Thursday, 10 March 2016

Aiming for the Championship

Hello, I'm Lawrence Davey. This year I have been asked to give you love:mini readers an insight to my MINI Challenge season. 

I have been racing for 23 years, starting in karts at the age of 8 years old. Throughout my career I have been lucky enough to race at some of the best circuits in the UK and America.

As I said, I started in karts and moved into car racing in 1997 in Ministox on the short ovals. At the end of year 2000 I moved into Legends Cars and in the 12 years I raced in the Legends, I became a double UK National Champion, and raced in the World Finals at Infinion Raceway (2006) and Las Vegas (2009) and was ranked 2nd in the world for a number of years. I also won the 2013 Sunoco Grand Am challenge and won a drive in Daytona supporting the Rolex 24 hour race.

I joined the MINI Challenge grid in 2013, after 12 years of racing rear wheel drive cars I had a lot to learn and got to grips with the MINI very quickly. In my first season in the R56 I finished 7th and in 2014 I finished 4th in the Championship, also winning the Best of British award along the way.

In 2015 I stepped up to the new F56 Gen3 JCW and had a tough start to the season with technical issues but finished the season 4th in the championship. 

This season I am staying with the JCW F56 to have a go at winning the championship. The team have worked hard over the winter to secure two new sponsors.  We have signed Creative Racing Finance and Cooper Tonbridge MINI for 2016 and beyond. The car was liveried up and was at the Autosport Show in January on one of the Alcon Brakes stand. There have been a few upgrades to the car for this season, including a new remap so we have more power (265 bhp). Also we have now got adjustable rear control arms, bonnet vents and we have moved onto Dunlop tyres.

I have some testing booked in before the start of the season, and this will give us time to get a good set up on the car before the first weekend at Donington Park. As well as racing in the MINI Challenge, I also run a team with my father. This season will also see us run two Cooper S class R56 cars and a Cooper class car. So we have a very busy season planned for this year.

Race weekends can be very busy so together with my father, we have found a couple of very good mechanics to work on the cars. I don’t really get that nervous before a race, but when you’re sitting on the start line and you can hear all the other cars around you waiting for the lights to go off, that’s when I feel it. Before MINI Challenge I have only ever done standing starts, so I am still getting used to this. I do watch videos of previous starts, just to see what differences I have made and if they worked or not. I have found if I make a bad start then a good solid first lap will pull you back up and make up for it, but the downside is taking risks and possibly damage. 

We tend to have 15 minutes for qualifying and 3x 20 minute races so we have a fair bit of time to get overtaking done. But as the cars are all equal on power it is just down to driver skill and sometimes you need your rivals to make some mistakes.

This season is looking to be an exciting one, with 32 registered drivers in the JCW F56 class. So the start of the season will be good to get some solid points on the board and to stay out of trouble. If you come to any of the rounds make sure to drop by and say hello.

Lawrence Davey

Friday, 18 September 2015

Two festivals and a handful of podium finishes

Whilst we’re now on the build up toward our penultimate round of the season at Donington Park on the 19th / 20th September, now would be a good time to bring you up to date on the season so far.

Since my last blog, we’ve had two meetings, both of which were Mini Festivals… these are great events and I thoroughly look forward to taking part each season.  One reason is they are held at Brands Hatch and Oulton Park, two of my favourite tracks, but in addition, the atmosphere at both is always excellent.  Drawing in big crowds of like-minded Mini enthusiasts, lots of racing action from a number of different Mini championships, coupled with loads of other non-race related things to see and do, make it a brilliant event to be part of.

First up was Brands Hatch, using the Indy layout, this was where I took my first ever MINI Challenge UK win, back in 2013 in the Cooper Class… so very fond memories and I love the flow of the track.  It’s a short lap, so you tend to get into a rhythm.  With it being such a short lap, I felt this would really be beneficial to us as we are more than a match for the championship leading JCW through the corners… So we went to Brands confident of a strong showing.

