That’ll do pig. That’ll do.

Having the whole of Friday to travel up to Aintree turned out to be a very good thing. First drama of the weekend was finding a pretty severe bulge on one of my trailer tyres. A desperate ring round all the normal places confirmed my fears that NOBODY stocks trailer tyres as standard! So, I tentatively set off with the plan to drop into PRG Trailers on the way to try and pick up a spare. As it goes, the bulge disappeared on route and PRG didn’t have my imperial wheel – so I could only pick up the tyre in the end.

The detour to the other side of Liverpool turned out to be a very good thing in the end as we skirted the M6, which was being a right pig. I don’t think we saved time but we didn’t sit in stationary traffic for long!

I dropped the car off at the circuit, said quick hello’s to everyone who was also dropping off their kit and installed myself in the Holiday Inn Express for the night. My pit crew… I mean Dad… was also along for the adventure and Mr and Mrs Grubb were staying at the same hotel so we sat down to chomp on an indian takeaway. I’m still not sure that a curry the night before an event is a good idea, but Steve was certainly keen to see me eat lots and lots of it :).

Tony Stevens turned up later in the evening and we had a good time chatting and eating away.

I’m kind of used to the morning track routine now – unloading, setting up cameras, signing on etc but today we had scuteneering, track walk and drivers briefing to get through. It’s a lot to pack in a short space of time and is a complete bombardment of information.

All this lead into the first practice run of the day. Hours and hours of prep and it’s all over before you have time to blink! So much so that I can’t actually remember my first run at all! What I do know is that I got straight into the 53s bracket! (53.89) This was promising! A case of peaking far too early perhaps? It put me at the head of the field and certainly attracted an amount of attention. Still there were plenty of others that we not far behind.

Practice run 2 – I moved the time down to 53.82 – others moved into the 53’s.

First timed run – I moved to a 53.66 – however at this stage Nick Horton pulled out a stormer of a time with a 53.3. Henry Heaton also pumped in a 53.54. Nick’s time was enough for a double take and a feeling of dread! He’d got a good one in the bank. Still a podium would be OK – right?

Onto the second timed run. I hooked up a great start and, although Beachers was extremely scrappy – it was also pretty committed and I held onto the good start until the end to see a 53.13s pop up on the timing board! A quick check at the massive grin on my Dad’s face as I cam back into the paddock confirmed I’d set a new course record for the Academy class.

At that stage – I would happily have seen thunder clouds roll in, the heavens to open and Aintree circuit to suddenly suffer a bout of tarmac moles. Anything rather than wait to see if I could hold onto the lead for another run.

As it turns out, the Aintree apocalypse didn’t happen and I did indeed have to hold my nerve. My 3rd timed run was actually my best of the day. However, I had to take two stabs at the start due to wheel spin and I never recovered the time lost. I recorded a 53.14s still – so consistent times!

I thought that was it. I returned to everyone packing up their gear and cars and am very grateful for all the people who  came up to congratulate me. However, it wasn’t the end of the story! The message started seeping around that there would be a 4th run available, but that wouldn’t count towards the result. That soon got upgraded to be that there would definitely be a 4th run and it would count after all!

So, emotionally, that was being taken from being the winner – right back to everything to play for again. Talk about roller coaster.

My 4th and final timed run was a mediocre start and a mediocre run to end up recording another 53.14s time. I didn’t really care about my time by that stage though – as I wanted to know whether anyone had managed to pip me… a short wait confirmed that I had indeed won the event. Phew!

So, a top step of the podium in my first car race, with a lap record to boot. It obviously doesn’t get any better than that. Surely it’s all downhill from now on!? Only 3 weeks to wait to find out at Snetterton for round 2 of the Championship.

It’s The Final Countdown…. da da daaa daaaaa

It’s a pretty grim morning weather wise, but it’s all go go go for final packing and prepping for the long journey up to Liverpool for our first competitive event. Yes, points are on offer and things start to count!

It’s depressing to look at the map and just how far I’ve got to drag the trailer but I’m in no rush and the excitement will surely carry me all the way.

The weather reports for Saturday have changed every hour so far and it’s still unclear what will transpire tomorrow. By the looks of things, it will be showery and so, unfortunately, luck may have a lot to do with the end results. That’s sprinting for you though.

I think I have everything packed up – but I’m doing the normal thing of checking everything far too much – so I’m likely to take something out a bag and forget to put it back in!

