Race three, round three: Third time lucky?

Update: Northern Delboy & Rodney were actually Ben and Twigg from Vtec Direct Motorsport

MSV EnduroKA – https://www.enduroka.co.uk/

Snetterton hosted round two of MSV’s EnduroKA series. The temptation of a 12-hour race competed with it being a long way to drive another unknown circuit. If others were keen it was on. A sense of ease was released when Rob, owner of the KA and Amigo Motorsport, confirmed skipping Snetterton and focusing on round 3, Oulton Park. This also gave Rob more time to source and fit a new engine (see Race 2 for why we needed that…).

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In 2014, I attended a track day at Oulton during our house build. It wasn’t the most relaxing of times. Despite being stressed out before the day even began, lasting impressions were of a fast, fun, and challenging circuit. As per our last race, we had a few interested parties, then one, then none. Rob put a deal together and we entered as a last-minute duo with two objectives: Finish, and place in the top ten. Rob’s deal included support from two mechanics local to Oulton. As I’ve not cleared mentioning them, let’s refer to them Northern Delboy & Rodney, premier BMW specialists, Vanos-kicked-in-Yo! Edit: Actually Ben and Twigg from Vtec Direct Motorsport. Both were mega, but that’s jumping ahead a bit… Rob’s MSV relationship meant we were in garage one paired with Pistonheads. Another good opportunity to talk Clio’s with Sam and great, chair stealing, garage buddies.

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With only two drivers, qualifying was a case of banking laps and then Rob would set our fast time. Driving the car to the assembly area it was clear all wasn’t quite right. A sinking feeling, confirmed by the noise tester “I don’t mean to alarm you, but your car is missing”. The KA struggled to rev past 4000rpm in third and was clearly down on power. Coming round Old Hall Corner, someone leaving the pits managed to out-accelerate me. That low point was further followed by Rob going four seconds quicker and still only qualifying 25th of 25. Delboy and Rodney swiftly diagnosed the misfire as injector one and fixed some other niggles while Rob sourced an injector. Delboy and Rodney also fitted our pit-to-car radios and gave the KA a final once over. Even with two drivers, you have to do a minimum of three driver changes. We planned to go off inevitable safety cars and use the radios to keep in touch. This enabled Rob and Delboy to be adaptable with our tactics and stops.

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The weather was best described as wet. Wet enough race control decided we’d be starting under the safety car. Rob started and was flying. We were back to a KA on four cylinders. Delboy encouraged Rob to go faster with a mix of ‘mood sensitive’ music and ‘gentle’ encouragement. Relaying crucial information over the radio: lap times of the closest cars, threats, opportunities etc. It was impressive to see in action. Delboy also asked if I was nervous, and I was, 8 laps of qualifying with three cylinders and four seconds from Rob’s pace wasn’t confidence-inducing. It’s hard to describe the feeling of before, a knot-in-stomach feeling of “Wow, I pay money to feel this bad” with a side order of “Am I going to puke?”. Perversely, the feeling is part of the experience. Satisfying to acknowledge and still go out. All is forgotten when you join the circuit. Adrenaline takes over and it’s back to being one of the best feelings in the world. Even in a lowly c1 or KA.

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Rob was now up to 9th! A car buried itself in the gravel and the SC was deployed to recover it. Thanks to a previous SC, I was already suited and booted. Rob came in, Delboy dragged him out, I hopped in and then set about trying to catch the SC up. At first, I thought the SC was brilliant. It gave me a few laps to get some experience of the track and conditions. Rob came over the radio and offered some pointer and things to look out for. Slowly, it dawned on me we were 9th and the KAs I was now bunched up with were hungry for our place and beyond. As the SC came in things got messy, fast.

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The two cars in front were slow and the two cars behind were faster, leaving me stuck between them. After defending as best I could through Cascades, there wasn’t a lot of room left to do much. My choices were to be passed and try to follow the faster KAs through or dive the KA in front going into Shell. As the car in front moved over I went for it. Despite taking a compromised line as a result of the dive, I got a good drive out of Shell and managed to pass the second car on the brakes into Britten’s. Having made it through Britten’s I could see the two faster KAs had also made it passed. As we came down into Hislop’s I had a huge lockup, the KA went unresponsive and I had to reach for first and do the shame slalom to rejoin the track behind the two faster KAs. I radioed the pits and explain my two steps forward, two steps back position. F**k it, all that hard work thrown away with one mistake. Coming round the start-finish I was in for some further bad news… Rob was consistently lapping at a 2:40 pace, I’d just done a 2:48. The conditions were interesting, but they were consistently so for both of us. This was a lack of talent and experience.

