Silverstone – 31st May 2008

It’s been barely two weeks since Anglesey and we find ourselves at Silverstone for another MSVR run meeting. This time we are on the national circuit at Silverstone, I’ve driven the GP circuit before but not the national. So what does every racer do these days to learn a circuit? Dig out the circuit guide and get reading – bit 1990’s! Instead I fire up the Xbox and load up Forza Motorsport 2, pick a car similar to the Radical…ok it was a v12 BMW prototype but it was close and get practicing.

Saturday and we are at the track, greeted by a blue skies and sunshine which makes a change given the weather of recent weeks. Simon (Tilling Motorsport) invited use to pitch up with him and I am never one to refuse an invitation.

The format for the day was a 20 minute qualifying session followed by 2 races. The first race would be a standard sprint race over 20 minutes. The second is a 40 minute race with a compulsory pitstop. Due to the length of the second race we are going to have to take on fuel at the pitstop. The fuel filler is hidden under the rear bodywork so I had to modify this to allow the car to be fuelled with out removing the body. As usual Merlin came to the rescue providing everything I needed to do the job. Neil (Corinium Motorsport) provided the raw materials to make the new brackets. Apart from this modification I’ve done nothing else to the car since Anglesey.

Qualifying – we were first out at 9am. I made an educated guess on suspension settings, Silverstone is billiard board smooth compared to good old Combe. The car was to soft at Anglesey so I basically used those settings a benchmark. I’ve got a new pair of rear tyres, because of the compound I run I was a bit concerned that they would last all day so the plan for qualifying was to get a idea of where the track goes and squirt in a reasonable time. The grid was made up of sports racing cars like the Radical, sports cars like Caterhams and a class for the Porsche club. This meant we had a lot of big scary 911’s that were very quick in a straight line and had issues seeing us smaller cars on the corners. In total there were 31 starters.

I get out on track for qualifying and follow Simon around, he’s been there before so guessed he’ll show me the lines. Remarkably the Xbox game wasn’t that far out and I felt reasonably at home within a few laps After about 3 laps I was already catching the slower cars and they were everywhere! Going into Copse at full chat and being greeted with a gaggle of cars doing 30mph slower than you certainly concentrates the mind. I had a bit of a problem getting past on 911 and finally got him on the exit of Luffield. I was a bit PO’d that he had held me up but as it was it meant the next lap was almost car free. I got my head down and put what felt like a decent lap in, the next lap I was back in traffic and at this point I decided to return to the pits to save the tyres.

The one decent lap put me 3rd on the grid. 2nd was only a few tenths ahead of me. Pole was held by a Chiron LMP23 which was 2 seconds quicker, but it should be as its in a different league to the rest of the cars on the grid.

Race 1 – I line up on 3rd spot, there is something special about being on the grid of Silverstone. The Chiron engages his launch control and I think to myself I am going to have my work cut out here. The lights come on and almost straight away go off again. I get a decent start and to my surprise I am making ground on the Chiron. I keep on the power and take the lead at the first corner….to say I am bit surprised would be an understatement! I look in the mirror and I have a small gap already. Keeping my foot in I put in a perfect first lap (for me anyway). I cross the line and I already have a 2.5second lead over the Chiron. By lap 10 I had pulled out over 20 seconds on second place man. Everything was going really well and carving through the traffic kept me entertained. One friendly 911 did try and finish my race early, I managed to get along side him on the run out Becketts but I couldn’t get past him. So I am on the right handside of his car and the next corner, Brooklands, is a left. I just get into the braking zone and the 911 come across on me. I had to go off the track and brake on the dirt to stop the car. I really thought my time was up but somehow I got it all gathered up and with the help of one marshal who was waving his blue flag for England – thanks whoever you are! – he finally saw me and gave me room. The rest of the race was just a case of putting the laps together and avoiding a accident with a slower car. I kept expecting to see the second place man to appear on my tail but he never appeared. I cross the line in first place, leading from flag to flag is something I’ve never done and it was a real buzz. The final winning margin was just over 15 seconds.

