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Driver profile: James Robinson

Championship:ProTyre Ginetta GT5 Challenge
Team: Optimum Motorsport
Sponsor: Professional MotorSport World Expo

 

James' blog

Spa Preparation

The European round for this years championship is at Circuit de Spa Francorchamps., Belgium. The distance and costs make it difficult to test at the circuit prior to the event, so being able to get any preparation in is important. Throughout last year I used my simulator at home for race and firmly believe in the value they offer when learning tracks and driving techniques. In preparation for Spa, I was invited to MB Partners (ex Formula 1 driver Mark Blundell’s management company) to train on their simulator.

Training in a professional simulator was very different from my experiences at home. Their 4.8m wrap-around screen overshadows my 3x27” computer monitors, and their carbon fibre F3 tub really adds to the immersion. During my afternoon there, I learnt a lot with driver coach Kieren Clark. We started off in their F3 model on rFactor before installing iRacing so I could drive the BMW Z4 and McLaren MP4-12C GT3 car. Having someone in your ear telling you how to improve your lines and driving style was fantastic. I learnt a lot very quickly! As you are learning as you go, rather than as you review your video, you can put it directly into practice and as a result you develop quicker. By the end of the day I had improved my times by 2s.

I was really impressed by the iRacing simulation software and how realistic the tracks were and the car physics. The laser scanned tracks were incredibly accurate; both in detail and colour. You could feel every bump through the professional grade steering system! What surprised me the most was how you could notice the changes in car setup, just as you would in a real car. We adjusted the anti roll bar stiffness and material and it made a huge difference to the handling and feel. You could even feel the difference when lowering the ride height by only a few millimetres! After using professional equipment I will certainly be upgrading my home simulator, with the help of Attollos Technology.

Bring on Spa!

Rounds 7, 8, 9 – Silverstone

After a strong debut at Rockingham, and some good dry testing at Silverstone before the race weekend, I was confident that we were going to have some strong results on the Silverstone GP weekend. Throughout the weekend, the weather couldn’t make its mind up; with bursts of sunshine followed by torrential downpours on the Friday test day. This wasn’t a problem though, as I really enjoy wet weather racing!

We were the first cars on track on Saturday for our 20 minutes of qualifying. The weather had held off overnight, and the track was sufficiently dry for slicks; albeit a little “green”. As the track temperature rose, the times came tumbling down. Every time I crossed the finish line my time put me in the top 3 as I traded positions with Ollie Chadwick, James Kellet and Callum Pointin. As I lay in 4th in the closing stages, I backed off for one final lap. By maggots and beckets I was already 0.2s up on my optimum time, before catching one of the slower Ginetta GRDC cars onto Hanger Straight, which lost me the time I had gained. Two strong times, however, put me P4 on the grid for the first two races.

After being pushed wide through Maggots and Beckets, loosing a number of places, a crash further back in the field caused a red flag and a race restart. After a stronger start the second time I was up to 3rd for the first corner. I didn’t quite have the outright pace to stick with the TCR duo ahead, but had a strong battle with Ollie for the first half of the race before I got overtaken into Village corner mid race. Ollie has been blisteringly quick all season, probably down to his experience gained whilst finishing runner up last year, so it was good being able to hold him off and handle his pressuring.

The weather had taken a turn for the second race, so just like Rockingham, we would had a wet race. In Caterhams, the choice for which tires to run in the wet was relatively simple, but with the full wet race tires on the GT5 it’s much tougher. They are very soft, so you have to try and get a balance between good tread depth and a low level tread depth to simulate and intermediate tire. Going for the lower tread meant I had to be a little tentative on the first lap as I didn’t have as much grip as the guys around me. In doing so, I kept within the limits and took advantage of spinning cars in front, and I swiftly made my way into 2nd. Ollie, in 3rd, managed to catch me back up, but once again, I was able to hold him off for a few laps. I could see in my rear view mirror that I was faster than him in places and he was faster than me in others. After he got past I stuck on his tail, learning his lines and techniques through the sections he was faster than me and put him under pressure through the sections I was faster than him. Even through traffic we stuck together, but I was unable to get past him to reclaim the position. P3 in my second race weekend in the car – I’m very happy with that!! It was nice to be back on the podium so quickly, especially against really tough competition.

After a lot of waiting around, race 3 didn’t quite go to plan… The track had dried up enough for slicks, but it was still cold and there were still a number of damp patches. Unfortunately, whilst trying to get heat in the tires (a bit too aggressively, in hindsight) I ended up facing the wrong way after copse corner, putting me out of the race before it had even started. Having seen a good friend put his GT3 car in the wall an hour or so before, I had known that the conditions weren’t ideal. However, I didn’t think I would get caught out like that. It’s a real shame as it was looking promising for another strong result.

For me, racing is all about learning and challenging oneself. I am learning all the time in the GT5 series, and I will continue to learn throughout the season. Hopefully, I have made my big mistakes now and can continue learning how to go faster from now on instead of learning what not to do! I’m really chuffed with my P3 in race 2. It was a really great result in tricky condition…and I get a different podium cap! I can’t wait until the next rounds at Spa Francorchamps. It’s a track I’ve always wanted to drive, and hopefully I can have a stronger weekend!

Rounds 4,5 & 6: Ginetta GT5 Challenge, Rockingham, May 2 & 3 2015

Having always wanted to compete in the Ginetta GT5 Challenge, I was really excited that the opportunity opened up thanks to Professional Motorsport World Expo and Optimum Motorsport. Upon arriving on Friday, it was clear that I was racing at a completely different level. Surrounded by articulated lorries, high-end GT3 and GT4 race cars, and nimble BRDC F4 single-seater race cars, it was no surprise that I was a little daunted in the paddock having come from Caterham racing.

