Sunday, 13 November 2016

Silverstone Weekend Wrap-up

The Sunday of the Silverstone weekend, and final day of 2016 racing started with torrential rain.  We arrived at the circuit after our usual stay at the Holiday inn express. (Our preferred brand of cheap free breakfast hotel). 

It takes around 30 mins to change the car setup, softening the dampers and roll bars all round.  We refuelled and headed to the assembly area with a battery booster pack at the ready in case the engine wouldn't start again. 

It had stopped raining and the sun came out as we waited for church bells at 11am and then fired up the engines. The battery charge was seemingly holding ok now.

I did noticed some teams changing dampers seconds before we went out as it looked to be drying.  The circuit was in fact drenched and I aquaplaned around the two green flag laps looking for any signs of grip.  There wasn't much, and the spray from the cars in front was blinding. 

I got a flyer as the lights went out and could see I was pulling alongside the front row.  As I pulled second gear wheel spin set in and that was the end of that. I managed to salvage the first few corners in around 4th place and we spread out down he back straight looking for visibility.  I dropped back to 6th by the end of the lap, despite a nice overtake  around the grippier outside line into the final corner.  I really struggled though.  As lap times got faster mine were static and I succumbed to a couple more cars later in the race.  A brief safety car period closed us up, but again I struggled to improve my lap times as the spray reduced to finish in 6th place with DNF's from drivers who couldn't keep it on track.   

The final race was dry and sunny which suited me better.  We reverted to the identical setup from Saturday for obvious reasons. Reverse grid meant was again on row two but I got squeezed at the first corner taking avoiding action to being door slammed. 

I fell backwards over the next few corners and was pretty much last in class.   Re gathering myself I knew I had pace so set about catching (easy) and passing (more difficult as the legend says) the cars in front. I got 3 but was pushing too hard at times.  Auto piloting to the finish on the last lap I didn't defend my line and let a car up the inside and edge me out onto the astroturf. I fought back into the last corner nearly spinning but I knew I'd let a place slip. 
As we pulled into part ferme, I counted 3 cars in front and it dawned on me I'd let slip another podium. I'd lost count of DNFs and since we have no pit wall signaller I couldn't have known. 

Trophy presentations followed and eveyone in the championship was full of praise as I stood on the podium for the first time, also receiving the driver of the weekend award for the significant step up in performance.   A lot to be proud of.  

The Tv gives me personally some great exposure and lot of coverage as i was in the action on all three races.  Note: There is a problem with the audio levels for s lot of the video. 

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Podium highs at Silverstone

After Donington we were replacing the front brake discs and pads and found we had lost a front anti-roll-bar drop link at some point over the weekend.  This is undoubtedly why it felt like I had to arm wrestle the car around the corners and had erratic lap times in the later races.  

A quick email to RND Motorsport and they promptly sent me a replacement which we fitted a few days before Silverstone - phew!

This weekend we welcomed a new sponsor for us Porsche Heaven, who run a Porsche parts business in Doncaster. Our partnership will allow Porsche Heaven to become more visible to competitors and also give us some needed help towards the costs of racing.

We arrived at Silverstone at 7am on the Saturday morning after a very early wake-up alarm. We unloaded and setup into the grand F1 pit garages at the "Wing" complex.  The garages were packed with ALL the other competitor's cars already setup from Friday's testing.  The competitors themselves were all asleep in their motor homes!  

There was an early 30min free practice session for Mazdas which I managed to get into and this gave us a bit of time on track to get the feel of the car setup.   I had to come in after just a couple of laps to fix a loose suspension mount which was knocking.  A quick diagnosis, wheels off and back on and I was back out with time for a few laps at the end of the session. 

The car felt great compared to Donington, easy to turn into the corners but still with a touch too much over-steer, which we'd want to adjust out before qualifying.    

Pit garages a hive of activity preparing for race 1
Championship winner Rick Styrin set me a target time in the morning qualifying  (1m 17.5) which I got within 0.1s of straight away.  I matched this lap several times but wasn't able to better it, qualifying 4th on the grid. 