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There wasn’t much time to look at lap times, lots more battles ensued and the conditions were challenging. Couldn’t keep track of our place but knew I was losing out overall. Confirmed by Delboy over the radio saying I’d done a 2:47 and then what I thought sounded like we were 16th… It wasn’t clear and it didn’t matter. The facts were I was losing places and that hurt after all Rob’s efforts to get us into 9th. I had to find some more speed. Further confirmed when Delboy came over the radio and said: “You’re doing really well. If you could find a little more pace it would help our position”. Rough translation, SPEED UP!

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Scratching around my deflated bag of talent, I seemed to get good runs out of Cascades, through Island and carried good speed through Lodge. But I was slow through the chicanes, Old Hall and Druids. Unfortunately, I’d managed to repeat the lockup into Hislops. Despite trying different lines I kept locking up and struggled to regain traction and get the KA turned in. On the third lockup, I cracked one of the issues! Turns out selecting fourth instead of second isn’t helpful. With that realisation in the bag, I came up with a workaround; Brake hard just before the 100m board, release some pressure and focus on managing the brake pedal still in third, anyway anyhow get the car in, then deal with the over/understeer one-handed while timing shifting to second to when fully off the brakes, use crude (read stab the accelerator pedal) rev-matching to stop any transmission lockup when finding second. If that sounds busy and a mess, it was. However, it stopped having to do the slalom of shame and helped defend going into Hislops.

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Eventually established I could get away with taking Lodge in third and be a little faster through Old Hall. These three and settling in saw my lap times drop down to high 2:46s. Not ideal, but better than high 2:48s! By now I’d been out a while, another SC came out and Delboy came over the radio to say pit this lap. Coming into the pits I was exhausted, mentally and physically. The stint was a constant battle, a combination of the conditions, slow lap times, competitors and the demands of Oulton. Getting out the car I was a bit of a mess. Rodney asked me to do the tyre pressures and I declined, in no state to do that. Instead, I hauled my sweaty self to the timing board to see our position. Delboy was at the busy end of getting Rob in and back out. Looking at the timing board I couldn’t find us, I scanned three times and nothing! Wow, was I that slow we’re on another page? Then… there we are… In fourth! As the timings settle and update to reflect the other teams also pitting under the SC, Rob is back out in ninth. Somehow, two contributions and a fluke have occurred.

  1. I didn’t leave the circuit and despite being slow was at least consistent and brought the car back in one piece with no penalties
  2. I was in the car long enough for Rob to bring us home. The regulations state you must do three driver changes and a driver can’t drive for more than 2 hours without another driver going out. Rob’s first stint and mine added together meant less than two hours remained of the race. Rob could drive the rest of it! With one more stop requiring him to get out of the car with both feet on the ground. He could then jump straight back in and head out again.
  3. The Fluke, despite my slow pace we’d held our position. It doesn’t take a maths wiz to calculate if I could drive at Rob’s pace we’d be higher up the order, but given all that did and could have occurred, this was a relief and small comfort.

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Just under two hours later Rob brought the car home, in sixth. Rob offered the final laps or another stint but given his pace vs. mine, it was a no brainer to leave him out. Rob prioritised my signatures at Dony, it felt more than fair for him do the majority. At one point fourth looked possible! That slowly slipped away and sixth, given qualifying, seemed a massive achievement! We’d done it! We’d finished, and we were in the top ten!

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My stint earned the final two signatures required to earn my National A licence and no longer be classified a novice. But, and it’s a big but, my biggest fear of team endurance racing was being off the pace and letting people down. In my prior 2 races I wasn’t that far off the pace, this time I was. This was also the most demanding stint I’ve done. The KA was never settled, the conditions and close racing meant there was 0 time to catch my breath. Irrespective of if it was the KA or my limits, I spent most of the time at it. I’d be amazed if my heart rate dipped below 160. With Croft I did a lot more prep work, including watching MANY hours of youtube laps, studying the track map, and spending time talking to as many people as possible. With Donington, I’d driven it a lot, had some coaching, and love the circuit already. For Oulton, I didn’t do much prep and put too much stock in having driven it 5 years ago in an MX5. Therefore I need to make some changes to my approach, a new plan of action:

  1. Improve fitness
  2. Driver Training
  3. More track time and karting
  4. Learn Corner Names better
  5. Return to sim racing

Thanks to all involved, especially: Rob, Northern Delboy & Rodney, the exceptionally busy/damp marshalls, and organisers MSV.

