11th April 2011

Catching up

The main reason why I haven't updated this site since October is because, with only one real exception, I haven't actually done anything to or with the FuryRacer over the winter. The exception was in November last year, when the combination of a case which settled unexpectedly at the last minute and a truly awful weather forecast for Brands Hatch led me to book a day's testing in the full knowledge that it going was going to rain heavily all day. The idea behind this otherwise stupid idea was that the Birkett had demonstrated (or rather confirmed) that I'm a bit rubbish in the wet and so I thought I could use some practice.

The day's testing was rather different from the usual Friday-before-750MC-meeting test days I've done to date. They tend to be dominated numerically by other 750MC runners, and so are largely filled with other amateur clubman racers. Brands in November was host not only to me, but also to a BTCC team (the Airwaves BMWs, with Ben Collins, aka the Stig, driving one of them), a Chevy WTCC car driven by Rob Huff, and a large number of Porsche Carrera Cup and Ginetta G50 cars. Needless to say, I was one of the slowest round the circuit given the AO48Rs unequivocal lack of interest in providing any grip, although I was rather surprised how slow the 911s and both the WTCC and BTCC cars were in a straight line compared to the FuryRacer.

The day went reasonably well, and my lap times dropped throughout the day although whether that was due to a drying track rather than any increase in my skill level is debatable. I did have one rather 'interesting' moment at Macleans, where I went in too hot, got it sideways, caught it, but then failed to catch the fishtail which followed and ended up doing a couple of spins on the grassy infield. However, other than a car covered in mud and grass-clippings, no harm was done.

Then after I got back from the test, I put the FuryRacer in the garage, put the Optimate trickle charger on to keep the battery happy, and left it there while the garage got filled with lots of bits of lots of bicycles.

Light covers


Of course, I had some modest plans for developments to the car over the winter, mostly consisting of making a new steering column and gear shift paddle which would allow me to move the DASH2 to behind the steering wheel rather than in the centre of the dash. In the end, however, the only change to the car was that I fitted these headlight covers which I got from Westgate Creations. They're held in place by some button-head M4 machine screws which go into some rivnuts set into the bodywork. Reasonably secure and it means I can remove them if I need to tweak the headlight adjustment for an MOT.

Hopefully the headlight covers will marginally improve the aerodynamics of the car, but the main reason I've got them is it means I don't have to tape up the headlights for every race (and remove it when I want to drive on the road) since the headlight covers do the job the tape would otherwise do in protecting the lights.

Pre-Brands preparations

And so the 2011 season starts here. I didn't race at Mallory because, well, I don't race at Mallory. Bad ju-ju and all that.

However, there is a double-header at Brands coming up this weekend, and I've booked a full day's testing on the Friday to blow away a few cobwebs. My preparation for Brands are going to be as minimal as possible:

  • Change the race numbers from '51D' back to '52'. Zena did this on Saturday, so thank you Zena.
  • Change the oil
  • Bolt check

I even treated the car to a wash on Saturday (it was rather mucky after my mud-plugging exploits in the infield at Brands). I might see if I can persuade Tim to take his corner-weight gauge along to Brands for testing on Friday. After all, there's long gaps between sessions and I'm sure he won't have anything to keep him occupied...

But all that can wait. In the meantime, I've got a 10 mile time trial to get ready for tomorrow...


16th April 2011

Testing, testing

29m31s in the time trial. Slow, but not too bad for the beginning of the season.

Anyway, back to car racing. As noted above, I'd booked a full day's testing on the Friday. Once again, I failed to make it there for the first session. I ended up having to work into the small hours of the morning in order to finish off a last minute ever-so-urgent piece of work that absolutely definitely had to be done by the end of the week (that my Instructing Solicitors evidently didn't read for over a week) and given cam7 Racing's fairly poor record of testing at Brands while suffering from advanced sleep deprivation, I decided a bit of a lie-in was in order. I got to Brands just as the first session was finishing and started getting ready to go out in the second session.