Testing went really well and qualifying was close… top 3 being separated by less than 0.15 seconds, I lined up on the front row for race 1, just 0.1 off pole.  A cracking start in Race 1, saw me into the JCW lead and ahead of a couple of the faster Gen 3 cars.  Everything had gone to plan and I was set up perfectly to control the race.  Unfortunately, this was not to be the case… a move further back by the JCW championship leader caused a knock-on effect accident, putting me out of the race with a split intercooler and radiator.  In the process about 5 or 6 other cars were taken out resulting in the race being red flagged.  

The damage to my car was such we couldn’t fix it in time for the restart so frustratingly had to sit the race out.  Lady luck was shining on my nearest rival though and his damage was all bodywork and he went on to finish 2nd.  Post-race he was deemed to have caused the incident and awarded points on his racing licence and sent to the back of the grid for Race 2.  However, with the points gained from the race being more than the penalty imposed, his was still a net gain.  This was my first DNF in two and a half seasons racing… which I have been told is a new record within the MINI Challenge. 

Race 2, due to the DNF in the first race I too had to start from the back of the grid… I fought my way to 2nd which was a good recovery drive and an excellent way to repay the hard work the team were faced with after Race 1 - repairing a very sorry looking car.

The frustration of Race 1 and the boost of Race 2 really got me fired up for the final race of the weekend… with it being a reversed grid, we had to start further back on the grid.  I knew a good start was crucial and the importance of trying to hit the front as quickly as possible, so I tried to focus my energy on this.

The race couldn’t have gone more to plan… a blistering start saw me up to 2nd within a couple of corners and I was into the lead by the last corner of lap 1.  After that I tried to keep my head down and push, although some of the slower Gen 3 cars were battling and this did not help matters as they began backing me up into the chasing JCWs.  

A couple of incidents brought out two safety cars… I knew with a clear track I could pull a gap on the chasing pack, so I tried to make sure I wasn’t boxed in behind the Gen3s for the restarts so I could get my head down and work on building a lead.  Fortunately, this plan worked out well and on both restarts we managed to control the race from the front.  With a few laps remaining, one of the Gen 3s had a nasty looking roll at the unforgiving paddock bend which brought out the red flag, drawing the race to a close… 

A lights to flag win for me to end the weekend!!!  Couldn’t have been happier… what started off as a tough weekend, ended on a tremendous high.  The guys had their work cut out fixing the car after Race 1 and I genuinely think this gave me the extra determination to grab a win for them to repay their efforts.

Safe to say, we all left Brands tired but on a serious high and buzzing for the next MINI festival meeting at Oulton Park.

After the high leaving Brands Hatch, I don’t think we could have had a worse build up to the Oulton Park round.  As usual the guys gave the car a thorough spanner check and tidied up any necessary issues after the Brands Race 1 incident.  Everything seemed great until the week leading up to Oulton when the car developed a misfire.  Things went from bad to worse when the diff seized up whilst trying to fix the misfire… To cut a long story short, the car was without an engine, gearbox and several other bits until nearly midnight on the Thursday evening (the day before testing)…  Everyone at Interceptor and IN:MINI did a terrific job to sort the car and maintain their sanity… there were a lot of late nights, blood, sweat and tears went into sorting the issues and I’m extremely grateful.

The car arrived at Oulton in the early hours of Friday morning… with nerves all round, we began testing.  There was no way of knowing if the car was 100% sorted until we got on track.  The first session we used to warm everything up and do some system checks.  A spanner check and analysis of the data from the car before session 2 were positive so we began pushing in session 2 and 3.  I was very happy with the car, the set up was spot on and the car felt strong again, so we used the last session to scrub our tyres in and bed some brakes in ready for qualifying the next day.

We all slept a lot more soundly Friday evening, relaxed that the car was singing again.  Qualifying went well, there was a lot of cars out on track so it was important to try and find a gap.  I managed a couple of flying laps traffic free and put the car on the front row.

