Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Oulton

Oulton Park. What a fabulous circuit.

In the name of cost-saving, I'd only booked the 50 minute "Grads Special" testing at lunchtime on Friday. Unfortunately with a couple of incidents that seemed to take forever to clear up, we only ended up getting about 15 laps - in damp weather at that.

I thought this might seriously compromise my qualifying, as others had a lot more practice in better conditions, but I needed have worried. I qualified in seventh place (again), which I was more than happy with. Mind you, the qualifying was incredibly tight, with less than a second covering fourth to seventeenth place. My second-best lap would have left me a lot further down the list.

At the race start, I sat with my clutch close to biting point as usual. Must have been a bit too close, as the car crept forward a foot or two. Then when the lights went off I got a blinding start.

I was in fifth place for much of the race, until Jos threw it off at the Knickebrook chicane, promoting me to fourth. In sight of the podium! I had a few goes at passing Mick Whitehead in front, but he seems to have the widest car in the country and in the end I decided it was safer to stay behind.

The pack spread out mid race, but by the end we'd compressed up again and I finished the race in fourth place, less than four seconds behind the leader, Trev Newman.

I was ecstatic with this placing, but then I discovered I'd been given a ten second penalty for a jump start, which dropped me back to seventh place.

The jump start penalty was fair - it had been a slightly rolling start - but nine times out of ten that would have been forgiven - it's not like I actually went for it before the lights had changed.

Still, seventh place is still pretty respectable, and leaves me in seventh place in the championship.

Oulton video

Next stop Pembrey. Can't wait!

Mallory

With my previous disappointment at Cadwell, I was hoping to do rather better at Mallory. I've always liked Mallory (on four wheels, I hated it on two, mainly because of the stupid "bus-stop" chicane) and always done pretty well there.

Practice day was actually a track day, so rather full of road BMWs (and, it has to be said, Academy 09 drivers) doing 5mph round the hairpin and blocking many of the potential "legal" overtaking spots. In the end we took to overtaking round Gerrards, but nobody objected.

Ah, Gerrards. What a fantastic corner. Mallory may be short, but frankly if Gerrards was the only corner I'd be happy. Light touch of brakes, sling it in and get on the power. The corner goes on forever, and if you start understeering, then a quick lift brings the back round in classic "lift-off oversteer" style.

Qualifying went pretty well and I finished in a very respectable seventh place.

The race didn't go quite so well. I got bulked a bit at the start, but then managed to take several places back at the hairpin each lap. I love the way people try to protect the inside line into the hairpin, and end up up queueing behind each other as you go sailing down the outside to take the proper line. So this was going pretty well until I came hurtling round Gerrards to find Alan Harber with his brakes on hard. I swerved to miss him, which put me in a spin before I'd even reached the grass. After that I was a passenger, and went into the armco a little further up.

Alan had braked because they'd just put out the red flags after an incident which saw an unconscious Dylan Stanley parked on the racing line just a few yard ahead. Although I couldn't see the red flag from where I was, I had to my shame missed the waved yellow at the post before.

Fortunately my damage was limited to a busted radiator and nosecone. Dylan was fine after waking up, though somehow or other Steve "Shuntie" Humphreys managed to break his arm in the same race.

Video of the start until my crash here.

Cadwell

Cadwell didn't go that well. My cunning plan didn't work for a variety of reasons - like me forgetting to put the memory card back in the datalogger. Cadwell's full of slow corners, which I don't really like, and in qualifying I was over-driving through most of them and sliding way too much on the exits. Qualified a disappointing 16th, and given that it was Cadwell and overtaking is near impossible, finished very little better in 14th.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Silverstone

Quick report from Silverstone (since Cadwell is nearly on us).

Rather disappointed with my qualifying - 12th for the first race and 13th for the second. Couldn't get a tow early on then spent a while swapping places with Andy Molsom, which probably didn't do either of us any favours.

Last year I got a bit carried away early on, and overtook a huge bunch of people up the inside into the complex, then lost it and took several people out (I'm sorry to say). This year I was determined not to do this, which meant I always tried to take the outside line into the complex. Probably not a great idea - I don't think I ever managed to pass anyone that way, but certainly got passed myself.

Got punted off the track early on in the first race - I think the culprit just lost control a bit on the brakes rather than deliberately shoving me off - but lost me a couple of places. Gradually worked my way back up and finished in a pretty creditable 7th place. Exactly where I was hoping to be, as it happens. Maybe next time I'll hope for a bit more...

The first race was really clean, but I'm afraid I can't say that about the second race. Another driver seemed to be driving very aggressively, and I had to take evasive action on more than one occasion, costing me multiple places each time. I finished the race in 11th place, and I have to say I was not a happy bunny. When most of the drivers are behaving like real gentlemen, and making sure there's plenty of room for the cars around them, it's sad when one person doesn't. Fortunately there was no serious contact (at least none I was involved in!) and at least I finished one place higher than my qualifying position.

Current championship position: 8th.

Cadwell single-header coming up this weekend. I have a cunning plan for Saturday testing. The grads organised a one-hour "grads exclusive" session at 5pm, but I've also booked the morning sessions. If all goes well, the datalogger works and the weather holds, I will get some logger info in the morning, ponder over it in the afternoon and figure out what I should be doing different (driving faster, probably) then put that into practice in the evening session.

Cadwell's tricky because it's so hard to overtake - it's a really narrow track. So a good qualifying position is vital. Traditionally that's not my strong point, I'm generally better at racing than qualifying. But I shall do my best.

