Brands Hatch – How it looked from my seat (Race 2)

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And then came the crash…

Race 2

My usual start took me forward a few rows and the car felt good, although still lacking power.

I was still in ‘safety’ mode so not trying anything daft, and I’d got myself into a pack of about nine cars, so that took a bit of restraint. I’d taken to dropping to third gear for Paddock as the engine seemed to handle the revs ok, and I was still getting that flat spot in fourth.

Neil Aldridge had an absolutely terrible lap and dropped right from the front of our pack and I had a great run on him into Paddock around the outside.

As I’d committed, Vaughn Jones cut from the outside line to the inside to make a move on the cars ahead, and spun on the inside of the corner just ahead of Neil.

I saw all of this and moved another cars width to the left so that I was right on the edge of the track and Neil had plenty of room to also move left as Vaughn’s spin took him across the track.

Unfortunately Vaughn either clipped Neil or he had to dive left more to avoid him, and I was directly alongside and going past.

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Neil sideswiped me wheel to wheel, causing us both to spin with him now in the gravel.

I could hear his throttle fully open as he slammed into me again, his airborne rear wheel ripping a hole through the aluminium side panel inches from my head, this hard impact sending me off at a tangent across the track to the infield.

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I was on the grass with the engine still running, looking very carefully at my right rear wheel where it felt like the main impact had been.

I knew the front would be bent, so wasn’t paying much attention to it as I eased the car forwards, and it was heading in a straightish line. I cruised up to Druids and was starting to think I could crawl around and pick up points, until I dabbed the brakes and the car slewed left and over the gravel.

I knew it was race over for me, and remembering how they’d red flagged qualifying when Bill Garner pulled off at that exact spot I was eager to get the car to a safe place where they wouldn’t stop the race.

I pointed left towards the marshal post and a group of marshals there were signalling crossing their hands in front of them in the ‘no’ gesture, so I pointed to the right, to the infield of the hairpin to a dirt road that would take me behind the barrier.

I should note that all this time I couldn’t see behind me, as the crest of the road meant all I could see was the top of Paddock Hill, 300+ metres away, so there was no way I could make out any cars. Everything else was hidden in the dip.

Still pointing to the infield, I looked at the marshals who were pointing repeatedly to the spot I was looking to go.

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I gave a jab of throttle and crossed the track and into the refuge area – but as I ran up the curb on the infield I saw the pack stream past me in my mirrors. Close. VERY close.

I was fuming.

You can hear me, dripping with sarcastic rage, say “I don’t think they should have told me to do that!”, before getting out and stropping around a bit, moaning to the spectators about what had just happened.

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A red flag came out for Neil and the marshals came over to help me.

I asked why they’d told me to cross the track when the leaders were that close and they told me they’d been saying “No – don’t go!” and were actually pointing to the approaching pack of cars and not telling me to go…

So we’d simply miscommunicated – not surprising as there are no pre-arranged hand signals between us, and, as demonstrated here, it could all be misinterpreted. I shouldn’t have used the marshals as my eyes when I couldn’t see – they already do a hard enough job and I shouldn’t have assumed we were on the same wave length.

It’s definitely not their fault, and do a brilliant job keeping us safe.

I also realise that this incident will look Very Bad to everyone, and on the TV coverage, so wanted to at least get my side of things across! Another lesson learned, and luckily no harm done.

I’ll do a separate damage report, but we do still hope to make Croft.

Thanks for sticking with this very long write-up!

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Brands Hatch – How it looked from my seat (Race 1)

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Well at least this one will be longer than the Croft report. I will also look at some of the more controversial moments that I may have got myself involved in.

I entered the race at the last second, and at that stage the engine wasn’t actually back together again! We’ve used bits from the new engine that was nearly built up – but that means we have a few mis-matched bits and had to go with a ‘safe’ setting with lower compression and other compromises.

We were up at 4am and made the start of qualifying, though!

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Qualifying

For once it didn’t start raining as the Vee’s lined up to go out – in fact the sun scorched down all weekend.

I had to ease the engine in so was taking it easy to get my mandatory three laps in, and these were also my first laps in the car for six months (I think we can discount two sodden laps at Coombe).

Before I could do that, the session was red flagged with a car pulled off at Druids. I was also noting that a lot of people out there were driving as if it was the last lap of the race, throwing it around both sides of the slower cars and having a whinge when they didn’t disappear – in short, I was waiting for a big accident…

And on the restart it came. Dave Wallis had lost it at Clearways, and with James Clennell left unsighted behind another car, he ploughed into him.

