Last weekend we were all at Silverstone for the season finale. It was a great opportunity to have some fun on a different track, and Leon was again looking to add yet another lap record to his already very impressive racing CV.
The weather forecast was a little worrying though, and I remember hearing the rain lashing down at about 3 o'clock on Saturday morning while snoozing in the caravan. This resulted in us waking up to very damp conditions. But the sky was bright so we had hope that it would dry out. The practice sessions were very wet, and full wet tyres were definitely needed. Leon went out on both the 400 and 600 and very quickly dialed himself in to the new track. I was a little more cautious and just steadily rode round familiarising myself with the place...in fact, I was quite awestruck every time I came round the complex area. It must be an amazing feeling riding round it when the grandstands are full! But I found it fairly easy to get on with, it's really just two long straights with a couple of corners at each end. But the more I rode round it the more I began to like it.
Anyway, with the wet practice sessions over we were then left with the uncertainty of weather conditions for the first set of races. It hadn't rained all morning but it was still quite wet. Leon was out first in the qualifying race for the C0-Ordit 600 event, and full wets was the decision. He got off the line really well (from 6th on the grid), and finish lap one in second place behind Ricky Elder. It was a tricky race though, in very tricky conditions, but Leon rode a solid and mature race to eventually bring it home in sixth position. This left him with a great grid slot for the points race and meant he could turn his attention to the first 400 race.
The qualifying race for the 400's was up next, and again we decided to use full wets. Another good decision. However, when Leon and I rode down to the holding area (which seemed miles away!), we found that everyone had already been sent out to the grid. This meant that we had to miss the warm-up lap and start from the back of the grid. Leon was rightfully annoyed by this as he was on pole and it's always dangerous for him to come flying through the pack. I, however, was quite excited by it all...I probably had the best seat in the house when the lights went out and watched Leon disappear off in to the pack ahead of me. I saw Leon pull over in front of me as he looked to negotiate a way through the mob...I actually contemplated trying to follow him, but quickly thought better of it as I watched elbows and fairings being bashed together! I then settled in to a lowly position and assumed Leon had made his way to the front of the pack by the end of lap one...which he had done! It was then a case of getting my head down and trying to learn the track in conditions that I probably hate the most. But I actually really enjoyed it and got a little quicker with each lap. I also enjoyed watching Leon come flying past me round the outside on the last corner when he lapped me. He was clearly channelling his initial anger in the right direction as he went on to win the race from the back of the grid. And showed exactly why he had already been crowned Formula 400 champion this year ...brilliant stuff! I finished fourteenth in class and was happy that I had completed my first race at such a prestigious track.
Next up was the points race for the Co-Ordit 600 event. The track by now looked like it was dry, although there were damp patches around the edges. So full dry tyres was the choice this time. I was on the pit wall to watch this race, and it turned out to be a belter. Right from the off Leon got stuck in and was quickly up to second place, pushing Ricky Elder very hard for the lead. Eventually Leon made a move and took control of the race when he passed Ricky down the back straight. He then put in some fantastically consistent lap times to ease out a gap and bring it home to a very impressive victory. And in doing so setting a new lap record for the 600 event with a terrific time of 1:00.49. That'll do just fine!
And so we move to the final Formula 400 race, and the conditions were still getting better, so dry tyres it was. This time Leon and I headed down to the holding area in good time, this avoided starting from the back of the grid again. While on the warm-up it was obvious that it was dry, although there were still some wet patches in places. Leon was starting from the front row, and I headed up row eight. The first lap was a bit hectic, and I remember being gobbled up by a group of riders as we hit the left-hander at 'Maggots'. That was ok though, as the new gearing that Mike had fitted seemed to help me out a little down the back straight. About half way through the race it started to rain...but the track still felt grippy, so we didn't really have to ease off too much. I rode a steady race, using each lap to learn as much as I could about the track. I managed to maintain my grid position in the race and finish thirteenth in class, and a few more points in the bag! Leon, however, was on it! He was by far the best F400 rider out there and wasn't too far behind the leading 2-strokers either. I know this as I saw them come past me about a lap before Leon did. In fact, Leon politely looked over at me as he came past down the back straight...it made me smile anyway. And you guessed it, Leon stuck yet another lap record under his belt with a time of 1:04.69 - which was actually faster than on of the leading 2-strokers up ahead. Nicely done indeed!
So there you have it, a fantastic end to a rather up and down season. It's been a difficult year, but to end up with a championship, more lap records than you can shake a stick at, and a top ten finish at a National 600 Superstock event...things could have been a whole lot worse! Very well done to Leon for turning a potentially disastrous season in to one that we can all feel very proud of indeed...
(I still can't believe I've actually raced here!)
(We had a garage too!)
(Lawson and Thomas showed us some tricks.)
(There's always some 'tinkering' going on.)
(Leon heads out on the R6.)
(Leon pushing hard for the victory.)
(Leon gives us a victory wave.)