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Race report 1 - Challenges in the MINI Challenge by Chris Mackenzie

We knew we were going to face a large learning curve heading into Donington Park for the first 3 rounds of the JCW MINI Challenge. However, during Thursday's practice, we were happy with our progress in the practice sessions, especially as it was our first time at the track with the new car and myself only having driven the car on two occasions previously. Despite being approximately 2 and a half seconds off the pace, we found encouragement in this performance. We knew that with new tyres and adjustments to our car setup, addressing both oversteer and understeer issues, we could improve on our previous best lap time.

Analysing footage from practice, we identified areas for improvement and made necessary adjustments to the car setup, recognising that we have much to learn in this aspect over the course of the year. As qualifying approached on Saturday, I felt optimistic, anticipating setting a better lap time. However, misfortune struck during my first push lap. After completing three laps of weaving and braking to get heat into the tyres and brakes, my car suddenly snapped whilst going into Craner Curves at around 100mph. A simultaneous gearbox and differential issue caused my brakes to lock up, resulting in a spin and subsequent gravel trap excursion. Somehow I avoided a rollover but lost control of the car entirely. The craner curves are a very dangerous area of the circuit and this was proven by the fact that a fellow competitor unfortunately rolled his car five times at the same corner in race 1.

Returning to the pits after being pulled out of the gravel, it became evident that we wouldn't make it out for Race 1. The team mechanics quickly identified broken gears and a popped differential. Undeterred, our team worked tirelessly, labouring until the early hours of the morning to rectify the issues and rebuild the gearbox. By the time Race 2 commenced on Sunday, amidst persistent rain, by some miracle our car was ready to go. However, as the track rapidly dried, it became apparent that the differential had a problem, depite having been rebuilt the night before (By another race team). This issue caused my front wheels to lock up and this, combined with poor tyre grip (We were on wets but the track dried about two laps into the race), caused me to go off eventually damaging the splitter. 

Ultimately, we made the difficult decision to retire from the race in the interest of damage limitation. While the start to our season wasn't ideal, there were silver linings. Our three young apprentice mechanics gained invaluable experience in repairing the gearbox and differential, and our pace demonstrated potential, offering optimism for the next rounds of the season.

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