I had the very surreal and almost cartoonish experience of coming around Clearways to see their cars on each side of the track, and two wheels rolling up the centre of the track on their own. Unfortunately I had some camera issues meaning this footage was recorded over – but take my worked for it when I say it was WEIRD to see! And a bit scary…

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I didn’t like the look of Clennells car – a lot of chassis deformity, but thankfully he and Dave were both able to walk away. Dave commented to me that if that was in the sidecar he’d raced last year, that might not have been the case for anyone involved… Which is why I chose to race with four wheels instead of two!

My car had been smoking, and we found a fixable oil leak. The engine seemed ok but not particularly sharp, but I found that getting back on the throttle to turn into Paddock Hill I got nothing. I described it as a flat-spot in the rev range that we can probably attribute to the new heads not being delicately tuned to the length of the carb manifolds.

Solution for the race? Either drop it to third gear (risking high revs), or go into the corner a lot faster in fourth gear.

So only one option, then!

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I made a great start and blasted through a few rows. This is where things can get a bit awkward, especially if you’re trying to keep out of trouble, as you’re now right in the thick of the first corner bottleneck, and if you make a great start you can be around cars that will lap much faster.

If you back off too much you get hit by those charging behind you, but if your ‘ambition outweighs your talent’ (as Stoner said) then you can take out half the grid…

I backed off more than I normally would and lost a few places into Druids.

Things settled and I was in about a seven car group, although I was towards the back still feeling things out with my car.

Everyone around me was racing hard but fair, and despite the number of us swapping and changing, I think we all trusted each other not to do anything daft. This is where you get some great racing, and you’re also not slowing each other up.

I let what seemed to be the entire field plus half the Locust grid up the inside of me into Druids as I was focusing a bit too much on keeping it safe.

Then Bill Garner starting dropping all of his oil over the track. My visor (oh, that reminds me you’re still waiting for my report on my anti-fog modifications – stay tuned for that!) was covered and it was like a wake coming out the back of the car.

Rory Melia was ahead of me when Bill overtook him going into Paddock Hill, and I could see as soon as Rory hit the brakes he lost it on the oil. I thought I could ease on the brakes and nip up the inside before he spun, but the instant I touched my brakes the back end swung around like I was on ice.

I stood on the brakes to lock everything up, but I was travelling directly backwards and all I could see in both of my mirrors was Rory directly in my path. I let off the brakes a little to get some steering back and managed to get some angle so I didn’t clatter into him, and as a bonus still stayed out of the gravel trap.

Alex Jones had an interesting view of this as he was directly behind us, and we part to let him through the middle just in time.

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Tom Roper wasn’t quite so lucky, but managed to slam on his brakes to avoid me, now almost stationary in front of him as he came over the blind crest.

I wasn’t getting any lights from my dashboard to restart, so let the car roll down the hill and tried to bump start it, but even this was to no avail. Finally, just as I hit the rise up to Druids I tried the starter again and it fired in a cloud of black smoke, and I blasted off to chase down Vaughn Jones in his Spider.

I instantly felt that all was not well, and I seemed to be losing power all the time, with the engine sounding rougher and rougher by the lap. And I’d already lost a lot of time and many places…

To spice things up, at least one other car was also dumping all their oil onto the track. I remember for a few laps there were three distinct lines of oil through Surtees – the flat-out left hander – and you basically had to pick one of them and see if you could hold on!

I caught Vaughn as I neared Druids, and just caught a glimpse of the leaders right behind me (what happened to the blue flags??). I let Daniel Hands**? and Graham Gant through up the inside, taking a wide line in, and seeing Graham seriously sideways on oil and headed for the tyres (well held, that man!), decided to cut back for a late apex.

Here’s the moment where some say I knocked off the nosecone of another car:

I overtook Vaughn down the Cooper Straight and then still managed to stay stupidly wide, risking putting myself off and losing the position I’d just made to allow another two leaders to have the inside line into Surtees, all of us sliding three wide on the oil.

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I don’t think some of the faster cars realise just how much effort we put into getting out of their way, and we often get sarcastic comments about “not looking in your mirrors”. Sometimes what they actually want is for you to disappear, but we still have to turn into the corner at some point as well, and if you’re so great a driver why do you expect us to be able to use less track than you? Remember that the MSA rules tell you to stick to your normal racing line and it’s up to the car behind to find a safe way past you – imagine if we all just stuck to this? Then we’d see some proper moaning.

Anyway, rant over…

I crossed the line a sorry 20th with the engine sounding awful. Speaking to Glenn we were ready to just put it on the trailer and take it home, rather than risk more engine damage, but he decided to have a look at compression readings.

This was down to what we expected, but a fair bit lower on two cylinders – still not really enough to explain the problem, though, so he checked the valve clearances as a last hope.

We found one had become very tight, and one very loose, so after a quick adjustment that seemed a likely culprit. We headed to the Kentagon for a meal and some banter with the other drivers, and were happy to give it a crack for the next day.