This is becoming a more familiar position on the outside of row 2 for me as I started every race at Donington there.

Race 1 - Saturday PM
I nearly didn't make it to the grid!  The call to the the assembly area came and I turned the key in the ignition and to my disbelief it wouldn't  start.  The engine turned over fast enough but it refused to fire and pumping the accelerator furiously didn't help either.   Within a minute or two I was the only car remaining in the pit garages.  We checked the battery, key, recycled the power - all to no avail.  "See if it bump starts" was the suggestion" - and after a couple of attempts it did!  

Diagnosis afterwards was a failing race battery which provided enough volts to turn the starter, but not enough to to trigger the fuel pump relay. 
On the grid, green flag lap completed and with my heart rate now recovered, I used more revs at the start (do not stall!) and maintained my position off the line and into the first corner. The first two laps were hectic with cars trying to overtake at any opportunity running wide, getting sideways.  I gained a place at the end of the first lap and nearly made a move into 2nd place stick.  I kept my head, stayed on my line and found myself still in 3rd place pulling away from the pack behind with some very fast for me, early laps. 

I couldn't match the pace of the front row who qualified a second per lap faster, but I was clear in 3rd.  At this point you just want the chequered flag - but I knew there was still  lots of laps to run and just set about trying to be smooth and consistent.  It's far more difficult than you think and I had plenty of errors.  As the race progressed the cars behind were definitely closing in (admitting later they formed a pact to catch me and stop fighting each other). They got with in second as lapped cars didn't fall my way and I needed a calm couple of laps to re-establish the gap. Resolutely I held my nerve for a first ever podium finish since we stated back in 2102. 

Holding my nerve ad maintaining the gap

It's a shock all of sudden being interviewed by both AJK TV for the TV program and the Downforce Radio team providing the circuit live commentary that day.  I made sure they knew we run as a father and son privateer team and beating more established racers was quite special for me.  With friends and family there to watch it was a great feeling to have some tangible success after all the hard work.

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Friday, 2 September 2016

Best ever at Donington Park

After a few months off, we got the car ready for two rounds towards the end of the race season.  

The beauty of the Boxster S is that under normal circumstances it doesn't need much to prep it between races.  Cleaning the wheels and brakes, a quick check on fluid levels, pump up the tyres, charge the battery and put some more fuel in.   

We spent more time giving it a thorough wash, polish and hoovering out as the inside had accumulated dust and dirt over a while.  

Setting tyre pressures in testing
In lieu of testing there was a track day the Friday before the triple header round at Donington Park. This enabled me to re-acquaint myself with both the car and circuit.  A slight hiccup with a leaking CV joint early on, meant a trip to a local Euro Car Parts for a boot  kit.  With that sorted I got three good sessions on an emptying track later in the afternoon improving my speed and the balance of the car all the time.

On Saturday morning we needed a set of the new Toyo R888R tyres and with qualifying fast approaching it was touch and go if there was time.  Tony (south shore tyres) did a sterling job to get everyone what they needed just in the nick of time. 
Err - last call for Qualifying!

 A good job we waited as minutes before it poured with rain and the new tyres with all 6mm of tread really helped.  I managed a very smooth lap towards the end of the 20 min session. The rain had stopped and the surface water was reducing.  This was good enough for 4th place - a fantastic effort just behind 3 championship contending drivers.   
Struggling for traction in the wet qualifying (photo Chris Valentine)

Race 1 Saturday 3 PM
I got away quickly as the lights went out but was blocked on the outside allowing two cars to come past on the first lap.  A slightly bizarre accident at the final chicane brought out the safety car as I jumped into a fantastic 3rd place.  After a couple of laps we went green again and I held a couple of seconds advantage over the cars behind. I eventually got caught with 3/4 of the race completed, after some resolute defending.  Frustratingly a mistake slipped me back to 5th place. Determined - I responded with two really good laps at the end of the race pressuring a mistake from the car in front, spinning at the first corner Redgate, to give me a best ever equalling 4th place finish.  
Holding out for a podium place

