Thursday, 21 January 2010

Oulton Park

Not to put too fine a point on it, the weekend of 4th-5th August at Oulton Park was epic. It felt like a coming of age. While Silverstone was a hugely important day for me, the combination of the ‘newness’ of it all and what is a pretty featureless (National) circuit meant that things hadn’t really sunk in. After Oulton I felt like a racer and was totally addicted.

Things didn’t start well. By the time I’d completed my first lap on the Friday test day I’d been off the circuit, the back window of the van was broken and my mate’s posh gazebo which I’d borrowed had collapsed in the wind. Ah yes, the weather – blowing a gale and streaming with rain. I was just about to write it off as a bad job and go home. A big hug from Kate and a stern talking-to from myself had me mostly sorted out. As the day went on the weather improved and I seemed to be finding my way around a bit better. Even so, all the Locosts there seemed to be much quicker then me. Not a surprise but I’m not good at dealing with ‘personal failure.’

Apart from being an amazing (and long, at nearly 2.8miles) circuit set in rolling parkland, the other good thing about Oulton is that it’s close to Steve’s house. I’m very grateful to Steve and Milenah for their invitation to stay as that meant good company, a Chinese take-away, a DVD and a warm house rather than a wet tent.

Race day loomed and a ‘double-header.’ Qualifying would take the normal 15-20 minute format but with the best two laps being counted for the two races. I was still struggling; spinning a couple of times and making a hash of Lodge in particular. I never really got a good lap. Frustratingly, I nearly did – I followed Dave Black for nearly a whole lap with him on a flyer, only to throw it away at Lodge again. If I hadn’t have spun on the last proper turn, I think I’d have been far enough up the grid to give myself a nose bleed. As it was, I was 23rd for Race 1 and 21st for Race 2.

Race 1 saw a couple of big incidents. In the end a total of 10 of the field didn’t finish. I had worked my way into 19th at the end of the third lap before throwing it away at, you’ve guessed it, Lodge. Annoyingly, on this occasion I was forced wide by what was some erratic driving in front. Some useful advice, having viewed the footage from Campbell Cassidy’s car, came from experienced hand and front-runner Matt Cherrington. I should have allowed a bit more room and concentrated on putting myself in a position to pass the two cars in front on the start-finish drag rather than get involved at the point of turn-in. Lesson hopefully learned! I didn’t hit anything but flooded the carburettor and stalled. The car just would not restart so I watched the remainder of the race with the Marshalls, who were great. After a push start I was able to make my own way back to the paddock. At least everything was in one piece. I did have a small oil leak beneath the rocker cover but that wasn’t anything to worry about and just really needed a wipe down.

I effectively started in 18th for Race 2 as three of the guys in front didn’t make the start following incidents and problems in Race 1. I’d passed Max Lees by the end of Lap 2 and was going pretty well. This was pleasing as both Kate’s Mum and Dad and my best mate, Karl and his girlfriend came to watch. I was excited; maybe too excited. I was on my own as I entered the Knickerbrook chicane. I made a total hash of it and spun, stopping in the middle of the track. Now the car had at times felt unforgiving and I put some of my spins to-date down to that. Not this one; just a total lapse in concentration – idiot! I’d stalled as well so it didn’t take long for Max and the others to be on top of me. I’m massively thankful that all of those behind me showed great skill in scattering either side of my car (onto the grass) and didn’t hit me or anyone else. Sorry!!

This was Silverstone all-over-again. Dead-sodding-last! To say that I wasn’t happy would be something of an understatement. I had the bit between my teeth. I made one pass on lap 4, two on lap 5, one on lap 6 and a further two on the last lap; finishing in 18th. My best lap was a 2:08:43 which made me the 10th fastest car out there. It’s a shame I couldn’t be consistent! What is more, that best lap is over a second faster than Tony’s fastest lap when he drove the car at Oulton in 2007 – and he finished 8th! Clearly, everyone has moved on and got faster in the last two years and the conditions may well have differed but that gives me hope. The fact is, I seem to have some raw pace but I’m absolutely full of ‘rookie mistakes.’

Still, onwards…

I've been trying to take some screen-shots from Real Player but that's been a disaster so instead I urge you to check-out Steve’s great photos at

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Post-Silverstone but pre-Oulton

I really need to get the blog up-to-date as there is quite a lot of activity on a new project. Unfortunately, there's also a dissertation to write so perhaps the updates will be a little more lightweight...

Having dipped my toe in the water at Silverstone, I decided that it made sense to get the suspension set-up to suit my bodyweight and establish what we were playing with. I also hoped that we might be able to dial-out a little snap-oversteer.

So, the car and I headed-off one Sunday morning to see Matt and Ivan at Procomp. Once the car was rolled into the workshop, they removed the dampers and got them on the dyno to see how suited they were and how balanced the pairs were. The results were not fantastic with the rear valving in particular looking more suited to a saloon car. In addition, the rebound valve on one of the fronts appeared to be stuck. I had never intended to replace these and so the decision was made to make the best of a bad job. At least the springs seemed about right. Next the ride height and geometry was measured and set. Interestingly, the rear wheels were shown to be running a lot of negative camber. Now, conventional thinking would suggest that the camber can't be altered on a live axle. In reality it can. I believe that the most common way of doing this is to weld the axle so that it gently kinks. In the case of my axle, no welding was evident and Ivan's best guess was that it had been put in a very large press. Money had clearly been spent on the axle so this seemed to add-up.

Once the suspension set-up was done, Matt extended my throttle pedal and repositioned it slightly to aid my heel-and-toe issues. Ivan then spotted the throttle mechanism and insisted that "No car is leaving my workshop like that!" He seemed to regret this exclamation as the fix took quite a while.

I eventually left Procomp's Birmingham base about nine hours after arriving. I can't fault their service - even the sandwiches tasted pretty good!

Next up... the fabulous Oulton Park circuit.