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My Rockingham 10th year anniversary prize drive!

The Competition

As part of Rockingham’s 10th anniversary, they had decided to run a unique competition that would enable one lucky ticket holder the opportunity to race in the Rockingham round of the AirAsia Renualt Clio Cup.

Rockingham is the UK's newest race circuit, and the only circuit purpose built in the UK in the last 100 years! Rockingham is unique among race circuits in the UK for two main reasons. Firstly the circuit is run in an anti-clockwise direction and secondly the circuit is designed primarily as an Oval race circuit. Banked Oval circuits are common in the US with lots of Oval cicruits throughout the country. In Europe there are only a couple of these purpose built circuits, Rockingham is the only one in the UK. Rockingham was opened in 2001 and this year marks their 10th year of operation.

The main race events in the UK use the International Super Sports Car Circuit configuration that is part of the Oval circuit and part of the in-field section, this combination creates a unqiue challenge to the drivers with a very high speed section and a very technical in-field. This track configuration is very challenging to the drivers.

In the UK the British Touring car Championship (BTCC) is considered the top saloon car racing championship, and attracts the UK's top professional drivers and teams and has extensive TV coverage. The Air Asia Renault Clio (UK) cup is effectively 1 level down the racing ladder from the BTCC and is notorious for close and competitive racing. Over one third of the current BTCC drivers have moved up into the BTCC from the Renault Clio Cup.

How I found out about the competition

Rockingham Motor Speedway's 10th Anniversary!

I was reading a colleague’s Autosport magazine one lunchtime at my desk at work and I saw an advertisement feature from Rockingham’s 10th anniversary that was advertising their “DreamDrive” competiton, upon reading, I went straight to the website (www.rockingham.co.uk/dreamdrive) to review the terms and conditions to see what restrictions there were on entering the competition relating to experience / license status etc.. Self-funded: I raced cars at the Jim Russell racing school in 1993 (3 races), and did 4 rounds of the Renault Clio Cup in 1994 (4 races), and 4 rounds of the MG Trophy in 2005 (5 races), and ever since then I have kept my race license up to date, purely on the “off chance” that I get an opportunity to race again. I read through the terms and conditions, saw there were no restrictions, and DIDN’T enter!

I have never won any competition in my life, and have never done the lottery as I see it as a waste of money, (if you want millions of pounds, work for it, as I do), and raffles / quiz shows etc.. are not my thing. So over the next day or two I had a long discussion with my wife about the competition, and after a lot of deliberation I kind of agreed with her perspective that if there was 1 competition prize that was custom made for me, this was it. So.. I reluctantly ordered a ticket and registered it on the website!!

Getting selected for the Competition:

Secretly, I was excited about the competition, but had no expectations. The deadline for the competition passed, and the website stated that the winners would be called on the 24th August and their names published. I didn’t get a call, so I assumed, I’d wasted my money. I checked the website and the winner’s names weren’t listed. I checked the next day, still no names listed. ..and the next day was the same. Then while I was in London with my children for the day, I got a voicemail message from “Chris at Rockingham” to tell me I was one of the lucky 10 people selected. I couldn’t believe it, I thought the competition was over!

Preparing for the Competition:

Knowing I had won a chance to perform in front of the racing school and their instructors (and potentially could win the prize), I instantly sat down and worked out a plan to put in my best performance on the assessment day, that was now less than 9 days away!

Rockingham | International Super Sportscar Circuit | Live for Speed™

Rockingham | National Circuit | Live for Speed™

This plan involved “getting up to speed” as quickly as possible.

I reviewed what we would be doing on the assessment day and basically it was deliberately vague. ..So I had to have all bases covered.

UK Circuit Guide

First thing I did was to order the UK “Circuit Guide” so I had a starting point for Rockingham.

I deliberated with my wife and friends on what would be the most cost effective track time I could do before the event. I got my friend to phone up the Rockingham racing school to find out about the racing school and which circuit configuration they use for each of their cars / events!! After this I downloaded the 2 Live for Speed (LFS video game) videos of the Rockingham website that represent the national circuit (used by the school) and the International super car circuit (used in the BTCC / Clio’s) and transferred them to my phone. I then painstakingly reviewed the videos at the same time as reading the track guide, until I had an exact memory for what I SHOULD be doing for each corner* and learned all the corner names too. This isn't as effective as driving the circuit, but it prepares your brain for how it is going to be used when you are, and the quality of the track rendition in Live for Speed is laser scanned and accurate to 2cm, so was close to the next best thing!

* According to the circuit guide.

Practice for the competition:

The next thing to address was that I’ve not driven a Kart since 2007 and not driven a race car on a race circuit since 2005. I was going to be very rusty; I needed to do some track time.

I don’t have much money so I had to choose something very effective, to maximise my possibilities and not cost the earth. Some outdoor Karting was my first choice, but a Kart doesn’t handle like a front wheel drive car. I considered going to the Rockingham race school, but this would not enable me to make a first impression on the competition day. I went through the other racing schools and eventually (much to my reluctance), I admitted that the best option to become “un-rusty” would be the Jonathan Palmer race school. Problem with this is that it is very expensive to do as an individual. Still, I booked it, and went. I took the money for this from my inheritance that I got from my Granddad that I had specifically saved for a new crash helmet for when I started racing again.

Practice track time

Although I don't do actual track time regularly, I have a virtual training rig at home that I have built to help me train my brain (at a much lower cost than actual track time!) every day (or as often as time permits), and I set this up with the World Famous Laguna Seca race track and a Seat Cupra touring car (as these were the closest I could find to a Renault Clio race car and the Rockingham circuit!) and I started doing 2 x 14 lap races per day (This was the same sort of distance and overall lap time as my races would be)!

Actual track time

Palmer Sport 2011

On Saturday before the assessment day (Tuesday!) I went to the Jonathan Palmer racing school on one of their corporate days. The things with the Jonathan Palmer days, is that, they positively encourage you to push the cars and there is no better quick way to get confidence in a race car. I was fastest in the Clio (phew!) that they run and also in 3 of the other cars (including the 2 fastest ones!). So my confidence was ..ok.. but I must confess I was disappointed to be off the pace in the others. However, I learned during the day, that several people were on their repeat visit to the school (some come every month!!) and so felt a little better knowing this and that the cars and circuits were new to me and I was still competitive, I just like being fastest.

Fitness Training

Mark Gibbons training hard on the concept 2 rowing machine with extra layers on!

Anyone who knows me, will know that I take my fitness extremely seriously and knowing that I had the possibility to be driving the race car I had to make my training (which I do every day anyway) more specific to the demands of the race car / circuit. I changed my training to be long cardio sessions on the rowing machine, whilst wearing extra layers to simulate the heat and create the body temperature control I would need! These sessions were very hard, as I would overheat and struggle to maintain pace after around 25 minutes, I also didn’t take any water (as I wouldn’t be able to do this in the race car) so I was as prepared as possible for the environment of the race car, I did this every day in the run up to the assessment and gradually started to cope with longer and longer sessions.

Preparing on the Internet!

As part of my preparation I wanted to see if any of the other finalists had race experience, a quick search on the internet pointed that 2 others had some race experience, and so I was going to have to be the best prepared! I spent an hour or so each day watching footage of Rockingham and The Racing School to get an idea of what we might be doing on the assessment day!

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