Words courtesy of DTH Motosport Blog
Brands Hatch provided the 2019 season opener for the Armed Forces Race Challenge (AFRC). The RNRM Car Racing Team had 6 drivers out representing the senior service, further bolstered by RM veteran Mark Inman. Many of the AFRC drivers had never driven this circuit before and almost half the field were classed as novices (drivers who have not yet been classified as finishers in 6 previous races). In a chaotic qualification session which saw two stoppages owing to on track incidents, the team performed well and achieved a 4th place thanks to Keith Attwood in the Mini Cooper, followed by 5th – Mark Inman, 6th – Adam Dewis, 11th – Steve ‘Hutch’ Hutchings (Novice), 13th – Gareth ‘Stirling’ Moss, 15th – Rich Beaumont (Novice) and 20th – Lewis Pemble (Novice).
In the run up to Race 1 of the AFRC at 1200 hours, the focus became the tyres. Whether, it would be dry enough for the slight treaded equivalent of slick dry tyres, or if treaded, road-going equivalent, wet tyres would be needed to prevent possible aquaplaning. The choice would have to be made long before the race start to allow time for a change of four tyres, and time to reach the pre-race assembly area. Most chose wet tyres, but a few went for the riskier strategy of dry tyres that would improve performance later on in the race, as the track surface hopefully improved. Keith, Rich, Lewis, Adam and Stirling would opt for the dry setup, with Hutch and Mark banking on the wets.
The cars sat on the grid, as the rain, then sleet, then hailstones came down onto the circuit, the dry setup would prove to be sub-optimal in the very challenging conditions.
Lap 1 became a cautious tip-toe on cold tyres on a soaked circuit, Adam had a great start but lost drive before the first corner and had to retire, Keith lost a couple of places off the start line, but had recovered back to 5th by the close of lap 1. After 8 laps, aside from Adam all RNRM cars still ran with various climbs up towards the front of the field. The Ford Fiesta of Richard Beaumont spectacularly spinning three times at the Surtees and Clearways complex, including one whole 360 spin, highlighted a less than ideal set of weather conditions for the motor racing rookie’s first race. His race eventually ending in the gravel trap on the outside of Paddock Hill Bend after sliding wide. A red flag immediately followed, permanently ending the race with the Guest BMW M3 GTR victorious, with veteran Mark in 2nd. In overall 4th place, and 2nd in Class C was Keith Attwood in the Mini with the best result for the RNRM team, Stirling 8th, Hutch 12th and Lewis 16th.
The sudden, short showers lasted for the next few hours as different categories of cars rubbered in the circuit. Adam swapped out a broken drive shaft and Rich cleared out the gravel from inside the Ford Fiesta’s brake callipers, suspension and front and rear wheels he had collected after getting beached at Paddock in Race 1.
As the start time grew closer, the conditions began rapidly improving, and the track became drier and drier. The tyre strategy was simple this time; semi-slicks.
The grid order for Race 2 was determined by the second best lap time from the single qualifying session that morning. This put beteran Mark Inman in 3rd place, with yhe first official RNRM member Stirling 7th, Adam 8th, Keith 11th, Hutch 12th, Lewis 17th and Rich 24th. Unfortunately for the RNRM team a number of issues with cause 3 retirements. Firstly Hutch in his Peugeot 106 pulled into the garage post the formation lap with engine trouble. As the race began Keith got a great start and pulled out to overtake the bunching 3 cars in front of Adam, Stirling and RAF driver Frodo was unsighted of a stalled BMW M3 in front, quick reactions avoided a heavy rear impact, but contact was inevitable. This resulted in the race being stopped and Keith retiring. Stirling has also sustained some damage in the melee, losing all coolant and so forcing his retirement as well.
On the restart the remaining cars got off the grid in relative grid order and lap times began to tumble as cars spread out and drivers pushed on a completely dry track. After 13 laps (4 more laps than the first race), veteran Mark in the VX220, took the chequered flag in 1st place. The three official RNRM finishers crossed the line in the following order Adam 7th, Lewis 19th, Rich 24th (and 5th in Class D).
Outside of the Class awards (based on track position finish) Championship points are awarded on a performance index system (fastest lap time vs average lap time) meaning irrespective of car you have you can be in the fight. A max 20 points are on offer each race. With the dust of the final race settled the RNRM team found themselves in the following positions; 5th – Keith, 8th – Stirling, 18th – Lewis, 19th – Adam, 20th Hutch. With the RNRM Team sadly down in 3rd out of the 4 teams (Army, RAF, RNRM and Veterans), but considering the issues the team faced it was the best we could have hoped. Lewis was voted best RNRM driver on the day owing to his great composure and consistent drivers being the only RNRM finisher in both races.
The next round takes the team to Anglesey on 15-16 June.