Race 2 Sunday 2 PM
I experimented with a much stiffer setup on Sunday and initially it felt OK.  The track was difficult it due to an oil spill on the warm-up lap which meant we had to go around for a second lap.  As the race went on my times became more erratic and I suffered over-steer in the corners which became difficult to manage.  The car was quite hard work to drive and I slipped back from the front 4.  I managed to put in some solid last laps to fend off the cars behind to maintain a great 5th place finish.
Under pressure into Redgate corner

Race 3 Sunday 7PM
With DNF's from the previous race I started on the outside of row 2 (4th) again in the reversed grid race.  This was the last on an over-running weekend schedule and the light was fading fast.  I stalled as I stopped on the grid marks, restarting immediately.  The first corner was a melee with bumping and door banging as fast drivers starting at the back attempted to force their way to the front.  I've had my share of damage so kept out of it finding myself back in 8th position as a result.  

We again had a safety car, for 2 924's in the gravel this time.  It's lights were off and we powered out of the last corner only to find the safety car still deployed, lights back on!  One more lap - then we were green again.  The lead car was backing everyone up, driving very defensively, just a fraction of a second faster than I was circulating.  The top 8 were covered by a few seconds for most of the race.  Cars ahead and behind me were quicker on the long back straight, and up the hill out of the old hairpin.  This kept my mirrors full and left me lots to do on the brakes.  A couple of cars had mechanical issues and I eventually lined up a smart pass on 6th place on the penultimate lap after posting my fastest times of the weekend to round out another great 5th place finish. 

Whilst the rest of the grid head to Mallory Park in September, our next event will be the season finale at Silverstone (International circuit layout) in mid October.

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Return to the Speedway

So we made it! 

The car is repaired and back in one piece after crashing out in a racing incident during the opening round of the season last month.  

We like Rockingham speedway nr Corby a lot! It's a compact 2 mile race track incorporated into the oval speedway, which needs a well setup car and a brave driver to get the best out of it. 

After a couple of years based in the outer paddock we have the benefit of pit garages and are right in the centre of the action.   

Also this round marks the introduction of the Toyo R888R, replacing the R888 as the standard tyre for the championship.  

As expected pretty much all the other drivers have bought new rubber and tested to understand any difference. Comments range from little difference to transformational. For now we will stick to the original spec tyres.

A last minute gap in the timetable afforded us and early shakedown test ensuring the car felt fine after its recent re-assembly.  After a quick pit stop for tyre pressures we got a few quick laps in going 2 seconds faster than ever before. 

We were last to the assembly area for Qualifying so decided to sit in the pits for a minute and go out alone on the empty half of the circuit. I immediately went as fast a in practice and managed to improve a little right at the end of the session too, qualifying an impressive 5th place. 

Race 1 - Saturday PM
I got a poor start and dropped 5 places off the grid, but managed to salvage one or two round the first corner.  It took a few laps too long to size up and pick off the next couple of cars.  Being right on someone tail is sometimes harder as you normalise to their braking and acceleration points.  With a DNF from front runners I finished a fantastic 5th place.  

Race 2 - Saturday PM
The final race of the day came round fast, with little time to clean brakes and tyres and consider adjustments.  I went very slightly stiffer on suspension and kept everything else the same. 

We were kept waiting the assembly area for what feel like ages, as a Fiesta Junior was recovered from an impact with the unforgiving concrete pit wall. 

A better start this time, but still lost a couple of places. I again closed quickly on the cars in front. One went wide under pressure allowing me to skip past, the other required a more forceful pass. I was able match the cars ahead for pace, but wasn't able to close the gap. As the race concluded I seemed to catch slower cars to be lapped in all the wrong places. (Round the outside of turn one banking on the marbles was tricky to say the least) holding on for another 5th place.  

