Last night I did not sleep well. Re-enacting yesterday’s events and to be fair not believing what I did. I disobeyed FIA rules and regulations by ignoring a flag during a race at the British GT Championship (one of the UK’s most spectacular racing serie) in front of 10,000 spectators, 15 people in Race Control watching 24 screens with replay capability and my peers.
I know the best way to go in for the judiciary is to let the team manager support the driver and deny everything point blanc, fight tooth and nail. It’s a dog eat dog situation. Induce doubt in the Clerk’s mind so as to lessen the penalty.
My wife and kids have already read me the riot act. It has been quite an exercice explaining to my kids what happened and I need to show them that we have to take responsibility in life.
I have sinned and I will take whatever comes my way; that is my destiny. I am at peace with myself.
Lesley, my wife is driving us to Brands Hatch. I have 2 races today. But I still don’t know whether I have a car ready to roll…but for now I need to see the Clerk for yesterday’s mishaps.
I walk into the Ginetta hospitality and recognise many faces waiting to be called in. Phil, Rob, Richard, Jack, Jon, Shawn…everybody is putting a brave face and nobody seems to know why they have been called in…I do!
Andy, the Chief Clerk is not in a good mood. John and I get called in, we watch the videos and Andy asks for comments. I step in, explain what happened and admit guilt. I apologise to John and we shake hands.
Judgement: 3 points on my license. I sign the paperwork and waive my right to appeal.
I don’t feel good, I would rather go home now. Yet I know the worse is yet to come!
I get called back by myself for the second offense – the serious one. Once again I explain without trying to dodge. For him either I did not obey, not see or not know what the flag meant. None of these lead to palatable outcomes.
We talked about 3 subjects that annoyed him further:
1) Confusion: Some drivers saw the flag once, or twice, while others saw it up to 5 times. Drivers argued whether it was the number 15, 10 or both that were shown. David Holloway, number 15, thought he had been given the flag and lifted, then carried on… About 8 drivers asked me what the flag meant but that’s another story! Suffice to say, there was some confusion in Parc Fermé.
2) Rules: I could not understand why no other Marshall waved any flag at me. Incidentally the Blue Book (our rules and regulation’s Bible ultimately controlled by the FIA) also states that Race Control will communicate with the driver at the start/finish line. That sounds crazy as an unsafe driver can still legally race nearly 2 laps between the incident and exit in the pit lane.
3) Equal treatment: in Zandvoort, they allowed a competitor to race with a bonnet completely up, with strictly no vision; who went on to smash into another competitor. That event was deemed safe! I did not like to be told that every situation is different and that there are other rules in Holland. We all race under the same set of rules and regulations!
Yes I will take responsability, all I ask is to be treat fairly. My heart is pounding, there is no smile on my face; I am ready to hear the judgment:
- 3 points on the license
- a fine
- a deduction of 30 points in the championship, leaving me with a net -23 points for that race!
- a loss of rank by being pushed back to the end of the grid
This is the worst penalty given that I know of. I think it’s a bit harsh. I go for a walk and a think. Now I’m officially a criminal! Ray reminds me: Touché!
I remember the words of my skydiving instructor: small mistakes lead very quickly to a harsh reality if not stopped in time. Always remain calm in order to let your brain make the right call. How true…it will never happen again I swear to myself.
Being a referee is the hardest job there is. You always have people complaining and nobody thanking you. All the while, you are actually there to make sure that everybody has a good time and is safe. So I thank him for doing that job.
I take this opportunity to officially apologise to the clerk, marshalls and my peers.
I restart the car and start racing again. While I gain some speed I listen for any untoward noises and look for anything abnormal. Apart from a flapping bonnet, the car looks good and I think I can continue. But as soon as I break, the bonnet opens and impairs my vision. This is going to be a small problem in order to see (or more to the point, figure out) my apex and my track out point. I need to rely on my reference points and a very limited testing experience on this circuit of 1.5 days.
In other words, I don’t have a bloody clue where I’m going!
I must be living in Cloud cuckoo land! (Cloud cuckoo land refers to a state of absurdly over-optimistic fantasy or an unrealistically idealistic state where everything is perfect. It refers to someone who thinks that things that are completely impossible might happen, rather than understanding how things really are. And I hate to say, it also hints that the person referred to is naive, unaware of realities or deranged in holding such an optimistic belief.)
