Getting ready to race

I took the opportunity while the car was off the trailer after Blyton to do the few minor bits and bobs to get it ready for our first Race at Donington in mid-July.

I started with a rear brake pad change. You need a caliper rewind tool to wind the piston back to give enough space for the unworn pads. I picked up a Laser 1314 from ebay for around £20 a while back and it was time to break it out of the packet. It didn’t come with any instructions – I guess for most people it’s obvious – but it wasn’t for me!! I think I cracked it in the end though and I’ve fitted the new pads both sides. I’ve even driven to the petrol station and back and the car stopped!!! Got to be good. I had to rotate the piston more times than I thought I would in order to give enough room for the new pads. Another job done though, so pleased with that.

Next up, remove the timing strut! A 2 second job but one that gave a lot of satisfaction. A kind of Academy right of passage.

Tow straps – apparently out tow hooks aren’t large enough for racing so we’ve been given some new tow straps that have to be attached. They are at least the right colour 🙂 Oh – and now the cheese mobile has yellow wagging tail. I’m pretty sure I’ve used the wrong chassis rail at the front so will adjust this at Brands Hatch on Thursday.

Finally, I gave the car its post event clean and then got onto adding my race numbers! It was nice to take off the sprint number and put the final ’78’ in place. ’78’ is my birth year and has been a number I’ve used for many years. I was extremely happy to get this race number and to finally put it in place really put a smile on my face. It looks the business :). Really hope it’s as lucky as my sprint number!

Ending the sprints on a high

So, we’ve already reached the final sprint of the season. I always knew this year was going to fly by but it’s all going in such an amazing blur of sights, sounds and emotions that you just can’t help but enjoy it.

The final really long haul up to an event was completed without too much drama on the Friday afternoon and I pitched my tent up whilst waiting for the wrinklies to arrive. They were good enough to treat me to a steak dinner! A nice evening chat with the other campers and a relatively comfortable nights sleep through the pouring rain and wind.

It was a leisurely morning with the on-track action not getting under way until 11:30am. With the morning weather dry and bright, it was painful having a track so close, but not able to get on it! the weather reports were all saying heavy showers and possibly more persistent rain through the day, so it was always likely to be a pot-luck day.

The Academy sprints are rather alien affairs. We’re not allowed to test at the sprint events ahead of time, so you arrive at the start line with zero experience, in a cold car and as a novice – and off you go! Imagine arriving at a track day, on a track you’ve never been to before, and having to go flat out from lap 1 with no sighting laps! It’s scary. With only 2 practice runs and then 2 official timed runs planned for the day, you don’t even have the luxury of feeling out the track in one of the runs.

I’m hugely happy with my first run of the day for that reason. I’d watched videos of people driving the circuit but it’s a very different experience to actually drive it. Here’s that run…

A good start then – and put me ahead of the field early on. Run 2 was a different affair! A huge shower came over the circuit part way through our groups runs. Unfortunately, that meant my main rivals had another dry practice run – and I was out on a completely soaked track – and cockpit! It was unbelievably slippy! I knew it would be but it caught me out a few times – including a frankly embarrassing start! It took 3 attempts and the first half of the start straight before the wheels stopped spinning! It certainly wasn’t my finest hour but was quickest of the wet runs. Here it all is in technicolour…

It was then onto the first timed runs of the day. After being put a little on the back foot by the wet run, this time the track was dry and I could try and get more speed out of the track. As it went, I took too much speed in several places! It was a scrappy affair – but probably good to watch from the sideline! Plenty of squealing and sideways moments! It was good enough for second place in Group 1 but Henry had set a screaming lap 0.8s faster. That’s was a huge margin to try and find in the one remaining timed lap.

I spent some time watching back the video from the first timed run and worked out a plan of action. 3rd gear for the chicane on the back straight and several places to take slightly less speed in and more out.

The run, amazingly, went exactly to this plan. When queueing, the rain started falling again. I can’t repeat the language that was spoken inside my helmet at the time but I spotted my mum on the spectator bank doing her sun-dance and it made me chuckle all the way to the green light. It felt absolutely brilliant to return back to the pits knowing that you’d not left a lot out on the track as far as times went. However, none of this was confirmed due to the fact that Jenny had hidden all the times… nobody knew the result. However, with a good run under my belt and Henry having a 4 wheels off, I was pretty happy!

And then the bombshell – just as in Aintree, we would be having another timed run added to the day. All the way up until my second run, I would have been extremely happy with the additional run! Somehow, it’s not so nice when you’ve got everything to lose!

As it went, I moved the lap time on again – which I didn’t think I would do. Again, we didn’t have times to compare with others so I had to wait until the presentation before I knew for sure. To say I was happy doesn’t do it justice. Completely bloody over the moon. I had to work hard to overcome the wet practice and a few re-runs that some rivals had and it paid off.

The sprints have been good to me but we’re now moving onto the meat of the season – the racing. That’s what we all signed up for and that’s what everyone’s focus is on. First up on the calendar is Donington and I am already counting the days!

Rockingham Track Day

Ahead of Snetterton, I never turned a wheel of the car from loading it onto the trailer at Aintree. I was facing the same situation again after Snetterton – right up to the point where I won a track day with Book-a-track! Brilliant! With a budget at £0 currently, this was like a shot in the arm!

I didn’t have Ben Clucas along either. I still had lots of his wise words spinning through my head though and lots to work on from the previous trip earlier in the year.

James Houston, Jonathan Emms and Mike Cocker were all there as well, so there was a friendly Academy feel around the garages as well.

The weather couldn’t have been much better. A warm, sunny day. Even though the track day started an hour later than normal due to it being a Sunday, Book-a-track days are always low volume and brilliantly organised, which means tonnes of track time and the luxury of laps free of traffic. This was just what I needed to try and get on the pace.

It wasn’t long before I’d bettered my previous time and through the day, I progressively moved the goal posts further down the times until I’d found a 1.1s improvement. Along the way, I had some great fun chasing and circulating with James. These times on track just give the smallest glimpse of what it’s going to be like racing but I can’t yet imagine what it’s going to be like on the first lap of our first race. Adrenalin is going to be involved, that’s for sure.

I also got to try out my new HD camera for the first time. I was happy with how it worked all day and also that it wasn’t hugely affected by wind noise. Certainly, all you need to hear on engine note is audible and it’s great to see the detail picked out by the camera for future reference!

Just over a week to go not before I’m on the road again up to Scunhorpe. It’s a long old trip but I’m looking forward to it.