Playing the Long Game

“This weekend we have two targets; Firstly to score as many championship points as we can to continue the momentum we’ve built-up in the first two meetings and secondly to see how the car behaves on the clockwise circuit in the dry to make sure we are fully prepared for the David Leslie meeting next month.” That was Jordan’s explanation of how the team were approaching rounds 5 and 6 of the 2019 Scottish Formula Ford Championship.

With guest drivers, Neil MacLennan (2016 Scottish Champion) and Michael MacPherson making the trip north with the Kevin Mills Racing Team in order to log some laps in between National Championship races, the picture of the weekend was skewed slightly. As guest drivers, MacLennan and MacPherson would not score any championship points, meaning that racing them was not essentially on the team’s priority list.

The competition really doesn’t get any faster than these guys and a team like KMR

“These guys are both very experienced around Knockhill.’ Said Jordan when asked about how he was approaching the presence of the guests. ‘Obviously Neil won the title in 2016 and is very much in-form at the moment in the National Series and Michael has always been competitive as well. But honestly, no I don’t feel any extra pressure with them here. In fact it’s the opposite and I’m really happy to have them here as a benchmark. The competition really doesn’t get any faster than these guys and a team like KMR! Of course we’re going to give it our all to beat them but ultimately I’m not afraid to admit I won’t really be on full-attack mode against them out there. There’s no point in risking everything to fight them when at the end of the day it won’t make any difference to our championship points.”

Photo: Alex Ireland

After an afternoon of dry and warm running on Saturday, Sunday morning dawned much the same and marked the first full weekend of dry running on the clockwise circuit since July 2018 – exactly what the team had been looking for when aiming to work on the car setup.

Qualifying was extremely tense and it became clear Gronkowski and MacLennan were essentially in a two-way battle for pole position. MacLennan’s early benchmark of 54.385 was immediately all-but-matched by Gronkowski’s 54.427. Then MacLennan lowered the target to 54.272, with Gronkowski following suit on 54.293. In the dying moments, MacLennan again went quicker on 54.012 and in the closest result for a while, Gronkowski’s final effort clocked-in at 54.030. MacLennan had the pole by just 0.018 seconds. MacPherson lined-up third, over half a second adrift and Neil Broome ended the session fourth (and the highest challenger to Gronkowski’s championship position) over 0.8 seconds back.

“Well, we thought after yesterday it was going to be close.’ Said Jordan after the session. ‘But to be honest I didn’t expect it to be that close! The car wasn’t ideal through the session and we’re struggling with some imbalances in the handling so we’ve got some thinking to do for the first race but obviously it’s fantastic for us to be on the same level as these guys given their pedigree. I really enjoyed the session, knowing it was so nip-and-tuck between us thanks to the team updating me with the times on the pit board.”

MacLennan immediately lead away from pole as race 1 got underway. Gronkowski’s getaway was good but he had to yield to MacPherson into Duffus, slotting into third ahead of Broome. It then quickly became obvious that Gronkowski’s qualifying pace had disappeared. He struggled to stay with MacPherson and then had to start defending from Broome in the first few laps. However at around the halfway mark Gronkowski’s pace started to improve and he began to pull away from Broome and close back in on Macpherson. Lap 7 was the moment as Gronkowski pounced under braking at the hairpin. Cutting back for a better exit, MacPherson dragged alongside up the main straight, holding the inside line for Duffus, but Gronkowski braved-it-out around the outside on the brakes and held onto P2, pulling away slightly by the flag.

Photo: Alex Ireland

“That was certainly hard work.’ Said Jordan. ‘As you can probably guess after watching that, we decided to take a risk and make a fairly major change to the car after qualifying in an effort to sort out the handling, but it obviously didn’t work out and the car was a bit of a handful! It took me a few laps to adapt my driving, during which time Neil was all over me and Michael was disappearing up the road. But then things started to come to us and when I saw we were able to catch Michael I thought about having a go for P2. It was a great bit of racing and I really enjoyed it – against him and against Neil – some real close, clean dicing for position is always fun!”

Race two late on Sunday afternoon proved a much more straight-forward affair for the team – at least at the time… Having reversed the changes which hampered them in race one, Gronkowski managed a clean getaway and trailed MacLennan closely for the first half of the race, never dropping more than 1.5 seconds behind as the pair streaked clear of the chasing pack. The timing of lapping a slower car worked-out better for MacLennan, giving him an extra second’s worth of gap and ultimately calling the end to Gronkowski’s fight as he took the decision to back-off and save his tyres (championship regulations requiring them to be re-used at a later meeting). MacLennan ultimately took the win by 5.7 seconds from Gronkowski, who himself finished 7.3 seconds clear of the field.

Despite the double-P2 result, the team had achieved what they needed to in order to score maximum championship points from both races – 25 as the lead championship driver home and a bonus point in each race for the fastest lap by a championship competitor.

Photo: Alex Ireland

During post-race scrutineering, Jordan’s left-rear tyre became obviously deflated and on further inspection, the inner weld on the wheel rim had cracked at some point during the race. The fact that the team had completed the weekend successfully with maximum championship points suddenly seemed extremely lucky considering a slow puncture such as this could have easily ended the weekend in the tyre barriers!

It was very satisfying to be back closer to the pace we know we have got in the car

“I’m really pleased with that race.’ Said Jordan. ‘It was very satisfying to be back closer to the pace we know we have got in the car after the mistakes we made in race one and again to keep within a couple of seconds of Neil was a good showing from us. Ultimately, as I said coming into the weekend, it didn’t matter if we attacked him or not so after losing some ground whilst lapping cars, I decided to call it a day and take the car home gently. The regulations require us to use these tyres again before the year is out so there’s no point in taking any more life out of them than necessary when there was a reasonable cushion back to third. As it turns out, the slow puncture would have been very dangerous in the latter stages of the race so perhaps that decision to back off actually saved us from spinning out! We’ve been pretty lucky in that respect.”

“Overall, we’re very satisfied with our weekend. We’ve ended the first half of the season scoring the maximum championship points on offer and I think we’re in a good place with the car going into the David Leslie meeting next month. Thank you to dad for all his hard work again this weekend and also to all of our sponsors and fans for their support. Now we’re fully focused on the David Leslie weekend and making sure we give it our everything!”

Photo: Alex Ireland

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