We’re missing the first round!

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You may have noticed a distinct lack of, well, me, on the entry lists for Cadwell Park this weekend.

I can confirm that we won’t be there, this time.

Frustrating as it is, we have to remember that racing is only a hobby for me (unless there are any spare F1 or GT drives going?), and there are still some more important things in and around Racing Team Vee that we’re still in the process of sorting out before we can re-focus on racing.

I’m sure you will all understand that these are difficult times, but we do fully intend to be back as soon as possible!

Croft, next month? To be totally honest, it still seems a bit shakey, but if it is at all possible it’s a track I love so you can bet it’s still on the cards…

Good luck to all the Formula Vee drivers this weekend – you’ll see a few familiar faces returning to the grid along with some brand new to us. The races are being live streamed on video from the 750 Motor Club website, so be sure to take a look.

www.750mc.co.uk

Stay safe everyone, and have some great racing!

2021 Season Gets Green Light!

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Yes, folks – after sitting out the last two seasons, I’m back!

Driving for Racing Team Vee, and proudly supporting Primrose Hospice, The Birmingham Superprix project and CRPS Racing 4A Cure, I will return to racing in the 750 Motor Club Heritage Parts UK Formula Vee Championship.

I had been dubiously awaiting the latest Covid announcement, but Motorsport UK have give the go-ahead for club racing to start on 29 March 2021. Of course, this will always be subject to any further lockdowns or restrictions, but with the vaccine working its way through the general population I think we’re all feeling much more positive about where things are heading.

In my time off, you’ll probably be unsurprised to hear that I’ve still spent every day obsessed by racing, so although my seat time has suffered, I’ll be coming into this season more prepared than ever, and also much more hungry!

I have been sim racing lots using iRacing, especially driving the Skip Barber car which is probably the closest to a Formula Vee, and have a few more changes going on which should boost my performance.

You may have seen my name pop up on the list of iZone Performance drivers. This is something else that has been a huge change, as I have been active in their daily Zoom training in all aspect of improving my performance – physically, technically, and especially mentally. This training has been amazing, not just for racing, but for strength and motivation in everyday life through this pandemic. Go check them out!

The iZone coaches have also reinforced some realisations that I was slowly coming to myself about approaching things from a much stricter and more structured way, and I have a few more essential things to sort out for the next time I get back in the car.

It’s an exciting time, and you can of course expect blogs, videos and lots more from me and my social media accounts along the way. Feel free to contact me if you would like to get onboard as a sponsor or support me and the team in any way, or if you think I can help you or your brand.

And again, in case I don’t say it enough, if you’re reading this then thank you! I love your support and words of encouragement and am eternally grateful to have you all with me!

May be an image of text that says "CUNCE Ouulton 2021 PROVISIONAL CALENDAR 1&2 CADWELL PARK 17th APRIL 3&4 CROFT CIRCUIT 29th/30th MAY 5&6 ANGLESEY COASTAL 19th/20th JUNE 7&8 SNETTERTON 300 17th/18th JULY 9&10 & SILVERSTONE INT 7th AUGUST 11&12 BRANDS HATCH INDY 11th/12th SEPT 13&1 OULTON PARK INT 9th OCTOBER 750 MOTORCLUB FORMULA VEE เ7 HERITAGE PART CENTRE"

Primrose Hospice Virtual Santa Fun Run 2020

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With the whole mess that is 2020 a lot of charities will be missing out as they can’t do many of their regular fundraising activities.

This is no different for my sponsors Primrose Hospice, but they decided to go ahead with their annual Santa Fun Run.

Normally, this would mean 200+ people in Santa outfits would get together and go for a mass run somewhere, but this year with social distancing in place for the pandemic, we would have to do things differently. A ‘virtual’ run where we sign up and then pick our own time and place for the weekend.

Along with my fiancé Julie (who loves Christmas so much she may well be 90% Santa’s Elf), we wanted to get involved, and so thought we’d turn the whole situation around a little, and rather than a 5 or 10km run, we went right to the other end of the spectrum: we’d get stupid suits we couldn’t run in and just go for making idiots of ourselves to get people smiling!

So, on Saturday 6th December we donned these suits:

Oh yeah! And the plan was to do a minimum of 5k but looping around the streets of Bromsgrove and including the main shopping streets for maximum exposure.

Almost as soon as we’d left our house we were passing people in the street who already had some change to drop into our tin before we got to them, and the honking horns of passing drivers (especially over the Oakalls footbridge) was fantastic to hear and really spurred us on!

We also got a great reaction walking through the High Street from children and adults alike, with a few chasing us down after having seen us.

We took an amazing £38.30 in cash donations while we were out and about, and special mentions have to go to the woman who stopped her car near Finstall and walked back to give us some money, and the Policeman who pulled over to tell us he loved the costumes (who has since tracked us down on JustGiving to donate, as he didn’t have any cash on him)!

Which reminds me, you can still throw a few quid our way on JustGiving at this link:

James Cater is fundraising for Primrose Hospice (justgiving.com)

It was touching to see the Bromsgrove community showing their appreciation for us and Primrose Hospice, and if we made you smile in these dark times with our clowning around then we’ve done our job!