Race 3 - Sunday AM 
The the traditional reverse grid and and I struggled with over heating tyres, never quite feeling as confident as the day before.  I followed a road-train of cars battling for lower positions until the inevitable spin occurred.  With the mantra. Of "No Damage" I was overly cautious in avoiding them and found myself dead last of the Boxsters.  We finished a credible 8th with passes, spinners and DNF's. 

A great result over the weekend, not only one without any damage, but where we finished as high as realistically possible and showed it does not take take two sets of new tyres and days of testing to be competitive,.

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

An early bath at Snetterton

The 2016 season opener at Snetterton circuit in Norfolk started well as I put my learning from our shakedown test Into practice posting the 5th fastest time in qualifying, nearly 1.5s improvement over our shakedown trackday time. 

This year we've switched to an SJCAM 4000 camera which is fixed using go-pro compatible mounts on the rollcage.  It has much better video & sound than our previous camera, and also still has a "car" mode which automatically starts recording once the ignition is on via a 12v to usb power lead. No forgetting to turn it on, or flat batteries!  

You can see from my lap timer (behind the gear stick) how the lap timer unfolds vs. my best previous lap. 

The display is a Chinese Android 5" smartphone running the Racechrono app.

The top left of the screen is the best lap so far, and the bottom right the split time which is constantly updated. Green is faster, Red slower.  You can see I'm checking on the straights so know to take the final corner steady (no mistakes) and bank the new fastest lap over the finish line.

The sun was out and it was a glorious spring day. Learning a lesson from last year, we made no changes to setup, simply refuelled and went out for race 1 later in the afternoon.   Tyre pressures were reduced though as they got a bit too hot (32psi) during qualifying. 

On the grid the car in front stalled immediately the lights went out and I had to take swift action to dart around the stranded car.  Avoiding it and the pit wall was a feat in itself.  Going into the first corner I was a couple of places down as a result l, but confident of getting them back. 

As the pace picked up I closed on the 5th place car but overcooked it into the long right hand final turn.  Whilst I sorted out the oversteer  two cars sneaked past on the inside - More work to do now I thought to myself! 

Over the next few laps I passed the first car several times, but never quite got into the right position to take the (faster in a straight line 987 model) in front.  Everytime I got close, I stopped defending and allowed the car behind back passed.  This cycle repeated for a while.  

Going into the the fast (70mph) left Hamilton corner the car in front suddenly lost the back end and slewed sideways across the track.  I've had this before - but I was so close behind this time. Jumping on my brakes bought some thinking time to decide to go left or right around the spinner.   As I went right into the grass the car spun backwards into my front left corner. 

I immediately knew it was race over, with water pouring the the front radiator.  Sadly for everyone the other car was standard on the edge of the circuit causing the red flags to come out. 

On getting back to the pits it became obvious our weekend was over too.   Damage was extensive to the front left wing, bumper, radiator, suspension and steering.   Offers of help were received but it would be a long job and we simply could not afford to replace all the parts at the track.  

For the first time ever we manhandled the car onto our trailer and returned home for an early bath. 

** Update - A day later, the car is already stripped and we have a few weeks to source cheap second hand or OEM parts to repair it for the next round at Rockingham in mid May. 

Friday, 25 March 2016

Final Shakedown Test

In seven days time well be taking part in the first BRSCC Porsche Championship meeting of the year, being held at the Snetterton circuit in Norfolk.  

We haven't raced there for three years, so booked a standard MSV track day to shakedown the car, get my eye in on the circuit and let some family have a go at the same time. 

The MSV instructors read the riot act in the briefing, as recent events had been treated like test days (overtaking anywhere) and not track days, where novices and experienced drivers need to co-exist.  

It worked as track etiquette was good and the mix of classics, road cars, sports and race cars got on fine.  The weather was bright, dry and about 10 degrees.  Hopefully it will be the same come race day.  

In the morning we did a few runs focused on checking the reliability of the car.  The only issue we found was a loose engine cover, so all went well.  Handling was good with our guess at the setup.  No particular oversteer or understeer issues - but the front end was bouncing up and down a bit too much on corner exits.  