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Charity Tandem Parachute Jump For Primrose Hospice

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You may have noticed I’ve been banging on about a skydive for the last seven weeks? Yesterday, that day finally arrived…

So I’ve said I was going to do a jump for quite a few years, but friends never wanted to put their money down, or couldn’t make the weight limit, and the idea just came and went.

In the last few years my finance’s father, her twin sister, my Step Dad, and my Babcia (Polish Nan) have all had very aggressive cancer and survived. Unfortunately, my Step Dad – Victor Dovey – had his return at the end of 2017, and he died in February.

These things put life into perspective and make you realise you need to do stuff while you can!

I was sat at work with the parachuting idea in my head again to raise some money to thank Primrose Hospice for how they cared for Vic in his final weeks, and looked after all my family, but could see the “yeah right” look in the eyes of the lad I was speaking to about it.

When he came back five minutes later I proudly told him that I’d booked a tandem skydive for seven weeks time!

A lot of very generous people started donating, and I soon realised that money would ensure I couldn’t back out, this time! Incidentally, I wanted some way for people to be able to donate online (it’s the future!) so chose JustGiving – but in actual fact the split is about 50-50 between online and offline totals!

I’m a racing driver, a bit of an adrenaline junky… but I don’t actually like heights! This could be interesting…

I heard lots of stories over those weeks about people who done it and loved it, and their experience, though to one who’d broken his neck landing in a ditch and another who also got very badly injured when they landed – where they were attacked by a goat!

Soon the day was here, and I picked up my Mum, Fiance and brother (an Anton, not a monk) and shot down (towards Silverstone race circuit, actually) to Hinton Airfield near Brackley, down a tiny single track lane, and got there in beautiful blazing sunshine for 8am.

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There were quite a few other cars arriving, and amongst the activity it was hard to tell who was there for a first jump from those who were in their tens of thousands of jumps.

I went in and filled in another form (you need to take a medical self declaration or Doctor signed one if you have any conditions) and queued up to book in. Here they weighed me and told me to wait until I was called for a briefing. They strongly recommend you also take out their insurance for £30, which is good, but I found my own cover from Sports Cover Direct for about £18.

I could see quite a few charity t-shirts around as we sat on one of the picnic benches outside the cafe, and there was still a lot of activity with people packing parachutes etc, but the atmosphere was charged but still relaxed. We’d taken a picnic and I was trying to force down a light breakfast when they called my name in for the briefing.

We all sat as the instructor when through a very relaxed (and hilarious!) version of what was about to happen, and what we had to do while we were falling towards the ground “like a homesick fridge”.

There’s not really much to do, but with the adrenaline going it’s also hard to take it all in. Don’t worry – they’ll be expecting that because it’s natural, and you’ll get told what you need to do several times before you actually need to do it.

Then they send you all off again to sit and chat outside (and go for a nervous wee!) until they call you again, when you’ll need to kit up.

We sat and watched the first few plane loads climb up into the sky and then the chutes appeared out of nowhere as more experienced jumpers did their thing. They actually land right next to you, coming low and directly overhead as they land, so you can get a good idea of what it’s going to be like.

Then they called my name again, and my group went to the manifest hut where they told us who we’d be jumping with.

I shook hands with Geoff, and then he took me back inside where I slipped into a rather fetching blue jump suit that goes over your clothes to ‘smooth you out’, and then he straps your harness over the top (take EVERYTHING out of your pockets is my recommendation, or you could be in for a world of pain!).

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Then I walked back outside for last minute hugs and photo’s (note the flat cap in honour of Vic!) before we all walked towards the tiny little propeller driven plane that we’d have to cram into, with Geoff still tightening straps and cinching my harness up as we went.

I was first into the plane with Geoff, and it wasn’t exactly like a Ryan Air flight.

There were two padded benches running the length of the plane and we all sat straddling them with each others legs around the one in front, so tight we were also touching those on the bench to our side.

Geoff clipped my harness to his – two at the hips, two at the shoulders – and put my stupid leather hat on. This, apparently, is not anything to help you, but for your instructor so you don’t smash your head into his face.

Once packed in, the plane taxied to the runway, turns, powers down, and you’re lifting into the air before you know what’s happening.

There isn’t much banter on that plane.

It’s too noisy to have much of a conversation, anyway. I did ask Geoff where Silverstone race circuit was, and he duly pointed it out as we climbed for 15 minutes to reach jump altitude.

The journey up is pretty relaxing, with great views out of the window. Geoff gave me the altitude every so often, checking I was ok and cinching the harness tighter.

I kept feeling him yawn, and he told me that to him this was just his commute to work!