Hopefully the next blog post will be reporting back from a successful trip away… fingers crossed.

Nuts, Bolts, Shampoo and Polish

Another day out in the ‘garage’. This time with added lighting and heating! Fantastic day and an opportunity for final spanner checks of the car ahead of next weekends first competitive event at Aintree.

I’m glad I spent the effort as a couple of the bolts had become loose. You really do need to keep a check on the 4 corners of the car to confirm everything is OK. For me, the smaller rear radius arm bolts are always loose when I check them. My front left top upright lock nut also repeatedly slackens itself. Also, this time, the A-Frame bolts either side of the car were also off their torque figure – although not by a worrying amount.

My exhaust is looking rather sorry for itself after Castle Combe, where it was filed away on the exit of Bobbies. I spent time time cranking up the jubilee clip tension to try and keep it higher in the air.

Having been to Halfords in the morning, I picked up some tar remover and it worked like a dream! A good wash and polish later and the car is looking great!

The Finished Helmet

Helmet

Sadly my photographer in residence – also known as Dad – wasn’t able to make it to Combe. Something about being in Vennice. Who’d choose Italy over a carpark! In any case, this means I don’t have any pics of me wearing the finished helmet.

I couldn’t help adding the irridium visor – so here it is, in all it’s glory! Needless to say, I love it!

Pre Season Test Day, Castle Combe



It seems that every time I set my alarm for an early start, my body automatically goes into ‘technology doubting’ mode and refuses to believe that the alarm clock will work correctly. In this mode, the only way that it can be sure to not miss the early start is to insist on waking up every hour all through the night.

By the time the alarm went off to get up, I was already fully up, washed, dressed and packed up. Still, the roads were quiet!

I wasn’t the first to arrive. I think that honour went to Charlie, who had stayed close by and was also far too excited for sleep.

Morning was the normal hectic affair of unloading and prepping the car, and trying to fit in noise testing, sign on and briefing. All standard affairs. The only slight difference to this day as opposed to all the open pitlane days I’ve been on to date was it was sessioned, timing was allowed and overtaking was allowed into the corners. Not quite a test day though as we were still only allowed to overtake on the right. Something which lead to some fairly unconventional blocking tactics later on in the day!

I have to say, we were epically lucky with the weather. The forecast was unsettled right up to the morning of the event, and the weather on the way over was far from dry! However, other than the wind, the rain pretty much held of and, other than a first session on a damp track, it dried out pretty quickly.

The 15 minute sessions meant a surprisingly fast turnover on track. So much so that I didn’t get out till the end of my fist session due to miscalculating the time it would take to strap in. This already long and convoluted process was made worse as I was also using the HANs for the first time at track. It makes it an almost impossible task to get everything in the right order. I think at some point, I’ll put a step by step guide to getting in and strapped up to a racing Caterham. If only so I can put a check-list on my dashboard to remind me every time!

Having been to Castle Combe with the Elise a couple of times and with the ARDs day fresh in my mind, I was pretty happy to start throwing the car around from the off. For many, this was their first day on track. Everyone I spoke to through the day seemed to be having a great time though. Lots of little huddles of people all comparing notes and stories.

One of the most memorable bits of the day was the silence that befell the paddock every time someone had a spin coming through the last corner. You couldn’t see the track so waiting to hear whether there was going to be a big crunch after the squeal was a very cringesome affair! A number of people did meet the barrier through the day. Most seemed able to carry on. I didn’t hear of anyone permanently side-lined but a couple of cars did end up head first into the tyres, which can’t have been good for the front geometry.

I’m glad to say, I avoided contact with anything more than a poor earth worm that was unceremoniously lifted from it’s burrow by a wayward Alan Pegram, carried 10m through the air by a big gust of wind and unceremoniously splattered against my roll cage. My only injury through the day was when I punched myself in the nipple while trying desperately to save a spin!

I got close, but never quite matched the Academy lap record. 0.1 slower during my 3rd session on track. The wind picked up at the end of the day and it seemed the track was therefore around 0.5s slower.

As ever, I had great fun. I love being at track and hooning around. It’s only 10 days until our first competitive day at Aintree. I feel like I’m just about ready now. Fingers crossed we have consistent weather through the day – be that bad or good. Can’t wait.

Numbers, stickers, seats and sponges

I was outside in the ‘garage’ today to do final preparations for the official test day on Wednesday. Some of this was ceremonial – other bits were more important!