My starts have generally been strong all season, so I went into Race 1 with confidence starting on the front row.  The plan was to try and hit the lead at the start and attempt to make my escape.  I managed a great start, timing the lights well and comfortably into the lead by the first corner in front of one Gen 3 and launched up the inside of a second Gen 3 into cascades to put further distance between myself and the chasing JCWs.  Then what can only be described as carnage kicked off… 3 Gen 3s immediately in front of me got tangled up heading toward the fast island bend…  It's probably the closest I’ve come to an accident whilst avoiding one… taking to the grass at about 100mph to avoid the spinning cars, I was extremely lucky.  It was a big accident and the race was red flagged.  Fortunately everyone was OK and unhurt.  The downside to the red flag on the opening lap was the grid was reformed to the original starting positions… all that hard work undone.

I was determined to get another good start on the restart and fortunately this was the case… again into the lead into the first corner.  I managed to build a gap to 2nd place, until the closing stages of the race when 2 Gen 3s in front of me began battling.  I was caught right in the middle, unable to find a way past due to their straight line advantage whilst trying to  defend from the 2nd placed JCW.  It was a really tough race, with a clear track I knew I had the pace to pull away, but had no choice but to drive defensively and hold onto the lead… probably the longest few laps of my life, but so satisfying to bring the car home for another win!  It was mega to again be able to repay all the hard work the team had done to get the car sorted just in time… it really was a huge team effort to get that result. 

Race 2 was rather unexciting unfortunately… a massive accident involving several cars just after the first corner resulted in about 12 minutes of the 20 minute race being run under the safety car whilst the track was cleared.  I was lucky to avoid the incident, but had to virtually stop on the track to avoid a collision… dropping me from the top 3 down to about 6th… 

With only 8 minutes remaining when the race resumed I pushed hard.  I knew a win wasn’t on the cards as the top two running cars had a large gap to 3rd place… So I set a podium as my target and in truth wasn’t sure I had enough laps left.  By the chequered flag I had managed to climb back to 3rd and closing in on the lead pair... ending the weekend on the podium, which I felt was a good result… fastest lap was a nice bonus too.  In some ways it was unfortunate as we had the pace to win both races, but I have to look at things positively, we could have quite easily been caught up in the accident and been faced with a DNF… so we left Oulton happy after another strong weekend.

Next up for us is Donington Park this weekend (19th/20th September)… another track I love, this time we’re on the GP layout as opposed to the season opener which used the national format.  Again, we go there with nothing to lose… the championship really isn’t in our thoughts any more, we’re sitting strongly in second place with only Snetterton left after Donington.  The championship leader has quite an advantage now and would have to have an absolute disaster of a meeting to lose it now… he pretty much has one hand firmly on the trophy!  So we go to Donington pushing to fight for race wins and another strong weekend… nothing quite beats that feeling of standing on the top step!

For more information on Panda Racing and Hamish please visit /, ‘like’ the Facebook pages and or follow @PandaRacingTeam / @HamishB on Twitter.

Friday, 26 June 2015

In the mix as we approach halfway

Well it has been some time since my last entry, apologies to everyone and especially the love:mini team, hopefully better late than never.

A lot's happened with our season since my last post… we’ve had two further rounds at Brands Hatch GP and Silverstone.  As I write this we’re frantically trying to get everything sorted so we can get on our way south for this weekend's MINI Festival at Brands Hatch which I’m sure most (if not all of you) will know about.  I hope that a lot of you will be attending and if you are, please, please, please swing by our garage and say hello… it would be great to meet you. 

A quick summary to bring you up to date… Our strong season has continued and our run of podiums has been very pleasing… 7 podiums out of 9 races so far and we are sitting 2nd in the JCW championship.  Without a doubt the strongest start to a season for us… long may it continue.

Round 2 Brands Hatch GP
What a great weekend this was, we were part of the Blancpain GT round on the Mega GP layout which is stunning to drive.  We had a bit of a slow start to the weekend, finishing 4th in the first race, however, it was a great race with the top 4 literally bumper to bumper for the 20 minute race.

Race 2 was more like it though… a great start through a very messy opening lap which saw quite a lot of carnage, we emerged 2nd albeit with the windscreen covered in oil.  The race calmed down after the opening lap and we brought the car home in 2nd place.