Race 2 – Good news is the rear tyres are lasting and should do the second race which is one worry off my mind. However I have another on which is the refueling. Barry and Justin are the nominated fillers, lucky them. The pit stop regs say that you must be stationary for 35 seconds. However when we did a test refuel it took over 1m30. So I knew then a win wasn’t on the cards as the other front runners from race one were not refueling. So I decided there I had a race upto the pitstop and then see what happens after, you never know as the other drivers might have problems etc.

Race 2 grid was made up form Race 1 finishing positions so I was starting on pole, you know I mentioned earlier that it felt special being on the grid at Silverstone…well nothing compared to being sat on pole! The lights go out and I get a rocket ship start, by the time I get to Maggots I have already got a decent gap again. Again I cross the line with a 1.3second gap however I’ve got a small vibration on the car, I assume it’s a wheel that has gone out of balance. By lap 4 the Chiron has caught me and takes the lead from me on lap 5. Whatever his problem was in race one it looks like he had sorted it. I tried to hang on but I think I needed another 100hp! I am soon aware that I have a Speeds, driven by Jay Wheals, breathing down my neck. Excellent I thought, lets race. He gets me on the brakes into Brooklands on lap 7 and I glue myself to his tail, my thinking is I’ll let him lead for a while. The traffic is hard work and we are both gaining/loosing time to each other as we try and get past the porches, he did loose some bodywork more than once. On lap 13 I take advantage of the traffic and nick 2nd back off him but he gets that back on lap 16. This is great fun, our cars are very even so we are running very close to each other. Lap 21 and Barry puts out the fuel board and I come into the pits. The guys start putting the fuel in which takes longer than expected. Add to that I made mistake in that I should’ve got out of the car while the car was refueled. This wasn’t mentioned in the briefing but in hindsight I should have checked the blue book (never see Hamilton getting out though!). This action upset the clerk of the course a little. I get out on track and I as I come past the pits I see I’ve got a drive through penalty – opps! The vibration in the car was also getting a lot worse and it was starting to concern me. I come into the pits on the next lap and do my drive through. Surprisingly I was still running in 5th place but now the vibration is getting really bad. I do another lap and I am now having problems seeing from the vibration so I decide to call it a day and return to the pits and retire. Looks like the problem was the left front tyre had overheated and it was falling apart. Bit disappointing but the win from the first race and the fantastic dice for 2nd in the second race more than made up for it. Great day.
Thanks for Barry and Justin for helping me out today and cheers to Simon for putting me up (or should that be putting up with me). Simon had a great drive in the second race starting in 30th and finishing 3rd.

Anglesey Circuit – 18th May 2008-05-19

When I first thought about racing at Anglesey the first thing that came to mind was the long journey to the circuit and wondering if the effort would be rewarded. I’ve spent a lot of time at the old circuit and that was always a special to me. In late 2006 they dug up the old track and built a new one, I was saddened to see the old one go as I had some many fond memories there but I was also intrigued to see what the new layout would be like.

After the just over 240 miles and 4.5hours in the car we arrived at the Welsh circuit on a fine Saturday evening. I had heard a lot about the track and how go it was but nothing prepared me for this, as we come down the service road into the paddock the track just appears and the first impression is wow! Just from the paddock the elevation of the new track is very apparent and to be honest I couldn’t wait to get onto the track. Unfortunately I would have to wait for Sunday to drive it. However as it was my first time to the track both Barry and I took a wonder around the track once the testing, that was taking place on Saturday, had completed.

As soon as you step on track you get a feeling of how big the place is, the old track was just over a mile and the new one is over 2. There are a number of different track configurations and we are on the full International circuit this weekend. The track starts off reasonably flat but soon climbs up a hill which is a bit like Paddock Hill at Brands in reverse, its that steep. At the top I needed a oxygen tank as the air was that thin but the view from up there is breath taking. From the top you start the journey back down. I was knackered just walking the course, I can only imagine what driving around it would be like.