First up was the removal of the passenger seat. With the car overweight once I step on board, and no need for the seat, it makes sense to save the weight and take it out the car. The passenger seat is MUCH easier to deal with than the drivers seat, so it really wasn’t too much of a hassle.

I took the opportunity to clean out the drivers and passenger side of all the grit, sand and general gunk that had collected over time.

I did a diagonal swap on the tyres to try and keep the wear more even. Something I didn’t do so well with my first set and I’m determined to get this set right.

With the wheels off, I put some aluminium tape over the wheel weights. I had forgotten to do this when I first had the tyres balanced and had been meaning to do this for a while.

Next up was a quick bolt check and visual check over the car. The small radius arm bolts had again worked themselves lose enough to need a good couple of cranks on the torque wrench.

I applied some Rainex type compound to the outside and inside of the windscreen. Having spent a quick 10 mins in horrid rain the previous day, I realised that it was pretty essential to help visibility.

A good wash and rinse later and the car was ready for more stickers. It’s getting harder and harder to really get the car clean. Track day rubber, oil and grime is extremely difficult to shift. I might have to ask for some tips on what shifts it.

It was great to finally get the sprint numbers onto the car. It wasn’t easy though. There’s not a lot of room on the number square and it’s tricky to get everything lined up and looking neat and tidy. A few pencil lines and careful use of masking tape later and I was fairly happy with the result.

I picked up some other stickers and URLs from a company recommended by Steve Grubb. http://www.goodwingraphics.co.uk/ They made me up a batch of sticker that were a great price and also delivered pretty much next business day after the request! Great service.

All that done, I tucked the car back up on the trailer pretty happy that everything is ready for the test on Wednesday. Was great to see the sun finally!

HANS Adjustment – Arch Motor & Manufacturing Co Ltd

A long drive today in the Cheesemobile. M23, M25, M11, A14. They aren’t really roads that this type of car was designed for. Turns out, the 5:45 alarm wasn’t what I was designed for either. Whilst all sensible people were in bed or at least watching GP qualifying, I was unloading my car and putting on the necessary layers to at least try and stay warm.

2.5 hours later, I arrived at Arch Motors along with my helmet and HANS device. Essentially the process that is carried out is a quick measurement and calculation of your seating position so that the harness mounting points can be moved inwards on the chassis rail. This ensures that the harness straps sit correctly on the HANS device and also, in the event of an accident, stay say on the HANS device.

Unless you’re particularly tall, the harness is also mounted upside down, under the chassis rail. This necessitates two slot holes to be cut in the rear bulkhead to allow the harness straps through.

The whole process takes in the order of 1 to 1.5 hours to complete. If you want to run with a HANS device, you have to have this process carried out and it can only be done by Arch Motors to comply with regulations. You get a piece of paper to take with you that then needs to accompany you to races for proof.

The drive home got interesting when the beautiful sunshine turned into a rain storm but I was pleasantly surprised how dry it remained in the cockpit despite the roof not being on.

Just the passenger seat to remove now and a few final stickers for the car ahead of the official test day at Castle Combe next Wednesday.

Onwards, ever onwards.

Silverstone International

On Sunday, I returned to Silverstone with my new bag seat to try out the International track… the one we will be racing on at the end of the season.

With a wedding reception the night before and one too many G&Ts involved, I can’t say I was on top form getting up at 6am to drive over to the track.

I spent a couple of sessions getting re-familiarised with the track and seeing the new corner that completes the shorter international track. However, what became clear is how quickly the memories fade as to how it feels to drive round particular corners.

The corners always feel tighter in radius than you remember and The car feels more unsettled and squirmy than you recall. Braking points seem FAR later than you think possible again!

A quick blast around with Ben driving soon put that to bed though and I realised I had to get my race head on and get down to business.

I did eventually get back to a good pace and although I’m still making technique errors that are annoyingly consistent, I did feel I was at least getting near the pace I need. At one point, I even got a smily face on my analysis sheet from Ben – this is at least as good as a gold star from you teacher at school…

It was an incredibly busy day on track so there wasn’t great opportunity to get in a lap time. Sadly, I never reached my ultimate aim for the day but I wasn’t far off and so feel relatively happy with where I ended up.

At Castle Combe, it will be a whole day of one up driving. Although we don’t race at Combe, we will be on track, with timing allowed, alongside our competitors for the first time. That’s bound to bring out everyone’s competitive nature. Who knows what the outcome will be. The weather could also throw a massive spanner in the works!