Second race, first fire, last place

TL:DR

We came last, caught fire, had a blast, and can’t wait to race a KA again.

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Intro & thanks

Firstly, a big thanks to Rob and Amigo Motorsport. What happened, happened, motorsport requires a philosophy degree level of stoicism. Initially, we hoped to race with 2-3 drivers and test Friday. As the race grew nearer people dropped out and the KA’s cage didn’t show up until Tuesday before race day! With no other takers and a last-minute build, this was a gamble. Rob was upfront and explain qualifying would be our shakedown. We’d split the driving and he’d keep costs down as best he could. The prospect of not driving or getting any signatures for the outlay wasn’t an easy call to make. However, nothing ventured, nothing gained. This was an opportunity to race in a new series and help Amigo develop their KA. At each stage of the build, Rob offered an out and registered us at the last possible moment. I made my peace with not getting signatures or race experience for the money invoiced.

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Donington hosted the first race of the new MSV EnduroKA series: https://www.enduroka.co.uk/ – A big selling point. Unlike Croft (my first race), I have driven Dony lots and LOVE IT. It’s a close second to Thruxton as my favourite UK circuit. I’d borrowed Pistonheads race notes, thanks to Instagram, and watched some more youtube videos in preparation for tackling the legendary Craner Curves.

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Qualifying

Rob planned to take the KA out for a shakedown, bring it in and let me have 30 minutes to get acquainted. Then he’d finish the session and set our qualifying position. Despite a new rad and thermostat, this plan was dispatched five minutes into qualifying when Rob came back in with the KA overheating. Just an airlock? The KA was bled and I was sent out. Carefully, and to bring the car back in at any signs of overheating.

My first laps were a lot of fun. Craners is flat, no question. Only third and fourth are required. The KA felt confident on the brakes, turn in vague but once hooked up the grip was dependable and the KA was surprisingly adjustable on the throttle for the lack of power and torque. After a few laps, it started to feel like all was not right at sea. I could smell heat, a whiff of hot coolant and then the temp light started to flash on Starsky’s straight. Returning the pits wasn’t the happiest experience. This was no airlock, this was the head gasket. This was my two signatures and race disappearing.

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Or was it? The Burton Power team kindly offered a bottle of K-seal and I was off again. New plan, similar to the old plan: a few more laps, watch the temps and for the board, and then Rob would go out and qualify us!

This time out I was a little braver and quicker. The team took the decision to simply accept my qualifying time and leave me out until the checkered flag. 1.42.373 qualified us 22nd of 26. I was a little down on hearing this. Visiting other garages, it appeared they’d all used their fastest and experienced driver, as we would have, and lots of the other drivers’ pace was a few seconds off mine. This lifted my mood, slightly. Fingers crossed for the race!

Race

Rob offered the start but with his skills and experience it would have been crazy to not let him make some places up. Especially with the high potential of places to be gained as a result of my qualifying time. As the KAs rolled over the start-finish line, Rob was off! 4-6 cars dispatched as he managed to get an inside line into the first corner. From the pit garage, we saw a puff of smoke and 2 places were lost as Rob locked up the front. As Rob came round for a second lap he’d made up more places but the right indicator was on. He was going to pit next lap, something was wrong.

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No rear brakes! Rob and the team leapt into action. The issue was quickly diagnosed as a corroded rear brake line on the driver’s side. Rob told me to get ready, I was going out. A replacement was sourced and fitted (thanks team 19) and I was back at my favourite Mutu tag system and into my first KA race. Being firmly last, many laps down, with questionable reliability, and now out with the faster-starting drivers, a sensible person would have realised that cruising for over an hour would be an easy 2 signatures. Yeah, sensible, get those sigs. Ooooooh look, I’m gaining quite a bit on those two KAs in the distance!