Sunday, the grid is disappointely small but that said most of it is made up from Radicals so at least is should provide some close racing. Most of the guys had been testing there on the Saturday, apart from J-P Ivey but he had been to the track before, so I was feeling at a slight disadvantage. The track was very flat apart from the odd bump on braking on some of the hairpins so I took an educated guess and made the car slightly stiffer from my standard Combe settings.

The track – from the start line you are greeted by a fast right hand bend that can be taken with a lift, as is the theme with this track you can’t see the apex or exit until you into the corner. Accelerate hard out of this bend upto 4th and then hard on the brakes for the first of the hairpins, this corner is banked similar to Shell at Oulton. 2nd gear for this and hard on the gas from the apex. Upto 4th gear and into School, this is a scary corner, you enter with only a lift (sure with practice this could be taken flat) and then just keep on the power trying to keep the car on the black stuff on the exit. Now onto the back straight which isn’t straight, snicking 6th half way along it. There is a small right kink which is taken flat, the g-force here is incredible, just after the kink you brake like hell up hill. You can’t see the corner at the top of the hill at all so it’s just a judgement call on where to brake. You are braking from about 135+ to about 40mph for a tight 2nd gear left bend called Rocket that you can’t see – good game! This bend is followed straight away but a tight right. Upto 3rd and then into a late apex right, this would be ok but you can’t see the exit. So again you are powering hard but no idea where you are going. Over the crest and back down hill and into a right which is going down hill on the entry and up hill on the exit. This means the car is pretty unsettled on the entry which is entertaining, but to add a bit more spice there is also a big bump mid corner. Finally you get a straight where I get up to 5th before braking hard again for a 2nd gear hair pin. Another straight and up to 5th again before braking for the final corner (left). Like all the others you can’t see the apex or exit so you have to hope you got the car in the right place. Out of this corner and back over the line.

So back to the qualifying, I am basically learning the track as I go. As you can see it is a pretty complex track and I am making a few mistakes as I try different lines. We have 20 minutes to qualify so I get 13 laps in, the last lap being my quickest and although it puts me 7th on the grid I am within a second of the other boys, so pretty happy with this.

Race 1

The good thing about the MSVR races is we get two races usually for the price of one so if I make a complete balls up of the first I get a second chance. The car felt a bit soft on qualifying so I up the dampers again. For the start I was behind Bill Henderson in his SR3, the lights go out and I get my usual fast start but it was cut short as I had no where to go. I settle into the race and make up a place into the first hairpin. My lack of experience of the track is showing and the group just starts to creap away from me. After mid-distance I was getting the track and starting me up time on the cars in front. I was soon on to back of 5th position and got a great run out of the final hair pin and out dragged him into the final corner. A couple of laps later my luck improved as the one jade in the race had a puncture and retired. This promoted me upto 4th which is where I crossed the line. The race wasn’t overly interesting for me but I was getting to grips with the track. My times were equal to the guys in front apart from Paul Steele (SR3) who was consistently 2 seconds quicker than the rest of us. On returning back to the pits we were greeted by a huge oil leak again. After some investigation is appeared to be the catch tank blowing out. Barry and I set about cleaning the car and emptying the catch tank completely. I also sealed up the starter motor as that was also a suspect the oil leak. An hour or so later and the car was prepared again and ready for race two.

Race – 2

The grid for race 2 was from the results from the first so I was now starting from 4th which was much better for me as I had a gap to aim for. I was feeling good about this race, I knew the track a lot better now and my lap times were good enough to keep up with the pack. The lights go out and I drop the clutch, as normal with my little car it just rockets off the line between both cars on the first row. Paul, who was on pole, just edges me out on the exit of the first corner but I am running second. Out of the first hair pin and into School for the first time, I can’t describe how scary this corner is, and on cold tyres it was scarier than normal. Paul pulls a bit out me going up to Rocket but I am still running second. I maintain this position for a couple of laps. J-P Ivey is breathing down my neck as we start the 3rd lap. Remember that Jade from race one? Well he started from last place so was making his was through the pack. I see him coming as I enter the last hair pin, what I didn’t spot was J-P trying to follow him through. I lost a bit of momentum out of the hair pin which enabled J-P to out brake me into the final corner. Bill Henderson was now on my tail and I was on J-P’s tail. We now have the best part of 15 minutes with under 2 seconds covering us. Excellent fun. The car was running very well but it was still to soft. Bill tried to intimidate me by switching on his head lights, that had the reverse effect as I could now spot him quicker in my mirrors and defend when I needed to. The last couple of laps I was starting me make ground on J-P on the final lap I was within attacking position. A slide out of the final hair pin lost me a few valuable 10th’s and I wasn’t close enough for a clean out braking manoeuvre into the final corner. I cross the line 7/10th behind J-P and Bill was just over a second behind me. Fantastic race.

