17th September 2010

Post-race/pre-race fettling

There were plenty of little non-essential jobs I didn't quite get round to doing before I left for the last test session at Silverstone. Having managed to finish the weekend without needing to rebuild a mangled wreck, I could spend some time doing these desirable and unimportant jobs. For example, before I left for Silverstone I'd refitted the underbody panel which sits underneath the transmission tunnel (which hadn't been badly damaged when they pulled the car out of the gravel trap) but hadn't had time to refit the panel which sits under most of the engine bay, which had. So a little hammer and vice action got that flat(ish) again. Some of the bolts holding it in place had sheared off in the rivnuts, but since they were only nylon set-screws it was easy enough to drill them out without nadgering the rivnuts.

I also put the front number plate on, after a new set of self-adhesive plates had eventually arrived from Craigsplates, only three weeks after I'd ordered them.

Rear bodywork repairs

The gaffer tape covering the rear right corner of the car did its job at Silverstone, but I prefer not to think of it as being a long-term solution. So I've spent a few evenings filling'n'sanding'n'filling'n'sanding. I even got all fussy and used 180 grit paper, although in fairness that was only because the local motor factors had run out of 120 grit wet'n'dry paper. Things all went rather well until it came to spraying some more matt black celly all over it. Spraying late at night after a few glasses of a rather good white Bordeaux is probably deprecated in professional vehicle refinishing circles, but I think the main problem here was that my little touch-up spray gun never quite recovered from my efforts to flush it through with panel wipe, which I mistook for gun wash. A good flush through with thinners seemed to have cleared out its tubes, but I don't think that in fact it did. There seemed to be way too much air compared to paint no matter what contribution of settings and air pressure I used, with the result that there were epic amounts of overspray. In the end I resorted to splashing a load of thinners over the top and using a paint brush...

Still, you almost certainly can't see any of that once I'm on track, and I can always flat it back later and put another coat on. I forgot to take a photo of the bodywork before I sprayed it, and from a photo I doubt you'd be able to tell the difference between how it is now and it was before - not that the finish is that good, it's just it wouldn't show up on a photo. So no piccies.

I've also taken the opportunity to replace the rear lights, given the grief I had at Silverstone with trying to get the brake lights to work. I'm coming to the conclusion that these Land Rover style WIPAC lights are cheap for a reason, and that reason is they're a bit rubbish. They seem to be horribly tempremental, and it took quite a lot of fiddling to get the right hand brake/stop light working properly even though it was a new light unit. Still, it works now.

Snetterton testing


Although I'd booked a whole day's testing, I didn't actually get to Snetterton until lunch time, so missed the two sessions in the morning. In the first session I got 29 laps in, which was good, but went rather slowly, which wasn't. My best lap was a 1:20.67, half a second slower than my best lap last year. OK, so there was quite a lot of traffic and unlike last year it wasn't a mixed bag of fast sportscars, just lots and lots of Locosts, MR2s and Stock Hatches. By way of example, here's me overtaking a Locost and a Stock Hatch simultaneously up the middle of the two.

Some of the driving standards were, ahem, interesting. At one point on the Revett straight there was a Locost trying to draft a Stock Hatch. The Stock Hatch driver evidently decided he didn't want to be drafted, and in an effort to break the tow decided that swerving violently and unpredictably from side to side would be a good idea. Combined with the usual random selection of lines, unprediable braking for no apparent reason, and misguided if well-intentioned efforts to get out the way and it was quite an eventful session. I ended up having to avoid one very sideways Locost and one totally sideways and stationary MR2 on the exit from Russell. Oh, and while avoiding the stationary MR2 parked across the track, I noticed in my rear view mirror that a Locost had responded to the yellow flags by spinning wildly across the entire chicane. So that's my excuse for not posting a faster lap-time...

