Mixed emotions flood the awning as the team prepare for the last weekend of racing for 2015. Many members of the team are holding on desperately to the last few memories of the season, not wanting it all to come to an abrupt end followed by a long winter off-season. On the other hand, the mechanics mosey around their individual MINIs, longing for a couple of months without catastrophic gearbox failures, smashed up bodywork and bent suspension.
To start Saturday’s practice, the three blue cars of DSR are all fairly beaten up and ready for a break themselves. Battle scars cover the wings and doors of the three blue MINIs, recalling memories of scraps at Oulton Park and countless jostling at Scotland’s main race track.
They say that dogs begin to look like their owners and I can’t help noticing the startling resemblance between the state of the cars and the mechanics working on them for the final time. Both man and machine have worked extremely hard over the spring and summer months and it seems like Martin, Craig and Ian could do with a good service themselves.
Practice would be a little different this time. Des Wheatley’s son, Dominic, would take a seat alongside his Father on the grid after purchasing Kenneth Thirlwall’s car, the championship winner who is leaving the series to focus on biking instead. After all the stick that Dom has been sending his senior’s way all year, the young Northerner definitely has something to prove, graduating from karting to the next stage in his racing career.
Practice goes well, with all the cars having their wounds cared to and all coming back in one piece. Knockhill is descending into the depths of winter, with the whole team sporting their DSR hats and earmuffs to hold back the icy breeze.
Dom Wheatley was within half a second of his Father during practice and is now prancing around the paddock like a new-born gazelle, raring to put the rest of the team to the sword. Oly Mortimer is looking for a lap record, the current fastest time sitting at 1:02.8, so it’s fair to say the new Daddy won’t be holding back on the final day of SMRC racing.
We start the day with a bang. Oly smashes the lap record with a 1:02.5, easily taking pole position. Dom upsets the trend from yesterday to pip his own Father by two tenths of a second, a fantastic effort in his first Knockhill qualifying session. Des unfortunately has to qualify with a damaged car after a tyre blowout and bent suspension. The Wheatleys take 6th and 8th place respectively, leaving Dan and Jonny Dreelan to bring up the rear in 10th and 14th.
Oly Mortimer is obviously feeling on top of things after his blistering lap times earlier in the day and streaks away from a revived Hannah Chapman to take what is an easy win in the end, setting lap times yet again in the 62 second area.
A confidence crushing stall by Dominic Wheatley at the start means all his good work over qualifying is undone, placing him at the back of the field with a grinning Des laughing his way to a 7th place finish. Dan Dreelan follows up in 8th place and that’s another top ten to add to his tally for the season. Jonny Dreelan also fights hard in the middle of the pack throughout the race, culminating in a solid 11th place.
Oly yet again shows the team why he has been in contention for the Championship all year with yet another win from the front. Taking advantage of the cold conditions, Mortimer submits another sub-63 lap time to move away from Hannah Chapman and William Blake.
Mr Wheatley performs some spectacular defensive driving to fend off the midfield pack, bouncing down Duffus to keep hold of 5th place while Dan Dreelan squeezes past a couple of cars on the last lap to grab 6th. Jonny Dreelan has to play second fiddle to his brother but fights hard and clean for an 8th place finish.
Oly finishes off the weekend in style, charging from 8th place in the reverse grid into first after a matter of laps and takes a glorious third win of the weekend with relative ease. The last race of 2015 brings yet more success for the team as Des and Jonny both obtain their first podiums of the year with a 3rd place for Wheatley and a Newcomers win for Dreelan in 4th. Dan Dreelan is on the unlucky end of the draw and ends up battling with the midfield pack, taking 10th place just ahead of Dominic in 11th.
It seems fitting for the most pragmatic team on the grid to finish with a flourish, our best combination of the season resulting in smiles all round on what turns out to be a chilly afternoon at the race circuit.
So as the last Knockhill weekend of the year draws to a close, it is time to sit back and reflect on not just the racing and the results but the entire team as a whole.
David Sleigh Racing is so much more than four cars and a group of people that run the team, so much more than the final race results or the quick lap times. It is a platform for camaraderie, friendship and relationships. When you take a step back, the whole team is really just a bunch of strangers who have somehow come together through coincidence and luck, but we form one of most tight-knit racing teams in the UK, in my opinion.
I personally have met a whole bunch of great people, people who I wouldn’t have met if it weren’t for a random golf round, and yet I would without doubt class them as my friends. And for that, to the mechanics, the coach workers, the ‘horsey’ girls and everyone else involved behind the scenes at the team, I’d like to say thank you, I feel very lucky to have stumbled upon you lot. Motor racing is a leveler for all people and is therefore the perfect atmosphere to create new friendships, along with developing old ones.
I’m sure I can speak for all the whole team when I also say thank you to Mr Sleigh, for making the team everything it can be and more. This season has been full of ups and downs, testing the strength and tenacity of the team to its ragged edge but no mountain was high enough to hold back the talent and work ethic of everyone at DSR and none of it would have been possible without the foundations set up by David.
Before we get too soppy though, body-warmers and WIFI for next year please Dave. Thanks.
So that’s the 2015 season done and dusted. See you all at Knockhill in 2016!