The first practice session was about re-learning the circuit on a partially greasy and green surface so the main thing was just to get laps round the track. I had some work to do for the second session but had not used any new tyres yet, instead being on some old tyres that had been flat-spotted at the previous race meeting. In second practice I progressed and took some time off the fastest lap but, with the lap being as long as 2:04 with 17 corners, you can lose time very easily. The problems I had on my new tyres were various yellow flags at corners and not getting the free space I needed so, with plenty in reserve, I ended up around the 22nd mark after the first day.
Qualifying once again promised to be wet, with a very dull and grey outlook to the morning, but thanks to other cars going round the circuit there was barely any water on the track. Due to being 2.5 seconds off the pace on the first day I had some work cut out but knew where I could improve. I put in some decent times and improved my personal best by two seconds. This was great in itself but the rest of the field improved by as much as 1.5 seconds which put me 1.9 seconds off the quickest time. I ended up 24th overall with 0.4 putting me inside the top 20. I think it was an OK effort, but found that I got held up on my second set of tyres at the start of my best lap, and was therefore unable to progress any further.
As the first race drew near there were some sunny intervals which increased track temperature a little and helped with more rubber and grip being laid down. I had a decent start but was forced into a first-corner decision to take the outside route. This usually isn’t a problem but other cars seemed to come together, causing me to go even further off onto the artificial grass, and losing me valuable places. I kept on pushing throughout the race, picking up a few places here and there, some of which were due to the effects of collisions directly in front of me. I finished in 19th place, an improvement, but not as decent as I would have liked.
Second qualifying was on the Sunday morning and again a slightly gloomy outlook but still a dry track. This session was on the open downforce setting (compared to the low downforce setting in first qual and race one) and we used only one set of new tyres out of the three available for qualifying and racing. I had a nice run of laps and again made big improvements of one second over my previous best time. The rest of the field also improved, but not by as much, giving me a 1.5-second deficit to the quickest. I placed myself 24th with just 0.3 second putting me 13th. It was pretty close and again we had made good progress.
The last race incorporated mandatory pit-stops which are always very entertaining and can be great for making up a place or two. I had a decent start, avoiding a stalled car, but found that the first corner was a bit hectic. I had to avoid some cars touching wheels but still made a good exit. I made a few places up at the start and came in after six laps in the window for the pit-stop. I was following Oli Webb into the pit-lane and, after making time up on the entry, the team made a fantastic effort and got me out a split second before him for the gain of a place. The rest of the race was mainly about pushing on to catch the next group of cars while running in 17th. I caught up with the back of the group but ran out of laps. I think the race went quite well and I felt I made some good places up. The very positive thing to take from this is the great progression throughout the race weekend with my lap times in the race being only 0.2-0.4 off the quickest – proving my pace.
Off to Monza next reaching speeds of around 185 MPH! A great circuit and certainly one of the most difficult I will come across this year.
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