Can a theme be taken too far?

Finally, after many months of waiting, building, waiting, driving and waiting the Cheesemobile is finally clothed. Yesterday, I went out in the freezing conditions to give the car a good clean and today, I was back in the garage to adorn the car with its racing livery.

It has always been in my head that this was going to be the final fate of the car but I still wasn’t sure I’d have the nerve. But in the end, I JFDI’d.

On the short drive back to put the car on the trailer, 2 people laughed heartily at the creation. This was embarrassing. But NOBODY could say I haven’t put everything into creating a unique car!

Putting the stickers on wasn’t as painful a job as I was expecting. Using the wet method does make things a little easier to manage but judging the right amount of soapy water to apply is a little bit of an art-form. A couple of stickers had to be re-positioned and they were pretty compliant when still wet. Once properly squeegeed, they stuck well.

I have made at least one slight error – but I’m not flagging it up and hopefully nobody will notice. (This means that it’s likely everyone will notice).

I didn’t end up putting the numbers on. I’ve decided that I’ll do this as a little ceremonial ‘topping out’ just ahead of the official test session.

Secretly, I’m really pleased with how it’s turned out. It’s not subtle. It’s not a work of photo-realism. But it is mine! Who knew, all those years ago at college when my mate Angela May  issued forth the decree that I should hence forth be known as Cheesy, it would lead to this!

Delivery for Cheesy

Had an exciting box through the door yesterday. Around 2 months after last having seen my race helmet, it was back – and now with added paint!

I’d spoken to Piers Dowell at Autosport Live in January about whether we could create a helmet design around my nickname ‘Cheesy’. Although rather being taken aback by being asked, with a straight face, to create a Cheesy Helmet (stop sniggering you at the back…), he did seem to think that he could come up with something that wouldn’t be a complete joke!

If you haven’t seen Pier’s work before – you should take a gander. He’s an absolute Air Brush legend and creates the most stunning pieces of photo realistic artwork. His Pink Floyd guitar is just stunning. http://www.piersdowell.com/

I do fear asking him to paint my helmet was akin to asking Constable to draw a stick figure but at least I knew it was in good hands!

As soon as I saw the indicative design drawings I knew it was right! And seeing it in the flesh is even better. The yellow and the red really pop. I can’t stop looking at it!

Some would say, I’m taking my theme a little too far! But I love all this… and we’re not quite done just yet. Watch this space.

Handling Day, Silverstone

Erghhhh – what a miserable start to a day! Up at 5am to contend with pissing rain whilst finishing off loading gear into the car. It took the full 2hrs 15 to get to Silverstone and the weather just kept getting worse!

By the time there were a group of us all making full use of the handy shelters put up by Matt Gibbon and Stu Hood on the Silverstone tarmac, I really was starting to get a cold damp hump on! That was, until Chris Middleton arrived in his Caterham, having driven from Kent with no doors and no roof. Absolute hero. A very wet one, but a hero none the less. I realised then just how lucky I was to be able to trailer the car!

In fact, all the guys turning up in their Caterhams are due a mention but they all copped out  by using their hoods and doors.

Humour levels quickly rose as more participants arrived and the driving action started getting closer!

After sign on and briefing my group were allocated practice starts first. On a very damp and greasy runway, we got to play around with technique over a timed start. It’s a skill you don’t get to practice much as a racing driver – other than when it actually counts! Sarah Reader was on hand to give tips and times to everyone.

Next up was the first cone slalom course. Tight and twisty and very understeery with the track being so damp. Darren Burke on hand to offer pointers, and retrieve cones if displaced! My second timed run was actually OK – but when it got to the 3rd timed run, I ran out of tallent just a touch… This trend did seem to happen through the day! Second run fine, third one over cooked.

A change of pace next, with a scruteneering session designed to check that our cars were ready for an official check at our first race meeting. The only additional element I needed was a strip of  tape across the central seam in the boot floor. Happy enough with that.

After a spot of lunch and a much needed hot drink the sun finally made an appearance and took the chill out of the air – which I am sure was greatly appreciated by the Caterham staff and the handful of hardy spectators that had braved it on the day.

As the weather had improved, we had a competition to see how fast we could get in and our of our cars. I can confirm that I am slow at getting in and died horribly in a ball of flames whilst trying to get out. Even manic Ricky Bobby style rolling around to put out the flames wouldn’t have saved me. For the record I have to pull the crutch straps free manually to get everything to become nicely free. I am truly glad that I know this now – rather than when it may become a lot more important.

The afternoon sessions were based around 2 slalom courses – one more open and flowing – the other, tight and twisty. Again, pointers and tips from Sarah and Darren as well as timings to let you know how you were getting on.

