With my fresh race license burning a hole in my pocket I was keen to get out and actually race. What I didn’t want to do was buy my own car only to find out I didn’t like racing as much as I thought I would. Unlikely, but possible. I also wanted to avoid the time, hassle, and money involved in buying and maintaining another competition car. Not to mention explaining the new purchase to my wife…
Fortunately, before I passed my ARDS I’d had a chance meeting Colin Tester. Colin runs Supatune Motorsport which hires out clubman spec Ford Puma race cars. The deal is arrive and drive, including entry, tyres, fuel and support during the day. All I needed to bring was my race clothing and license. Colin focuses on the MSVR Trackday Trophy and Dunlop Puma Cup, both of which allow double drivers, so reducing costs even further. It seemed a perfect way to take my first steps into racing.
I first drove the Puma at a trackday evening in Brands Hatch. Having not driven a Puma before, I was pleasantly surprised by it. Power from the standard 1700cc engine was good and the handling was amazing. Puma’s have a reputation as a decent handling car but race suspension and race tyres took that to a whole new level. Not a hint of understeer and the car remained stable at all times. It was so easy to drive. Ideal for my racing debut. With some experience in the car, I entered my first race. A shared drive around the Silverstone GP circuit. Being on the F1 calendar the full GP track was available on my Xbox 360 F1 game. The laptimes would be slower but it did at least help me learn the corners!
We were running in the Dunlop Puma Cup which was a class within the Classic Sports Car Club. The Puma is standard other than safety equipment, Gaz shocks, and Dunlop Direzza control tyres. Due to the size of the Silverstone track most of the classes were running in the same race so the field consisted of over 50 cars. The largest grid the CSCC had ever run. Everything from full blown M3’s to very basic Puma’s would be on track at the same time..
As a new driver, I had to speak with the Clerk of the Course about the finer points of racing at Silverstone. When I told him this was my first ever race, his response was along the lines of ‘you’ve picked a hell of an event for your first race’. Thanks for that…
The day consisted of 15 minutes qualifying and a 40 minute race, shared equally with my team mate Tom. With only 7.5 minutes to learn the track and put up a qualifying time, the pressure was on. This was made worse when the session was brought forward so that I was still in the pit garage talking Classic Ford’s with Paul the mechanic when Tom brought the Puma into the pits. After hurriedly getting into the car, I headed out onto the track for the first time. Something you don’t get a sense of on TV is how wide the track is, especially in a little puma. This made picking the correct line and judging entry speed pretty difficult. I tried to push on, trying different lines on each lap but with a lap being over 3 miles long, I only managed 3 flying laps before the session ended.
Surprisingly, we hadn’t qualified last and it was my time that was the quickest in our car. Happy with that!
Once qualifying was over, everyone was out of their overalls and settling down for a three hour wait. A big contrast to what I’m used to in rallying where you’re on the go all day.
Soon, the waiting was over. My team mate was to take the first stint as he was an experienced racer. I was fine with that as I’d miss out on cold tyres and any start-line incidents. Tom had a great start and was running fourth in class when he came into the pits. Once belted in I nervously headed out on track. Unfortunately there was no sign of the rest of the Puma’s as the race was now so spread out. This did allow me to work on my lines, trying to carry as much speed as possible. The sticky Dunlop tyres and the wide, grippy surface allows for plenty of speed to be carried into the corners once you have the confidence. The main entertainment came from trying to avoid the stream of much faster cars as they came by. One Clio 182 cup driver ended up spinning when I accidentally brake-tested him by braking too early at the end of the wellington straight. Oops.
After only 6 laps behind the wheel, the race was over. That made it difficult to build up a rhythm and learn all the corners. I at least managed not to be passed by another Puma and was surprised to find we’d finished 3rd in class. The car in 2nd place had retired with mechanical problems. We were lucky, but then that’s motorsport.
So my first day’s racing ended well. I had a pot to polish and I’d not damaged the Puma, so my deposit was safe!
I found everyone involved in the Puma Cup to be really friendly, with almost everyone coming over to congratulate me on winning a pot first time out. My team mate Tom was a real gent. Really encouraging, and allowing me to keep the shared award for our 3rd in class. The Supatune Puma didn’t miss a beat all day and both Colin and Paul did a great job of guiding me on my first foray into racing.
The day had been an amazing experience. After years of thinking about racing I’d finally completed my first race, and on the Silverstone GP circuit. How cool is that! It won’t be long until I’m racing again.