The second afternoon session was rather less eventful, largely because I spent a lot of it in the paddock waiting for the track to reopen after two red flags. The first was caused when a V8-powered MNR lost its left-hand rear wheel and was left perched rather jauntily on the outside of the Russell chicane, right in the firing line for anyone who messed up their braking into the chicane. The second was caused by Stock Hatch drivers doing what they do best - crashing. A very battered Saxo was stationary after the exit from the second part of the Esses, and something had obviously rammed it on the right-hand front. Still, I can't complain too vigorously, seeing as the last-but-one test session I attended had a long red-flag stoppage while they hauled me out of the gravel at Druids.

Looking at the logs, the reason for my times being slower is fairly obvious - Coram. Essentially, I was mincing my way round Coram too slowly. In fact, I was going everywhere slightly faster last year, but Coram is the big difference. Of course it would be nice to think that this studying of the data logs will mean I'll get it all together on Sunday and get under the 1:20 barrier. However, the weather forecast is for light rain all day, so frankly I'm not looking forward to it all that much. Wish me luck...

19th September 2010

Snetterton 2010 #2 - Goodbye novice cross

As you can probably tell, I wasn't looking forward to the racing on Sunday all that much. While I'd finished testing unscathed, I'd gone pretty damn slowly and the weather forecasts were unanimous in forecasting rain for the Sunday. And I really don't like racing in the rain. While I tried telling myself that a couple of wet races would be good practice for racing in the wet, and that after all I wasn't going to get any better at driving in wet conditions without practice, I really wasn't that keen about the prospect of another wet race. Also, I'd noticed quite a nasty vibration at speed on the Revett straight and round Coram in testing. The idea behind buying the shonky Hi-Spec hubs had been to get rid of the brake disc run-out caused by the deformed front right-hand hub (the result of me hitting it repeatedly with a hammer trying to get the wheel studs in). However, it turned out that both front brake discs had significant run-out on the Hi-Spec hubs. I think that may be caused by me over-tightening the bolts holding the brake discs onto the hubs, although I'm not sure. At any rate, it didn't do anything for my confidence levels either...

As it turned out, however, it was by far the best day's racing so far. I got rid of my novice cross and, with one fairly notable exception, had a weekend of really good racing. I'd entered both the RGB race and the Bikesports race - Robin Knight, the competition chap at the 750MC, had offered us RGB racers the opportunity of entering the Bikesports race for only £100, due to the low entries in the Bikesports race. £100 is pretty cheap for a race, so I'd signed up. As it turned out, so many RGB drivers had signed up for the Bikesports race, and so many Bikesports drivers had signed up late, that while they could fit us all into one qualifying session there were too many cars for us all to race together - for some reason they can have more cars on track at the same time for qualifying than for a race. Rather than tell people they couldn't race, the club decided to have a non-championship RGB race for all those RGB drivers who'd entered the Bikesports race, and the Bikesports race remained exclusively for Bikesports cars.

So, the net effect was that my day would feature:

1. Combined Bikesports and RGB non-championship qualifying/practice

2. RGB qualifying

3. RGB non-championship race

4. RGB championship race

Quite a lot to fit into one day. Scrutineering went smoothly, with the only bad point being the gentle drizzle that started while we were waiting in line for scrutineering to open. The Bikesports/Non-Champ-RGB and RGB-proper qualifying sessions were almost back-to-back and I wasn't sure I'd have time to refuel between sessions. Not a problem, though, as I knew from Friday's testing that a not-completely-full tank was good for 50 minutes driving, and each quali session was only 20 minutes long. So after scrutineering, I filled up the car to almost full, and headed off, with more than one eye on the looming clouds...

