Monday, 23 July 2018

Castle Combe Podium

We decided to race at a new track this year, in Caslte Combe in Wiltshire.

Having never been there, let alone driven the track before we opted for the Friday track day to get some practice in.  

It felt as through the entire weekend race community had taken the same approach so the track day was well over subscribed and track time was severely limited.

That said we managed a passenger ride in an instructor car, followed by 4 good 15minute sessions.  
I try to take a methodical approach when time is short like this, first focusing in learning the track corners, then gear changes, then braking and corner turn in points.   Helped by the track day marker cones we improved from ~10 seconds per lap off the pace to just a couple of seconds down on the fastest Porsche’s in our final session.  This was a fantastic achievement.  

The track is flat, bumpy and fast, but rewards bravery on the brakes and getting your foot on the gas early out of the corners.    With speeds averaging over 80mph it is the fastest track we visit.   The outside walls and barriers are intimidating though, and a wheel on the grass can easily send you straight into them with no gravel traps to slow you on route.  

Race day and we decided to qualify on new tyres which we had been saving.  The temperature was already high at 10am and all the track day cones which I’d learned yesrtday had been take away!

I qualified P6 unable to improve on a early time, just a little slower than the previous afternoon.  In hindsight the (relatively) deep tread heated up too quickly and hampered our performance rather than adding grip. 

We promptly switched back to our completely worn out set of tyres for the remainder of the weekend.

Race 1
I got away reasonably and was comfortable folllowng the front cars, staying a little back to avoid any incidents.  Over a frew laps cars tagged each other and went off, leaving me in a clear fight for third place. I followed a great pass out of the last corner with my fastest laps of the weekend - resolute not to let go of the podium place.  However with just a couple of laps to go I was too eager on the gas out of the chicane tand got sideways into a huge tank-slapper.  I eventually gathered it together, but the car behind needed to brake to avoid me and ended up spinning. 

The podium was well earned despite a tinge of regret for the damaged co-racers car. It happens, is nobody’s fault, has happened to us previously and will again no doubt.  

Race 2
Sunday morning we made no changes to the car and again I was lapping reasonably when there was an almighty crash, with a car going straight into the  tyre wall and ending up on its roof.  The race was promptly red flagged just 6 minutes in.

Race 3 
The high temperatures in the afternoon caught up with our tyres and I struggled to lap consistently after dropping back from the lead trio.  Having had one trip across the grass, I brought the car home safely in 4th place for a second damage free weekend in a row. 

Overall is was a good weekend in nice surroundings as the paddock has some shady grass areas where we were based.  Learning a new track and getting on the podium is a fantastic achievement.  The TCR series brings a step up to the paddock with more professional race teams and the extra media coverage was great.  Live streams of our Sunday races were particularly well received.  

However several cars were practically written off over the weekend across the various classes racing and whilst the viewing for spectators is excellent and there is a huge local turn out.  it feels like a very risky place to race in future unless they make some safely improvements.  

Tuesday, 3 July 2018

Hot Weekend at Rockingham

Having left home at 5:30am we arrived at Rockingham looking for somewhere to setup in the inner paddock.  A plea on WhatsApp I'd made paid off and we had an area reserved for us. Most drivers arrived on Thursday evening in plenty of time for a day of Testing Friday so we’re still asleep on their motor homes. We can’t afford either luxury

Our car was pre-setup based on the settings from previous outings here however conversations at signing on with other drivers suggested there was little grip in circuit.  We softened the suspension a little and went straight out to qualify.   I got a banker lap in early but then made mistakes on each of my subsequent faster laps.  The session was red flagged early on another better lap, but to my surprise I qualified P4. I quite like this no testing approach!

Race 1: I started on the outside of the grid and took my favourite super wide line into the first hairpin gaining back a place I’d lost. It always concertinas on the inside and you can easily get blocked in.  The handling was difficult but I was able to run flat out around the banking an keep up on the brakes into the first hairpin. 

I kept up with the cars in front just as they were slowing each other down, but never managed to get close enough to seriously threaten a pass finishing in P6. 

Race 2: On Sunday morning was blisteringly hot.  Our tyres were struggling all weekend and the low grip disrupting our expected suspension and rollbar setup.  Whilst we had a new set of tyres available I needed to keep those for Castle Coombe. Starting with lower pressures means they take longer to come in on the first lap but you struggle less later on. It’s always a difficult balance.  I tweaked the suspension a little but the car was no more drive-able and I ran P6 for the whole race.  

Race 3: Rockingham was an opportunity for the championship to experiment with a pit-stop race for the first ever time.  I got a decent start and wasn’t too far off the front group when the pit stop window opened.  Nobody went in so I took my chance early keeping my speed down to 60kph pit-lane limit and looking for my crew (family) in yellow jackets.  A simple stop / go as they removed some velcro markers from the front and bank windows - and I was back out onto track.  I got held up massively on my out lap and when I came around the front runners had pitted and come back out still ahead - nothing gained.  With no pressure from behind and I managed the race to the end for yet another P6 finish. 

