Category Archives: Build Diaries

Follow along with the build of my Caterham Academy 2013 car.

Short term pain. Long term aim.

This is a hard post to write. In early 2012 I finally signed up to go racing with the Caterham Academy. In October 2012, I spent a fun, frustrating, annoying, exciting and ultimately very satisfying 3 weeks putting together my race car with my family.

On Sunday morning at Brands Hatch this year, the car had never looked so good. By the afternoon, I’d broken it in the biggest way possible. Sadly, it’s not economically viable to repair the car.

After much soul searching, and talking with friends and family, I’ve called an end to racing for this year.

However, I’m determined that this isn’t the end of racing for me. One of the factors in coming to this decision is that some time off from racing will allow me to recover damaged finances and the aim will be back on a grid for 2018.

It will be strange not being in the paddock for the rest of the year. I wish all my racing family the best of luck and I will, of course, be following along closely and will hopefully see everyone at the awards dinner, if not before.

Cheesy’s Guide to Roadsport – Upgrading / Inspecting

A few people have asked me about the Roadsport upgrading process both from the point of view of the car and also the racing.

The Caterham Academy is a great introduction to motorsport and, although you don’t always know it at the time, having dedicated co-ordinators on hand to point you in the right direction and prevent you from making mistakes is a complete blessing.

Every time you left your upgrade card behind or forgot about a briefing, someone was there to pick up the pieces. In ‘real’ club motorsport, you’d be left off the grid or with a fine to pay.

I’m going to split this guide up into a couple of articles, as otherwise it will be overwhelming (and boring.)

Upgrading

Your first task is to get your car into Roadsport specification. Some of this you can do yourself but some of it also needs to be done by the factory or a team. In reality, most people drop their car off and pick it up again once it’s done.

You don’t have a mandatory engine upgrade this year, so the only bit that you can’t realistically take on yourself is the fitment of the brake bias valve.

There are some optional upgrades available and regulations allow for some other alterations to the car as well.

Rear Anti-Roll Bar. This is technically ‘optional’ but in reality, it’s going to be essential for your car and, in any case, is a very desirable addition. It stabilises the backend, especially on turn in and makes the car far more stable. If also offers 4 levels of stiffness so you can start to play with car balance through setup.

Green front anit-roll bar. Not everyone purchased the green ARB but I found it essential. That will depend lots on your own driving preferences. Again, it offers flexibility in finding a car balance. (Hint: Lots of these bars will be hanging about for purchase from last years Roadsport group – as well as Red if you haven’t already got one of those.) With the addition of the rear anti-roll bar to the car, the Red bar becomes essential if you haven’t got one already.

High effort brake pedal: The regulations allow you to run this alternative pedal. Essentially, it puts more effort through the pedal for less movement. This really helps keep the pedal firm and solid for heel toe. For me, this was another essential purchase.

Adjustable rear brake valve: This valve offers a way to restrict rear brakes on the car. Essentially, it allows you to move the balance of the braking forwards and backwards. With the valve fitted, you have more options on brake pads open to you because you don’t need to have 100% naturally balanced pads. It also becomes extremely useful in wet conditions when trying to prevent front lockups.

Brake pad choice: The brake pad choice is free in Roadsport. Again, this is preference and don’t believe that spending more is always the best course of action. Speak to Caterham/teams and ask for advice. The choice you make will vary depending on if you have a bias valve fitted.

Wheels / tyres: Although the new tyres are going to be unknown entities to everyone on the grid next year, you can be sure that they will wear far more than the Academy tyres. If you haven’t already invested in spare wheel sets, now is probably the time to think about it. Most people end up with 3 sets. One set is kept new for wet conditions. The other two sets are managed carefully to make sure you’ve always got a set ready to race.

Inspecting

As well as the mandatory upgrades, there are other parts of the car that will have suffered an amount of wear and tear through the year. How much will very much depend on your antics on track and an element of luck.

Take the time over winter to inspect the car closely. Get it up on axle stands and give it a really good clean. It’s the only way you can tell exactly what’s going on. (I mean clean suspension / major components – not just the outer skin!)

Be methodical and inspect all the major components. Get a powerful torch and pay special attention to the radius arms, De-Dion tube and A-Frame welds. Each of these parts is susceptible to breaking and one or other will most likely break in Roadsport if you are not careful to remain vigilant.

On the radius arms and A-Frame, look at each of the welds. If any are showing signs of rust or tiny crack lines where the weld meets the main body, you should replace that part. Neither of these parts is ultra expensive, and so you may chose to consider these parts as consumable and replace them yearly.

On the De-Dion tube, you should pay close attention to the main weld near where the silver ‘ears’ attach at each end. Make sure you look all the way around. Again, use a torch look carefully for any signs that the weld is cracking or pulling away. Again, rust spots can be a sign of issues developing.

You should also pay close attention to the Diff Cage. Again, get a torch in and inspect each of the welds and look for cracking on the attachment arms.

If you haven’t done a nut and bolt check in a while – it’s really important to get this done (you should be doing this after every track day – and for key nuts/bolts, after every session.) I don’t go as far as setting the torque on each but I double check they haven’t come lose.

The older gearbox often needed reconditioning after a seasons racing. It may well be that the new box is more resilient.  If you start feeling any weakness/notchyness/crunchiness in the gearbox, it may be time to have it re-conditioned. If you get Caterham or a race team to do this for you, much of the cost is actually the time taken to remove / replace the engine. Doing this job yourself can save you lots of money but shouldn’t be undertaken lightly!

If you do have the gearbox reconditioned, then it’s also a good opportunity to replace the clutch / clutch release bearing. I did have a clutch explode on me over winter but I know of nobody else who has had that happen!

