Dakota Dickerson: What a Week!

Written by Team USA. Posted in Dakota Dickerson, Driver Blogs, Feature

Published on October 30, 2015 with No Comments

Silverstone, England – After a solid few days of testing, racing at the Formula Ford Festival was underway for me, Cliff Dempsey Racing and the Team USA Scholarship. The competition was stiff and the track conditions were constantly changing, but I was ready to go!

Qualifying started off decent, with a P5 result which put me on the inside of the third row for my first heat. In all reality I would’ve loved to have started on the front row but I was content because I knew I was still in striking distance. I got a good start (for my first-ever standing start) and gained a position. After quite a bit of battling, I held onto fourth. That session was a lot of learning for me. The amount of defending and aggression was something I’m not accustomed to. Heading into the Semi Final, I knew that I needed to be more aggressive if I wanted to be nearer to the front of the pack. I started fourth, lost a position on the start, but was able to battle my way up to a podium position by the end of the 15-lap race. This put me in eighth position on the grid for the Final, right ahead of teammate Michai Stephens. I worked my way up through the fieldover a period of 10 laps and was up to sixth at one point. A mid-race red flag came out due to a competitor’s motor blowing up right in front of me. It was a crazy experience! I saw white smoke and thought it was just a couple of competitors rubbing wheels but when my car started heading straight for the grass, I knew there was definitely oil on track.

Image courtesy of Jack Mitchell/JAM Motorsport Photography

The restart of the race went well. By the end of the first lap I had maintained position and as the race progressed I capitalized on others mistakes which subsequently put me into fifth. Looking back at the race I still have some work to do on the aggression side of my race craft but I know Silverstone is going to be good and I can’t wait!

With Dick Bennetts at West Surrey Racing.

After a nice dinner with Jeremy Shaw and Michai, we went a different route than our typical one; heading over to London instead of hanging out and enjoying the wonderful hospitality of the Dempseys. We had Sunday night to rest up but were right back at it the next day. Our first stop was visiting Dick Bennetts and his British Touring Car Championship team that won the championship last year. His facility was amazing, lined with trophies and memorabilia from his decades of time spent in the motor racing world, including race helmets from drivers like Ayrton Senna, Mika Hakkinen and Rubens Barrichello, all of whom he ran in Formula 3. He showed us how exactly they manufacture the cars, even trimming paint off the chassis to just get that weight advantage over the competition.

This is how we entered the McLaren Technical Centre!

Our next visit was straight over to the McLaren F1 factory… absolutely crazy (in an impressive way). Their facility has four floors, two above ground and two underground. A lot of their manufacturing, memorabilia and offices were above ground. We first went through a timeline of McLaren Formula 1 cars. It was really remarkable seeing the development of an F1 car. We then saw how everything was prepared, assembled and packaged. Mr. Neil Trundle showed us around the carbon laying area and gave us a brief explanation on the whys and hows of carbon fiber (I even snagged a piece as a souvenir). After our tour of McLaren F1, we took a short intermission and went over to Brooklands. It was awesome seeing such a historic race track and the banking was insane! It seemed nearly vertical at its steepest point. We even saw a couple of historic race cars on a portion of the oval which was, again, amazing to watch history pass by right in front of us again. Our final stop of the day was with McLaren GT, where we took a tour of what was actually McLaren F1’s old facility until they ran out of room and showed us their race cars. A lot of the focus at McLaren is centered towards a family aspect, making sure each and every owner, driver or team is well taken care of. They had two main models that they showed us, one of which was the McLaren P1 which has over 1000 bhp. It was a beautiful race car on the outside and in. After drooling over the cars for while, we wrapped up our tour and were back off to the hotel.

Tuesday was a very mellow day for me and Michai. We slept in, grabbed some breakfast and planned out our travels into London.The only way for us to get into London was via the underground/over ground train. We actually made it OK for being rookies at public transport. We then proceeded to walk for nearly six hours, just seeing all the sights of London (except for the fancy guards which we couldn’t seem to find), doing a bit of shopping and eventually grabbing a bite to eat. One of the most interesting things about London is just how many people there are. There was almost always someone on your left and right. People were, in general, somewhat… kind of friendly… sometimes. We didn’t do much talking but hey, we saw a lot of people! By the end of the day our feet were killing us so we decided to cruise back on over to the train station. I definitely thought we got on the right train home, but it took us nearly an hour to get back to the hotel in what should’ve been a 10-minute train ride. I’m not really sure where we ended up or where we didn’t end up! Either way, we made it back safely and hit the hay before making the trek up to Silverstone.

We must have been really lucky the first time we used the train because we were probably more lost getting to Silverstone than we were when we tried to get back to the hotel. We first used an over-ground train, got off, walked a block over to the nearest station which was an underground, got off again, went to the nearest over-ground, and made our way to Northampton to meet Brian and Kelly Graham from Team Canada. In reality, we actually were 30 minutes ahead of our planned schedule – we just didn’t know if we were going in the right direction half the time. It was quite confusing but definitely better than trying to drive on the left hand side of the road!

After a short drive to Silverstone, we stopped at the Sahara Force India Formula 1 factory which is actually located right at Silverstone. Their facility was not nearly as large as McLaren but the passion definitely was every bit as impressive! Our tour guide was a mechanical design engineer who designs their DRS (drag reduction system). We also met one of the engineers who works on all of the electronics. He went over all the different options and settings that are on a Formula 1 steering wheel. After a very nice 30-minute chat with him we went over to see how everything was made. There was a lot of hard work going on, trying to manufacture as many spare parts as they can but, unlike Mercedes and McLaren, Force India really tries to salvage as many damaged parts as they can, instead of dumping them in the bin.

One of the most memorable parts of the tour was being able to see their full-motion simulator being run by one of their test drivers. He was in a room which can be described as a big glass box. There were three different engineers, each with probably three different computers watching the telemetry and data, live video, and making setup changes. The Force India tour was extremely fun for me as were all the other tours because it is obvious how passionate these people are. It was truly motivating.

With all of the racing that I’ve done and the history and passion that I’ve seen, I cannot wait to get back into the seat! We have a stellar driver line up going into the Walter Hayes this week with Peter Dempsey (three-time Walter Hayes Trophy winner), James Raven (2014 Formula Ford Festival winner), Timothy Buret (Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires driver), and of course yours truly and Michai Stephens, the 2015 Team USA Scholarship winners. I can’t thank all of those who have helped get me to where I am today and I hope to come out strong this week for the Walter Hayes Trophy.

All the best,

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