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Reeling them in over three laps, Foggarty Esses sees them brake on the crest and before I can overthink it I’m flat down the inside. My nose is just ahead and I’ve squeezed them to give myself as much space as possible. Big stomp on the brake and gingerly peel it off to trail the KA in. Jeeez that feeling! Can’t dwell on it for too long, another KA brakes early for corner one, Redgate. Carrying more speed enables me to make a move on the outside of Craners. THE CRANER CURVES. Forget the double overtake, this is my lasting memory of Dony. OK, KAs are not fast, but two abreast through Craners feels like threading the needle. The extra speed gives me room to move back across for Old Hairpin and more targets up ahead to unlap.

Much like the C1s, some are faster, some are slower. I try and observe the pit boards to see whom the top cars are and give anyone faster enough space so as not to compromise their race. Unlike the C1s I feel more confident and assertive. Most of my overtakes come from inside dives, braking later into Foggarty Esses and Redgate. A few from carrying more speed through Macleans and Coppice. None compare to the feeling of going around the outside of Craners.

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Coming round the start/finish and scanning the pit wall I see my T60 board. About now I am a bit of a sweaty mess, the KA is hot and physical. More physical than the C1. Despite the comfy seat, I’m feeling all 60 of those minutes. The wave of euphoria of driving &surviving for over an hour reduces that feeling, all thoughts of fatigue are replaced by the desire to keep pushing. Regardless of our position or finishing the race, I’ll have earnt two more signatures on my race licence!

This fact and euphoria I need to remember 15 minutes later when the KA doesn’t feel right. As I cross the line I am a few seconds up on my average pace. Going up the hill after Old Hairpin I see smoke in the rear view. Pulling off the racing line the KA starts to miss. The temp light flicks on & off and the smoke develops into a smokescreen James Bond would be proud of. We’re now running on a mix of petrol, coolant and oil. As I enter the pits, spot the team and limp into our garage, the KA’s heart and soul gives out. No amount of k-seal is going to ‘fix’ this. The bonnet is popped and WTF!!!! we’re on fire. Properly on fire, with orange flames licking up the firewall! Our mechanic, Joel, quickly puts it out with the fuel refilling fire extinguisher. Turns out I can get out of a KA pretty quick when it’s on fire. Next time I just need to remember to put the handbrake on and hit the cutoff before leaping out…

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And, that’s all folks. If you’ve managed to read this far! Once again, massive thanks to Rob and the Amigo team (and special thanks to Joel for quick thinking with the fire extinguisher). Also, thanks to MSV and the other competitors. The atmosphere, driving standards and general ethos of EnduroKA was great to witness and be part of.

Quite an experience, my first fire, 2 signatures closer to my Nat A (2 to go), and already looking forward to racing KAs again.

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C1 vs KA

Three things to consider when reading this:

  1. I’ll happily race either, both are great fun.
  2. I’m not a motoring journalist and have only driven a single racing KA and C1. Others may differ.
  3. The C1 was driven on a track I didn’t know, the KA on track I know and love.

The C1 was less stable and more twitchy, light and lithe. It pivoted around its engine and front axle. Turn in was nervous but good, the rear quick to move. Brakes fair, easier to trigger ABS. If you got on the gas too much too soon it would understeer.

The KA rotated slightly slower, turn in muted but more grip once you committed. Less edgy, easier to control, more physical, heavier. It appeared to rotate more around the middle of the car and the rotation could be controlled more with the throttle. A lot less steering inputs required to correct oversteer. Stronger brakes with more feel, easier to judge and I was more confident on them. It was also easier to trail brake, and pretty essential to getting it rotating on entry to the slower corners.

In the C1 I didn’t have the capacity to heal and toe, and didn’t even attempt it. There was too much else going on and not enough mental bandwidth. In the KA I was better placed mentally and achieved it for most of my downshifts.

With a gun to my head, I’d marginally pick the KA.

My First Race

Part 1 – Introduction

Part 2 – Qualifying

Part 3 – Race day & warm up

Part 4 – My first race

Croft in a C1

Max is having a good time, it’s his local circuit and the marshals and ‘crowd’ love him! There is no pressure, and if I were him I’d assume the team rookie has just had a bad experience warming up. It’s now time to make up some places. AND THEY ARE OFF! Except we’re not. Max gets passed by 3-4 cars coming out of Chicane. He comes into the pits and the team change the coil packs and send him out again. He’s back, it’s even worse. The team are working flat out and I keep well back. Kurt is doing a great job of listening to my verbal diarrhoea. Somehow, someone thinks to check the earth strap and it’s loose! Tightened and Max is off. We’re now dead last, 34th, 5 laps down, which equates to 6-7 once the out-lap is complete, and Max goes on a charge. I’d love to tell you more about this, but it’s this moment that all of it begins to dawn on me. I blink and Mark is in the car and off.

Max’s parents are very sweet. Kurt and I talk with them on the pit wall, and by talk I mean I talk lots. Max’s parents find my situation hilarious and are nicely supportive, explaining where they expect to see me follow their son and Mark’s examples of brave overtakes. I experiment with trying to get my HANS on with helmet attached. 99.99999% sure Kurt wants to laugh out loud watching me, an uncoordinated bag of nerves trying to fumble it all together. Kurt does a sterling job of holding the laughter in. It doesn’t work and I retreat to the garage to get suited properly. Then I’m stood by the car and it’s being refuelled.

Up to this point, it’s been mostly dry and sunny. Max tells me to enjoy it and if it rains watch out for Corner 2 and Tower. The rest of the track will be slippery, just mind how I go and get at it. That’s it, the team strap me in #339 and away I go, via the tag system. This time using first instead of my previous third-stalling-starter-motor strategy.


Lots of drivers were quicker than me and a few weren’t. The opportunity for my first overtake presented itself in the form of a red c1 that was marginally quicker in a straight line but slower through the corners. Over two laps I start to reel him in. As we exit Corner 2, I’m in second and going for it up the inside. My nose is in line with his door, and he comes across to defend. Leaving me the choice of crash or back out of it. I wasn’t close enough to try it and I didn’t commit enough. I stay glued to his bumper through the Chicane and on to Tower. Through Tower he holds me up and I get a run on him into the Esses. Not enough of a run to draw level. Same again, he comes across and I have to back out, take to the grass, or we collide. I get straight back on his bumper and am rewarded at Sunnys when he out brakes himself and the opportunity presents itself to take him on the inside. Thanks to Max’s coaching I’m in early and then keep him on the outside of me as I maintain as much momentum as possible and exit Sunnys. Woooooooo HOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO, my first real overtake.

A few more occurred with people out-braking themselves, getting a wobble on, or making a mistake. Especially in Turn 2, Tower, and Sunnys. In a one-make series I guess, unless you have a serious talent/speed difference, that’s how most overtakes go. Thanks to Max’s coaching I do OK and hold my own. Thanks also to Dale’s coaching/idea (and doing lots of track days in MX5s), a few times I jumped on the back of a faster car pushing its way through and got through as well.

Where possible I did my best to get out of the way of my teammates, 385 and 381. The other people I tried to be respectful, give as little space as I could, and not be jumpy. This is obviously a big difference vs. track days, I think I did OK. In all honesty, I didn’t think about it outside of JFDI. Being surrounded by a gaggle of C1s, some of which are trying to pass you, some of which you are trying to pass, doesn’t leave a lot of mental bandwidth for considering other things. Then it all went a bit dark…

It had been spitting a bit, on and off light rain. The safety car came out for the second time in my stint and I could see the weather looked ominous. The light rain made things greasy but it didn’t slow anything down. I was convinced the team would bring me in as I’d been out nearly an hour by this point. The safety car came in, racing resumed and a few laps later as I came down the start-finish straight all hell let loose. I thought it was just heavy rain, apparently, it was hail. None of this really registered beyond it got slippery fast. Remembering Max’s advice I was hesitant into Corner 2 and so glad I was. There was 0 grip and the car moved 2-3 cars width across, with a ’neat’ four-wheel slide. I could see cars spinning and going off in front of me. One car even missed Chicane. Coming out of Chicane I actually passed a couple of cars and with a flurry of smooth hand movements (if that’s not an oxymoron) I held on through Tower and up the Esses as more cars explored track limits and 360s. I found the light switch and wipers and settled in. As the rain eased things got easier and grippier again. Another safety car, a few more laps, and the board came out. That was it, I’d done it! An incident and spin free stint in my first ever race.


Conclusion

* Croft is really far from Cornwall.
* C1 racing is something I NEED to do more of.
* Max Coates = awesome.

The above contains prattle, waffle, exaggeration, missed memories, and nowhere near enough emotion to convey to Rich and Mark how grateful I am for the opportunity (and to all of the others that helped me get to this point). Thank you all. It’s hard to convey exactly how much it means to me. I’ll always remember the Italian Job Top Gear DVD (geek points), were Jeremy Clarkson finishes his first ever race and is just a mess. That was me. Mark and Max got hugged to within an inch of their lives. I’ve gone overboard typing as I hope I can read this with mini-me one day, so she can start to share in what I hope is a long continuing hobby. And, I hope you’ve all enjoyed parts of it too. Thanks for reading,

Ol/Olly/Brando, Race Driver

My First Race Day

Part 1 – Introduction

Part 2 – Qualifying

Part 3 – Race day & warm up

Part 4 – My first race

Race Day

Awake at 6ish (better than 5am) and started looking at Max’s lap vs. my laps again. We’re due at the circuit for 10:30ish and I head up for 10am to soak it all in. Thanks to Qualifying and Max’s coaching I feel more excited than nervous at this point. Mark and Max arrive, Rob comes over to talk tactics. What’s our strategy? It’s agreed: Max to start, Mark until we need to refuel, me after refuelling, and Max to bring us home. There is a more to the tactics I don’t think it’s fair to share. I volunteer that I’d like an hour for 2 signatures, even that I don’t mind not doing if they want to give Mark and/or Max more time.

The briefing is hilarious. I’d of previously given BaT’s Jonny and Darren joint first for best briefings. That honour now goes to the C1 organisers. MSE by FAR THE WORST, EVER. Lots of in-fights and digs arrive from the questions. One of the organisers makes a fantastic point. This is a five-hour race, if someone is slower than you, you will find a way to overtake. If you gamble or overly defend a position and take both of you out, no one wins! Mark echoes this advice and likens it to a thinking man’s game more than a 20 minute “who is the fastest?” sprint.

Warm Up

It’s agreed the best use of the warmup is to get me out on the circuit for all of it. So that’s what we do. I head out and make a move on a car at corner 2 (technically 1, you join the circuit at 1 from the assembly area). 2nd gear really does give more drive out of it. Thanks, Max! We’re in a jostling train up to Tower and a few cars pass me on the inside. Going into Tower I use the last passing car as a means to get around two more cars. Then we’re back into a train for the Esses and my elbows are out. I need a clear run into Sunny to practise Max’s coaching. It feels much better and means I exit Sunny out faster. Then I get mobbed. Ah, perhaps I’m not Senna re-incarnated. As we join the start-finish straight I get a poor exit out of Hairpin. I momentarily triggered ABS and it understeers a car length deeper into the corner than I’d like. Which leaves me with what feels like forever turning and waiting to get back on the “power”. Unsurprisingly, I get mobbed on the start-finish straight. This gives me some space and I settled into a rhythm and focus on corner 1 and Max’s coaching. This C1 is far greater than the sum of its parts, it’s pointless trying to justify it, until you drive it you would never believe me.

There is a problem. I know I am faster in all three areas Max has suggested but my lap times are up and the car seems to be down on power above 4k RPM. Unfamiliar with the car and aware it’s carrying a full tank of fuel, I don’t know if it’s me, or me driving badly and looking for excuses. It seems to be getting worse and I head for the pits. The team are ace, I explain what’s happening and they take a look. They can’t see anything and send me out again, saying they’ll change the plugs as car 385 had similar and that fixed it. I get an out lap and one more lap before the checkered flag brings the warm up to an end.

The team check the car over and change the plugs. Even on the old plugs, it appears nothing is wrong, no fault codes, and we can’t seem to replicate it. Keith suggests we’ll only find it under track/race conditions. Apparently, it’s not a good idea to try and simulate that in the paddock (my one token suggestion).

Part 4 – My first race

My First Qualifying

Part 1 – Introduction

Part 2 – Qualifying

Part 3 – Race day & warm up

Part 4 – My first race

Qualifying

I meet Mark (Rich’s partner in crime) at the Amigo Motorsport setup, I can remember floating rather than walking to meet him. He can clearly see I’m a bundle of energy and nerves. Rich neglected to mention to him I’m a complete novice. Thankfully, I told him on the phone the night before. His expectations are low and he gives me a great chat to help settle my nerves. I meet the team, sign-on and it all starts to get VERY real. Max rocks up, loves the fact I pinged him on twitter and our DM chat consists of him saying hi and me blurting out I’ve never driven Croft, never driven a C1 (or sat in one, more on that to come) and never raced. He finds it all funny and isn’t phased. He pulls me aside and gives me some pointers and gears for corners. He’s a great coach, I sense a Teffers-esque level of man-crush developing (minus the hair). I’m hoping to become faster just by standing near him. The team agree Max goes out first to put us on pole (hang on, this is my first race, pole???). Mark goes out second and will just do his minimum 3 laps to qualify. The rest of Quali can be my time to learn which way Croft goes and get familiar with the C1.

Max goes out and is a little way off pole (phew ). He and the team boss, Rob, agree the new engine is tight and we’re down a little on power vs. some of the field. This is a great excuse, I make a mental note of it and save it for later. Mark goes out and isn’t far off Max’s time. The team agree Max should go out again after as many laps as they can squeeze me in for.

Showtime! Our mechanic, Keith, tells me to be smooth and have fun. He asks the standard questions: Driven Croft? No… Driven a C1? No… Well, at least it’s not your first race… Err, about that… He looks at me with a wry smile and with that, I am belted into the C1. My first stress is the Mutu tag, this needs to be held up to the receiver on leaving the pits to log my laps as the driver. I’ve watched a few cars have to reverse and shuffle embarrassingly. If I wasn’t nervous enough, this feels like an extra mental challenge I do not need. Thankfully, I select third, and proceed to use a combination of stalling and the starter motor to get myself to the receiver… Quite what Mark, Max, Keith, Rob and the rest of the team are thinking I have no idea. I have a slightly bigger issue… At this point I realised, I’ve never been in a C1. I have no idea where any of the controls are, and I’m about to join a live circuit for my first ever qualifying and laps of Croft. It’s OK, by the exit of corner two I’ve worked out where the Rev counter is.

There are C1s everywhere, I focused on finding space, practising what Max said, building a rhythm and trying to learn as much as I could from my laps. 99% sure the thing in the middle is a lap timer. Man, I wish I had sat in the car before this moment. My times seem to start coming down, if it is a lap timer. After 8-10 laps I see our board and it’s time to come in. Somehow, don’t ask me, I manage a fastest lap of 2:00:06. 1 and a bit seconds behind Mark’s time. The team look relieved. Max still thinks it’s all funny. We’re OK. Max goes out and puts us 9th. 3 seconds quicker than I managed. It’s not pole but I feel more relaxed. Then it dawns on me how many cars are behind 9th…

Qualifying, completed it mate!!!!

Enter Mental note: Next time sit in the car rather than just take pics of it!!!!!!!!!!

Feedback & Coaching

After qualifying the team are in good spirits. Amigo Motorsport has 3 of 3 cars in the top 10! 381 at 3rd, 385 in 5th, and us in 9th. I’d wondered if not putting the car on pole would impact Max at all. It didn’t, he was still lamenting how much fun it was and had a smile on his face.

We’d put cameras in the car so we could compare Max, Mark, and my laps. Max then spent a generous two hours going over his laps, my laps, and Mark’s laps. The other Amigo Motorsport teams showed some interest and we had good chats, banter, and discussion. This was club level motorsport. I was part of it. This was my tribe, we were doing this. It’s a little cheesy reading it back but it’s no less true. This was what I wanted, it’s not just being sat in the car doing laps, it’s the whole experience.

The consensus seemed to be I’d done alright. Max gave me three things to work on:

  1. Turn in earlier at corner 1. Throw it in and just let the car slide out. Then a dab of the brake and use 2nd for Corner 2.
  2. Turn in earlier for Tower and use 2nd, be more aggressive, throw it in.
  3. Turn in earlier for Sunny In, be more aggressive, throw it in. Then let it run out to the curve before apexing Sunny out.

All three bits of advice proved invaluable, in the race those three are where I made most of my passes.