My preparations were going well - signed on, car off the trailer and fuelled, tyre pressures checked - right up until it got to getting changed into my race gear. At this point I discovered that I'd left my race boots at home. And I know from experience that while it's just about possible to drive the FuryRacer using my normal shoes, under pressure it does tend to result in inadvertent pedal-proddling as they're rather too wide for the rather narrow Fury footwell. I asked around the paddock, but the only spare of boots readily to hand were Tim's. They were fine, as long as I wanted a job in circus. Otherwise, they were about a foot too long for my dainty feet, as well as being several inches too wide.

I had resigned myself to a long drive home to pick my boots up, hoping to be back in time for the third session after lunch. However, on the drive out of Brands I spotted that there was a Stand 21 shop in the little row of shops underneath the grandstand opposite the pits. For those who don't know, Stand 21 is
an Italian a French firm which makes racewear. However, they do make rather expensive racewear, which is why I ended up paying 186 quid for a new pair of raceboots. On the up-side, it saved me a fortune in petrol heading to and from home, saved me the value of one test session, and at least I now have some spanky new race boots. And Tom Onslow-Cole, who was having a suit fitting when I was buying my boots, assured me they'd be worth half a second. I didn't have the heart to tell him I needed about two-and-a-half seconds to be competitive based on my 2010 results...


So I ended up doing 3 test sessions. After my extensive data-analysis last year, I had an idea where I was losing time, and set about in particularly trying to get a better idea of how to drive Clearways. Clearways is the long right-hand corner before the pit straight, and it's absolutely crucial to a good lap time, as the exit speed from Clearways determines your speed down the straight. I'd be suffering from lots and lots of understeer all the way round Clearways, and was taking, on any analysis, a rather curiously tight line through the corner.

I think it's fair to say I got Clearways a lot better than the year before. This was due to two factors - getting a better line, and treating it more as a prolong exit from Maclaren but mostly, in accordance with Tim's consistent advice, pressing the accelerator a lot harder and a lot sooner. The power helps neutralise the understeer and although it does mean that the occasional 'dab of oppo' is needed, it does mean you can get the power down a lot earlier. In fact, by the end of the day, I was rather enjoying sliding the car through Clearways, despite the occasional presence of a stationary Radical...

In fact, Radicals made up quite a large percentage of my testing action. I'm largely up to speed with the other RGB cars, so while occasionally I'll overtake one, or one will pass me, that happens relatively rarely. The Radicals testing with us seemed to fall into two categories - bonsai fast (as EJ would say), or dog slow. In fact, I seemed to be lapping one yellow SR3 resplendent with a novice cross every 5 laps or so. Oh well, whatever floats your boat...

One sign of my improved lap times was the fact I was able to keep up with Colin in his Fireblade-powered Fury - the blue car in the photo above which isn't sideways to the track. Last year, while Colin was mid-table, I was firmly placed at the more relaxed end of the grid. Again, signs of improvement.


Anyway, to cut a long story short the car behaved impeccably, athough I did add another click on the rear dampers to try and get rid of the persistent understeer through Graham Hill bend. Times were mostly in the 54s, although there were a reasonably large number of high 53s in there as well. Given that my best lap from last year was a 54.46 in the first race in April, I was going about three-quarters of a second faster with no car changes. Not bad, although of course everyone else would be going faster as well. Indeed, there were ominous pronouncements of the fastest cars in the categories getting close to a sub 50 second time, which is bloody fast on any analysis.

So, after dinner in the Kentagon I headed off to the Brands Hatch Thistle Hotel for an early night, and an early start to watch the F1 qualifying.


After snoozing through most of F1 qualifying, it was time to stake my place on the RGB grid. Signing on and scrutineering was as pleasingly uneventful as usual. It's much nicer racing when you don't have to go to the first time driver briefings, which are always inconveniently timed, hard to find, and completely pointless. Still, I've got some more to go to this year, as I've never raced at either Donington or Pembrey before. Indeed, I've never driven Pembrey at all in real life, although I've done a few laps on rFactor.

