JSCC Champion Katie Milner takes up the Ginetta challenge at Brands

The first qualifying session was slippery (Photo by Marc Waller)

The first qualifying session was slippery (Photo by Marc Waller)Katie Milner headed for Brands Hatch last weekend and a new challenge as she entered the Ginetta Junior winter series running with Elite Motorsport.

This really was a challenge as the car was entirely new to Katie with a different configuration to her championship winning JSCC car. The Ginetta is rear wheel drive as opposed to the front wheel drive Saxo and it’s a low slung coupe instead of the hot hatch shape of the Citroen. This would also be the first time that Katie would work with another team, having always been run by Merlin International, her family team.

It’d be a challenge to beat her opponents too with many of them having a season or more behind them in the car. Katie just had a small amount of testing before she’d take to the track for the winter series.

The series is a championship in a single weekend with a qualifying session each day to set the grid and then two races. With everything being so new and different Katie new that realistically she wouldn’t be looking to add a second championship title to add to her 2016 JSCC win but she hoped for some good results.

Things became even more challenging for Katie when Saturday dawned very wet with the forecast for rain all day. Qualifying would be the first time Katie had driven the car in the wet so this was proving to be a very tough Ginetta Baptism!

Conditions were very wet and slippery and rivals were sliding off the track everywhere but Katie managed to stay on the track as she tried to learn how the quick little G40 handled in the conditions. The repeated offs of the others saw the safety car scrambled several times leaving her with very little opportunity to go for a quick time. In the end she took twelfth and fourth of the rookie drivers, a good result for her first time out in the wet.

Things hadn’t improved for the first race of the weekend and Katie took the start in very wet conditions. She got a good start and looked to pass those in front of her. As an almost inevitable safety car was scrambled after a couple of laps, Katie was up inside the top ten. Sadly for Katie as racing resumed she was caught out on a slippery patch, having a half spin and she dropped to fifteenth but she fought back to fourteenth by the flag. Not as high as the ever competitive Katie had hoped but she had shown her potential and hoped to put what she learnt into practice in the second race of the day.
Katie again made a great start showing that she’d already learnt how to get the best out of the car off the line. As she headed into paddock she found herself squeezed between two rivals which forced her to drop back and left her in thirteenth. A safety car period brought the pack back together and on the restart she made up another place to run twelfth. As the race headed to the closing stages, she had a battle with two rivals, one of whom got a bit too close, running into the back of her car. The impact bent the exhaust slowing the car slightly. This lost her a position but she soon gained one as another rival headed off the track. Up to eleventh she looked to push to the top ten until a red flag came out to stop the race. This halted her top ten ambitions but eleventh place and third of the rookies was a great result for only her second race in the Ginetta.

The forecast for Sunday was for a dry day. Katie and the team hoped the track would dry out as Katie had been quick in testing on a dry track and she longed for a chance to show what she could do in conditions that she had more experience in.

Katie fought hard (Photo by Marc Waller) Katie found herself squeezed in race two (Photo by Marc Waller) Fighting for places in race three (Photo by Marc Waller) Race four ended in disaster (Photo by Marc Waller) Katie in an interview (Photo by Marc Waller) The track started to dry on sunday (Photo by Marc Waller)

 

 

 

Although Sunday did indeed dawn dry and at least partially sunny, the cold winter temperatures saw the track still wet and greasy for the weekend’s second qualifying session. Despite this Katie was feeling confident of improving on Saturday’s result. Unfortunately exiting Paddock, Katie made a rare small error, leading her to run wide through the edge of the gravel trap. Usually if you can make it out of the gravel you can continue unscathed but Katie was unlucky to find her bodywork catching on the floor pulling off the rear part. The damage meant Katie continued with reduced performance and with the session ending early due to a car stranded off the track, Katie found herself in fifteenth. It was further back than she hoped but all the time she was making progress with the car and its performance and she was feeling very positive for the race when the track would finally be dry.

As the third race got underway there was finally a dry line all around the track but with damp tarmac offline it was still very tricky. Katie once again made a great start and saw a gap to pass several cars going into paddock. She moved through only to find her rivals moving across leaving her running out of room. With no space for her car, Katie was forced to back off and pull in behind as they headed up to druids, dropping her to sixteenth but she was soon back on the attack looking for a way past up to fifteenth. She battled for a few laps until disaster struck as she headed towards Clearways when a rival tapped her into a spin. She recovered quickly with no damage but most of the other cars were now a long way down the road.

But looking on the positive side, the clear track allowed her to put in some quick laps and she set her fastest times of the weekend so far. There wasn’t enough time to catch anyone leaving her in fifteenth where she started but her dry pace was looking stronger for at least a top ten finish in the final race.

The track was finally fully dry as the lights went out for race four. She made an incredible start to pass four cars on the first lap and was looking very strong. A top ten looked a certainty and maybe something even better. But it seemed that luck just wasn’t with her this weekend. As she approached Graham Hill bend, two rivals tangled and spun up ahead. One re-joined just as Katie got level and with no chance for Katie to avoid him, he hit the front of her car. The impact spun her off onto the grass. This was a blow in itself but as she tried to re-join it became obvious her suspension and steering was terminally damaged forcing her to head into the rear entrance to the pits and into retirement. It was a gutting end to the weekend for Katie through no fault of her own. Her pace suggested she may have made it to eighth place.

Katie had this to say at the end of the weekend;

“This weekend was certainly a steep learning curve for me. Having only raced several times in my career in the wet, I had to race a new car in a new series and spending three out of the four sessions in the most horrendous of conditions, which to say the least were testing. I learned a great deal from the experience, which had started to show in my final race session, making up four places in the first lap. If not for getting caught up in the tangle of two cars spinning in front of me, I could quite easily have made it into the top 8 so I know I am gaining confidence all the time, and I am more determined than ever to get back in the car and racing in 2017.

Can I once again thank my sponsors The Yorkshire Wagyu Company, Richardson Transport Ltd, X9-K9 Ltd, Unit 6 – The Gym Market Weighton and thank my friends and family who braved the conditions to be with me.”

Katie plans to be moving into senior level motorsport in 2017 as her upcoming birthday makes her too old to continue in junior racing. She now moves into perhaps the toughest part of the motorsport year, trying to find the backing to continue her promising career in motorsport.

With her JSCC championship win behind her as well as showing strong pace in the Ginetta she has staked her claim of being one of the most promising young drivers in the UK.

It will be exciting to see what the future holds for Katie Milner. By Marc Waller

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