Qualifying - Bikesports/Non-championship RGB

The quali session for Bikesports/RGB non-champ wasn't that great. I spent the first two laps stuck behind a Radical Bikesports car which was mimbling round the track rather sedately. I assumed that eventually he'd hare off into the distance, and didn't want to overtake only to get in his way. After two laps I decided he was just bloody slow and overtook. I then spent the entire time getting out of the way of the faster Bikesports cars (it was after all their quali session and I didn't want to spoil anyone's lap) and getting out of the way of other RGB cars who weren't necessary actually that faster than me, but who I also didn't want to hold up. As a result, I got only one clear lap in which I did a 1:21.02, before the session ended. My second fastest lap was nearly 2 seconds slower, at 1:22.87, as this was during the time I was worrying more about not holding other people up rather than going quickly myself. After my one clear lap, the chequered flag came out and it was time to return to the paddock. There were a couple of spots of rain, but not enough to get the track even slightly damp, and after that the skies remained overcast but blessedly dry.  

Qualifying - RGB


I set off for RGB qualifying behing Bob Mortimer in his Class A Hyabusa-powered Fury. Bob quickly reeled in and passed Mark Sammland, in his orange Fury, and I duly followed suit. I had a couple of half-hearted efforts to get past Mark at Russell, Ritches and Sears but was able to outdrag him on the Revett straight after a wee dosey-do where he dodged right and I dodged left (that's Mark in the orange Fury - he's heading right, I'm heading left for the inside line).

I then got a few clear laps in, and started to catch up with Austen, with whom I'd had a rather good race in the Allcomers race at Silverstone. However, as usual I was far too polite in letting through a faster car (Duncan Marshall in his class B Phoenix this time) and Austen pulled away from me. I then had another few clear laps, and got past Austen after he failed to take the Russell chicane. Other than having one of the Phoenixes overtake me, the remaining laps were fairly uneventful.

My fastest time was a 1:20.33 - faster than last year's qualifying but slower than my fastest race lap, and still not below 1:20. That put me 15th on the grid, one behind Neil C-B in his BDN and one ahead of Paul Rickers in this class B Phoenix. I've got video footage of the quali session, but it's really quite dull, so I don't intend to inflict it on the world.

RGB non-championship race

Until now, my racing had largely involved trundling round at my own pace and while I'd overtaken other people this was largely due to me being much faster and (in some cases) having a significant power advantage. I'd never been involved in prolonged scraps with other cars and close wheel-to-wheel racing. That was not the case in the RGB non-championship race.

In between qualifying and lunch, I took the data card containing the data from my data-logger over to Tim's motorhome for a bit of Tim's invaluable coaching. Because Tim and I both use the Race Technology DL1 logger it's easy to compare our data and see where he's faster than I am. As ever, the answer was pretty much everywhere (although there was a period of just over a second where I was faster...) but the main difference was Coram. Coram is a long right hand corner just before the Russell chicane and there's no readily-identifiable turn-in point. As with last year, I was tending to just trundle round Coram in the middle of the road, leaving a generous margin for error. While this feels nice and safe, it's not exactly the quickest way to take that corner. I was also taking Ritches (the first corner after the pit straight) in a rather strange manner, turning in, then backing off, and then taking a second bite at the cherry. Although he didn't phrase it in those terms, Tim's advice was essentially to grow some balls, and press the throttle earlier, harder and longer. Although that does appear to be Tim's invariable advice when looking at my data logs... ;)

On my way to the grid I did my usual practice start and, as usual, got bucket-loads of wheelspin and precious little forward momentum. However, when it came to the actual start I didn't do too badly. I think I'm finally getting the hang of getting the FuryRacer off the line - the key appears to be not to be too anxious and rushed, but to feed the power in smoothly. With the FuryBird I and also my ZX9R-powered Striker the launch technique is pretty straightforward - dial in a certain number of revs (9.5krpm in the FuryBird, 10.5 krpm in the Striker) and then when the lights go green side-step the clutch and off you go. The FuryRacer requires a rather more refined technique, slipping the clutch and balancing clutch against throttle. I think the mistake I was making earlier was trying too hard to get away quickly, and either getting loads of wheelspin or bogging down/stalling. As with the Allcomers race at Silverstone, I let the clutch in gently, slowly increased the revs, and got a half decent start.