As we reached 13,500 feet, the silly leather hats went back on along with our goggles, and an ominous red light appeared next to the roller-shutter door.

The Jump

Someone rolled the door up and the light turned amber, and Geoff gave a final briefing on what to do: scoot up to the door, dangle my legs out, tuck them under the plane, and then cross my arms across my chest.

The people in front of me on the bench didn’t really register as they all started jumping out of the door and dropping into the sky out of sight, but it all seemed to be happening pretty fast!

When I stuck my legs out of the plane I could feel there was absolutely no way I could stop this happening, so I might as well go with it. It seemed like a split second and then I was rolling head first out through the door…

This is the most extreme part, because I had no idea what to expect, or how it would feel or look or anything. Your stomach turns as you drop like a stone, but you’re also turning as well as you Geoff will get your position right for free falling.

I put my hands up and thrust my hips forward slightly, arching my back, as we’d been shown, resisting the urge to look down and lifting my head up.

Weirdly, after a few seconds of this you get used to it and just go with it.

If I’m honest, I didn’t really like the freefall much. I found it very hard to breathe with the air flow battering my nose, ramming air up into my sinuses. I knew it would feel like this as I’ve opened my visor on my motorbike at high speed and it’s the same thing, and I think it’s more because I’ve broken my nose a few times that it affects me so much.

I put my head back further, as they’d said that your chin should break the airflow so you can breath, and whilst this worked for the first few seconds, as we picked up more speed it stopped working for me.

I could breathe out of my mouth fine, but the air being rammed into my nose felt like being waterboarded. Like drowning.

I didn’t panic, though, as I knew the freefall was only for around 45 seconds. I pulled my hand in and put it under my nose for a few seconds to take a couple of breaths, then went back to the skydive position.

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Geoff pulled the main parachute open and my head lurched down a bit when it opened, but other than that I didn’t really feel much happen! Then he banked sharply and I’m pretty sure I let out a “Whoaaaa!!!”.

It felt great, and he flicked my goggles off to get a better view around.

It’s quite surreal seeing all the patchwork fields below you but it doesn’t feel like you’re falling towards them.

Geoff slipped the parachute controls – two looped straps – into my hands so I had control, and then just tugged at the straps to help me turn.

He pointed out a few things on the way down, like a Harrier jump jet in someone’s garden, and we had abut four minutes of graceful descent until we were close to the jump centre.

As we flew over I waved to my crew on the ground as Geoff had the controls again, and he banked hard in above them as we went in for landing.

He had a slightly different way to do the landing, and I put my feet on top of his and then lifted my legs up. It’s very important not to put your legs down before the person on your back, or you’re going to get hurt or at least faceplant!

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Our landing was pretty good, with a quick slide of the feet and then we were stood up and it was all over.

And I didn’t get attacked by a goat, which is a bonus!

I had a bit of a wobbly moment as I readjusted to terra firma as my harness was unclipped, then shook hands with Geoff as the photographer took a few pictures.

Then I walked the short distance to get the hugs in to my crew!

It was an awesome experience, even for me – and I’m known for controlling it all pretty well before stuff like this! The Hinton staff were all great and this will help calm your nerves – I’d say just do your best to relax and put all your trust in them and the equipment.

Even with the ‘waterboarding’ I still enjoyed it overall, and am left wondering: can I get the right angle of my head to eliminate the breathing issue? What else can we do in the skydiving bit like going head first for speed? Should I have done a loop-de-loop on the parachute part?

I think there are more than enough questions to make me want to do it again, and it does leave you with a bit of a ‘down’ feeling knowing you’ve done something like that… so maybe there’s only one way to cure that?

Massive thanks to everyone who has donated, and feel free to still click the link if you haven’t and enjoyed this write-up!

Donate here!

To date I’ve raised a total of £647 for Primrose Hospice, but some more is trickling in – that will make a difference to them and give them valuable funding for their services!

And please feel free to ask me any questions about it.

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The Death Of An Engine

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I was building up speed on the wet and flooded track, but nowhere near the upper ends of the rev range – I was pulling between 5000 and 6000rpm when something metally-sounding happened inches from my head.

The throttle instantly felt light and so I pulled the clutch in and the engine stalled instantly.

It’s kind of hard to know what to listen for when an engine goes bad on you, as you don’t want to be pulling the car up if you’ve just rattled part of your exhaust loose. Keep your foot in when chunks of metal are crashing around the engine will mean a huge bill, however…

I thought that we’d had a main bearing failure, as it reminded me of how it went on my first time ever in the car, and as it turned out the engine had seized solid, so it’s a good job I got the clutch in so fast!

What had happened, however, was the piston had hit an exhaust valve, or the valve had broken.