Going into the 3rd race, confidence was high, unfortunately we had power steering failure at the start, first time driving a car with failed power steering and I couldn’t believe how heavy it was.  I expected it to get ‘lighter’ the faster I went (as it would on a car which came without power steering).  However, I quickly realised this wasn’t the case… Not one for quitting I pushed on, hanging onto the pace of the first two for as long as I could.  I was quite comfortably in 3rd until I noticed I was being caught rather quickly by my old teammate Jono Brown who was back for the weekend.  The last few laps he was all over me, I was determined to hang on to 3rd and after a few close shaves the flag was out… a final 3rd place podium to round off the weekend and a great race with Jono - was good to have him back on the grid.

Round 3 Silverstone

I’d only raced at Silverstone once before this year's MINI Challenge round and we didn’t get off to the best of starts.  With some heavy contact from a Gen3 on our outlap in testing, it was nearly game over for the day.  The team did a mega job fixing the car before the end of the last session and we managed to squeeze in a 20 minute shakedown to make sure everything was ok with the car.  It was fortunate the guys did such a quick turnaround on the repair as the shakedown highlighted we had a broken damper too which had appeared to be fine and working after the initial repair.  Not an ideal situation to be in going into qualifying the next again day.

Qualifying and Race 1 were in horrendous conditions, the rain poured and visibility was as good as zero.  We attacked from the first lap and was sitting on pole position in qualifying for most of the session.  We caught a couple of Coopers on our last flying lap and unfortunately this was enough for us to be dropped down the order to 3rd, however, not a disaster considering how badly testing had gone.  Race 1 we got a great start, up into 2nd off the line and challenging for the lead.  We had the pace in the wet and was all over 1st place through the corners, unfortunately lacking their speed in a straight line they were able to keep us behind.  However, we finished the 20 minute race about 0.7seconds behind so that gives an example as to how close a race it was.

Races 2 and 3 on the Sunday were in better conditions, dry races, so out came the slicks.  Race 2 was another close one, the car felt great, and was so hooked up round the corners.  With it being really the first dry run we’d had round Silverstone over the weekend it was very satisfying to have such a good car and we crossed the line 2nd again.

Race 3 ended the weekend off with a 4th place, whilst not ideal, it could have been much worse.  A brief excursion on the frantic opening lap bent something on our steering and part of our arch liner got wrapped up in one of the driveshafts.  This caused a drop in straight line speed and the car wasn’t as sharp through the corners which just took the edge off the performance.  We were stuck right behind 3rd place and managed to make a pass, unfortunately the extra grunt he had and the long straights meant he could just keep us behind him.

All in all, two great meetings… strengthening our position in 2nd, although we need to have a big push now on clawing back some points to the championship leader, with four meetings left we’re almost half way through the season, so this has to be our number one priority.

Now the focus has moved onto the Brands Hatch MINI Festival this weekend… I’ve been involved with this for the past two seasons and it really is a fantastic weekend to be part of.  Usually big crowds and a selection of awesome MINIs, classic and new… it's such a great atmosphere.  Really looking forward to the pit and grid walks, great opportunity to meet like-minded MINI fans and racing enthusiasts alike.  We’ll be based in the garages, so as already mentioned, do come and say hello.  If you’re unsure about going… don’t be… I’d be amazed if you didn’t love it… Hope to see you there.

For more information on Panda Racing and Hamish please visit /, ‘like’ the Facebook pages and or follow @PandaRacingTeam / @HamishB on Twitter.

Saturday, 9 May 2015

Round 1 analysis and quick prep!

WOW, where to begin… what a season opener at Donington Park.  Without a doubt our strongest ever start to a season, coming away with a 2nd, 3rd and a WIN!!!  Our first win in the JCW class, fantastic result for the team and certainly topped off a thoroughly enjoyable weekend.
We went there not knowing what to expect really, with no off season testing and moving to IN:MINI there was a lot of… “what… if… maybes…” as we made the journey south ready for testing.
Track time began on the Friday, where we did a few runs getting used to the car set up and generally dialling myself back into a race car.  Everything seemed to go smoothly and I felt like we were getting on the pace quickly.  It was a good settler for the weekend, learning to work with the new team and by the end of the day we were all happy/comfortable on how testing had gone and looked forward to qualifying Saturday morning.

