Finally got my first outing in the 2016 Supersport version of the Cheesemobile. It’s got a touch more power, a touch less flywheel and a good deal more sideways potential with the limited slip differential.
I got to try it out in all manner of different conditions through the day – which was ideal. No real setup work possible due to each session having completely different conditions but I loved how the car felt.
My neck and shoulders are killing me after such a long period of no driving – but hopefully they will all be fixed in time for the next outing at Snetterton.
I was lucky enough to be invited along to another Bookatrack.com Caterham hire day by one of my best mates.
This one was at the brilliant Silverstone GP track. Only my second time on the full circuit. Last time out, I was in the Academy car, so the added power of the Caterham R300 was useful down the long straights!
Silverstone isn’t renowned for it scenery, but it’s not every day you get to see a La Ferrari in the flesh and even rarer to hear it being thrashed around a track. It sounded absolutely brilliant.
So, I accidentally hired a Caterham R300 at Brands Hatch over the weekend. I had gone to Brands to see Grubby and Caroline as Steve was taking out his SuperSnot onto the track.
He had foolishly offered me a drive in the car and I was totally up for seeing what that beast could do on the track. I happened to ask Jonny at Bookatrack whether they had any spare cars at the track – fully expecting him to say no… but sadly for my credit card, he said I could use the spare car!
About 1 second of careful consideration later, I’d handed over my credit card and headed to the driver briefing.
As well as Steve and Caroline, there were some of the 2015 Caterham Academy contingent in attendance having hired out and Academy car for some early track practice.
It was great chatting to them and feeling the excitement of the unknown that they are approaching fast!
It was damp early on after overnight drizzle – but the sun shone hard all day and it dried out pretty quickly.
Unfortunately, after this run out on track, I managed to trip the drive by sensor for noise and the only way to continue was with reduced revs. This did rather blunt the performance of the car but it was still great fun. Round the Brands Indy circuit, it just meant I had loads more gear changes to make!
I took out 3 of the Academists for a quick passenger ride. They all seemed to enjoy the experience. Just a taste of what they have in store over the next couple of years! Looking back at the video after, with the reduced revs and colder track I was only turning in laps 1.5s faster than the Academy race times! It does feel a whole lot faster though with all the gear changes and the engine noise.
My final treat for the day was Steve coming through on his offer for a drive in the SuperSnot.
I’ve been a passenger in the car before on the road and have been suitably impressed (dare I say, scared!) And now, I had the keys and permission to have fun. This was the car that Steve and I had headed over to Brands Hatch back in 2012 to watch an Academy race, not long after we’d signed up for the 2013 season. And now, I was going to drive it.
It was suitably epic! The noise alone is spectacular. It’s also extremely well screwed together. The engine is a master piece, the gearbox is solid and setup is extremely balanced. The only things that soften the experience are the road seats – which just don’t offer the required support you need – and a fading brake pedal.
I didn’t stay out long. A sizeable moment coming out of Graham Hill bend was enough for me to remember this wasn’t my car and it should be returned in one piece!
The day ended with a golden hour to beat all golden hours. There were 3 BAT cars out on track all circulating fast and it was just like an exclusive test session. Lap after glorious lap. I think I may have circulated for a good 45 mins before finally, reluctantly, handing the car back over to the BAT team.
It hopefully wont be too long before the cheesemobile is in Tracksport spec and I can get out on track and start to learn my new steed. I’m certainly counting down the days.
Since Blyton, I’ve had a couple of days at tracks. One at Brands Indy and another at Donington. Both featured wet sessions – with Donington taking the crown with an absolutely soaking track. I’ve been relatively lucky so far with on track spins. However, with these last two events I’ve managed to add to my tally.
Neither ended badly! Thank goodness! Here they are, along with a couple of my closer shaves!
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.
Huge thanks to Adrian for taking pics through the day. It was so busy, that there was very little time for competitors to get any snaps. I love that these are action shots! And I have to say, Adrian looked very professional in his official photographer bib!
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.
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!