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Saint Gouëno: A score to settle

That fact that you’re reading this blog should confirm that I succeeded in finding enough diesel to make the 140km journey from the Atlantic coast, sure that doesn’t sound far but on Monday morning things were looking fairly bleak. After the previous race weekend I had less than a quarter in the tank, the paddock was now deserted and the one garage I’d pinned my hopes on was shut – whoever said 2016 would be plain sailing?

IMG_6225 copyI’ll be completely open and say that coming into this race I was a little nervous, the crash last really year knocked the wind out of my sails and it took me a good few races to rebuild my confidence in the car and start pushing again. Back in May 2015 the car was still pretty stiff, with rear anti roll bar still attached (everybody subsequently told me to remove it) and while I was certainly trying, it’s fair to say I was still becoming acquainted with the car’s handling characteristics. Whether it’s the improvements to the car over winter, a gradual increase in my own ability or perhaps a combination of the two, the car has felt ‘on the button’ from the first race this season and I certainly felt more assured that it wouldn’t bite me, so long as I didn’t provoke it…


Racing aside, I can’t think of a better way to relax and prepare mentally than a four day break on the coast. We ran every morning, slept well, ate well and had a perfect time away from the intensity of the track – a contrast with last year. Bottom line, I was determined to do everything right this year and approach this race with a professional attitude.

Leaving Pornichet we picked up 40 litres of fuel, being the last vehicle allowed in as they closed the garage that day I think they took pity on us as that was double the allocation. I now had enough to make it home, nothing else to worry about now – time to focus!

AUTO - MONTAGNE - SAINT GOUÉNO 2016Come Friday I unloaded, installed myself in the paddock and did a few jobs like cleaning the brake pistons so the car was ready for practice. We’d had a great evening seeing all the British drivers entered in the Masters and knowing that the hill would be closed all day while they ran the VHC there was no great hurry to get on the scooter, as it turned out I had to wait until 6pm to get my first sight of the hill. Since last year they’ve cut down a lot of trees which means that the now open parts should dry quicker in the event of rain. Oh yes rain, I nearly forgot. I winced looking at the forecast as we left the coast on Thursday, it was showing one constant deluge from Friday right through until Monday, just what I needed to put my nerves at ease.

However, mother nature must have changed her mind as we never saw a drop all weekend, in fact the only moisture we encountered came in the shape of fog, a thick blanket of mist which smothered everything until late morning when the sun finally mustered enough force to burn it off. In the evenings this created some beautiful scenes as the rolling hills faded in the last light, the characteristic wind turbines almost disappearing but for their flashing lights that give the otherwise rural landscape a slight touch of Bladerunner. 

I had a very invigorating drive to the paddock via scooter on Saturday morning, a jacket would have helped but at least I arrived fully awake! I slid on the wet grass as I turned off the road and had to jump off as there was no way of keeping the little Suzuki upright, I think only one person saw and I muttered something about that being the only accident this weekend (I’m not too good on two wheels…). I took it pretty steady for free practice, the weather was perfect and thankfully Evie was helping me down at the start line as I was still having starting issues. In timed practice I started upping the pace and moved into second initially before taking a further two seconds off after lunch and narrowly putting myself at the sharp end of the class. While I was happy with the times the starting issues were reaching a bit of a crescendo as the XAP dash started having a meltdown on the way to the line. It was flicking between modes continually then zeroing everything (revs, water temp, etc). On one run all I had to go off was the Geartronics display which thankfully has been on the button since I recalibrated it in my garage. I got back to the paddock and immediately removed the battery to check the connections as the XAP unit sits next to it, stress levels were quite high at this point. To cut a long story short, it would seem that the charger I’ve been using is either very feeble or faulty or both, as it’s been telling me the battery is full when in fact its virtually empty.

Disaster averted I had a well behaved evening and got to bed in good time for the early rise the next day, free practice would be from 8:30am and there was no way it would be anything but foggy. I’ve watched onboard of rally cars driving in fog but have never experienced it myself, suffice to say Pas de St. Gouëno flat at over 170km/h when you can’t see the track up ahead is no longer on my bucket list. Likewise Fer à cheval hairpin, I know it goes left but I sure couldn’t see where!

St. Gouëno Course de CôteMy fastest run from Sunday, 1:29:19 – so pleased with the way things went this year, love this course again! #NGK

Posted by Charlie Martin on Monday, June 6, 2016


Fortunately the sun did it’s thing and by the time of our first run the track was perfect. The new tyres make a noticeable difference and I was dead set on pushing as hard as I dared that day, everything felt right. I started well, trying to keep things smooth but getting on the throttle as early as possible, getting close into each apex and finding a rhythm. I crossed the line on a 1:29:19, two seconds quicker and a couple of tenths behind Sarah Louvet in first. After lunch I tried harder but went slower, slightly perplexed I watched the video back to see where I’d lost the time – at the start line and perhaps at the first corner where I got on the gas too early and had to correct the back end while waiting for it to settle. It happens in the blink of an eye when you’re in the car, you react instinctively but it all adds up. Crucially Sarah didn’t improve either, and so it would all come down to that final 3rd run…


The prospect of a win at the course that had given me highs and lows in equal measure seemed so close, I knew Sarah would be giving it everything, and coming from her that usually means a faintly crazy time. I was safe in 2nd with a decent margin between 3rd place, I’d already achieved my goal of breaking 1:30 but that doesn’t mean you back off. Still I had that survival mechanism telling me to keep the car safe, the memory of 2015 and the reminder of the repair bill all flashed through my mind. As I rolled up to the line for the final time I felt a numbing wave of adrenalin swelling in my chest, spreading out gradually through my arms and legs. 

13315673_1059827704097257_4835259747889965041_nAs I crossed the line I was unsure about the time, my senses told me I tried 100%, that I went faster and sure enough I was running wide on a few exits, but experience told me that I may have overdriven and gone slower. Sure enough experience was right and I was down to the tune of half a second while Sarah improved her time to finish on a very impressive 1:27:99 in 1st place. It’s easy to look back and be philosophical in these situations, but I was over the moon. The weekend had gone like clockwork, I’d approached it with determination and racked up another 2nd place finish putting me 4th overall in class for 3 races. Standing on the podium I was delighted – I knew I’d pushed beyond my comfort zone and the satisfaction of overcoming my demons was painted all over my face. Next stop Beaujolais Villages!


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