A topsy-turvy Saturday, ultimately ended in celebration, as Jonny Fletcher’s last gasp effort secured a podium finish in the first round of the 2020 Time Attack Championship.
Finally, after an extended winter break, the first round of the 2020 Time Attack Championship had arrived. With a revamped calendar & social distancing requirements everyone had to adapt their usual routine. For us, rather than traveling down the day before we made the decision to do the event in one day.
The Saturday morning scrutineering and driver briefing had been done earlier in the week via zoom calls and self declaration forms. So, the only job for us was to set up our paddock area for day and perform our pre-session car checks.
It was now time for our 1st competitive laps of 2020. We always use this session to get a feeling for the car and track conditions. After a long spell out the car (excluding our test session at Donington) it was important for Jonny to shake off any rustiness prior to qualifying and the final.
Everything went as planned and in the time between warm up and practice, we put some new rubber on the front to maximise grip ahead of practice.
It was now time for Jonny to push a little harder. Unfortunately when entering Island bend after a few installation laps, the gearbox jammed between gears. We rolled to a halt and the session was red flagged until the car was recovered.
After a phone call to our gearbox builders at AS Autocare, it became clear we needed to strip the box and replace any broken parts. While we stripped the car, Andy Stockton from AS Autocare came to meet us at the track. The failure was identified and fixed. It turned out to be a selector turret, which luckily, wasn’t as big of an issue as it could have been. The car was back together, just in time to set a few flying laps. Helped by another red flag, delaying the session 10 minutes.
Back on track, there was no time to dawdle. Jonny had to get up to speed immediately in his hastily repaired Astra. On the first hot lap, Jonny dipped a tyre onto the grass entering Cascades, sending him spinning off the track. Having recovered, it was straight into another attempt. The next lap was much better and Jonny managed a 1:37.875, just under a second off his lap time in the previous session.
While pushing for lap times the car developed another niggle for Jonny to contend with. The harsh vibrations over curbs was knocking the cars electrical cut off. Jonny was having to switch it back on mid-corner, costing him precious time. To make matters worse, while power is off there is no power steering.
However, with no time to fix the issue, Jonny set about putting in as many lap-times as he could. Although, the following two laps did not go smoothly. Jonny was struggling to get a clean lap in & the cut off issue was causing him to lose up to 5 seconds. On a more positive note, the car was showing some real potential in sector 3.
There was now only time for one more run in qualifying. After flying through through the first few corners, Jonny again ran wide at Cascades, destroying the inner CV joint, bringing the session to an early conclusion. We found ourselves in P7. Not exactly where we wanted to be, but after a topsy-turvy morning and knowing the cars potential we where still feeling positive.
Before the final we got to work swapping the driveshaft. Not an easy task but it was sorted in plenty of time. Only for us to notice the passenger side front caliper leaking from the bleed nipple. It seemed like everything was going against us today, especially after such a smooth day testing at Donington a couple of weeks ago.
We started by changing the bleed nipple, but with no success. This meant we had to drill and tap the caliper. With help from Garry Plant at GR Performance and some PTFE tape we got it fixed ready for the final run.
With only 7 minutes of the session remaining, Jonny had three attempts to get a lap-time on the board.
Lap 1: Sector 1 was pretty good, only a few tenths off our quali pace. Jonny then had a massive moment exiting Knickerbrook, the car lost traction, sending Jonny into a huge fish tail. Quick reactions caught the car and Jonny set about nailing the second lap.
Lap 2: Jonny nailed sector 1, over a second quicker than his previous best. Sector 2 and 3 followed suit, resulting in a new PB for the day 1:35.747 putting us into 4th place. Just 3 100th’s off a podium position.
Lap 3: Another 2 tenths where shaved off our sector 1 PB and a further tenth in sector 2. Jonny came up against some traffic in sector 3 but some fine driving and respectful competition meant he didn’t lose too much time. Sector 3 was a tenth down on Jonny’s PB, but overall he managed a 1:35.586! Sealing a place on the podium in the final few moments of the day.
The worst behind us!
After a tormentous day, 3rd place was more than Jonny had expected. It felt like a win for the whole team. It was also a full 1.5 seconds quicker than last years time around Oulton Park. With another 1 or 2 seconds still left in the car. Overall it was an excellent start to the season and we head to Cadwell Park in August for rounds 3 & 4 with our hopes high!
Images: Eat My Pixels, Jonny Fletcher & Time Attack UK