Panda Racing’s Hamish Brandon doggedly battled setup issues in Rounds 5 and 6 of the 2014 Power Maxed MINI Challenge on Norfolk’s Snetterton ‘300’ circuit to conclude a trying weekend on a high in fourth position (21-22 June).
Brandon complained of excessive understeer through Snetterton’s high-speed turns during the build-up to the weekend’s first race on Saturday (21 June) and could only qualify his Exceler8 Motorsport-prepared Panda Racing MINI sixth overall – mid-pack in the headlining John Cooper Works (JCW) class.
The Hawick driver made a traditionally good start to Saturday’s race, as three Cooper class contenders – Simon Walton, Grace Williams and Pete Diamant – all came to grief in a spectacular startline incident that resulted in a short Safety Car deployment.
At the resumption of racing, Brandon was unfortunate to sustain front-end damage to his splitter in an off-track skirmish at Oggies, accentuating his handling issues and kerbing his charge.
He stubbornly wrestled his ailing MINI to the finish, only losing two positions and taking the chequered flag in eighth position, although the Scot was disappointed when the top seven finishers were reversed for the start of race two on Sunday morning (22 June).
The attention was consequently focused on the occupants of rows three and four of the race two grid, with Brandon in among and hoping to latch on to the coattails of championship leaders Chris Knox and Luke Caudle.
In contrast to the previous day’s encounter, the opening lap of Round 6 was incident-free, although the MINI Challenge drivers provided the trackside spectators with plenty of drama and excitement, shuffling positions with some ballsy passing moves.
Brandon was seventh and ahead of Mark Steward after the first tour of the 2.99mile Snetterton 300 circuit, but lost touch with the fast-starting Caudle and Knox, who later tumbled back down the order to ninth position.
Now sixth, Brandon drove cleanly and consistently to match the top three for pace. He clung on to Henry Duprey and picked off Keith Issatt for fifth place with a late lunge under braking for the Montreal hairpin, before gapping the rest of the field.
His pace was solid until the latter stages when a profound lack of grip resulted in excessive understeer and stalled his charge, although the Scot pulled off one final overtake on Lawrence Davey as the race neared its conclusion to finish in a highly-respectable fourth place and limit the damage to his championship standing.
“The weekend didn’t start well, but I’m happy and full of confidence leaving Snetterton,” said Brandon. “Race two was much better and it made such a difference having downforce from the front-splitter, which I lost when it got damaged in the first race on Saturday. I made a couple of moves early on and just got my head down to try and catch those ahead of me. I was able to hang on to them for the majority of the race but the tyres gave me no grip in the latter stages and the gap to the first three opened up.
“When looking at my lap times, if I pieced together my best sectors I would have been in among the top three, so I’m pleased to have made some real progress to end the weekend where I always wanted to be. We appeared to have the technical stuff dialled in, but it was the faster corners that were initially problematic. I also need to work on my consistency and stop making little errors, which will come with time in the car. In summation, we had a tough start and the race one incident was my fault. But I cleared my head last night, came here today in a positive frame of mind and emerged with a good fourth-place result, which is fantastic.”