The pit stop was a resounding success all round.  Drivers and their teams and families loved being involved and it added some extra entertainment on top of our traditionally close racing for those watching and participating.  Hopefully it becomes a permanent fixture,. 

In just 3 weeks we head to Castle Coombe for the first time ever supporting the touring car series.

Monday, 23 April 2018

Off Season Overhaul

Our car needed a considerable amount of repairs after the last outing at brands hatch in October.  The front en and front left corner were badly damaged.  All the stock parts were replaced with 2nd hand items - front wing, centre radiator, headlight, radiator frame and cowling.   The front bumper and splitter is more complex and expensive being a fibreglass one so has to be made to order and then painted. 

The usual winter service of oil and filter change, brake  fluid flush and new front brake discs and pads was completed.  

We took some extra readings this year by doing a compression test on the engine as well as having the oil analysed.   The compression test was results were as expected for an engine with this mileage, whilst the oil analysis did outline some fuel in the oil.  This is likely a consequence of how we run the car - full throttle all the time and is another reason to change the oil frequently as it does get diluted.

This week we did a shakedown track day at snetterton where the car ran faultless all day long.   The weather was dry and the sun shine in the afternoon.  Using the setup from brands did result in one spin.  So we stiffened the suspension a couple of clicks all round to ensure less oversteer and the car was more suited to the faster corners after that. 

There is a few small jobs to do to be in perfect shape for racing in a few months time.  

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

Brands Hatch Formula Ford Festival

Friday practice didn't go as planned, with me going straight on at druids, through the gravel and into the tyre wall towards the end of my first session on track.  From that point onward it was touch and go if we'd be racing or not.  

I owe a lot of thanks to other drivers, their friends and machanics who helped to get our car fit to race again over Friday and Saturday.  

We borrowed the last front bumper anyone had spare from another competitor  (in bright yellow), bent the wing and radiator mounts back into shape and removed 30kg of gravel from the under-trays. 

Diagnostics showed a failed ABS wheel speed sensor, so the hub was removed overnight, a new sensor installed and the car frantically readied for qualifying with just minutes to spare on Saturday morning.   ABS was still not working though - so I tiptoed round using only 30% braking in the wet conditions happy to just get onto the back of the grid.

More help was offered, wiring diagrams were found and multi-meters set to work identifying a broken wire to the ABS sensor.  With a new wire spliced into the loom, ABS warning lights were cleared and we were ready to go racing in the afternoon. 

When the ABS fails on the Porsche it's not like driving a non-ABS car, the pedal is extremely sensitive to pressure. If you apply more than 30-40% braking pressure all four wheels lock instantly giving you no time to recovery your braking.  In the wet when you want gentle braking I was able to drive around it albeit several seconds a lap off the pace.  

Race 1 - Saturday PM
A torrential downpour just before our race made a wet track a river of water, and we had essentially a dry suspension setup.  

Starting last in class I couldn't see a thing for spray, spinning up the wheels in 2nd gear and lost a load of places.  I was stuck behind a new driver and didn't want to risk any front bumper damage. This put me back in 20th place behind slower class cars as it thinned out round the first lap. 

One by one I had to picked off the cars on a wet track, finally getting up 9th and onto the back of the Boxsters at the flag.  A decent effort given the first lap. 

Race 2 - Sunday AM
Brands Hatch is the only track where a hand-brake is useful on the grid. I was rolling so couldn't pin the revs at the start - needing my right foot on the brake until the lights went out. I lost a couple of places round the first lap after getting boxed in behind a slow starting car in front.  

By half distance I'd pulled back 3 places with some well setup overtakes and was lapping consistently and quickly, managing the gap behind me as the pack in front were a bridge to far ahead.  

Race 3 - Sunday PM
Starting on the flat part of the grid this time - so was able to get the start I wanted.  Until I got pushed out wide around graham hill bend, lost mementurn and 3 cars came past!

Setup changes I made weren't working as I expected so it was harder to drive with more understeer out of the corners than I wanted.  It took a few laps until I got up to speed and closed on the pack in front. Diving up the inside of paddock hill as they lapped slower cars, the slightest of touches upset the balance of the car and sent me into a 180 spin. The car stalled and I went backwards, stranded in a dangerous place causing the safety car and the end of my race. 

Not the best set of finishes, but yet again we've overcome some really difficult challenges and are extremely grateful for the collective knowledge to support of the other drivers and mechanics.  

During the weekend we ran some different cameras on the front and rear which gives a better view of how close the racing is.