Anyway, back to Brands. As usual, I didn't exactly rush over to the assembly area when qualifying was called. In fact, I think I left almost half an hour later than Tim who was playing his usual game with Colin to see who could get to the assembly area first. There is some logic to this - because the Indy circuit is relatively short, it's quite hard to get a clean lap and so track position during qualifying can be important. Not something that preys on my mind particularly though, as usually it's me being the traffic rather than being held up by it. However, on this occasion I went out behind a group of RGB newbies and it took a couple of laps to get past them. Once I did, I got a reasonable number of clear laps, and was able to get down again into the high 53s a few times. In fact, my best two laps were a 53.60 and a 53.76. This put me 18th and 16th respectively in races 1 and 2 out of 25 starters. My best qualifying lap last year was a 54.60, so that's exactly a second faster. OK, so there's more time to come, but it's definitely progress in the right direction.

Race 1


As is now traditional, particularly at Brands, I got a truly woeful start - unlike Colin who got a great start, having set off at least 2 seconds before everyone else!. Off the start Ben Butler in his Westfield (who was alongside me on the grid) shot off into the distance, and Bob and Stephen Malyon (one of the RGB newbies in an MNR) who were both on the row behind me both got past me. As usual, the race was therefore a battle to try merely to get back to my qualifying position.

First up was Stephen in the MNR. My newfound confidence through Clearways meant I could carry more speed on the pit straight and, to be honest, I suspect Stephen didn't put up too much of a fight as I was well past by the time the braking zone for Paddock approached. Next up was Bob in his shiny new BDN. The BDN was quick in a straight line, but Bob was being quite cautious, particularly through Paddock Hill. Not surprising, given that this was only the car's second outing. I managed to get up behind Bob into Paddock and then get past under braking into Druids. I must confess that I was a wee bit nervous diving up the inside into Druids, and did repeat the mantra 'Don't hit Bob, don't hit Bob' while I was turning in. Happily I didn't, and made the pass cleanly, and so it won't be me (hopefully) who bears the shame of having put the first contact mark on Bob's new car.

The next car in the queue was Ben in his Westfield. I used the extra power of the FuryRacer (Ben's Westie is a Fireblade-powered car) to get past on the pit straight, but Ben is evidently braver than me under braking and got back ahead going into Paddock. However, I was able to take a tight line through Paddock and effectively pull the same move on Ben as I'd pulled on Bob earlier, and get up the inside into Druids.

And that's how it stayed. I was gaining slowly on Sam Cooke, who'd bought
Tim's old car, but there was no way I was going to catch him let alone get past him. So having qualified 18th, I finished 16th, due to one retirement and having got past Ben, who'd qualified one place ahead of me. Best lap was a 53.44, 1.02 seconds than I'd gone in the first race at Brands in 2010. Consistent, if nothing else...

Race 2


My start in the second race was marginally less woeful than that in the first. A bit sideways off the line, while Colin (who'd qualified alongside me) got another blinding start. I went into Paddock alongside Ben, who'd got another blinding start. They may not be quick in a straight line, but the Fireblade-engined cars are fast off the line. That's me and Ben side by side at the top of the photo, Ben on the inside, me on the outside.

That's how it stayed through Druids as well - I know I can trust Ben to race fairly, so I stuck with him round the outside of Druids. This of course left me on the inside going into Graham Hill, and at that point I got ahead of Ben.

And that's basically how it stayed. Ahead of me, Colin, James Walker and Sam Cooke were having a fantastic three-way battle, but try as I might I couldn't catch up with them to join in and make it a four-way battle. The gap waxed and waned, but I ended up finishing 5 seconds behind them.

Still, I got my fastest lap down to 53.32, which puts me within a whisker of a second slower than Tim, down from a 2 second gap in the equivalent race in 2010. So, who knows, maybe next year I'll be fully up to Tim-like speeds! Yeah, unlikely, but I'm getting faster and that's the main thing.

And despite having missed Mallory, after the double-header at Brands I'm 17th in the Championship, only 5 places behind Tim. And 7th in class. Which is nice. Snett next, and this time I'll be trying very hard indeed to make the first session of the Friday test day.

Thanks as usual to Dan for the photos.