Either way the valve head had become a part of the piston:

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The valve stem had poked out a perfect cylinder of piston, and then everything had mashed up everything else.

The head had also taken a fair beating, although Glenn still thinks this could be repaired with some welding.

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Checking the conrods everything seems to be ok, and although there was some light scoring on the main bearings, it’s also an old engine so it was probably just normal wear.

With this much metal spread all around the engine (and it will hide in any place it can), the only option is to totally disassemble everything, clean it in a paraffin bath, blow it out with an air gun, and build it back together.

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So what caused it?

We initially thought it was an error with end float settings, but as it’s top end, the more lilkely cause was when I missed 4th gear on the pit straight at Donington. This buzzed it a bit, so we should have probably stripped the engine over Winter – but knowing we’re building a new one to put in mid-season we hoped to nurse it through.

This means we’re butchering a few bits from the new engine, but decided that getting the old one back in for now is our best option.

So it looks like we’ve avoided the big bills, other than time, but it’s still looking very tight for making Brands Hatch this weekend. We’re still hopeful, but we should have our answer within the next 24 hours…

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Castle Combe – Not the best start

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After the usual last minute rush to complete the over-Winter work on the Sheane, we braved the threats of snow by using a Land Rover Freelander as the tow car in place of the trusty VW Camper.

With limited space in the paddock, we were in the overflow car parking, slowly sinking into the cold, wet mud as the rain continued to hammer down.

There are a lot of newcomers to Formula Vee this season, and I find matching names to faces to cars to be a bit of a struggle, so tried my best to get around most of the old and new drivers and crew for a quick chat. Hopefully I’ll get to meet the few stragglers at the next round – if I make it there…

I wasn’t really feeling it, getting up early, travelling to the circuit, messing about in the cold and wet. This seems to be becoming a common thing with me racing. After the long Winter break I was even thinking that maybe I like the idea of racing more than I like the racing itself. I’d even had some thoughts of hypnotherapy to focus me a bit more…

All that went away as I slid into the trusty Sheane, though! I felt relaxed, excited, and really wanted to get out there!

I’m putting my doubts down to a stress reaction, for now, but will be keeping an eye on that.

The car was pulling to the left which is probably due to straightening the front beam a bit more. It wasn’t anything I had to fight with force, but if I took my hands off the wheel it veered off. We were keeping the old shot tyres (especially the balding rear) from last year, as we decided against putting the new ones on just yet. And other than sorting out the oil leak onto the clutch, the tired old engine was still plodding away behind me.

When we filed out of the pit lane it was my first time ever around Castle Combe, which can be quite intimidating, but we were behind the safety car – a rare thing for us to experience but one that I’d welcome regularly for managing races.

Even at greatly reduced speeds the spray following other cars made it very hard to see anything and was getting a bit cold as it drenched my chest.

I’d watched a few onboard videos and found a mod to play the track on Assetto Corsa, but the two didn’t seem to match up entirely – at least I knew which way the track was likely to go.

I was also experimenting with a visor modification that could totally eliminate fogging for me which would be a massive advantage in these conditions – I will do a separate blog about that one soon!

After one lap the safety car disappeared (not that I’d been able to see it since it left the pit lane!), and green flags were waving.

I was behind a few cars who seemed (perhaps rightly?) a bit scared of the conditions, and I would have chosen a much quicker pace if I was on my own.

Just as I decided to get past and set my own pace, Ian Buxton slipped past and I decided if I followed him but went slightly slower I could get a good solid pace to get my standard three laps in, and then see how much more I could push.

I passed a few cars as I felt out the grip levels – not bad really save for a few patches of standing water – not getting anything seriously out of line despite the low tread on my right rear tyre.

Rory Melia appeared out of the spray ahead into Camp – a corner I really wanted to try out hard in the dry – and I had enough closing speed to go around his outside and tentatively power away down the straight.

I eased into fourth gear past the pits and was pulling around 5000rpm when the engine note suddenly changed. I quickly pressed the clutch pedal and the Big Red Light Of Doom glowed up from the dashboard ominously.

I knew it was all over as I coasted to the nearest marshal point on the grass, expecting to be leaving a wake of oil and engine bits behind me. I may have had a little bit of a swear, but if that doesn’t come out on my video then it never happened, and I was calm and collected.

Jumping out of the car I couldn’t see any holes in the engine case or oil pouring out, so figured it to be a bearing failure and engine seizure – much like my first time ever in the car.

I watched the rest of the qualifying dejectedly from under cover of the marshals post, then jumped back in to be towed home on the Wagon Of Shame.

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When replacing the gearbox seals Glenn had found the end float to be 0.12000 which we thought was far too loose, having previously set it at 0.8000. The problem here is that the bearing also has some sideways movement, so you can get a false reading. Set it too tight and it’ll seize up – too loose, and well, no harm done.

