With Glenn Hay only finishing preparing the car the night before, we arrived at Oulton Park with a only few hours to spare before we had to qualify.
Already at a disadvantage to those who’d been able to test at the track we knew that realistically this would have to be a shake-down day, despite it being James’ favourite track from motorcycle track days.
We’d gone back to the older engine which seemed to have more power (although still using most of the same internals), but hadn’t been able to make some of the suspension changes intended over the off-season.
As James exited the pit lane onto the damp and greasy track, one of the spark plugs tore itself out along with the thread, leaving him to limp around the track so slowly it was impossible to get any feel for braking or cornering. This meant a very disheartening 26th and 27h place start for the races – if we could fix the car.
As James brought the car back into the paddock the throttle jammed open and he had to kill the engine before it blew. Another problem…
Some hasty repairs with help from the AHS team meant we just about made the start of the first race, in monsoon conditions. Without having taken a single corner at race pace, the aim for the day was to try and keep safe, and try to get some feel back for the car. We also opted to try some very different damper settings, as our full wet set-up from last year seemed to be a bit disastrous.
James Harridge took pole, getting his quick lap in before oil on the track slowed the times, followed by Adam Macaulay and Ben Miloudi.
Avoiding a first corner crash and red flag stoppage, James flew off the line on the restart, finding the experimental set-up working well with the repaired car, and despite a few off-track excursions in the horrendous conditions, made up 14 places to finish 4th in class and 12th overall. Even better was that he was a few hundredths of a second behind Jamie Harrison who was 3rd in class, and just pipped David Leniewski at the line after a great battle.
At the front, James Harridge took his first win, 6 seconds clear from Ben Miloudi and Pete Belsey.
Race 2 saw opposite weather conditions, and James would now have to take his first ever laps on a warm and dry track, starting from 25th place.
We took a gamble and stuck with the wet settings, hoping for a downpour as we knew we’d be quick, but the sun continued to shine as James pulled onto the back of the grid.
Expecting to flounder at the back trying to learn the dry circuit, another demon start saw James on the fringes of the top 10 yet again. A mixture of bravery and guesswork kept him at a decent pace, and after a close dice with returning veteran Andrew Crighton, James pulled clear and gave chase to David Leniewski.
The scrapping pair pushed each other to very quickly catch the group in front, but unfortunately the chequered flag ended the race just before they could take the extra places.
On the back straight going into the last corner James had such a great run on the pack ahead he had two wheels on the grass flat out in top gear, attempting to go past 3 cars at once, before backing out of the move. In hindsight that move would have meant James took his first ever class win, but he had to settle for a still ecstatic 2nd behind Jamie Harrison, and 13th place overall.
This performance also meant James got the fastest lap time in Class B – not a bad present on what was his 40th birthday weekend! The results also put James 2nd overall in the B class championship.
Craig Pollard took an excellent overall win, with Ben Miloudi second again to lead the championship, and Paul Taylor snagged the final podium place.
The next round is a very rare outing at Brands Hatch on the full GP layout on May 1st, where James hopes to significantly improve his performance on his least favourite track.
You can read his in-depth perspective of the races soon on www.jamescaterracing.com