Then, onto the competitive element of the day. Both afternoon slalom courses were joined together into one large course. We were given one practice run and then one timed run. I’d like to point out that, through the day, the tarmac had slowly been drying out. Sadly, I was at the tail end of the field of timed runs and by the time I got on track, it was raining again. I had that excuse all lined up, ready to roll out at an opportune moment – up until Will Smith went and put in a time after me that got him on the podium… damn – I’ll have to come up with another excuse then 🙂 I think I was in the top 10 somewhere but can’t remember exactly. Anyway, not quick enough to get a nice trophy.

That honour went to Will Smith (Group 2) in 3rd, Dominic Elliott in 2nd and Henry Heaton taking honours in 1st.

I have a feeling that Mr Heaton is going to prove a peculiar nuisance through the season 🙂

It was a great fun day. I think the solidarity of the miserable weather in the morning was actually a bonus. We’ve been given our sponsor decals for the year now, so that’s next up on the to-do list.

Thanks to Mr Cheese Sr (John) for braving the elements and taking photos for me through the day.

UPDATE: As bad as we thought the weather was for our event, Group 2 were at Silverstone the following day and, unfortunately, snow meant the day had to be cancelled. I can’t imagine how gutted they all must have been.

Silverstone GP, 10th March 2013

Silverstone on a snowy, icy morning. It’s not the most inviting of places! The trip up had felt like a Top Gear challenge, where I’d got the wrong brief, with a TVR Chimaera, Nissan 350Z and me in my Astra and trailer!

However, once unloaded, the Cheesemobile shouldn’t be underestimated! Especially when I leave the driving to Ben Clucas…

In the morning I took some time to get used to the track. It was wet, cold and very slippery. That doesn’t make for the most confidence inspiring start to the day but I started to get a feel for the grip and started pushing on a bit. Just before lunch, there was a period of dry running where I thought I started to find some limits.

As ever though, these limits were moved considerably more once Ben had corrected a few lines and then shown me how to really do it. Corners where I had a firm jab at the brakes were now flat out (or very nearly)…

For someone who’s only done 10 track days ever, it’s pretty intimidating at times and I did need to catch my breath. Having Ben constantly push me means I get FAR more out the day than I could ever do on my own. Sometimes I still don’t ‘see’ some of the opportunities to make time – but I’m getting there… bit by bit.

I was worried that the Caterham would feel swamped by Silverstone and be completely out powered by other track day machinery but in reality, the speed difference in the corners compared to most other cars is just amazing. In fact, it means it’s very hard to get a clear lap – something I didn’t manage all afternoon. It’s great fun though. I wish I had an infinite budget – but then again, I’m sure everyone does.

Next weekend we have the handling day, back at Silverstone and then the next track day outing is at Rockingham on Easter Monday. Already looking forward to it of course!

Setup morning, notes for the absent!

Yesterday, we were all invited to a morning at the Caterham Factory in Dartford. The primary focus of the day was on giving an insight to everyone as to how you go about setting up a Caterham for racing, rather than the road.

With Dartford only being 1.5 hours away, I decided it would be just about bearable to take the Caterham. Unfortunately, it was cold and a it brought all those memories flooding back of driving over to Keevil airfield in sub-zero temperatures. It didn’t help that my driver side mirror was pointing in exactly the wrong direction. This was bad enough while on the motorway, but getting to roundabouts in Dartford was not fun! I stopped in a lay-by to see whether I could adjust it and found fellow Academy racer Charlie, having just finished tucking into a bacon sandwich. He kindly offered the other two hands that you need to do anything on a Caterham, and the relief at being able to see behind was extreme!

Almost as much as the relief at holding onto a hot cup of tea after arriving at the factory! There are times when tea is the only medicine. After driving a Caterham on the M25 is one of those times.

After the usual natter with everyone, it was straight onto the setup talk by Simon Lambert. Ably assisted by glamorous assistant Mark Rider. There are others in Group 1 that couldn’t make the setup mornings, so I had agreed to take notes. Those notes are gathered here! It’s up to those competitors to work out whether I’m mean enough to throw in a curve ball or two into the mix :).

Ride Height

Description
Measured from the chassis rail to the floor just in front of the wishbone attachment point. This needs to be a minimum of 140mm for the Academy, although it is generally set at 145mm minimum as there is little benefit to running on the limit and this doesn’t allow for any suspension sag or tyre wear. It should be checked regularly. Track miles will wear out tyres and cause suspension to settle and sag a little.

Adjustment
To raise the ride height, the upper platform at the bottom of the spring/damper unit should be screwed further up (compressing the spring more). To lower the ride height, the top platform should be loosened (decompressing the spring). Once set, the lower platform should be tightened up to lock them in place.

Benefit
Lowered centre of gravity of the car. This aids in all cornering, braking and accelerating.

Drawback
Little drawback other than grounding out or sailing too close to the wind with the regulations.

