Driver profile: John O'Brien
Championship: Production GTI Championship
Team: JabbaSport Racing
Sponsor: Professional MotorSport World Expo
Production GTI Championship, Rounds 5 & 6: Zolder
It’s been a while since I wrote a PMW on-track entry, eight months in fact. But the weekend of June 4/5 saw me back in action in another new car, and a new championship.
Another year in the Caterham would have been amazing to do, but it simply wasn’t financially viable. So this year, I am contesting the Production GTI MK5 Series. Built by JabbaSport as part of a one-make series, the car is a 260bhp, 1300kg, FWD with Quaife differential MK5 Volkswagen Golf GTi, running on Toyo 888R tires.
I joined the championship at rounds 5 & 6, having missed the opening two rounds at Oulton due to an event cancellation, and the following two at Rockingham, UK, due to work commitments. Having never sat in the car prior to the weekend, it was going to be a case of getting used to the car and build up pace over the course of the three days.
Testing proved to be largely successful, the four twenty minute sessions allowing me to get used to the car’s tendencies and power delivery, both of which are pleasingly neutral allowing me to pick up a pace good enough to be consistently in the top three places. In qualifying, and with a fresh set of tires on the car, I somehow managed to post a single flying lap that was over 1.5 seconds clear of the rest of the field, to bag my first ever pole position!
Both races were the following day, the first of which was in my favourite conditions – damp but drying. Lining up on the front row of the grid for the first time ever did feel amazing, and when the lights dropped… I stalled it. The one time I had to get it right and I blew it!
Quickly fumbling for the ignition, I got it going again and had only dropped behind the MK5s and kept in front of the pack of MK2 Golf GTIs that started several rows further back.
Within two laps, I’d climbed back up to third by making several dives up the inside in to the slow speed corners. It took another two laps to get back to the front before I was able to open up a six second gap, and then just control the pace after that. Managing my speed, I crossed the line over four seconds in front of the pack!
Race two was much later in the day and the temperature had been steadily climbing all day. Lining up beneath a cloudless sky, I managed to actually get off the line cleanly this time, but as the car was beginning to gain momentum, the inside position of pole meant I picked up some wheelspin on the discarded rubber.
Losing a place to the fast starting Josh Johnson, we headed through the first three turns together, and as we headed out on to the back straight, Johnson carried a touch too much speed through Lucien Bianchibocht. Sliding wide on to the gravel mid-corner, he lost enough momentum to allow me back through on the inside. Back in front, I tried to replicate race one by simply getting my head down, build a gap and let the pack squabble amongst themselves behind me. By the end of lap three, I’d built a healthy lead, but the ambient temperature made the tires deteriorate rapidly and grip was becoming a bit of an issue at the mid-way point. Again, attempting to balance the gap to second, I massively underestimated Martyn Walsh’s closing speed, and allowed him to close back up to the point that I had to go heavily defensive under braking for Terlamenbocht, Bolderberghaarspeldbocht and the Jacky Ickxbocht chicane on the last lap.
In the end though, I managed to fend off Walsh to the line, crossing just 0.327 of a second apart.
As opening weekend’s go, Zolder was phenomenal: Two pole positions, two wins, a fastest lap, and every lap lead in race two. Jabba Sport has built one hell of a quick car, and with more seat time planned, as well as several test sessions to help develop new components on the car, 2016 is looking hugely promising already .
Race report: Brands Hatch
The Brands Hatch round of the Production GTi Series reaffirmed why I love motorsport. In terms of results, the weekend stunk. But in terms of the sheer rollercoaster of emotions, it’s hard to think of any situation that would have stirred so many in such a short period of time.
Again, due to work commitments, Friday practice was missed, meaning I was jumping straight in to the car in qualifying. Never ideal, but real life often has a habit of interrupting the ideal scenario. The car’s neutrality and superb balance at Zolder meant set up was largely unchanged. Heading out of the pit lane for the first lap of quali, and I was a little over zealous on the throttle coming in to Paddock. As the car slid, my head defaulted in to Caterham mode, and I lifted, tipping the weight forward and snapping the car sideways. Slightly embarrassed, I collected the car from the infield and continued on my way. Despite the upset on the opening lap, I managed to stick the car third on the grid despite being apprehensive through Paddock.
The opening race was an interesting one. Off the line, Charlie Cudlipp made a poor start, having to get back on the brakes after rolling forward when the red lights came on. As they dropped, and Cudlipp still firmly on the brakes, I made a strong start past him up in to second, however, Martyn Walsh behind made a blistering start and squeezed between myself and Brands Hatch’s awkward pit exit wall and up in to second. Cudlipp, meanwhile was being squeezed on the other side as James Howlison made progress on the left hand side of the track. As we funnelled in to Paddock Hill bend, the flow seemed to settle, but as we entered the braking zone at Druids, I found myself with two wheels on the grass, and unable to slow down, clattering in to Walsh’s door, and compromising my run down to Graham Hill Bend. After that, the race slowly went from bad to worse, as I was unable to stay on the back of the leading pack, with the car feeling unstable through Surtees (leading to two separate spins just as I was closing the gap to those in front…), before understeering through Clearways. Meaning any run on to the start/ finish straight was compromised and any move in to Paddock would fall firmly in to reckless, rather than brave.
The second spin had dropped me to the rear of the grid, and following a particularly questionable run through Paddock, Robert Griffiths got a strong run down the inside. Knowing I’d screwed up, I kept left and didn’t try to defend as his run was visibly that much stronger. Despite this, Griffiths continued to move over to the left, forcing me on to the grass before colliding with the front of my car. As we touched, I stood on the brakes to avoid a sizeable accident and as I undercut him through the turn to get back in front, he then proceeded to ram the back of my car on corner exit, bending the rear arch and bumper down on to the right rear tire. As soon as I accelerated, a plume of white smoke bellowed from the car and I knew it was game over. Pulling in to the pits, the Jabba team managed to pull the arch clear of the tire, but the short nature of Brands Hatch Indy meant that I was quickly a lap down. I trundled round at the rear of the pack for a few laps, feeling somewhere between seething anger and confusion as to where the pace had vanished to.
Race two and starting dead last meant it was a case of just go for it. In the down time between rounds, we adjusted the rear dampers rebound to steady the rear end under braking, bringing some of Zolder’s stability back in to play through the faster corners, but whilst Surtees was now much more approachable, through Clearways the tweaks had induced even more understeer. All of this meant I made little progress forward, finishing a truly disappointing seventh. Despite the lowly result, some good, clean door to door racing with Andy Blackburn for several laps actually meant I enjoyed most of race two.
Largely, it was a weekend to forget, especially following the elation of Zolder. The car is hugely fast, as shown in Belgium; Brands merely highlighted the importance of testing! And with that in mind, there’s a lot planned between now and the next round at Silverstone.
2014 Blog, 2013 Blog, 2012 Blog