Riding The Jetstream In His First Year
Those of you who follow all kinds of GT racing may have noticed Graham Davidson’s performances in the aging yet fiercely fast McLaren MP4-12C GT3 in the GT Cup championship in 2017. A full season in the fiercely competitive sprint series near enough fell into the lap of Davidson and his Jetstream Motorsport machine, and that was a foreshadowing of the year in 2018.
The Scotsman made the jump up to the British GT team with Jetstream Motorsport taking possession of both an Aston Martin V12 Vantage and receiving the driving services of Belgian AMR factory driver Maxime Martin. And confidence was booming.
“Even before the start of the season, we knew that I could do it, that I could be fast enough (to be competitive in British GT), and there was no point in doubting Max’s capability ”, mused Davidson. “It was a new championship, new for the team, new people in the team because we had to grow a lot from where we were in GT Cup. There were lots of variables and new things for us to learn. It was just a case of putting the bits of the puzzle together.”
The puzzle though, did come together quite quickly. And there were almost good results as soon as the second round of the season. “We very quickly almost got there at Rockingham, if Max was fully up to speed with MSA track limits we would have had the win by a margin!”
Throughout the season, the old curse of luck has hit Jetstream’s best efforts and intentions. Davidson’s season, as he reflected was always one of close shaves. “We’ve always been a sniff away – at Rockingham it was the track limits. It was nice to get the recognition for my drive and get the driver of the weekend award, and that gave us the positivity and motivation that ‘we can win this and we will’, so let’s do it at Snetterton.”
The Norfolk circuit welcomed a whole new set of obstacles for Davidson and the Jetstream team to overcome, both technological and regulatory – “We almost won, and then a radio battery went flat, so Maxime didn’t hear the order to go from the pit stop, so we lost 3 seconds.” Despite the misfortune, Davidson was philosophical. “You can’t blame anyone for that, but we’ll never make that mistake again, and we learned we’ll move on.”
Learning curves don’t come much tougher than British GT, and Graham Davidson’s curve has been steeper for the interference of misfortunes, including race 2 at Snetterton, where first Martin had a minor oversight in qualifying where he completed only one lap instead of the required two, costing the team pole. “Qualifying should be one lap,” said Davidson as he thought over the rules. “I don’t think there’s any grounds from a safety point of view to say we should do two, but that’s the rules and we started from the back.”
That wasn’t the end of it. “Max made a good start and made up some places, I drove brilliantly until I got to Jon (Minshaw of Barwell fame), misjudged the braking point, gentle tap, no damage, turned him round. Just bad luck, but my mistake, so hands up.” Davidson is a fair driver, and his admission to the incident shows a maturity that works in almost parallel with his racing desire and ambition.
Next up was Silverstone. Davidson looked back to the race and the feeling around the team, and his own ambition “We were even more convinced that we could and should win, but I put myself under way too much pressure.” Davidson told the story from his point of view of another dramatic moment in the race that weekend – “Got past a few cars, got to Mark (Farmer, TF Sport Aston) and we were fighting for the lead, and I was just too impatient and put too much pressure on to get the lead, and we just made contact.”
At Silverstone, things often appear worse for the high speed nature of the circuit, something that Davidson was all too aware of. “It wasn’t a big shunt. I know someone commented that I’d ‘walloped’ him, which is a bit ridiculous to be honest. If you look at my onboard, it doesn’t look nearly as bad as the TV angle showed. It was fairly 50/50 on the approach, but Mark spun, and I got the penalty. OK, again, I’ll take that on the chin.”
This year, Le Mans staged the Aston Martin Festival race, of which Davidson and Jetstream were a part. Davidson won his class in the race and admits to having a great time. “We led a lap! The guys had a great pit stop, we led against the Vulcans. It helped lift my spirits after Silverstone, and it was a fantastic weekend.” Things weren’t so rosy post La Sarthe for Davidson though.
“After the race it was a bit of a downer. It was a case of ‘Oh. We’ve raced at Le Mans. But we probably can’t afford to ever go back and do the 24 Hour.’ I found myself really down about the situation and questioning whether there was a point in continuing racing.” Davidson halted in his speech as he reflected on the low point of his season. ‘I’ve done all these massive tickbox things in such a short time. Am I just throwing money out the window? And people said, ‘Are you looking forward to Spa? You’re going to win! You’re so close!’ and I just started to say ‘No, I’m not looking forward to it.’ We’ve had so much bad luck and fallen foul of the rules.”
The round at Spa in July did arrive though, and Davidson was still feeling subdued. “Because of being a bit out of sorts, I didn’t go into Spa thinking I was going to win, and didn’t put any pressure on myself. Did a very relaxed qualifying lap, thinking it is what it is, kept myself in one piece and ‘Oh! We’re on the front row!’” At this point, the smile starts to return to Davidson’s face, and the racer’s spirit returns. “I looked at my video and think I could have gone 3 tenths faster and been on pole.”
“So, the race happens. Take it easy – no pressure. What happens happens, lots of people will have penalties and issues. I am not going to be one of those guys this weekend.” It was the right time for Davidson’s mindset to change, as he describes the race. “People started spinning off, crashing, hitting each other, cars catching fire… And I just ignored it all and just did what I know how to do and we came out in front and – won. And it felt so easy.”
The duck was finally broken, but as Davidson says, there was more to it than that. “It was easy. I don’t feel like we earned that. We didn’t deserve it, I didn’t have to fight. Just quiet comfortable laps which nobody else could better. And that was that, but it was great.” Thoughts turned to the present. “Now, we KNOW we can do it like we told ourselves all year. We’ve done it, zero pressure.”
Unfortunately at Brands Hatch, the bad luck hampered Davidson and Martin again. Davidson’s charge to second was not quite enough as their pitstop penalty demoted the field, and when a lump of concrete smashed the car’s windscreen, Martin not only received a big scare, but was taken to hospital for precautions over an eye injury.
But Davidson remains confident about himself and the progress of Jetstream. “We did it at Spa, steady laps, it worked. We’re in a good place. The team are comfortable and happy, and if they’re more relaxed, then so am I. Max and I are really getting on well now. He knows how to get the best out of me and he always delivers. We as a combined effort get the car to the race – even with no testing – other than Snetterton and Rockingham we’ve not tested anywhere else. It shows how quickly you can turn a car round and get it ready. You’ve got to have good people. We’ve got brilliant people in our team and that’s why we’re doing well.”
©Pete Richardson 2018