It was great to be back in a race car just a month after visiting Circuit of the Americas with NASA Texas. And Donington Park, nestled in rolling hills in the center of England, was a brilliant new circuit to visit during my time in the UK.
Rounds 7 & 8 of the Max 5 Racing championship were hosted by the British Automobile Racing Club alongside the feature event - the British Superkarts Championships. With average speeds over 100 mph, these things were incredibly quick!
Arriving after work on Friday evening, I was able to walk a lap of the 2.5 mile track before nightfall. The track was mostly fast and flowing, with significant elevation change, and the lap closes with two tight hairpin turns. The expectation for adhering to track limits is higher in the UK than the US, reinforced by electronic sensors embedded strategically in the track. After one warning for exceeding track limits, time penalties are imposed - 5 seconds for the 2nd infraction, 10 seconds for the 3rd, etc.
On Saturday morning, we had some time to enjoy the unseasonably warm weather from the grandstand overlooking the back-side of the track.
My challenge was to get up to speed quickly. With no practice session scheduled, my first laps took place during qualifying - trying to set my fastest lap while still learning the track. The track walk seemed to help. While I qualified 6th of 7 starters in the class, I was just a few tenths off the group ahead, and a second off pole position on a 2 minute lap. Unfortunately, my session was cut a little short - the car ran out of fuel before the end of the session due to a faulty fuel gauge. Here is a video of the 2:04.4 lap that I managed.
The first lap of Race 1 was an eventful one. A missed braking point at the first hairpin resulted in a significant impact between two cars in the class - both retiring before completing a racing lap. I temporarily jumped to first place, but managed to find 5th gear instead of 3rd. Two cars swooped past and I fell to 3rd. On lap 3, I was able to move up a spot as Car #192 in front ran wide through "Old Hairpin". I spent the rest of the lap closing in on Car #11, and finally moving into the lead going into Turn 1 on lap 5. I was able to hang onto the top spot for the rest of the race, eventually pulling ahead while the cars behind fought hard for 2nd and 3rd position. The full video from Race 1 is below.
And to the victor belong the spoils - a Max 5 Racing trophy for 1st place in Class B for Round 7 of their championship!
My finish in Race 1 earned me pole position for Race 2. Despite a decent start, however, I found myself in 3rd place by the time we got through Turn 1. For the first couple of laps, the top 4 cars ran line-astern, but not quite close enough to call racing. By the end of lap 3, I managed to catch and pass Car #192 at the first hairpin to move up to 2nd, only to make a mistake in Turn 1 on lap 4 and give the spot back a few turns later. At the end of laps 5, 6 and 7, the top 4 cars crossed the start-finish line within 1 second of each other. This was good racing. Car #11 and #192 swapped places on lap 7, and I managed to move back to 2nd on lap 8, only to drop back to 3rd again on lap 9. With the squabbling up front, the 4th place car had regained some ground and we finished on lap 11 with the top 4 cars less than 2 second apart.
A 1st place and 3rd place finish was more than I expected coming into the weekend. The circuit was spectacular and the racing was gentlemanly - a great way to spend a weekend.
I'm not sure when I'll be back on a race track with either NASA Texas or Max 5 Racing, but there are more motorsport adventures planned for 2018. More to come!
At the end of September 2017, I arrived in the United Kingdom to begin a new assignment. The UK presented a new opportunity for motorsports adventures at new circuits in right-hand drive cars.
To preserve the possibility of completing the final stop of the 3-3-30 Plan, I had a week to get my hands on a UK competition license. Within 24 hours of touching down at Heathrow, I headed to Thruxton Circuit for my Association of Racing Driver Schools (ARDS) test. It included both theory and practical assessments required by the Motor Sport Association. I was able to successfully complete the exams and expedite delivery of the license in time for the Max 5 Racing event the following weekend.
The race at Silverstone International on Oct 7/8 was our second visit to a Formula 1 circuit in 2017 following our trip to Circuit of the Americas in May. As an added bonus. the first, third and fourth generation MX-5's in our group all shared a Formula 1 garage keeping us sheltered from the cool weather.
The lack of a hardtop in the UK made these small cars feel much less claustrophobic. That openness and the steering wheel being on the opposite side were the most obvious differences from Spec Miata racing in the US. The less obvious changes were the much harder tires and the lack of significant dents on the race cars - a result of the "gentleman racing" expectation that was emphasized during the licensing process.
Qualify was held late in the day on Saturday and the mixed-class Max 5 Racing group was combined with the faster Hyundai Coupes for a 15 minute qualifying session. And as we waited for our turn on track, it started to rain. Learning a new car at a new track, with mixed classes and mixed conditions, was a challenge. I spent half my time trying to find the rear view mirror (HINT: it's NOT up and to the right) and the other half staying out of the way of faster cars. I qualified towards the back, but as a guest to the series, it didn't matter as I was going to start at the back of the field in any case.
Below is a video showing the complete qualifying session.
After an evening track walk with some new friends and a night of rest, I was back at Silverstone for two 15 minute races on Sunday.
With some help from the marshals, I found my way to the last slot on the grid for my first-ever standing start. When the lights went out, I was able to get through the gears (left-handed) and picked up three spots by the time we'd made it through Turn 1 (Abbey). After "racing" with a third-gen MX-5 that was slower in the corners but much faster on the straights, I also gave back one spot to a direct competitor that dive-bombed into Vale. It took a couple of laps, I got that place back with a better entry to Hanger Straight and making the pass stick through Stowe.
Eventually, I was able to get a good run on third-gen car through Farm Curve and pass him in Village, just before a series of corners that let me stay ahead on the next straight. Unfortunately, the gap to any other cars in my class had grown too much to catch anyone else in race 1.
Unfortunately, as a guest, I was assigned the last spot on the grid for race 2 despite having made up a few places in my class during race 1. Nor did I make any places on the start this time as I couldn't find 3rd gear as we ran down the straight to Abbey.
I did have a great time racing car #87 during the opening laps of race 2, including sliding side-by-side through Abbey at high-speed on the second lap. Despite good exits and a draft onto Hanger Straight, I never seemed to be able to make the pass stick. I briefly got stuck behind the same third-gen after my fellow direct competitors got through, but was able to catch the group before the final laps.
I was able to clear two white first-gen cars in traffic, but car #87 had done the same and was too far up the road to catch before the finish line.
Racing in the UK was an incredible experience - the Max 5 Racing drivers were welcoming, the new challenges were stimulating, and I can't wait to do it again!
Bryan Bursey, driver, founded Underbite Racing in 2015.