After a successful testing day in March with our two experienced drivers, Dan Dreelan and Des Wheatley, the first race weekend of the Cooper Cup championship was upon us, with the cars in great shape and an air of confidence surrounding the team on what was to be a sunny and unexpectedly warm weekend at Knockhill.
Saturday’s testing went well, with each driver getting quicker as the day progressed, especially Jonny Dreelan who was equipping himself with as much track time as possible before his first outing in the Celtic Speed Championship. With scrutineering passes all round, the cars were ready for an intense series of qualifying and racing the following day.
Pleasingly confident predictions were made by each driver, with Des and Dan vying for top 10 places in qualifying and Jonny aiming for a top 20 position respectively. And with some last minute tyre pressure checks, the cars were filed out of the DSR paddock to begin the qualifying session.
Unfortunately, a dense sheet of fog had enveloped the track with barely 30 yards of vision ahead of the drivers on the track. After being ushered round the track by the safety car, the Minis were piled back into the paddock, with race positioning being taken from the previous year’s Championship positions followed by the newcomers.
This meant that due to handbrake difficulties I the previous season, Des would be starting in 11th on the grid, with Dan close behind in 12th and Jonny in 15th. With timing belt pretensioner problems on Jonny’s Mini, Martin was spurred into action and showed off his mechanical prowess with a quick bit of fettling to rid the car of an uncomfortable knocking when sat at idle.
With all 21 Minis on the grid, every DSR Mini managed to get off to blistering starts, with Dan and Des immediately making up ground on the field in the first few laps. After just 3 laps, both drivers had made up a place or two. An unfortunate racing incident involving Jonny Dreelan forced his car off the track on the first lap. He managed to get the car back on tarmac and racing, however he had to fight an uphill battle from the back of the field which is always a tough task in the 120bhp Minis.
With some committed driving from the senior driver in the team, Des managed to make up another place and cross the line in an impressive 8th place, setting a quickest lap time of 1:04.05, the quickest by half a second in the team. Dan then followed, holding onto 11th place in a fierce battle between another two drivers scrapping for a top 10 spot. With a fastest lap of 1:04.53, Dan thought the car felt good and knew that there was more time to make up as the day went on.
With Des suffering a slight collision coming round the hairpin on the first lap, he admitted that some time could be made up by committing more on the first chicane and hoped to be out of any troubling collision in the following races. With an unlucky run for Jonny, setting a quickest lap of 1:06.02, the best thing to do was to wipe the slate clean and concentrate on the next race in a few hours’ time.
Oliver Mortimer took an impressive win in his Yellow Cooper, posting incredibly quick lap times over a second quicker than our boys.
With all the cars and drivers fully warmed up after the first race, it was time to take to the track for the second Celtic Speed session. With Des Wheatley hoping to make up another few places to creep further into the top 10 cars, the awkward handbrake positioning due to the racing seat layout led to his car taking a couple of squats and finally getting away on the third time of asking, losing a place and settling into 9th. Yet more collisions throughout the race led to a gap forming between Des and the leading pack of Minis, with our top car holding onto 9th place at the chequered flag.
A much better session was to be had by young Jonny Dreelan, driving with spirit and poise to finish 19th, setting a much quicker best lap time of 1:05.85. His brother, on the other hand, had a rather eventful time behind the wheel. After some exciting racing with three other cars battling for 10th place, a spirited pit lane support team were soon silenced when Dan’ car failed to reappear with a couple of laps to go. A fairly large collision with the lone female championship competitor at the bottom of the chicane led to some heavy body damage to the right flank of the car after a collision with the tyre wall. With a possible top 10 on the cards, it was a real shame for Dan’s session to end in this way, although after replaying the GoPro footage, there was nothing that he could have done to avoid the incoming driver.
Another win was to be had for Team Mortimer, with everyone generally driving slightly slower than in the initial session.
With the weather now in full flow, sporting bright blue skies and a pleasantly warm sun, a grim faced Craig quickly forced the flank of Dan’s car into an acceptable fashion and all three cars were back on the grid for the final showdown.
When the lights went out for the final time, Des stormed off the line, setting up an impressive first few laps to leap up to 7th place. This meant that he was fulfilling his aim for the day, sitting comfortably in the top 10 and can then adjust his sights to aim for further up the pecking order in the next race weekend.
Jonny finished off his race weekend with another solid session, making up a couple of places from the back of the field to add to his experience of Mini Cooper Cup racing.
Dan also had a great first lap, starting from the back of the pack due to his DNF in the second session. With some aggressive and confident driving, he made is way up to 12th place, a fantastic effort considering the repercussions of the last race. Dan showed some real tenacity to charge up the field which shows that his growing experience behind the wheel is really paying off.
With an exciting and educational day for both drivers and pit crew, the first race weekend of the season at Knockhill was an extremely successful one. A couple of top 10s from Des, some aggressive driving from Dan that showed real effort and determination and Jonny getting involved in some serious racing meant for an enjoyable weekend for all involved. The David Sleigh Racing Team should be extremely proud of their efforts and the first race weekend should act as a great springboard for the team to assert themselves again into the Cooper Cup scene.