As a result, I overtook Paul Rickers off the line, and ended up with Ben Bulter in his black-with-a-yellow-nose Westfield alongside me going into Ritches. Ben proved remarkably resilient, staying alongside me through Ritches and Sears. But with an extra 40bhp and a more aerodynamic car I was confident I could out-drag him along the Revett straight, and so it turned out. However, I was still on the right-hand side of the track, which would give him the inside line into the Esses complex, and ahead of me James Walker in his 'busa-powered Westfield and Austen in his class C Fury were battling it out. Having pulled ahead of Ben, I checked my mirrors to ensure I was indeed ahead, and pulled left to be on the inside of James and Austen. I decided it was all or nothing - I was either going to get past both of them, or I wasn't - which would leave me with Ben trying to get past me.

So I screwed my courage to the sticking point, left my braking as late as I dared, and dived past both James and Austen into the Esses. Looking at
Austen's in-car footage (at about 55 seconds in) you can see me piling past in the braking zone trailing tyre smoke behind me - as shown in the piccy, shamelessly nicked from Austen's YouTube footage. Austen made an effort to get past on the second part of the Essex complex, but I held my line and stayed in front. That left me behind Bob Mortimer, who I'd been trying to chase down when I span at Snetterton (trashing the engine in the process) at the beginning of the year. The ominous nature of my position didn't occur to me at the time...

I spent the next few laps trying to close down a 3-car train of Neil C-B, James Fowley and Bob. James and Bob got slowed down when Neil pulled off just after the Russell chicane - Bob in particular performed heroics not to run into the back of him. This gave me the chance to get a little closer to Bob, and in the next few laps I got onto his tail. At the same time, I had James and Austen looming large in my rear-view mirror, and was concentrating not only on trying to catch Bob but also on keeping them behind me. But while trying to catch up with Bob, and at the same time fending off James and Austen I unexpectedly had some good news. The DASH2 shows the last lap time when you pass over the start-finish line, which is close to the entry to Ritches. Now at this point I was doing well into 3 figures - about 115-116mph - and at this point my attention was largely taken by braking for Ritches. But I did have time to notice that my lap-times had got into the 1:19 bracket. I must confess to a little whoop of satisfaction that that...

While trying to catch up with Bob, I suffered the same clutch-slip symptoms I'd suffered at Silverstone - you can hear it on the video with the revs rising and falling. However, I worked out that this was because I was once again bracing myself on the clutch pedal and so that problem went away. Not before Bob pulled away from me a few more car lengths, however... After a more few laps, I caught up with Bob and had a few half-hearted goes at overtaking Bob at Russell, Ritches and Sears but these aren't really overtaking spots unless the car in front really makes a mistake. However, eventually Bob ran wide at the first part of the Esses. This compromised his exit on the second part and I was able to nip past on the entry to the Bombhole. It's a testament to Bob as a driver that I had no hesitation about doing so, even though if he hadn't seen me there and had turned in on me it could have proved rather unpleasant. As it turned out, I was unfortunately unable to return the compliment.


Having got past Bob, I set my sights on reeling in James Fowley in his FuryBusa. I was gaining on him, but Bob had caught up with me and got a good tow down the Revett straight. With hindsight I should have taken a defensive line into the Esses and defended the position. However, I didn't, a once I realised that Bob was taking a dive up the inside into the Esses I decided not to contest the position and gave it up as gracefully as I could. In fact, I ran really wide and ended up many car-lengths behind him. Nonetheless, I tried reeling Bob back in again. And started gaining on him. Bob ran wide on the exit of Ritches and kicked up dirt, and I got alongside him after Bob ran wide at the Russell chicane. At the end of the pit straight Bob started moving over towards the outside of the track but once again I decided to make discretion the better part of valour and gave Bob the line into Ritches.