Qualified 3rd on the grid after a brief ‘panic attack’… the gearbox got stuck in 5th gear on the start of our 1st flying lap so quickly aborted and diverted into the pits… fortunately the guys at IN:MINI quickly rectified the problem and sent me back on my way.  

Unfortunately the nice clear track I had managed to find had now gone and I rejoined amongst the pack.  With little time to spare I had to get a time on the board… luckily I got a clean lap on the last lap, bumping me up from 8th on the grid to 3rd… relief at what could have been a disaster start to the weekend!
Race 1 was really tricky, starting off on a dry track the rain began to appear at different parts of the circuit making each lap very different to the last, although I managed to keep some heat in the slicks which helped maintain the pace and brought the car home in a strong 2nd.  This gave all of us in the team a real confidence boost going into Sundays races.
Race 2 was a lot of fun, a near race long battle with JCW regular Kevin O’Connor.  Kevin drove really well all weekend and is showing real pace this year, as he did last year, although his new car is proving reliable so I expect to see Kevin pushing for some strong results this year.  I finished up 3rd, with Kevin managing to hold me off to finish 2nd… many congratulations to him, his first podium (I believe) in the MINI Challenge.

With the reverse grid, Race 3 saw me lining up 4th on the grid, I’d joked with a couple of JCW drivers earlier in the day that my plan was to be into the lead by turn 1… couldn’t believe it when I absolutely hooked up the start and my ‘plan’ worked out haha… if only ‘plans’ always worked as well.  From there, apart from a brief scare when I lost the lead for about a lap, surprisingly I managed to stay pretty calm and worked on building a gap to 2nd.  By the end of the race the gap was around 3 seconds.  Quite an uneventful race to watch I would imagine although for me it was probably the longest 20 minutes of my life… I’m sure they were adding time on just to make me sweat a bit more.
What a result though and what a weekend, so happy to have such a strong start and repay the guys at IN:MINI… Russell, Jim and Simon were absolutely first class all weekend and I’m hugely grateful for everything they did.
Was also a mega feeling seeing the pride in my Dads eyes at the end of Race 3, he’s always been there supporting and helping me with advice and guidance so to share the win with him was very special indeed.
Probably one of the best things that came out of the weekend is how great an atmosphere there is in our team, I feel extremely settled and happy already which is a real boost going into our next meeting at Brands this weekend.

That’s right… round 2 is this weekend… phew, hardly time for a breather after Donington!  However, that being said, we’ve all put Donington in the past and are 100% focussed for this weekend.
3 races on the GP layout should be awesome… Brands GP track is a real tricky circuit to get right, with the long straights and fast corners one mistake can be mega costly on lap times.  Unfortunately, we don’t get to test on the GP layout so on Friday we’ll be on the Indy loop, then straight into qualifying on the GP track.
I absolutely love Brands Hatch, both as a track and a venue… I really need to get my head down and work on getting a good qualifying lap which should hopefully set us up for another strong weekend.
Fingers crossed next week I’ll have some good news to report after our 2nd round, don’t forget… if you’re making it along to Brands this weekend, come and say Hi!
For more information on Panda Racing and Hamish please visit, ‘like’ the Facebook pages and or follow @PandaRacingTeam / @HamishB on Twitter.

Saturday, 25 April 2015

All ready for Round 1 at Donington

Hello and welcome to the second instalment of my racing diary… bit of a quick update this week, as I should have a more detailed entry for you all next week.

Well, it's almost time for Round 1… this coming weekend sees the MINI Challenge series head to Donington.  The hype has been building on social media and the closer it gets the more fired up I’m becoming… it's always the same for me on the week leading up to a race weekend, the excitement and nerves start to grow the closer it gets to race date.
I would say this year I’m more excited than ever… a lot has changed this season for me and I’m just eager to get started and settle in with IN:MINI; the new team.
With the Gen3 class and JCW cars sharing a grid and the Cooper class now having their own separate races there will be plenty action for spectators, so it should be a very interesting meeting.