Camber

Description
Camber is the angle off vertical that the tyre leans sideways. It can be positive, where the tyre leans outwards, or negative, where the tyre leans inwards. You will only ever want negative camber. The regulations allow for 3 degrees negative camber at the front.

Adjustment
Normally, this is set at 2-2.5 degrees for Academy cars. Front camber is adjusted by releasing the top wishbone from the upright. The ball joint assembly is on a thread and ‘tightening’ the ball joint onto the wishbone will increase negative camber and ‘loosening’ the ball joint will decrease the negative camber. Rear camber is possible to achieve with metal shim inserts. The De-Dion has in built camber and for the Academy, it is rare to add any different setting as this reduces traction under acceleration.

Benefit
Adding negative camber allows tyre to sit flat on the road when leaning over under cornering load, therefore increasing tyre contact patch and so, grip under cornering.

Drawback
In a straight line there is a reduced contact patch on the tarmac and therefore less grip available to accelerating and braking.

Caster

Description
Caster is the angle around which the front tyres pivot when being turned. (The front wheel of a bike has lots of caster).

Adjustment
Front caster is adjusted using the lower wishbone, by using washers to push the attachment points forward or backward. Factory set is even with two washers either side of the attachment points. It can be moved forward or backward where all 4 washers are one side of the attachment points.
Rear caster is not relevant as the tyres do not turn.

Benefit
When the wheel turns, the caster adds additional camber. It is a way of getting more camber at the front of the car without breaking regulations. Most race engineers will want to set large amounts of caster.

Drawback
The trade off is heavy steering, making it harder to finesse the car and the car is less sensitive at turn-in. Driving style will determine whether these drawbacks are costing more time the the additional camber offers in grip.

Toe

Description
Toe is the angle that the wheels point away from parallel to each other. Where the front of the tyre is closer to the car than the back of the car, that is toe in. Where the front of the tyre is further away from the car than the back, that is toe out. Toe out is set for Caterham’s as this makes the car eager to turn.

Adjustment
Caterham’s are generally set with a toe out maximum in the region of 1.5 degrees per side at the front. You adjust the toe of the front tyres by turning the steering pushrods at either side of the car. This adjustment can also be used to centre a steering wheel that is slightly off centre.

In order to measure the toe, you need to set up axle stands around the car with pieces of wood or similar across the front. Tie string around the wood so that it goes from front to back parallel to the side of the car. (The exact dimensions of the ‘box’ you create around the car doesn’t matter.) You then position the string box so that the centre of each wheel is exactly the same distance from the string. You can then measure the distance from the front and rear of each tyre out to the string and the difference between the measurements is your toe.

Benefit
The car is eager to turn into corners. It wants to be going around bends and so makes turn in more responsive and positive.

Drawback
The car is more unstable in a straight line and will tend to move about. The tyres pointing away from straight ahead also causes drag in a straight line on the tyre as it slips sideways slightly.

Rake

Description
This is the amount that the rear of the car is set higher than the front of the car. Rake pushes more (raised rake) or less (lowered rake) weight onto the front of the car and therefore adds/reduces front grip. Lower rake lessens oversteer and increases understeer. Increased rake increase oversteer and reduces understeer.

Adjustment
Normally, this is set between 10-15mm higher than the front ride height. It is adjusted by raising / lowering the top platform of the rear dampers. Loosen off the lower platform, turn the top platform to adjust and then tighten the lower platform again once complete.

Benefit / Drawback
It’s more a case of driver preference and track requirements rather than benefits/drawbacks. It is a good way of adjusting the amount of oversteer in the car.

Flat Floor Setup

This doesn’t refer to the car sitting flat relative to the floor, it relates to the setup being carried out on a perfectly flat floor. For this reason, carrying out the adjustments for a flat floor is generally beyond the scope of an amateur builder.

As the car sits on scales on the flat floor, the weight that the car is putting down at each corner can be measured. The weights can be adjusted by raising or lowering the damper platforms.

In Caterham’s it is important to have the weight balance even across the front of the car to ensure maximum stability in braking.

Repeat Process
As each suspension component works in conjunction with all others, changing one will affect the others. Generally speaking, the setup and flat floor process is then carried out again until such time a geometry and weights are as good as they can be.

Front Anti-Roll Bar

Another element of the suspension that Academy cars have an option over is the front anti-roll bar. This bar dictates how much the car is able to lean over in corners. Academy cars are only fitted with a front bar and there are only 2 options. An orange bar, that the car is supplied with, and a red bar, that you can buy.

Theoretically, a softer anti-roll bar should be quicker however, a harder anti-roll bar gives a far better feel to the car and therefore many opt to use the stiffer bar. However, in the wet, the orange bar would be preferable as you generally want to increase grip as much as possible in the wet.