It could have been this or it could have been this combined with the old engine, but we’re pretty sure we’ll find a rear main bearing failure. As I switched off so quickly, hopefully this will be fixable if the rest of the internals are intact.

However fixable it is, I’m now conscious that Brands Hatch is only three weeks away, so whether we can make it will depend on Glenn’s day-to-day work and how much time he can spare. We were planning on putting a newly built engine in the car around mid-season, but that’s not quite ready yet so I think we’ll be looking at rebuilding this one.

It’s a blow for my bid to take the B Class championship this year, but the same could happen to everyone else, too, so it’s still early days yet.

James Harridge got pole by 2 seconds and won the first race after a fantastic battle with Ian Jordon, after Ian Buxton fell away from the scrap.

Race 2 was another huge scrap, but this time between Ian Buxton, Craig Pollard and Daniel Hands – with Buxton coming out on top.

I was very interested in watching the new drivers – the stand-out man for me being Richard Lanyi. He had the pressure of driving Paul Smith’s Dominator – possibly the most successful Formula Vee car ever – after amazingly only taking his ARDS test the week before, and flying in from Switzerland so qualifying was his first time ever sitting in the car! Not only did he survive this, but he finished 12th and 10th in the races – I think he’ll definitely be one to watch this year once he gets more seat time.

So rather disappointing as an opening round, but if there’s a positive to take away that very limited time in the car, and with everyone else doing the full session, would have still put me 16th on the grid!

Assuming we do get the car ready, the next one is Brands Hatch – my least favourite circuit. Maybe now is the time to force myself to love the place so I can claw some points back?

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Looking ahead to the 2018 season

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2017 was the most open year of the championship for quite a few years. To pull no punches with that statement, the main reason was Paul Smith leaving Vee after dominating the series for years.

This attracted several former champions and front-runners back to the series Daniel Hands, and inspired the other front-runners like Ben Miloudi, Ian Jordan etc to step up and try to grab their chance.

Undoubtedly, some of the strongest competitors were either a bit rusty, only did part seasons, or had reliability issues – and with eventual winner Ben Miloudi not defending his crown and very strong runners like Adam Macauly moving his attention back to the Irish scene, 2018 will be even more of a free-for-all!

I’d say there are at least eight drivers likely to win the championship – and that’s without the usual surprise of a rookie jumping in at the front or one of the existing drivers stepping up to challenge the front runners.

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I think Class B will be even tougher this year.

James Harridge could be the first to take A and B class together – which is both good and bad.

It’s bad that all us other Class B runners are clearly in a different league to the likes of him so we have no chance of ever beating him on track unless he has problems. This means we don’t get any trophies, but then from his point of view why win one trophy when you can win two?

The good thing is that if this does happen – and if not this year then it’s only a matter of time – it might make the organisers make some changes to make A and B class more distinct, and bring it back to the original ethos of B class being cheaper, having older and less technically advanced cars, and/or more inexperienced drivers.

And I’m not having a whinge here, because if new rules came in that excluded me from B Class I’d be totally fine with that.

As it stands, though, I’m one of the serious contenders in B, and although I’ll be starting off with a less than perfect car there is another engine on the cards along with new tyres and a few other improvements to come later in the year.

Jamie Harrison has moved to the Bears team in a new car and will undoubtedly be the one to beat other than Harridge, and I suspect Andrew Cooper will be very quick again this year (if he’s coming back?), as well as Jack Wilkinson if he does a full season.

Colin Gregory will be in Adam Macaulays car and I doubt that will slow him down too much, but I’m not sure if he’ll run that to B spec or move to Class A.

Ross Price also showed he could mix it at the front in B without much experience, so he’ll be another serious threat.

And the joy of Class B means you’re even more likely to see absolutely anyone, old or new, suddenly click and be up the front!

We have a couple of new tracks to most of us – Castle Coombe to start with and then the Snetterton 200 circuit at the end of the year, and then Mondello Park for all those travelling to Ireland for a chance to try some International craic.

Me? I still hate Brands so will be trying to break out of that this year, and hopefully Silverstone will be kind ot me for the first time ever.

If I have mildly better luck than last year it would be nice, and I will definitely be looking to *puts on a European accent* push very ‘ard.

I know both the car and myself are capable of more, so let’s see if I can unlock it!

Hope to see you all out there, and let’s have a safe, clean but hard fought 2018 season!

 

***On a side note, you may have seen that I’m doing a charity parachute jump on 5th May – please click the link and throw a few ponds my way for this! It’s for a great cause and massive thanks to those of you who have already given!

Sponsor me here for Primrose Hospice!

trev sml

What tools do I need?