A great weekend, anyone that has thought about going to Anglesey but is put off by the journey don’t be you are missing out on a fantastic track. The only thing that lets the track down is the lack of facilities and no Steak and Ale pie at lunchtime! Cheers to Barry for his help this weekend.

Castle Combe – 5th May 2008

A few weeks back I made the decision to not to contest the Castle Combe Championship for 2008. Instead I was going to concentrate on doing a few away races at the other great circuits within in the UK. Arriving at Combe on wet May morning I was feeling really relaxed and looking forward to the days racing ahead. I don’t know if I was feeling like this because there was no pressure to score championship points and I was just racing for fun.

We are first out today which meant a really early start as qualifying was at 8.40am. It was still wet so we set the car up soft and added a bit of extra rear wing. Out on track it was apparent that there was very little grip however the car was feeling very neutral. After a lap or so I was getting used to the conditions, the Avon wets were working well and the car was great fun to drive. I spent the next 7 or so laps making all sorts of shapes going into, through and out of the corners always with a big grin on my face. I was also relieved to find that I had successfully fixed the braking problems I was having at the last meeting. Unfortunately a lot of competitors weren’t having as much fun in the wet conditions and there were bits of car all over the place. Coming out of Westway I was greeted with a number of Caterham parts over the track and a sick looking car on the inside. I took this as my queue to pull into the pits get ready for the race. To my surprise I had plonked myself 4th on the grid. Neils (Corinium Motorsport) new car, Radical SR3 with a 2.0 Duratech driven by Dave Williams, was on second so the Corinium Motorsport stickers were all over the front of the grid!