I always said I would be honest so here it is, vanilla without varnish … but be warned as we are clearly moving from Cloud cuckoo land to One flew over the cuckoo’s nest!
So here I go around the track once to see whether I should go in the pits or continue racing. At the end of the day, if I cannot catch anybody there will be little point in going around driving Miss Daisy.
Surprisingly I quite enjoy this new challenge and I am able to negotiate the corners quite well. I am no danger to myself or others. My decision is made, no one is going to stop me today.
As I get back on the straight, after less then one lap I see some cars. I am on the hunt…the tiger in me roars again.
Appentlently Race Control issued the directive to show me the Black and Orange flag. Regulation clearly states this is a notification of apparent mechanical failure or of a fire which might not be obvious to the driver. The car concerned must call at its pit for repairs on the next lap. So it’s kinda important some would say!
I saw the black flag once for sure but then as the other marshals were not showing me any flag, I thought it must’ve been for somebody else or a warning of some sort not a call for action. My mind focuses on the racing again and chooses to forget anything else.
Remember I was dealing with an open bonnet, a large piece of my lights on track at the race finish line while driving at about 100 mph and trying to overtake at the same time; my mechanic who usually shows me my position from the pits, was also absent so I made the call not to look at all at the mechanics on the pit lane. Stupid decision number 3.
Saying that, I accept that all of the above are no excuse and it is clearly my responsibility to have complete control and awareness at all times.
For now this is a technicality as I continue racing and picking up places. And here I go again from the back of the field making my way up.
But this time I’m a gentleman, I don’t overtake unless it’s 100% sure, with room to take avoiding action or get off the line.
I overtake Surtees and give the place back by braking heavily because of lack of vision…and make my move later on. All in all I pick up 8 places to end up 14th.
The chequered flag is waved and I am quite proud of myself…you fool!
As I drive home and the adrenaline recesses in my system, reality makes a steady comeback and I say to myself: the Clerk is going to have you for breakfast in the morning…
Video link below:
We are coming around Paddock Hill Bend for lap 2 and I get another good launch. I am overtaking Portlock easily on the inside, he is my focus. Stupid decision number 1.
He breaks and and I break very shortly after, he is mine. This seems too easy…
I have forgotten that I am driving at 85mph, faster than him whilst benefiting from a lot less grip (he is on the dry and I am on the wet line). Add a shorter radius to adhere to for the upcoming corner (I am on the inside of the hairpin). And sprinkle some old brakes and tyres and you have a perfect recipe for disaster.
But no, he is not the problem, all would of been fine if it was not for John Wall.
John comes into my vision, whilst unsighted during the overtaking manoeuvre, I should of remembered that he was there somewhere ahead of us with Phil Ingram. I had a clear view of them coming down Paddock Hill! No excuses there either I’m afraid. I went into a tunnel vision. Bad decision number 7.
This is his corner, no if’s no but’s. Plain and simple!
I hit the brakes and my wheels lock and I slide into him. He is thrown spinning, as I am. In two years of driving, this is the first crash I cause: I am frustrated and mad with myself. How could I do that? Was it greed or did I just had a brain fart?
Clearly not my finest hour – after the race I would go straight to him to apologise and he was very gentlemanly about it. Shrugging his shoulders he said:”no worries, it’s racing mate, I did not know it was you who hit me!”.
This is bad driving I’m afraid – I know it and I’m not proud of it. Being brave is one thing, being stupid another. I have taken some undue flack this season as all grievances were rejected by the officials as racing incidents or they found the other party at fault! I don’t have any points on my racing license, clean as a whistle. Is that about to change?
We are both on track, easy targets waiting to be collected by another driver and there is a real chance that this could become a multi-car pile up. I have been on the receiving end of pile ups twice this season… this time I am the culprit! And it is only luck and my colleagues’ good skill that prevents a bigger catastrophe.
The crash looks way worse from the spectators point of view. One of them told me afterwards that it was an “ambitious move”…you don’t say!
I hit John at 51mph and luckily he is alright and his car is not damaged. My bonnet flew open and was flapping. This impaired my vision somewhat ;o).
Now, stop laughing and consider this: I am not the only one able to drive with a restricted view…thanks to my cousin Said for pointing it out.
I hit the throttle and continue racing. Stupid decision number 2.
Video link below: