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