussion with Paul and a look through some data, It was obvious that I hadn’t refined my technique enough, and I was still driving a couple of sections slightly wrong. More improvements required for Race 1!

Race 1:

Again, I knew I wasn’t going to be competitive so I was just going to use this race as another test session and see if I could latch onto one of the slower guys and see where I was losing out. I wasn’t at all nervous again for this race, and I wasn’t expecting a surprise result, I just wanted to be closer to the pace for the race tomorrow. I made a reasonable start (well I didn’t stall!) and was following one of the guys in front of me, and they were quicker EVERYWHERE! I couldn’t believe it! I was really struggling to hold onto the back of the pack. After about 5 laps I couldn’t even see them on the same straight. Not the performance I was hoping for and I didn’t really learn anything from the other cars as they dropped me so quickly.

I re-focussed and I concentrated on refining my technique where I’d agreed with Paul and on the line changes we had decided I needed to implement. ..and then to my surprise a car appeared not too far in front of me, he’d made a mistake, but by now, he wasn’t pulling away from me and I was able to hold him (just), something must have been working! I finished the race last runner (16th) and was gutted to still be off the pace, but at least I’d finished!

Mark Gibbons being interviewed by Simon Hill for ITV4
Mark Gibbons saying "err" too much!

Lee from the team had been holding out a pit-board for me and I could see I was around 1.8 seconds off the pace of the leaders now, another second from qualifying. I was happy I was still improving, but still very unhappy the pace was so poor compared to the leaders, but I knew it would be “refining” more and more during the weekend to even have a hope of getting on the pace, and I was at least getting closer to the leaders each session.

Straight after the race I was interviewed for ITV4 and I was really disappointed with my pace, I didn't care I came last, more that I was still trying to find pace, but I didn't want to seem ungrateful for the opportunity, so I tried to keep my composure a little and repeat what a pleasure it had been to be here in the first place, think I got away with it!

This was first time I've ever been interviewed for TV. Simon Hill was very friendly and made very easy for me. Thanks!

An overview of my Race 1 pace
Split 1 Split 2 Split 3 Theoretical Best Actual Best
WHORTON-EALES 47.851 GOFF 24.402 RIVETT 18.539 1:30.842 WHORTON-EALES 1:31.082
GIBBONS 48.877 GIBBONS 25.100 GIBBONS 18.850 1:32.827 GIBBONS 1:33.031
  + 1.026   + 0.698   + 0.311 + 2.035   + 1.949

De-brief / Telemetry

Paul and I discussed things at length and we went through what was happening with the car through each corner. We were still unsure exactly where I was losing time so we asked Renault for the telemetry of both cars so we could compare more closely. With this data we were able to see that I was actually applying the throttle differently to Paul and this was on every acceleration point (quite a few!) so I needed to match what he was doing with the throttle to give me more lap-time / speed.

I spent the whole evening re-studying the in-car videos (of Paul and myself), the track map (with Notes that Paul and I made) and thinking about how I was driving differently to him, and where I still needed to improve things. I knew I only had the race(!) to try / sort this throttle technique out, but I ran through the lap and the necessary changes in my head about 100 times that evening!

Sunday: (Overcast but dry / some sun!)

In the morning of Race I met many of my friends and family who had come along to support me (Thanks for coming!), I was positive I would put on a good show for them!

Race 2

I was very excited when I saw the crowds pouring in on race day, I know Rockingham were hoping for a big crowd, and I think the sun in the early morning must have tempted a lot of people out, and the circuit was very busy. When you are in the race car you don’t notice the crowds as you are focussed on driving, but I could feel the raceday atmosphere buzz, that was at the race track.

Preparing for the start:

As I wanted a good start from my “LAST” position on the grid, I’d checked the timetables of other races before mine and went to watch the start lights for each of them to work out when the lights would go out! I watched 3 races and went to a 4th race start just to confirm I knew when the lights were going to go out, and it worked! ..so I was prepared for the lights to go off!

No nerves again, just keen to get in front of a couple of people and try and hang on to some of the quicker guys. Red lights went on and I anticipated them turning off, I got a good start and jumped 3 cars in front of me straight away. The run to the first corner is flat out and as we arrived in the braking area I was last! I didn’t understand after getting a good initial start, I wasn’t impressed, so went with my plan-B.

