Engine problems mean 2.5s off paceFinished sixth and fifthLost only three points to second-placed driver in championshipMaintains championship leadThree rounds to go
What could best be described as a nightmare weekend actually turned out well for young racing driver Rob Cox; the 17 year-old from Flamstead in Hertfordshire managed to finish the latest two rounds of the BRSCC Fiesta Junior Championship race series in sixth and fifth places respectively despite a significant engine problem and dropped just three championship points in the process.
The weekend began with the usual two free practice sessions at the famous Donington Park circuit close to Nottingham. In the first, Rob decided to shake his Fiesta down, as it had had an engine rebuild since the last round at Cadwell Park in Lincolnshire. Without pushing the car or tyres too hard, he felt he should be around 0.5seconds off the series pace in the first session.
However, when he returned to the WDE Motorsport team garage, he was dismayed to find the actual difference was closer to 3.0 seconds. In the second practice session, he pushed much harder to try to establish a better pace but was again disappointed to find that he was still 2.5s off the front-runners and significantly behind the pace he set when the series visited Donington in 2013, his first season of racing.
He discussed the situation with the team and driver coach Paul Rivett and they both studied the on-board video footage to make sure that, before confirming there was a problem with the car, Rob's driving was not the source of the time loss.
Rob, Rivett and the team all agreed that it was not his driving accounting for such a large difference in time and so the team began a process of diagnosing and rectifying what they felt were issues with the engine and the car's stop speed.
The qualifying session revealed that while the car seemed to accelerate well out of slow and medium-speed corners, top speed was indeed the issue, with cars passing Rob easily on Donington's famous long straights and uphill sections.
By the end of the session, Rob had posted the seventh-fastest time, meaning he would start the first of the weekend's two races from that position.
As the weather was damp with light drizzle for the first race, his car wore dry tyres at the front and wets at the rear and he managed to get a reasonable start, gaining one position during the first lap. However, the lack of top-end power soon became apparent and he was forced to adopt a defensive style to reach the flag in sixth place.
However, Michael Higgs, who lay in second place overall in the points table at the season mid-point, finished just one place ahead of Rob in fifth and so, after the first race, he had conceded just a single championship point.
The second race was dry and Rob started from sixth on the grid after the result from the first race. Again, he got a good start and managed to claim two positions in the first lap. However, it appeared the hard work the team had done between the two races had not rectified the problem and again, Rob was forced to go defensive to limit the damage to his title aspirations.
This process was not helped when the Fiesta's ABS system failed, meaning that he now had to manage his braking carefully to avoid locking-up the brakes and damaging the tyres. He conceded one position to team-mate Sam Watkins and was then forced to spend the rest of the race defending from a charging Jessica King, eventually managing to finish the race just ahead, in fifth place.
However, Higgs suffered more problems and did not finish the second race, meaning that the net gap between he and Rob actually only decreased by three points after dropped scores were taken into account.
Commenting, Rob said; "It's been a really tough weekend at Donington and was a case of damage limitation from the very first practice session. However, thankfully we managed to do a reasonable job in that capacity and only lost three points to Michael over the whole weekend.
"It wasn't until I saw the times from the first practice sessions that I started to get a little concerned. After the second one, I went through the data and video with Paul [Rivett] before I started to blame the car to make sure I wasn't the problem. He agreed that it appeared to be that way so the team did everything they could to try to get the car sorted.
"As it transpired, they were unable to find the exact fault and the car will be on the rolling road this week to try to diagnose exactly what the issue is. If necessary, the engine will have to come out again and be rebuilt to sort it.
"If nothing else, I learned a huge amount again this weekend, mainly about driving defensively! Jess pushed me really hard for almost all of the second race and with no ABS, it was really tricky to stay ahead of her."
Rob retains the overall lead in the series standings, with 229 points to Higgs' 223 and Tom Grundy in third with 220.
The next round of the series takes the teams back to Silverstone and the National circuit, over the weekend of 9-10 August.