Mini Challenge joins the TOCA British Touring Car calendar for the 2020 season.
Words from Ryan Dignan
We turned up at the track for the start of the weekend as prepared as we could be, without actually having any meaningful running since March. As such, an isolator issue became apparent early on which we managed to resolve at the track before qualifying on Saturday. It was also strange to see no crowds in and around the track and paddock area. With Mini Challenge now part of the TOCA calendar with the British Touring Cars, there would usually be a huge audience. Despite the difficult times, there was still a very strong grid of 28 cars ready to do battle throughout the weekend.
Free practice went okay, but I was slightly off the pace. Still needing to shake off some rustiness and build confidence on a demanding track. It was also a sweltering 34 degrees C, which was sapping valuable power from the car.
Qualifying went very well and I managed to qualify in 15th position out of 28 drivers, despite a tyre failure on turn one 10 minutes before the end of the half-hour session. Ambient temps were 10 degrees cooler than practice and I was feeling much more comfortable in the car. My qualifying result confirmed this, with just 1 second covering the 14 drivers in front of me.
Race 1 was tough, after a good start I was making my way up the pack before a yellow flag incident cost me a fantastic result. The subsequent Safety Car caused a lot of confusion with some drivers missing the radio announcement. This cost me 6 places. From then on it was a battle built on frustration, which included a trip across the grass at the bottom of the old hairpin to avoid another accident. Eventually, I fought back to 20th position which was still enough to place me 1st in the Director’s Cup.
Again, I nailed the start, gaining a few places in the process. However, after the first race on Saturday, we found some problems with the car. Which included a broken diff plate, CV joint and a driveshaft issue. This meant I was running over 1 second a lap down. From lap 4 it was a case of holding off the chasing pack, an incredibly difficult task with the car vibrating at speed and through right-hand corners. In the end, I finished 24th out of 28 drivers.
We worked non-stop between race 2 and 3 on Sunday morning to get the car ready. Completely dismantling the gearbox and differential to iron out the issues which had plagued me during race 2. Thankfully the guys managed to get it fixed and put the car back together before the final race of the weekend.
Race 3 was being shown live on ITV4 as part of the TOCA package, but 20 minutes before the start, the isolator issue from the previous day had returned. The car wouldn’t start and it was a last-minute scramble to get the car ready. We did make it to the pits, but not in time to start from our grid position. I would be starting dead last for the final race after missing the lineup. Despite this setback, I dragged the car back up into 15th position to win the second Directors Cup of the weekend!
Overall it was a very successful weekend and without the car issues it could have been even better, I now sit top of the Director’s Cup Championship and 15th overall. Hopefully, the gremlins have been ironed out and round 2 at Knockhill can be a much smoother weekend all round.
Image credit: MINI Challenge