Race time and the weather had improved some what and the track was dry. The car was set up for the dry and we were ready! The formation lap went with out a hitch and I was confident in the car. The lights go out and I get my signature start and rocket away from the line. Dave in the Duratech SR3 also got a great start so I tucked up behind him in second place up to Avon Rise. Glancing in the mirror and everyone else were “miles” behind. Up over the rise and Dave takes a wider line into Quarry…mistake Dave! I let the brakes off and slide up the inside. I lean on him a bit on the exit so he has to back off (we both trust each other as drivers so we know that we might be tough with each other but nothing more). I take the lead of the race and rocket off down to the Esses. I manage to put 4/10ths into Dave on the first lap, the second lap Dave pulls back a 10th and is on my tail going into Quarry. I miss a gear and come out of Quarry a gear higher than I wanted and Dave slips past. Now the race starts properly! I weld myself to the back of Dave’s car, remembering that he has over 100bhp more than me, I was having to use every trick in the book to stay with him. There are some parts of the track my car is working better than his, particularly from the Esses through to Bobbies. I try a number of times to get up the inside of him going into Tower but he obviously remembered the first lap and slams the door on me. I try again on the next few corners but I just can’t make it stick. My mirrors are suddenly full of orange, Shane in his new Jade (Class A, 350bhp!) is chasing me up Avon rise after a average start. I have no answer for the Nissan power and give him room at Quarry and I drop to 3rd. Shane is straight past Dave as well and disappears off into the distance. The gap between myself and Dave has been hovering around 4-5/10ths even with the back markers making life interesting. On lap 7 I get a great run out of Old Paddock and come along side Dave again into Tower, he gets sideways on the entry but still manages to chop my noise off. I get hard on the power and alongside him again into Bobbies. Again he comes right across my nose and I have to back out hard. This upset the rear and when I planted the loud pedal the car swapped ends! Arse!! (I had heard after the race there was oil on this part of the track but I am not convinced it was the cause). I have the car in first before its stopped and then I have to get off the wet grass. I loose the best part of 20 seconds on Dave and I’ve dropped down to 5th. Head down again and I start to make up the time I’ve lost. On lap 9 I pass Dave who has unfortunately had a incident with a back marker and its damaged the SR3. Good for me though as I am now upto 4th. Then I notice in the distance my old sparing partner Simon Tilling in his very bright orange SR3. I know Simon had some problems in qualifying and my first thought was he was a lap down. Then after a lap or so I realise that he is on the same lap as me…..the red mist settles and I aim for the orange car! I start pulling back the time of Simon negotiating the back markers along the way. By lap 14 I was on his tail and looking for a way around. But as we all know drivers don’t come much harder than Simon. I try my usual lunge at Quarry but that didn’t work. I lost half a second or so around back markers so it was going down to the last lap. I pulled him back going around Quarry and upto the Esses. You couldn’t get a fag paper between us going upto Tower, I try and out brake him here but he keeps the corner. I can’t do anything at Bobbies so its down to Camp, the last corner of the last lap! I get a brilliant run on Simon out of Bobbies and pull out of his slipstream at West Way. We both enter Camp side by side with me on the inside. I am not saying that we were close but we could have shaken hands! We are neck and neck at the apex both desperately trying to get on the power. I hit the bump of the apex which flicks my car sideways and I give Simon a bit of a “love tap”. That is enough for Simon to pull a foot on me, we cross the line with just over 1/10th of a second between us. Well done Simon, fantastic racing. Same goes for Dave as the first part of the race was awesome! The both provided probably the best race I’ve had at Combe. It was a great way to end my time at Combe, however its times like these that reminds me why I race at this fantastic circuit so you never know…I might be back sooner than you think.

Thanks to all my family as usual, Neil for the support even though he is running the opposition J . Justin for all his hard work in the paddock. Combe’s organisers and marshall’s and not forgetting the fantastic spectators!

Castle Combe – 24th March 2008

Well here we are again, a new season and Castle Combe is still as cold as it normally is.  In fact I was half expecting to see an inch of snow when I got up in the morning, luckily (I think it’s lucky) it was only raining.

A quick recap on what I’ve done to the car over the past few months, well to be honest not a lot.  I’ve given the engine refresh, thank to Neil at Corinium Motorsport for helping me with this and supplying the gearbox parts.  I’ve also fitted a new set of front brake calipers, replacing the aging Wilwoods with Hi-Spec ones.  The new callipers also allow me to up the disc diameter buy 20mm which will hopefully help with the modulation of the brakes.  I took the car to Mech Motorsport in Cheltenham on the Thursday before the meeting to run the engine in and make sure everything was ok.  I had also changed the exhaust cam timing slightly so wanted to know if that would make any difference.  The engine went well but was about 8bhp down on power, but this might just be the difference between this rolling road and the one I used last year at Emerald.  The torque was still the same at a very healthy 116ft/lbs but it was now almost a 1000rpm high up the rev range.  Of course looking at the graph you can only take a guess on how the engine will drive, so I was looking forward to trying it and seeing if the change in curve would make any difference. Add a nice new set of Avons and I am ready for the start of the season.

We arrive at a very cold and very busy Castle Combe, it takes a while to find somewhere to park.  This season we are bunking up with Corinium Motorsport, Neil is running a very trick Radical SR3 fitted with a 2 litre Ford Duratec under the bonnet in the GT’s this year.  It was going to be a long day as qualifying wasn’t until 11:40am and the race was at 4.20pm.  This meant we had plenty of time to get things organised.  As usual Justin and Barry were helping me out in the paddock.  The car was ready to go so it was just a waiting game until we were called up for qualifying.

