In her latest blog post Charlie Martin tells Euro Car Parts about what she’s been up to and the events of her latest race weekend at Beaujolais; including that first corner, storms and her opinion on the result. If you missed her preview to the race, you can find it here.
If ever there was a particular corner that I could list as being ‘a complete a nightmare’ it’s the first left at Beaujolais. As if it wasn’t tight enough, this problem is further compounded by the fact that a Formula Renault has the turning circle of an aircraft carrier. Oh, and the braking zone has lots of bumps that unsettle the car as you attempt to decelerate down to first gear which doesn’t exactly help matters.
You have to be as far over to the right of the track as possible, almost touching the armco before winding on full lock in an instant – the window to get all this right is tiny, and if you get it wrong you plough the car into a big stone wall – at turn one, which isn’t a great start.
It may sound like it, but I’m not complaining; and that is because Beaujolais is an incredible race and well worth every one of the 1,000 kilometers I have to drive to get here from the Midlands.
With a fair sized piece of the M25 to tackle in rush hour I left myself a good margin, but Lady Luck was on my side and I arrived at Folkestone a full two hours ahead of schedule. I spent the short train journey looking at pictures of LMP cars on Twitter in the build up to Le Mans that weekend before disembarking at Calais, and making it almost as far as Troyes before pulling over to sleep.
Back on the road for 8am, I was soon winding my way into the mountains with the hazy blue shoulders of the Alps just visible on my left and vineyards neatly arranged on every inch of available hillside in front of me.
Teamwork and tranquillity
Some friends had kindly marked out a spot for me in the paddock where I’d stationed myself last year. It’s very tranquil and down by a river, and for the time being the only noise was the sound of water and bird song.
Within the hour Yann Marchand arrived with his wife and son in the Red Bull race van and I was really glad to have him on-board. It’s a really demanding race in so many ways and having a pit crew is a real game changer for me.
In some ways the first three races are a warm up, and there is a real feeling that everything steps up a few gears once the championship heads south. The courses become longer and faster, the weather hotter and more unpredictable. Overall the intensity ramps up and you have to up your game very quickly if you want to stand any chance of finishing out front.
The track here is 3.9km long, with some big gradients, sweeping hairpins and of course that evil first corner. In practice I struggled relentlessly to even get the car round it (a handbrake might have helped!) It’s so frustrating when you can’t get it right straightaway as you feel the seconds just slipping away as you wait to clear the wall, knowing the whole time that you have the entire course still ahead of you.
I was a good three seconds away from where I’d hoped to be, but everything else on the car felt good and the gearing was perfect – I was just clipping the limiter in sixth gear down the main straight. We took off a little wing as the car was weaving at this point, and thankfully the storms that had threatened to unleash Hell passed overhead and I went to bed hoping that something would click overnight.
Pushing it to the limit
We started early the next morning at 7:30 with free practice, and although not perfect I managed to take a better approach into the left hander, and with the new Avons fitted I pushed harder to find the car rock steady with the added grip of fresh rubber.
Rain came for the first run, although drivers returning from the previous batch told us it was only noticeable on the final bend… Not knowing quite where the grip will start to ebb away is never nice as a driver, and sure enough I felt the back break away on the final hairpin although it was only the very last corner that looked slippery.
I took a three second chunk off my time though and felt pretty shaky as I got out of the car. In order to go fast here you have to push further and further outside of your comfort zone until the car starts to tell you (hopefully in a gentle way) that you’re reaching the limit – I’m fairly sure this was a sign that I’d nearly done that.
On run two Sarah Louvet did find it, losing the back of the car coming through the fast fifth gear chicane. She was okay physically but the front of the car was a real mess. Her team mate Guillaume Veyrat had also knocked a corner off rendering him unable to run that day either, and when you see other cars coming back into the paddock on recovery trucks you really have to try to put these thoughts to one side and focus on your own race.
Having Yann prep the car was allowing me to do just this, and just his presence there made a huge difference to my weekend as he worked tirelessly from the moment I got back to the paddock. I could relax, watch my onboard, eat something (I often struggle to have enough time) and make pace notes. As a quick F3 driver himself, it was also especially helpful having someone to confer with when watching each run back to find out where I was going well and where I needed to improve.
With a 1:50:032 in the bag I was determined as ever to break into the 49’s. Remi wasn’t far away, and while I was in fifth place and knew it was unlikely I’d catch Didier & Estel in the 48’s it was the time that meant everything to me.
Run three felt really fast, and I made a few small mistakes because I was really trying – you stop the car and the sudden silence amplifies you’re heightened senses, you feel absolutely wired.
I saw the time just after I crossed the line at 1:49:729. Okay, it wasn’t the 1:48 that I was pushing for but I nodded to myself as I sat there, staring at my hands with a big dose of the shakes. The car was intact… that’ll do for today!
Come back to the Euro Car Parts blog next week where you’ll find the latest in the series of blogs from Charlie Martin, previewing her next round at Vuillafans.