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A common question when people are looking to start racing in Formula Vee with their own car is “What tools do I need?”

The easy answer to this is “All of them!”, and as with everything, your collection will grow and grow. One problem we’re having at the moment is the weight of getting everything we need to the circuits using an old VW camper van – but I don’t want to digress into transport issues for this one, so back to tools.

There are some essentials that you’ll use a lot, and you need to really get these together to have any sort of chance.

I’ve asked Glenn and a few drivers what they’d say are essentials – but even that isn’t very clear as you’ll need different stuff if you’re doing your own engine/gearbox etc. Here’s a basic list:

  • Spanners from 6mm-20mm
  • Sockets from 10mm-22mm
  • Plug spanner
  • Huge filthy great breaker bar
  • Big socket nut for the flywheel
  • Hammers (ball head, soft head)
  • Philips/Flat head screwdriver
  • Pliers (thin nose and circlip)
  • Wire cutters
  • Tyre pressure gauge and pump (you can borrow these trackside but best to get your own!)
  • Brake bleeding kit
  • Jack (add stands and a quicklifter for luxury)
  • Hacksaw
  • Files (flat, round etc)
  • Feeler guages
  • Duct tape
  • Plastic ties
  • Lock wire
  • Metal clamp rings (for fluid pipe fixings etc)
  • Fibreglass repair kit
  • Fuel can 20l x 2 (you might just get away with one can)
  • A weird length of rubber to shove in the petrol tank to try and see how much you have left
  • Rags/towels (save your old socks and y-fronts!) for cleaning, mopping up and wiping your feet before you get in the car
  • Slave/jump battery
  • Some kind of heat is a massive help, be it something for welding/undoing tight bits or a hairdryer to warm your hands up.
  • Gazebo – you can survive without one, but we’ve broken and bought one, finally!

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You’ll also need the more consumable stuff:

  • Engine oil
  • Gearbox oil
  • Brake fluid
  • Fuel – Tesco and Shell do 99RON petrol at the pump, or race fuel is allowed up to a certain octane rating (see rules)
  • WD40 (the anti-duct tape)
  • Brake pads (we use standard Beetle road pads, as the car is so light they work as well as anything)
  • Brake cleaner spray
  • Gaskets (for everything gaskety – some silicone might also come in handy)

You’ll notice I’m not giving specific oils, as people get all secretive over that, and what people use will vary quite a bit! I know people using DOT3 brake fluid and DOT5.1, but we have no reason to think DOT4 won’t do the job, for example.

When you get to engine oil you’re really into stormy waters – fully synthetic oil is great, but does a 50 year old engine really need it, especially as today’s mineral oil is many times better than the best oil F1 was using back then…? Or do you go middle and get semi-synth, and what weight?

Anyway, this lot should give you a rough idea of how to come in at the cheaper end of things and still make most things easier for you – feel free to add anything you’ve missed, or pick holes in anything I’ve got down here, too!

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Charity parachute jump for Primrose Hospice

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I know many of you often wish I’d jump out of a plane, and now you can help that to happen without incriminating yourselves!

 

On 5th May 2018, I will be doing a tandem skydive to raise money for Primrose Hospice and in memory of my Step-Dad, Vic Dovey, who was taken by cancer in February this year.

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Primrose Hospice cared for Vic in his final weeks and have been a massive help to our families during this time, and have helped with others close to me in the last few years, and so I’ll be proud to raise funds for them, as well as displaying their branding on my racing car again this year.

Unfortunately the timings mean I can’t get in on their group charity skydive on 16th June, so I’ll have to be extra brave and do this on my own!

Despite being a bit of an adrenaline junky, I am actually scared of heights, so you can rest assured that this won’t be easy for me!

 

If you would like to sponsor me for this parachute jump, you can give me cash (I’ll get a form printed out if people prefer to do it this way) or do it online:

 

https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/jamescater18

 

If you can donate £1 it all builds up, so please give what you can, however small.

7

Progression

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I am faster than I was.

The only problem is that everyone else has got faster, too!

This can make it feel like you’re not making much progress towards the front of the grid, but does have the bonus that you’re scrapping with the same people, which can be a lot of fun.

People seem to get faster in leaps, almost like unofficial divisions. The way I see it, I have two more of these ‘leaps’ to go until I’m up there, fighting for race wins. Whether I’ll ever actually be able to make those leaps is another matter…

At the moment I’m hanging around the fringes of the top 10, and the next leap will get me fighting for the top 6. At Anglesey I stayed right on the back of the lead chain until the end of the first lap, and then started falling back (or technically they all started getting faster and I couldn’t match the pace). So, driving well and with a bit of luck, I can scrape in the top 10 but that’s about as much as I can hope for.