Unfortunately we haven’t done any testing other than a 40 minute shakedown to make sure the car was running 100% after its winter refresh.  In an ideal world, we would have loved to have been out getting more track time in preparation, although with work constraints, time (or lack of it) has made it impossible.

Whilst I’ve been working and preparing as best I can for this weekend, the guys at IN:MINI have been really busy with the Panda Racing JCW.
After the media day, the car was stripped back and sent off to the bodyshop to have last year's warpaint removed and any damage tidied up.  Once received back it was all hands on deck giving the car another full mechanical check along with the freshly painted exterior being rewrapped and graphic’d up. 

Have to say a huge thanks to everyone at the IN:MINI team for their collective effort in getting the JCW back together; nice and fresh and ready for action… Plus organising all the other finer details to make us ‘track ready’ for Donington… Russell, Jim, Gavin and Louise, many, many thanks.

The car was wrapped again this year by Simon Rackham of Sign It, Simon has been wrapping the Panda race cars for three years now, with a real attention to detail and a keen eye for an attractive design I couldn’t be happier with his work… big thanks for another awesome looking design. 

As mentioned, I will have another update next week with a roundup of the weekend's racing… With this entry, I should have some exciting team news to reveal along with some images of the car which we’ll be taking at Donington… BEFORE I take it on the track; so at least you should see the design before any paint is traded.

If anyone is managing to get along to Donington this weekend, please don’t forget to swing by and say ‘hello’… would be great to meet some more love:mini readers.
For more information on Panda Racing and Hamish please visit /, ‘like’ the Facebook pages and or follow @PandaRacingTeam / @HamishB on Twitter.

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Welcome to my love:mini racing diary, I'm Hamish Brandon

All photos courtesy David Young Photography
Welcome to my love:mini racing diary, I'm Hamish Brandon. As this is my first entry I think a good starting point would be to give you some background info on me and the race series.

With no karting or race experience I started racing in the Scottish MINI Cooper Cup which was a great foundation with a move to MINI Challenge in 2013 - a natural progression.

After finishing 2nd in the Cooper class and 2nd overall in my first season I stepped up to the more powerful JCW class in 2014. Last season was very much a learning year and the plan was always to stay with JCWs for two seasons.

The JCW class is based on the R56 Cooper S and with some modifications power output is approx. 225bhp. The main components such as suspension, wheels, tyres, engine upgrades are all ‘control’ parts ensuring the cars remain to the same spec with results very much down to setup and driver ability - and for me this was a big part of choosing the MINI Challenge in my development as a racer.

As most racers will complain, the winter months tend to be long and drawn-out as we look forward to getting back out on track. Fortunately I haven’t had much of a break from track activities as I’ve been coaching a couple of new drivers to the MINI Challenge Cooper Class - Jon Attard and Adam Davey - both in their first season of racing so I’m very excited to see how they develop.

This year sees me move to a new team ‘IN:MINI’ where we will run as ‘Panda Racing IN:MINI’; Panda Racing supplies motorsport and performance Parts and Accessories (Panda standing for P and A).

The guys have now prepped the car ready to undertake some testing which will begin late March/early April ready for the first round at Donington at the end of April.

We had our first day together on the 18th February where we represented the MINI Challenge at the Media Day held at Brands Hatch. The event showcases the different race series' which run on the MSV programme. It was a good day and we managed to give a good number of some passenger laps to the press to give them a taste of the JCW’s capabilities.

I’m really looking forward to working with the guys at IN:MINI as they’re a great bunch and know their stuff: having prepared the championship winning JCW in 2013 with my friend Chris Smiley.

If you haven’t managed to get to a MINI Challenge round, I’d definitely highly recommend it.  The drivers are a friendly bunch and the series is very professionally run… if you do, don’t forget to swing by and say ‘hi’.

Next instalment I should have more info on our build up to the first round and in the meantime should you have any questions or comments it would be great to hear from you.

For more information on Panda Racing and Hamish please visit /, ‘like’ the Facebook pages and or follow @PandaRacingTeam / @HamishB on Twitter.