(Before the weekend I’d got my son Jordan to put all the previous Rockingham touring car races onto my phone so I could watch and re-watch the race starts to decide where to position my car through the first hairpin, watching these video’s I’d deduced that the outside was a risk, but might work). I went high and round the outside of the hairpin, I gained a few places and was on the inside for the Yentwood corner, and unfortunately the cars in front of me in the queue all braked very early and the drivers on the outside got back past. This left me at the back, and now I just had to focus on my revised technique and see if I could keep up with the leaders, and sure enough, for the first 3 laps this was working well and I was able to stay in touch with the cars in front.

Mark Gibbons and Nick Hamilton battling for position
Mark Gibbons and Nick Hamilton racing hard

However, the new throttle technique was causing me to compromise my corner entry into pif –paf corner so I decided to revert to my former technique for the previous corner, to prevent overworking the tyres (In hindsight, I should have just lived with it, but I didn’t have enough running / experience to know this). When I changed this line / technique, this lost some of my lap time, but I didn’t want to be out of grip from the tyres before the end of the race, so I revised back to what I thought was better for the tyres.

I think this dropped my pace a bit, and the car behind me was now able to follow closer, I wasn’t too worried about him, until he got alongside down the straight! ..once he’d done this I decided to hold him up in the apex of the chicane each lap to keep him from passing on the straight, I knew it was difficult to pass anywhere else on the lap, and this should work well enough to keep him behind.

The problem I had was that I hadn’t been using the mirrors properly all weekend and now, suddenly, I needed them and they were rubbish! I couldn’t see where the other car was under braking, and so was making mistakes as I tried to work out if he was alongside or not, more experience in the car would have enabled me to have the mirrors running at better positions, added to this my HANS (Head and Neck Safety device) was restricting my head movement so I couldn’t turn my head!, but every session was a learning experience. Then on lap 9 he got past me, I actually thought he was already alongside (as I’d lost sight of him) and he wasn’t, but I left a car width anyway and he quickly jumped in this and pushed past.

Rockingham | Air Asia Renault Clio Cup | Mark Gibbons hits the wall!

I took this opportunity to try and keep with him, and see where he was quicker. ..that got answered pretty quickly when I made a mistake on turn in for pif-paf corner and I nearly lost the car (I put a wheel on the dirt on turn-in), I lost a lot of ground on that lap as I had to save the car and not accelerate, and I was determined to catch the other car back up! I was pushing, pushing every corner and the tyres started to go, but I kept pushing anyway.

Then on the last lap (I didn’t know it was the last lap until afterwards) I was determined to get the gap down to the car in front I tried to take another 1mph onto the straight and hit the wall. I’d been washing out higher and higher towards the wall each lap, but each time the tyres were gripping as I reduced the steering lock.

..on the last lap they didn’t. I’d just asked a little too much from them and I lost it. A silly mistake that I wouldn’t have done if I’d known it was the last lap, as I knew the car was likely to go very high, but I didn’t want to scrub even 1mph off the car! A mistake I will not to be making again. My fastest lap in the race was 1.1 off the leaders pace.

An overview of my Race 2 pace
Split 1 Split 2 Split 3 Theoretical Best Actual Best
WRIGHT 47.618 COLBURN 24.525 DIXON 18.537 1:30.832 WRIGHT 1:31.006
GIBBONS 48.519 GIBBONS 24.817 GIBBONS 18.822 1:32.158 GIBBONS 1:32.159
  + 0.901   + 0.292   + 0.285 + 1.478   + 1.153

After the race:

Mark Gibbons damages his Reanult Clio Cup car

Damage to the car was quite extensive as the shock had damaged the engine and gearbox casing, along with the front wheel, disc and rear axle and had resulted in me spending 40 minutes in the medical centre for checks.

The damage was sufficiently extensive that the team couldn't get the car into the truck or onto a trailer to get it home, and they had to spend another hour or two at the end of the weekend, to get it repair sufficiently to be able to transport it back to base. I'm very sorry for causing a delay in getting home for them.

I’d pulled a muscle in my neck and had permanent pins and needles in my right wrist (this lasted until Wednesday!), but I was fine really apart from my pride.

Before I could get to medical centre I was stopped by ITV for a 30 second interview (doctors insisted it was super short as I needed checks) and I had to do the Live TV interview and not make myself look like an idiot for hitting the wall. Think I blagged that well enough!

I've never had TV interviews before this weekend, and to be interviewed on live TV is actually quite stressful! I felt weird all weekend getting interviewed for TV and by other press, I appreciated the exposure and my opportunity, but it felt strange being asked about my races when I'd not won. Not sure what the other drivers made of it.

Articles about the Clio Cup races from the weekend

BTCC Crazy [ Race 1 ]
BTCC Crazy [ Race 2 ]
BTCC Weekend
Automotive PR

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