Oh, and the wheels point in a straight line now, which it seems they didn't at Silverstone. Thanks to DPR Motorsport for sorting that issue out.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Brands Hatch - Pre Season Test Day

We're doing Brands Hatch Grand Prix circuit in August. Not much chance to test there as there are so few GP days available. So the Grads arranged their pre-season "shakedown" track day there. Nice circuit, shame about the price - an eye-popping £315 at full price. Fortunately I was able to take advantage of BookaTrack's "Double Glazing Sales Technique" (nice one, Charlie!) and got if for £290.

£290 for six 20 minute sessions - so the two I missed cost me £96. Missed because I was too enthusiastic prepping the car, and pressure-washed the engine with Gunk. Failed to clean it out properly so ended up with gunky-water down the plug holes. For some reason it was fine in the first session, but wouldn't rev over 5K in the second. Cleaning that out improved things but it still wasn't fixed properly so I missed the next session too. Chris had just discovered his battery was stone dead (first time the car had come off the trailer since Spa!) so off he went to the Caterham factory, down the road at Dartford. He picked up a set of plugs (£40 - ouch) and fortunately that sorted it.

Got to play a bit with the new datalogger. I can see it could be a useful tool, but it's going to require quite a bit of time to (a) learn how to use the analysis software and (b) to actually study the results. I think it really needs a two-day test session, so you can analyse the results after day one, and test out any resulting theories on day two. No chance of that happening, though!

I also have another secret weapon - a tame shrink! An old friend is doing a masters degree in psychology, focusing on improving race performance. He was looking for a victim subject to work with, and I volunteered. Not sure whether it'll do any good, but the price was right...

Friday, February 27, 2009

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

OMG what I have I done LOL ROFL

(Just trying to attract a younger audience with the title. Don't suppose it'll work. I probably need to learn to completely mis-spell stuff for that).

If it's working...

Shortly after the Brands day, ex-Supergrad Ian Northern put his DL1 / Dash2 datalogger and dash combination up for sale. It was a bargain - slightly less than the full price of the datalogger for the pair of them. I can never resist a bargain, even though they usually turn out to be much less of a bargain than I'd (ahem) bargained for.

I bought it, then looked at the four million wires coming out of the dash. And contemplated my wiring skills. And put the dash up for sale with the hope of ending up with a very cheap datalogger. But having done that, and spent a lot of time on the net finding out about the dash, I decided I really did want to keep the thing after all.

So I've spent hours and hours (including half a day with my brother, who's somewhat more competent at this sort of thing than me, being an electrical engineer by training), cutting splicing and wiring under the dash. The old dash panel had to be attacked with drill and tinsnips to cut enough space to mount the new device, and a special mounting plate had to be made up.

At the moment, it looks like an absolute nightmare:


But hopefully I can tidy that up and get it moderately reliable.

I *know* that some of those connections are going to fail. But at least I wired it up, so I should be able to fix it myself. And as far as I can figure out, whatever fails should lose me instrumentation only. I might have to do qualifying without lap times, or race without a shift light, but it shouldn't prevent anything from working.

I hope...

Monday, January 26, 2009

2009 Season Approaches...

Went to Brands on Friday. A chap from Blatchat had bought a day with Lotus on Track. It was cheap anyway at £99 (well, it is February), but he was selling for just £75. Couldn't resist that ... until I got to the track and it was chucking it down.

Morning wasn't a lot of fun - I spent much of my time sitting in the tow car doing some work (thank heavens for Mobile Internet). But by lunchtime the rain had pretty much stopped. The track was still wet, which made for some fun slidey-slidey action, but without the "I can't see a thing - where does the track go?" that you get when it's actually raining.

The only nasty bit was the bottom of Paddock Hill, which had enough water down to cause aquaplaning. The far left of the track was unusuable - the middle was OK as long as you went straight across it and didn't try to steer.

Talking of Paddock Hill, they've made some changes. There used to be a huge concrete apron over the kerb, which many people used to consider as normal part of the track. Now they've dug that up, and there's only a couple of feet of concrete before the gravel trap. Go "four wheels off" and you'll be in the gravel. Seems like a good idea to stop the cheats, but I do wonder if it'll lead to loads more stoppages to drag people out of the gravel. Seems directly contrary to what they've been doing at Spa - where most of the gravel traps have been replaced with concrete or tarmac aprons.

Speaking of Spa ... did I mention I won? My first race win on four wheels (indeed, my first podium) . It was all a bit odd, though, and somehow I didn't feel like I properly deserved it. Picture this ...

Qualifying was on a decidedly damp track. I used to hate this, but recently I've come to enjoy it. You can get the car nice and loose, and constantly drive it on the limit. However, I was quite astonished to come back and find that I'd qualified second, just behind Trev (Trev, if you haven't met him, wears a spandex suit with his underpants over the top and a big T on his chest). That was my real achievement.

After that, the race was something of an anticlimax. Trev got involved in an incident at the first corner (the second major incident - the first having happened on the starting grid!) and that left me playing with the Megas and desperately hoping that Paul Turley who qualified third wouldn't catch me up. A 10 minute pace-car session due to the first-lap incidents helped with that, as did a red flag with two laps to go. I could see headlights in my mirrors, so knew he was catching up. Hey ho, I was leading the Supers at the end of the race, and that's what counts. I got a luverly pot, a big bunch of flowers, and a bottle of fizzy "boisson au flavour de vin".