However, after a couple of laps I got a good run on Bob out of Sears, after Bob missed the apex at Sears. By the time we got to the braking zone I was alongside, and pulled out to try and repeat my efforts on the first lap and dive up the inside. Unfortunately it didn't work as well this time. I was so concerned about running wide and hitting Bob while understeering round the Esses, I ended up braking too hard, turning in too hard, and lost the back end of the car. Fortunately, Bob saw this coming and took to the grass by way of avoiding action, and by the time James and Austen (who were follwoing close behind) came on the scene I too had taken to the green stuff and got out of their way. Even more happily I remembered to dip the clutch and keep it down, so I was able to carry on racing without trashing the starter motor as I did in March at Snett.

After I'd got back on the track I spotted Robert Gardiner ahead of me. Now while I'd been heading backwards across the green stuff, I hadn't really had much time to notice how many of the pack had overtaken me. It seemed like I'd been off the track for ages, and I assumed that the rest of the pack had overtaken me leaving me (once again) in last place. So when I saw Robert ahead of me, I assumed I was in last place and starting trying to reel him in. I didn't manage to do so, but as it turned out if I'd overtaken Robert I would've laped him rather than recovering from last place.

So I ended up finishing third from last, behind Austen. Not a brilliant result, but not bad in the circumstances. Anyway, here's a heavily-edited vid of the non-championship race for your delight and delictation...

Oh, and thanks as ever for Austen's mate Dan for the photo of me spinning and Bob avoiding me doing so above, and for Austen for the snapshot from his video.

RGB Championship race

The RGB non-championship race was excellent, except for the fact I dropped it trying to overtake Bob. The championship race was just excellent, as I kept it on the black stuff, did some 1:19.xx laps, raced hard and close, and didn't take anyone off. I started off beside Paul Rickers, and with Neil C-B and James Walker ahead of me. Now the Neuros video doo-dah decided not to bother recorded this race. This presents two problems. Firstly, there's no video to post on YouTube for any one suffering from extreme insomnia. Secondly, I can't use the video footage to reconstruct my memory of the race itself.

I evidently got past Austen and James, who'd both qualified ahead of me. Quite how, I have no idea. I remember having James and Austen close behind me, with Phil Alcock and Neil C-B ahead of me. I remember Phil barging his way past Neil at the Russell chicane somewhat unceremoniously, and I remember Austen spinning off on the exit to the Bombhole after he'd got past me on the Revett straight - despite having a 14" mirror, Austen was so close he seemed to be taking up most of it! I definitely remember having got alongside Phil down the Revett straight, but he had the inside line and I didn't really feel that now was the time to see if I could go round the outside of Phil during the first half of the Esses. What I mostly remember is having James Walker glued to my tail for the last few laps and wondering when the race would end!

In the absence of any video footage to help me remember the finer detail of what happened, I'll let the stat's speak for themselves - I qualified 15th out of 22 qualifiers, and finish 11th out of 21 finishers, putting me solidly mid-table. Mid-table respectability was the most I hoped for for this year, so frankly I'm dead chuffed. Ultimately, I can do no better than to quote James -
'Fantastically close racing, awesome fun, and a real improvement in my own performance.' What I really remember is that I came away from the RGB race absolutely elated, and grinning from ear to ear with the sheer enjoyment of having taken part in some hard, close but fair racing. And you can't ask for much more than that...

So the novice cross is gone. OK, so it had technically gone after the first race (you need six signatures - proof you've finished a race - to get ride of it and I'd finished one race back in 2003) but now I'd definitely got rid of it. And what's more, I felt I'd deserved it. I'd raced with some seasoned campaigners, and held my own. I'd knocked a second of my fastest lap time and got to below 1:20 at Snett. According to James, someone had stolen my car and 'drives it like he stole it'... ;) And while the fact I'd made Bob take to the grass to avoid me spinning was a bit of a downer, it was an honest overtaking move which I'd got wrong. While there's still work to do, and I'm not pretending there isn't, this weekend was a massive step in the right direction. And what's more, it was great fun. Roll on Oulton Park...

Oh, and P.S. I've removed the novice cross already. Now the car will be even more stealthy... ;)