With only one test day under my belt, prior to the weekend, I knew there was a lot to learn about the car and the racing. The car handles very differently to the Caterham and as a result is a lot less forgiving. Gone are the days of safely drifting around the corners! Over the Friday testing, I got to grips with the car and we settled on a safe setup that kept the rear in check, making it more drivable.

On Saturday, we jumped straight into qualifying. I was really looking forward to a qualifying session that didn’t require cars around you to go fast! Having tested on very old tires, the additional grip generated from the new set was significant after they got up to temperature. As my confidence in the tires grew, my times improved and I was able to put in some 1:38 times to put me P3. It was my fastest time of the weekend and came a bit of a surprise – I didn’t expect to get up to speed so quickly!

Lining up on the in P3 was an exciting experience for my first GT5 race. I knew I had a lot to learn about the racing, but I was excited about the challenge ahead. As the lights went out, I made my way off the mark and cautiously down to the first corner. It was a new experience for me, and I wanted to make sure I survived. Consequently I dropped to 5th by the end of the first lap and knew I had some work to do to go forward. As I got settled in the car, I started making progress until I out-braked myself into the first corner which forced me to make a U-turn and I dropped to 9th. Getting back up to speed, I battled my way back to 6th and was right on the heals of P5 on the last lap. I plotted my move carefully, putting the driver in front under pressure and performing a cut-back out of the last corner to take P5 across the finish line by 0.2sec. I was happy with that!

Sunday morning saw the heavens open, which left a wet track for the first of the final two races of the weekend. I have always loved the wet, but this would be my first time in a ‘proper’ race car with wet tires. I was looking forward to it! Unsure of the grip I would have into the first corner, I got swamped by the drivers around me, dislodging my bonnet and sending me back to 9th from P3 on the grid. With the bonnet rising up under braking and down the straights, I had to guess my braking points without proper visual references. This meant I was losing a lot of time to the guys at the front, but I was still able to make my way through the field, and on the last lap I was right on the heals of the P5. I plotted my move carefully, putting the driver in front under pressure and performing a cut-back out of the last corner to take P5 across the finish line by 0.2sec. I was happy with that!

Having reviewed my footage from the second race, my main goal for the third and final race was to make up positions on the first lap. By the end of the first lap I was up into 3rd with a small gap to the cars behind and chasing down the leading pair who had pulled away. After a great run down the main straight and into the first hairpin, I knew it was my time to make a move, and I put myself in a position to take the lead. As I entered the first hairpin, a flash of orange flew up my inside as a fellow driver span out of control, forcing me off-track in avoidance, which dropped me back to 7th, with only enough time to claw my way back up to P5 at the flag.

For only my second time in the car, I’m really happy with the results. I showed my ability to learn the car quickly with P3 in qualifying and I certainly got good at recovery drives! When learning a new car, it’s easy to make mistakes, it’s just a shame that the mistakes were in the races.

I can’t thank Professional Motorsport World Expo enough for their support already this year. Graham [Johnson] provided me with great advice throughout the weekend, having raced the Ginetta GT5 in 2011 and 2012, so an additional “thank you” to him. I can’t wait to get back in the car at Silverstone on May 30 and 31. It will be my first time racing on the iconic Silverstone Grand Prix circuit.

(Image courtesy of Jakob Ebrey)


Rounds 1&2 - Caterham Supersport Championship, Snetterton 300, April 18 & 19 2015

The start of a new season is always exciting. Having not been out in the Caterham since the final round of 2014 championship, I was eager to get back out in the car to get off to a strong start after finishing my first year in cars as the Caterham Supersport Vice Champion. The two weeks leading up to the event were very busy as we were also in discussion with Optimum Motorsport to make the switch to the Ginetta GT5 Challenge, supporting the British GT and the Professional Motorsport World Expo racing with Optimum Motorsport GT4 entry.

In the mindset of going out with a double win, I was quickly where I needed to be – 0.4sec quicker than my nearest rivals in clean air. Come race day, I knew it would be hard to keep the margin as the tow in the Caterham is so significant around the two-minute lap of the Snetterton 300 circuit.

Knowing that the tow would be a significant factor to success at the weekend, DPR Motorsport tried to send us out together to benefit from the tow. However, this didn’t go to plan, and we soon found ourselves getting caught up with slower cars and I had still not set a ‘tow’ time. I took this opportunity to back right off to try and gain some cleaner space, and after getting in a few laps on my own, I managed to put in a lap that saw me rise to the top of the table, despite getting held up onto the start/finish line. The time didn’t last long as I was pipped to pole position by 0.168sec.

Caterham racing is always close, and the first race was no different. Three other drivers and I managed to break away from the other 20+ competitors, where battling could commence. I was able to make a break into the lead and pull out a small margin, which was scuppered by a safety car. Despite being a frontrunner throughout the majority of the 2014 season, it was the first time I was directly behind the safety car. A last-minute dive into the pits from the safety car caught me off-guard and I was unable to follow my restart plan and was soon swamped by my competitors and had to battle back up to the lead, where I took a win in the opening round.

I was expecting much the same performance in Race 2. The wind was much stronger, making the tow even more significant and allowing some of the slower drivers to keep up with the front pack. My race was short lived and I suffered the same fate as Jon O’Brien had a few laps before and was driven over the top of, putting me out of the race.

Not the best end to my Caterham racing career, but I enjoyed representing Professional Motorsport World Expo at the front of the grid. I am now looking forward to making the step up to the Ginetta GT5 Challenge even more!

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