You may have noticed that I’m being brutally honest with myself, here, and I’m saying that this extra speed is still purely in me.

Sure, the Sheane would benefit from new Ohlins suspension all round, but would that really make me faster? I think I’d find a few tenths of a second, but it wouldn’t be a ‘leap’ forward.

There are a lot of people in Formula Vee who buy a new car expecting it to carry them forward, and in almost every case the only profound effect it has is on their wallet! And that is because whatever car they’re in, the limiting factor is still themselves!

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If you put me in Paul Smith’s all-singing, all-dancing Dominator, I have no illusions about the fact I wouldn’t go much faster. The best I could hope for would be that the new car made me feel more comfortable and confident, which may help me towards making that next ‘leap’. Otherwise I’d be much better off spending that money on a bunch of test days to pound around the track.

These thoughts were backed up at Cadwell, where eventual championship winner Ben Miloudi drove my car for RTV. Despite me thinking I was giving it about as much as the car could do, Ben battled for the lead from his first time out in the car!

I’m certain that if you put any of the front-running Vee drivers in any car from the rest of the field, they would still be front-running drivers – just like if you put anyone else into their cars they’d still be around the same speed as they normally were.

Alex Jones is one driver who has successfully made one of these ‘leaps’ – and he did it after driving a new car. However, this new car probably wasn’t the key. Alex had a load of professional driver coaching and worked really hard off the track to re-focus his efforts as a racer, and I think all of that paid off far more than his new car.

So is coaching the way forward? Quite possibly – but bear in mind you can’t suction cup the instructor to your car if you race single seaters, so that will make learning much tougher than having someone sat next to you. And it’s expensive, relatively. It’s not really an option for me, as I don’t have any spare budget at all, and driver coaches don’t work for free – especially for a new 40 year old driver who’s not expecting to quit his day job and reach Formula 1 in this lifetime.

A cheaper option is to have online coaching on a sim like iRacing. Here you will be coached on everything you need to drive faster, but then of course you’d have to translate that into real life – which is easier said than done when carrying 20mph into a corner can have you upside down and on fire in a gravel trap!

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I know a few drivers in Vee have also used iZone Driver Performance at Silverstone. This seems like a great idea – you basically pay around £160+VAT for 2 hours on a driving simulator. For that you get a full performance report showing your strengths and weaknesses. I haven’t looked into this too much but it does seem like the most viable option, and then no doubt there’d be a blog all about my experience – so watch this space!

The other option is to make sure you listen to what people are saying, read everything you can, and try and put the thought out of your head that you might crash and kill your car!

This year I do intend to push myself a lot harder, so expect me to try and put that into words as I figure out how to get myself further up towards the pointy end of things!

It’s not that long to go, now – I’ll see you out there soon!

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Ban The Grid Girls!

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Today, the motorsport world has been divided as the top level formulas have banned grid girls.

The Brolly Dolly, a staple of just about any televised motorsport, will now no longer be a thing in Formula 1, and this will no doubt cascade throughout all forms of motorsport.

I can kind-of see why the decision has been made, but think the reasoning misses some huge factors, and rather than stopping degradation of these women will only hurt them.

First off I should say a few things. Formula Vee does not have any women on the grid holding umbrellas for us. If there are women around the cars at all, they’re normally driving them, friends and family, or taking pictures. There is no point at our level, as grid girls are purely employed to look good and promote a brand.

Despite how everyone these days tries to be politically correct, sex still sells.

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And let’s face it, standing holding a flag on a grid isn’t exactly grinding on men in a shady club where they’re at risk of being groped.

Are they being objectified? Maybe – but they’re also earning a lot of money and every single one of those women are there through their own choice because they want/love to do it!

They work hard staying fit and taking great pride in their appearance, and although there will always be a few idiots, most of us respect them and what they do.

These grid girls are feminists and feminine – some are mothers and some hold down high level careers away from their modelling work – some begin or boost their careers by doing grid girl work.

It sounds to me like a lot of the people crying to ban grid girls think by doing so all the girls will suddenly become racing drivers, mechanics, team bosses, marshals etc, or whatever they deem to be a ‘more respectable’ job/hobby/position.

They won’t, because there are already women doing all those things, and grid girls just want to be grid girls.

And they should be allowed to do what they want without being shamed for it, and especially not told they can’t do it by someone who isn’t doing it themselves and probably has no place supporting the motorsport industry anyway.

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This is only my opinion, and please feel free to comment whether you agree or disagree – I just feel bad for the girls knowing how excited they get about being given the privilege of appearing on the grid supporting their heros or whatever their reasons for doing it.

By banning grid girls you’re not empowering these women – you’re just putting them out of work and potentially destroying their career.

So who is that helping?

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