Make sure you change the oil and filter on the engine. You should really be doing that fairly regularly though the year but if you haven’t been keeping up with this, then you should certainly do that now.

Up next…

In the next article I’ll talk about the differences in the race weekends between Academy and Roadsport.

Video Diaries, Episode 4 – Final Race Prep & Maintenance…

Build Diary: Race PreparationI’ve put together the final video diary for the my Academy year. It covers the final bits and pieces I’ve done to get the car race ready and also looks at what I do for basic maintenance. It’s a bit longer than I wanted, but I didn’t want to make another one!

As ever, if there are any bits I’m wrong on, please do correct via comments!

Nose job

I tentatively rolled the car back off the trailer for the first time since loading at the end of the Rockingham weekend to assess the damage. The nose cone is shattered down the right side, where it had an unwanted meeting with a tyre barrier. Other than the nose, the right headlamp is also out of shape where it was pushed back. As this attaches to the upper wishbone mount, I’m going to double check that once I get everything back into the garage this weekend.

On the face of it though, other than the mess of a nose and front wing, everything else appears in good shape. The radiator does have a mark on it where the nose was pushed up against it, but is hasn’t ruptured anything. There were no signs of drips where it’s been sat on the trailer.

So, this evening, I took to the highly important task of re-cheesifying the newly ordered nose cone and wheel arch. Fingers crossed, after some time in the garage, everything will be back looking the way it should ready for Silverstone.

I’m also hoping to do one final episode of my video diary series which should complete all those little things that have been done to the car since the last episode ahead of the season proper.

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!

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.

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!

More car amends

Back in the garage today for another session. I made use of the free delivery from Caterham during January to buy most of the remaining bits and pieces I need to get the car ready for the new season.

Here’s a run down of what arrived through the door on Thursday:

  • Red front anti-roll bar (including fittings to allow quick swapping)
  • Uprated front brake pads
  • 4 alloys
  • Door fixing kit (including hinges and straps)
  • Replacement water temperature gauge (warranty replacement)

It was like Christmas! And so I headed back over to the garage today to fit the new toys.

Red front ARB

I was dreading this a little bit. Ideally, you use the red bar in the dry and the orange bar in the wet. During the main build, fitting the ARB was a pain and a struggle. With the radiator now in the way, I thought it was going to be awful.

As it went, I undid the bolts holding the radiator and fan to give a little more room, removed the orange bar in its entirety and popped in the red bar. The first ball sank into place pretty  easily and the second just took a little encouragement to get it lined up with the attachment socket. Once it was roughly in the right place, it just popped itself into the socket! Great! The braket attachment bolts are awkward because of space but they eventually went home. Done!

I’m afraid the fact that I’ve fitted this has now pretty much guaranteed that it will rain on the track day on 25th January.

Doors

I picked up a second hand pair of doors just after Christmas. They were a little dirty and scruffy when I picked them up, but a good scrub later and they came up OK. The windows aren’t as clear as new ones would be and there are a few frays here and there but really, nothing that a new pair wouldn’t have after a few uses.

The hinges were simple to fit with 2 screws/nuts per hinge. Fitting the popper bases wasn’t too bad either. I drilled out a couple of the rivets that were in about the right place on the side panels and put the popper bases in place using self tapping screws. I was happy enough with the fit and the poppers made a strong connection.

Doors do make it even tricker to get in and out of the car of course but on my quick test drive this evening, they make so much difference to the buffeting and splash proofing. I think once I get the half hood up with the doors on, it will actually be a fairly dry place to be in the cockpit… famous last words!

Rain light

Having seen that it was indeed possible to mount the rain light on the central cross of the roll cage, I re-visited this. It was still an absolute pain in the arse and involved using pliers, not using the large washers that were supplied with the kit and even then, only just getting the nyloc in place. But it’s done.

Honestly, if I hadn’t seen that others have managed this, I would have sait it was impossible.

Boot sealing

I moved the fire extinguisher out of its mount to get the sealing and taping done around the back of the boot. I finished off the sealing of the rear edge of the boot ready for taping the next time the car is off the trailer and the sealant has gone off fully.

I’ve found that rather than looking at the whole thing and getting stressed about how to go about sealing everything, it’s better to take it inch by inch and just work your way along slowly. Each time you step back, it’s a surprise how far you’ve got.

One more session to go on this to get it done completely.

Uprated front brake pads

These are simple to fit. Just unclip and slide out the originals and slot these in their place. They are supplied with plastic anti-squeal pads, which I fitted. Steve has said since that Caterham removed his shims to give a firmer pedal. If I find the pedal a little spongy going forward, I will have to remember to start by removing the shims!

Water temperature gauge

The final job of the day was to fit a new water temperature gauge. This mad broken previously (the case had cracked all the way around the body, just behind the glass.

Caterham sent the warranty replacement very efficiently, so I was able to get this in as well.

The gauge attached so the wiring and just pops through the dash to roughly seat itself. You  then need to feel around to attach a metal U bracket and some plastic thumb wheel nuts to stop the gauge falling forward. Because it all happens behind the dashboard, you have to have a good feel around to get it right. Another job I’m glad is over!

Overal, I’m happy with how the prep has gone and the car is really now looking the part. Once the race numbers go on, it’s going to be amazing (if a little embarrassing driving it around!)

Remaining jobs are:

  • Tape handbrake down
  • Fit race rear view and drivers side mirrors
  • Take trip to Demon Tweeks for race gear (possibly buy mirrors here or at Autosport Show)
  • Adjust arm restraints
  • Bypass inertia switch