Nigel Lamb had a bad start to the season. In Abu Dhabi, training did not go well and a disqualification (DSQ) in Qualifying meant Lamb was frustrated and felt like he was really, "On the back foot."
Abu Dhabi hosted seven training runs for the Master Class pilots but Lamb found himself in the middle of the pack, something he's not accustomed to. "Qualifying was a bit of a disaster for me. We had made a handling change to the raceplane the night before. It made the aileron controls lighter and that was causing me to make tiny mistakes," said Lamb.
Lamb was disqualified (DSQ) in Qualifying, putting him 14th. So in the Round of 14 he was set to face fellow compatriot, Paul Bonhomme. Bonhomme had been flying well all week and if Lamb's times were anything to go by it looked like it was going to be a bad day in the office for Breitling Racing Team's most experienced pilot. But Lamb set a blistering time of 57.108s. Lamb lost to Bonhomme, but it was only by 0.2s, making him the fastest loser (by an impressive 1.5s), meaning he qualified for the Round of 8.
Between the rounds, the aircraft has to be weighed to make sure the pilot and raceplane are within the weight limits. During this procedure Lamb's wheel pants were damaged and had to come off before the flight. Without the wheel pants the aircraft creates more drag and there is a substantial loss of airspeed, "It was very unfortunate – I knew what it meant, there was no chance I was going to beat Paul in the Round of 8, unless he made a big mistake, which was unlikely," explained Lamb.
Lamb had to refocus on the run and make sure this setback didn't escalate. "There was disbelief and anger but as a team we were very quick to adapt. I knew it was virtually impossible to beat Paul so I changed my objective. I wanted to see if I could fly a cleaner lap, hit all the race lines, eliminate the mistakes I'd made in the previous run and have a better day than Qualifying.
"Looking back, I probably flew the best run I've ever done. So, I was ecstatic when I got the time. I thought, maybe I've clawed my way to seventh and got an extra point. When I found out that I'd finished fifth, I felt like we'd actually won!" said Lamb.
Max, Lamb's race analyst, was confident throughout the week. Data doesn't lie and he knew the World Champion was always on the right track. "Max had no doubt we would come good. He wasn't worried about the disqualification, or the over G. He told me to look at the time. Even though I'd come 14th in Qualifying he could see that I was hitting the lines and that I was back on track," explained Lamb.
Problems in training came from some handling modifications made during the offseason. Lamb initially felt comfortable in the aircraft, "But the times were pretty bad and we couldn't figure out why," said Lamb. "So we cut things out one-by-one and noticed improvements. As a consequence I didn't have quite enough time and was making little mistakes. I've flown this aircraft for too long for us to make substantial changes in a short amount of time for me to get used to it – there are too many years of muscle memory with me and the MXS-R!"
"You're in an aircraft that can roll at 420 degrees a second, so if you change the handling and the feel is slightly different, you're not going to be as accurate to begin with. I was making tiny rolling errors, but I was making a fast time, so we knew we were on the right path," said Lamb.
Lamb was also quick to dispel any concerns that it might be the pressure of being World Champion getting to him, "On the contrary, as a team we navigated our way through last season without feeling the pressure. Even in the last race, we came in with a five point lead, but knowing that either Hannes or Paul could still beat me, but we didn't feel the pressure and that's how we feel about this year. I think we have a very good chance to win in Chiba," he concluded.