The trick with open pit lane format days is to be on track when everyone else isn't.  A couple of times we noticed the track was full, with cars queueing in the pit lane.  This meant that in about 15 mins it would be empty as they all come in to cool down - time for us to head out then!

In the afternoon we experimented with setup, corner techniques and gear choices.  The track was far less busy too. 

  • Snetterton is flat and fast, so the setup is likely to be fairly stiff on roll bar and damper setup. We went a bit too hard initially, finding the front end skidding under braking, especially into the hairpin corners. In the end we think we found a good compromise.  

  • The Boxster gearbox is highly geared to reach 160mph.  There are always corners     around the 50mph mark which can either be taken in 2nd (screaming near the rev limit) or 3rd (lower revs and not enough torque).  On the long straights we also have the option of short shifting to 5th gear or holding onto 4th to the rev limit as we approach 130mph.

  • Also for the tighter turns we have the option of following the theoretical racing line of a late turn in, apex 3/4 round the turn and a straighter exit.  Or experimenting with bringing the car in earlier, tighter and slower, but covering a shorter distance round the corner.  Each corner is unique and it often depends on the length of the following straight as to which yields a faster lap time.  
Overall it was a really successful day, without incident, and I went faster than ever.

Monday, 14 March 2016

Winter Overhaul

We've spent roughly a day per month over the off season sorting the car out.  Here's the run down on most of it.  

First up was to repair the damage from the last round of 2015 at Silverstone.  This required a new front wing and door to be sourced.  Luckily I got used panels in really good condition and in the right colour so we just had to unbolt and swap them over.

The remainder of the damage had to be done by a processional body shop.  I used Lemass_Automotive in Buckinghamshire who pulled the lower sill dent out, resprayed my spare front bumper and fixed and painted the door dents on the drivers side.   The rear quarters could not be straightened without a lot of painting, so were left as-is and are hardly noticeable. 
Secondly we drained the coolant and refilled with the correct mix of anti freeze.  It just got filled with water in a hurry at Silverstone so needed to be sorted to ensure the engine didn't freeze over the winter.

Next we had the oil flushed and replenished with Millers 10/50 nanotech and had to top up the power steering fluid again - as the top had come loose. (No leaks though!)

On the inside of the car we stripped all of the remaining wiring in the inner doors and replaced the big clunky door check straps with light weight fabric ones.  Its small beer, but a 2kg weight saving is still a saving.

We then partially stripped some of the excess wiring from the main loom. Starting with the relay board in the boot forwards to the front of the car.  There is a huge amount of wring still to come out, but this will have to wait until we have more time to remove the dashboard.  
We should have done this when the car was first converted - but we just didn't have the gumption and experience to go all out race car back then.

The third big job was to replace the exhaust again.  The cheap Chinese made one we ran last year had disintegrated internally.  It was rattling and overly noisy, risking us failing more noise tests. 

The replacement is fairly stock in terms of loudness and much better made from Top Gear exhausts

The penultimate job was to turn our attention to the braking system.  A flush through with new Castrol SRF racing fluid, bleeding any air out of the system.  We use a simple pressure bleeder which runs off the tyre pressure to saving pumping the pedal manually.  

A new set of rear brake pads were also fitted.  Once they get more than half worn (<5mm) they tend to overheat quickly and braking performance reduces.  The wear also gets progressiveness quicker, so the last 3-4mm can go in a race or two.

The last piece of weight saving has been removing the handbrake.  This entailed removing the rear discs, to release the handbrake cables and remove the now  superfluous brake shoes.  In the car the handbrake lever, mounting and cable adjuster goes too.  This is another 5kgs gone. 

The final job was to fit an additional MSA LED brake light in the centre of the rear bumper.  Whilst we have happily used the two std rear fog lights to meet the regulations, some racers have had issues with scrutineers. The series regulations now state we have to run this regardless.

Thursday, 10 March 2016

2015 Best Bits

As we get close to starting the 2016 race season, I compiled the best bits of action from our on-board camera.   Lots of very close racing, overtakes, spins (not me), and a few offs.