- Thursday, 28 May 2015

La Pommeraye: Time to focus

‘Click clack click’ went the the new alternator on my van as I started the engine. ‘Hmm that wasn’t there yesterday’ I thought. It was the Monday before my Thursday ferry to St Malo, and yet again I was facing a potential disaster before I even set foot in France. The noise was so loud that there was no way I could even contemplate a 10 day road trip, even if I put the stereo on full volume I knew it was there...

Desperate calls to a very nice man in a nearby village paid off, he came out and fitted a new belt while I thanked my lucky stars - I was all sorted by Tuesday evening. I drove Herve to French class that evening jus to be sure and everything seemed fine, all I needed to do now was pack, which is easier said than done… I’d fitted some shims to reduce the negative camber on the front as it was running over 3 degrees and not getting anywhere near the edges of the tyres, and I ended up resetting the toe out & tracking too as the car hadn’t been running straight with the wheel at 12 o’clock. Setting the car up is a relatively new thing for me, while I understand how and why it’s done I always used to leave it to someone else with the Westfield. Being as I’m largely on my own at most events I thought that now is the time to learn as I like to be as self sufficient as possible, and on this type of car it’s very easy to access everything.

Loaded onto the ferry at Portsmouth once more I met up with fellow hill climber Jerry Neary who’d made the initial journey to St-Gouéno with me last year, the event that drove me to follow my ambition and pursue a whole season in France. The overnight trip to St Malo is an easy journey as Brittany Ferries make it all an enjoyable experience, I took a few minutes to gaze at the sunset as we left port before getting some food. We sat up drinking red wine until we realised we were the only people left in the restaurant and called it a night, there was a big weekend to come!

Driving south from the ferry terminal you pass through some beautiful countryside, crossing the Loire before arriving at La Pommeraye and navigating your way to the Parc des pilotes. This time round there was electricity on site which made life very easy, and so I parked up next to a trio of Guernsey drivers who have been showing me the ropes after having competed in France for a long time now. 
I was just unloading the car as a large group of school children wondered up to watch (no pressure!) although I’m finally managing to relax with car on the ramps. After a few runs up and down the hill my first impressions where that it was as every bit as quick as I’d been told (although not on a 50cc moped) and steep in places meaning that you really don’t want to back off or brake unless absolutely necessary as any speed lost is hard to recover. We all went down to the banks of the Loire for drinks as the sun set on a beautiful evening.

Saturday practice didn’t commence until 1pm and I’d decided to reduce the toe on the front after having concluded with over drivers that I’d set it far too aggressively. Despite thinking I’d levelled the car I made a schoolgirl error of doing all this on the grass… the run that followed is possibly the most scary thing I’ve ever experienced as the car felt horrendous, I’d exarcebated the problems ten fold and realised I’d needed some level ground to do the job properly. I just managed to do this in time before the next run, albeit joining the pre grille in completely the wrong order somewhat to the dissatisfaciton of L’Automoible Club de L’Ouest. Thankfully the car now tracked straight and cornered consistently so I could focus on learning a very fast hill.

I’ll be completely honest and say that the enormity of the challenge I’d chosen, competing in France in a proper racing car, actually dawned on me for the first time that morning. This  is very different to what I know - with the reality of learning a much longer hill at speeds well over 100mph now staring me in the face and I was starting to wonder if this was such a great idea after all.

After a two more runs it started to click, and with my camera now working I could look back at my footage to see when & where I was going wrong. On the final practice I got stuck in 5th during the final part and couldn’t go down the box but later realised this was due to technique, but everything happens so quickly you really do need video at this level.

Sunday morning dawned with a foggy start and an untimed practice session which went well - I’d ran the course on foot on Saturday and really tried to get all the turn in points in my head. Soon after I was sat belted up in the car waiting for my première montée just as a large unseen oiseau dive bombed me and scored a direct hit on my hand! Unable to get out I hailed a passer by and pointed, ‘monsieur, avez vous un serviette s’il vous plait?’ He chuckled and took a picture with his phone. ‘I guess it’s good luck’ I thought, before somebody kindly gave me a napkin! 

I have to say just how friendly everyone has been - pushing the car around the paddock, cleaning grit off the tyres before runs and coming over to talk or help out if at all possible. The whole adventure of competing in a different country is something that I find so exciting despite the slightly scary and unknown nature of what lies ahead at each round - where else does someone come and deliver chocolate croissants to the door of your motorhome each morning?! I loved France long before coming here and it’s leaving a big impression on me - AH Video Concept have been making some amazing montages which really give a flavour of the events.

So how did the weekend go in the end? Running in a much bigger class I was chasing the whole weekend, and despite trying my hardest finished 4th out of 5, around 2.5 secs behind the top three - you can see my best run here. I pushed as hard as I dared, which was quite hard now that the fronts were getting all their rubber down, and was very happy to finish in the 1:04’s as this was my target come the start of Sunday. With St-Gouéno the following weekend I was every bit relieved to finish in one piece too, more than anything La Pomeraye opened my eyes to the fact that I have a lot to learn, constituency and gradual improvement are the objectives for 2015! 

With 5 days to relax in Brittany a group of us headed out for a meal that consisted of a very generous restaurant owner, a lot of free drinks and me wishing I’d loaded everything on Sunday evening… that’s another lesson learnt!

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