This is the first time I’ve driven the car since last October so it was a bit of a shock to start with but I soon got into the grove.  The first couple of laps I bedded in the new brakes and scrubbed the tyres in.  Everything was feeling good so I started to wind the wick up to see if I could remember how to dive the car.  The first thing I noticed was you can feel the rush of torque now it is higher up the rev range.  It also allowed me to run a lower gear in corners and still punch out of them, with the old engine I had to be a gear higher to ensure I was near the peak torque this meant it was slightly slower accelerating because of the higher gearing.

The car was starting to fly and it was feeling great, the harder I pushed the better the car felt.  The new brakes were fantastic allowing me to brake later and harder than before gave me huge amounts of confidence.  Last year my best time all season was a 1:07.1 so this was my target for this year.  Imagine my surprise as I glance down at my lap timer and its showing 1:06.7!  At this moment I glance at the dials and my oil temp gauge is flashing at me so I back off in an attempt to all the oil to cool down.  As the day was so cold I had taped up the rads to keep the heat in, as it was the tape was being a bit too efficient so I shot into the pits and the boys removed it.  I managed to get another lap in and was straight back down to the low 7’s.  So I had broken my PB in the first 6 laps of the season and plonked me 5th on the grid.  The places in front of me were occupied by 2 and 3 litre cars which have at least 70 horse power advantage over my car.

Quick check over on the car before the race revealed a small oil leak but it wasn’t something I was to concerned about.  The weather was still dry so slicks it was.  The call came for us to move to the holding area, on driving the car I thought the brake pedal felt a bit hard but didn’t think any more about it.  Soon we were on the formation lap and that hard pedal was in fact a problem.  Whenever I breathed on the pedal the front brakes would lock, I spend the entire formation lap playing with the brake bias to try and improve the situation but nothing worked.  As I passed the pit entrance I thought to myself should I go in? fortunately my brain doesn’t work that fast and by the time I had decided no I had already passed the entrance.

I take my spot up on the grid and great ready for the lights.  The lights came on then off and I dropped the clutch and instead of my usual catapult start the rear lit up, I assume this is down to the new position of the torque.  Finally I was making some forward momentum and was along side the Norma (2.0L Honda powered prototype sport scar) but I was on the grass side and eventually had to bail out when we got to folly corner and this cost me some time and a couple of cars go past.  Up over Avon Rise and I was mindful that my brakes weren’t working properly so I took it easy here, I didn’t want to be responsible for ruining someone else’s race.  The next couple of laps were a learning experience, the fronts were locking all the time but I discovered if I barely touched them I could just about modulate the braking force.  Now I had this sussed it was time to chase down Norman in his Radical Prosport, it took me a lap to catch him but his car is much faster than last year and he made me work for the place.  Ironically I got him on the brakes going into Bobbies, just stopping the car when I on my own was a challenge but out braking another car was “entertaining”.  The gentleman racer that Norm is he gave me a couple of feet to get past and I was off.

Next on the hit list was Neil’s new car driven by Dave Williams.  Well I had to beat my “team mate” didn’t I!  After about 6 laps I started to make some progress on Dave.  My brakes still weren’t working properly so I was braking a bit earlier than normal so at least I’d have a cushion should everything go completely pear shaped.  I finally get onto the tail of Dave and get him going into Tower.  The remainder of the race was a quite one for me, but the car was working well (apart from the brakes) so I just concentrated on putting the laps together.  I had a few back markers to deal with, one in particular doesn’t seem to be able to use his mirrors so he got a bit of a rude awakening when I went around the outside of him at Quarry.

I finally cross the line in 5th place, again the cars in front were the 2 and 3.5litre cars so I was happy with that.  Biggest shock came when the timing sheets were published, my best lap was a 1:06.1, a whole second quicker than my PB from last year.  So for the next race I am going to disconnect my brakes completely, reckon I’ll get a 1:05 no problem!

The car survived quite well but the oil leak was a lot worse, however Barry spotted the culprit which was my new dip stick.  So a modification of this is needed before the next meeting but I’ve got 5 weeks now to get that sorted.  Oh and I guess I better get the brakes sorted out, most likely culprit is a duff master cylinder so I’ll replace that and see where we are then.

Thanks to everyone that came to support me, I think I had the biggest entourage in the paddock by some margin!