Part 3 – Race day & warm up

Going Racing

Part 1 – Introduction

Part 2 – Qualifying

Part 3 – Race day & warm up

Part 4 – My first race

Introduction/Prattling/Preamble

The dream of racing has haunted me for a long time. Starting around twelve, specifically: Donington, Murray Walker & James Hunt commentating, the rain, and then some utter Senna magic. This has led to many track days and ‘Ring trips. I’ve been lucky to do this as a hobby, and for the friends and experience so far! However, it’s not racing. Involving various friends I’ve tried to push racing further. Finally, announcing doing the Caterham Academy and coming close. However, it wasn’t to be. Too many good and bad things happened. Racing couldn’t be a priority, my place was cancelled, and it hurt. An odd hurt, because nothing is actually wrong, yet something was. The exact ‘thing’ is hard to explain, the Bruce Springsteen line “Is a dream a lie if it don’t come true, or is it something worse” encapsulates it perfectly.

Caterham Academy, didn’t complete it mate…

Enough of the prattling, on to the next chapter of the story (and more prattling)… Picture the scene, it’s a dark wintry night on Wednesday 26th October 2016. Seven friends meet on t’mores at the Cricketers for a meal. Not sure it is the mores, let’s go with just outside the Peak District but I wanted to use “t’mores”. During the meal, a friend commiserates about the Caterham dream and says “Why don’t you just get your race licence?”. And, I’m like: “Yeah, why don’t I just get my race licence”. So I did, I ordered an MSA starter kit and booked my medical and ARDs.

Pub plans, completed it mate!

It’s now Christmas 2016, I am pumped, I’m going racing!!!! I even got some fireproof socks from the family’s Secret Santa! Game on! 28th December, my wife wakes me up and says “I’m late”. It’s 5am, I’m like WTF is she talking about. Surely 5am means we should be asleep. Who gets up at 5am?? Honestly!!! Turns out mini-me is on the way!!!!! Wife and I agree: I’ve paid for it, stressed over it, and done the medical. Do the ARDs and we’ll see from there. Two weeks later, my alarm is set for 5am and I am off to Thruxton. After a long video interlude, I sat the written test, passed it, and was into a Cayman S for 10ish laps of keeping it on the black stuff. We didn’t exactly get off to a great start. On leaving the pits I assumed it was race conditions and proceeded to “do” two of my “competitors” into Campbell. Only to be told by my examiner that this isn’t exactly race conditions, keep it on the black stuff, stay within reasonable lap times, and prove you’re not an idiot who dives people on the first corner. Right, got it… At least it settled my nerves and meant I had a clear track for the remaining laps. By the end, the instructor was pretty chatty and I got the feeling things had gone OK.

ARDs, completed it mate!

Background

The next 12 months are a blur. Watching a child being born is mental and then you have to look after it 24-7! The idea of racing C1s greatly appealed. Most of the cars I’ve driven have been momentum based e.g. they have/had no power. All my Swift laps and MX5s have to count for something. I like endurance sports: Marathons and long distance open water swims. I don’t ever think I’ll be the fastest but I hope I can be consistent and dependable. A friend tells me I’m too light to be part of his team (he wasn’t that polite). Another friend proves more amenable and a plan starts to form. If the opportunity arises I’m joining team Bernard. In my mind, I am thinking it will be a friendly bunch, aim for a circuit I’ve driven, low pressure, do what I can, and have some fun. I’ll be a fourth driver and some finances to help the team race more than my performance on the track. Game on! Bought a black suit from Merlin motorsport (having tried lots on), black so it won’t show up the dirt as badly. What amateur, who has to pay for their own suit, wants a colour other than black! Well, that was the plan… Love it when a plan comes together!

Low-pressure plan, completed it mate (Wait, why is my suit blue??? Oh FFS)

Escalation

Somehow, the only date I can do is Croft. This presents two problems:
1) I’ve never driven Croft
2) Other than Knockhill it’s the furthest mainland circuit, a mere 460+ miles away (living in Cornwall has some downsides…).

Oh well, the date fits, you only live once, wife gives her blessing. Rich PMs me to confirm our entry and some details, I join the C1 club, the excitement starts to boil over. I want to tell everyone but the Caterham experience and pain of having to tell people it’s off is still too real. So I stay shtum. Rich pings to say there is a chance Max Coates might be driving with us. No idea who that is, so that’s fine.

Hang on, Max Coates, who is that? Google… Oh, oh, right, and the team we’re racing with are also one of the bigger names in C1s now? Oh, right… And, the fourth driver has broken his wrist so he’s out and it’s now the three of us.

High-pressure plan, switched to it mate

Part 2 – Qualifying