End of Season chat with Lee Fairhurst (#217)

With his first full year of BriSCA Formula One Stock car racing now under his belt, F1Stockcars.com caught up with European Champion Lee Fairhurst for an end of season reflective chat. Derek Fairhurst’s (#218) son Lee made quite an entrance into the world of BriSCA F1 Stockcar racing in the 2009 season.

Lee can you recall the UK Open race back in May at Skegness?

Yes I started inside pole as I had won my heats beforehand. I remember thinking to myself before the race, that if I finish in the top 10 in my first big race I’d be happy. So as we set off, I pulled a bit of a gap from the rest of the pack which allowed me to settle and get into a bit of a rhythm and put in some consistent laps. The car was handling really well and did not feel to be pushing on so I was confident of a top 10 if all goes well. When the yellow flags came out bringing everything to a stop again, looking in my mirror I could see three or four Yellow grades behind. I knew I needed to get a good start to shake off the yellows, knowing that the reds and superstars won’t be hanging around and not very far behind them. I left a bit too much room on the inside going around turn 3 of the rolling lap which enabled Dean Whitwell (#195) to jump up the inside. I really started to push the car for 2 or 3 laps at that point to get back onto #195 and get past him. Once I was past I tried to just be as smooth as possible and hope there were no more yellow flags! Just before the lap boards came out I looked in the mirror and saw Frank (#515) was about half a straight behind. The boards came out and I started to push the car as much as I could. He got up the inside on turns 3 and 4 and I think that was when there were about two or three laps to go. And Frank pulled clear of me, I was trying to keep up, without over-driving my car until the end but he was that bit quicker than me. Can’t complain with a 2nd though so was absolutely delighted with that.

What is ‘pushing on’?

It’s when the front end of the car isn’t gripping enough, otherwise known as under steer. But ‘pushing on’ is the technical term though! It’s frustrating as a driver when the car is pushing on, as it seems forever until the car turns the way you want it to go! The same is said when the car is over steering as the back end just won’t grip and you can’t get on the loud pedal quick enough! Over steer is when the rear end of the car isn’t gripping, technical term- ‘arsey’!!!

Looking back on the May 2009 Skegness weekend, what did you feel was your best race and why?

Probably the final on Saturday night. Knowing you’ve won heat and final in you 1st meeting is a great feeling. Plus it was the Mo Jones memorial trophy which makes it extra special.

What are the differences from all the tracks you’ve raced at?

Not much really. It’s more to do with the way the car is handling when going from different tracks. With me racing BriSCA F2’s beforehand I have raced on most of the F1 tracks so I know what to kind of expect.

Photo Colin Casserley

Photo Colin Casserley

Do you need to make any changes to the car for each track?

Yes. Obviously there’s different gear ratio’s for the tracks. If we have time before a meeting then we scale the car before the meeting and compare the figures to when the car has gone well at that particular track and then possibly change it slightly. Then there’s deciding what tyres to run, suspension settings, tracking, wheelbase etc. There are all sorts of different things that you can do but sometimes it’s hard to get the right balance. Everything we do to the car is recorded – both the good and the bad settings, along with weather conditions.

How does different gearing effect your stock car driving?

It doesn’t affect your driving much but just what RPM the engine is pulling. Longer tracks require lower gears and shorter tracks require higher ratio gears. Our engine has a limiter at 7000rpm so we try and gear it so at the end of the straight it is ideally pulling about 6800rpm. Our engine isn’t a big engine but we try to get the best we can out of it. It’s nowhere near the horsepower and torque of what the top guys are running. I think that’s why it has always gone well at Skegness, because its a little track with short straights and doesn’t need a mega engine to get you around quick. Whereas if I raced a Ipswich or Hednesford, then I wouldn’t expect great things as it is more of an advantage to have a big engine there.

Can you recall the Grand National at Birmingham at the end of May?

I got away at the start and then got caught up a little bit when there was a pile up on turn two which dropped me back to third place. The yellow flags came out, and looking in my mirror there were plenty of reds and superstars behind me. On the re start I got knocked around a bit so I just mixed it up as much as I could. Exchanged a few hits with the top guys and eventually finished 6th. It felt like a proper stockcar race instead of just driving away from the start. It was very enjoyable and gave me confidence for when I went up to Blue Grade knowing that I could keep up and race with them, using my bumper and defending my rear.

Now you’ve had a year the F1, how does it differ from the F2?

Massively. I learned a lot from the F2, it was a great learning curve for me which has definitely made me a better driver. F1 is a different ball game though. So much more power and it doesn’t handle as well as the F2 which makes it harder to drive.

So what about winning the European Championship?

I always set myself a goal when I’m competing in something and after the first Skegness Speedweekend when I won Heat and Final from White Grade I thought I would set myself the target of winning a major title within the next few years. Just something to aim for or dream about! By the time the European Weekend came I was up to Red Grade and my goal for that race was a top ten finish at the most in my first major title race. It was a wet race and the car was spot on from the off, everything just fell into place after that. So my target of winning a title in the next few years was smashed as I had won it in 3 months! It was a great day and I’m very proud to be wearing the Red and Yellow chequers on my roof.

Photo Colin Casserley

Photo Colin Casserley

Starting at the back! How have you found it?

I’ve done better than I thought really – whether other people see it that way I can’t say. All the guys at the back are so quick so it’s really close racing. I know that when we have the car on song I can give them a good race. I have really enjoyed it, mixing it with the best drivers in the sport, it’s quite unbelievable really.

Can you describe racing the F1 on shale for the first time?

I really struggled with it to be honest. That first meeting I did ( I won’t say raced) at Coventry I just couldn’t get to grips with it. The Semi-Final race was a bit of a disaster! It was all a bit of a dream to even make a Semi-Final grid in my début year, and you just knew I’d draw the shale semi (laugh). We had to change a lot to the car to convert it to shale, at the time it felt like the whole team had just wasted hours and hours of their time for me to do nothing. But the team picked me up (amazingly) and it’s just one of them things I’ve hopefully been though and learnt from. Then next time out on shale was the Kings Lynn World Final weekend. This time we just left it to the tarmac settings, just put shale wing and shale tyres on and it was miles better – typical (laugh). I really enjoyed it but unfortunately we had engine trouble so didn’t get as many races as hoped.

Photo Colin Casserley

Photo Colin Casserley

Are you tempted to return to shale?

I would like to have a proper go yes. We have a shale car in progress but it’s a long process. Time and money is what is holding us back on it. We got plenty done during the last closed season but once we started racing this year then obviously the attention (and money) is on different things.

What would you say you have learnt from this year?

Lots! I’ve learnt a lot driving wise, also set up knowledge of the car. Dad has taught me a lot about the car this year and it’s helped on the track because I know what the car is doing and can give feedback to him as to what its handling like so we can try and make it quicker.

So looking back what is the most unexpected piece of knowledge you have gained?

Don’t take anything for granted. In stock car racing, just because you have a quick car doesn’t mean you’ll be at the front at the end of the race.

What change if any do you think would improve the cars themselves, and why?

Anything that would make the cars a little cheaper to race and maintain would be a good thing allowing the lower budget racers to be more competitive and attend more meetings. But as to the nuts and bolts I’ve not really got enough experience to comment on that yet, sure there are things I’d want to improve but whether that’s with just my car set-up and racing style or all the cars in general I don’t know.

Looking back – Best piece of advice given you and why?

Dad gives me plenty of advice but John Riley said just before the semi final race -‘Don’t listen to anyone. Just race your own race!’ Sorry Dad (laugh)

A year in – worst job / repair you have to do? How long did it take?

Washing the car after the shale meetings! That first Coventry we did on the Saturday night, I washed the car on the Sunday and it took most of the day!…..it gets everywhere!

What are your plans for 2010?

Keep playing the lottery! All depends on money really. We are a budget team who try to make the most out of what we’ve got. Fingers crossed though we can get the shale car finished and have some meeting on shale. But obviously tarmac is the priority and hopefully I can get enough points to be in a semi and try and get on the world final grid. I’m also currently looking into getting my FIA license for circuit racing so who knows where that could take me.
Thanks to everyone who has helped this year. It has been a tough season for us money wise so thank you to everyone for their input and hopefully I have repayed them slightly with the performances on track.
Sponsors wanted for 2010 season!

Thanks your time again Lee. If you would like to keep up-to-date with Lee and his racing be sure to visit his Team Website

Photo Colin Casserley

Photo Colin Casserley

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