But, of course we weren’t the only Santa’s out there this weekend, with several of the Primrose staff running around Sanders Park, and many others from local companies to the numerous individuals who support this great charity getting out there. We got lucky with sunny (though chilly) weather on Saturday, but others still battled their way around on a much wetter Sunday.

We love all your efforts, and hopefully we can do it again next year under more normal circumstances.

Did you spot any Santa’s around this weekend? Let me know in the comments!

Calling it for 2020

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I was hoping for a surprise end of year blog to say we’re getting out there for a race, but unfortunately that hasn’t happened.

Glenn and myself have decided to call time on the 2020 Formula Vee championship so that we can concentrate on other things and look towards racing in 2021.

It’s been a very weird year, to say the least, and I hope you are all safe and well?

Glenn has still been very busy this year caring for his brother and dealing with the day to day aspects of his business during the Covid-19 lockdown, and I’ve been kept busy working from home in my day job.

The Sheane is very close to ready, and just needs the engine to be put back together and a bit of paint on the nosecones to be raceworthy, so the plan was always to sit back and see what happened and maybe jump in to do the last rounds at Oulton and Donington.

Watching from afar, it seems like Motorsport UK and 750 Motor Club have done an amazing job getting things moving around the Covid restrictions whilst still keeping everyone safe. That has been great to see how the whole sport (and world?) can adapt so quickly to make the most of things.

It’s been great to see so many new names high up the leaderboard of the Vee races this season, and of course a well-earned (at last!) congratulations to James Harridge for winning the 2020 title already with an almost flawless 6 wins from 7 races in the home-built Maverick.

It’s been frustrating not to be out there racing, but Racing Team Vee are equally feeling the loss of the Formula Vee paddock family.

I will be carrying the Primrose Hospice and Birmingham Super Prix Project logos on the car, so am eager to get their names out there again for the great work they’re both doing and help build support.

We hope to see you all back out there for 2021, in a more normal world, and wish you all the best!

Motorsports UK Esports Series and iRacing update

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In a very strange year, it’s now October, and the only racing I’ve done has been online.

This does mean I’ve sunk many hours into sim racing with iRacing, and improved a fair bit from where I was for my last blog.

I have now completed my first ever full season with iRacing, and also completed the minimum number of weekly races so that I get $10 credit back to spend on the game. If you complete 9 out of 13 weekly races in a season you get $4 credit, up to the maximum of $10 up to a certain licence class, with another $10 available for A and B class events.

I finally have the A licence now, but to be honest it only really allows you to do a couple of much longer endurance events, which I don’t want. I’d much rather have their 15-40 min race format, because I have a job and fiance who would not agree with me doing 24 hour online races!

More importantly, though, I actually did quite well in my overall leagues in the iRacing series I was racing in.

My main race series is still Skip Barber, but I also did pretty well in the RUF, Radical and GT. I stopped racing the basic MX5’s which were a major learning series for me, but still dip in occasionally and also do a few of the Advanced Mazda Cup races. I also concentrate more on the other open wheel series: Formula Sprint, Renault 2.0 and F3. And I’ve used my $10 credit to buy the Ferrari GT3, which seems like a good series to do.

So, as you can see, I finished right up the pointy end of several leagues, which I was chuffed with! This means I get promoted to tougher leagues, so we’ll see how this season goes.

I should note that this is NOT the best way to go iRacing. You should concentrate on just one or two cars and master them. This will mean your iRating goes up as you’ll do far better at your specialist series. If you jump into multiple cars, your iRating score sorts you into races accordingly, so if you’re fast in Skip Barber and then jump into the unraced Ferrari, the game assumes you’re just as good in both, so when you finish right at the back your iRating drops as well.

But I’m doing this for fun, and am happy with an iRating around 1500 as long as I get to drive different stuff.

Last week, I also had my first ever genuine win in the Motorsports UK iRacing Esports Series!

I do quick race reports on my Facebook pages, so you should have seen them already if you’re following them (and you should be!).

I like some layouts of Lime Rock Park, but hate the one with the West Bend Chicane, so you can imagine my ‘joy’ as I logged into the pre-race practice to try the Dallara F3 around there.

However, I soon found I was within a second or two of the usual fastest drivers, and knew I could improve with more laps. I qualified in 3rd place!

With a decent start I actually crossed the line at the end of the first lap in the lead, but lost a place soon after… although I was still right on their tail for the next few laps.

I dropped back a little, but then caught and passed them, and despite several cars giving chase and almost catching me, and some very close calls with some cars I was trying to lap, I won by 6.5 seconds!

Not bad at all!

That leaves me 5th in the championship, but don’t think I have much chance to gain more than a few places, but I’ll give it my best shot. It might be the last time this series is ever run, so I have to make the most of it before I jump back into a real car on a real track…

Which still might be on the cards for Formula Vee this year… Watch this space!

Motorsport UK iRacing Esports Series

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https://www.tradingpaints.com/showroom/view/193139/Dallara-F3-Zebra-Air

After my last blog, I signed straight up for the Motorsport UK iRacing Esports Series , and was assigned a qualifying slot to decide what league we’d be in.

My session was an absolute disaster because of tech issues. My laptop had finally reached its limits for gaming, and I was getting around 20fps with no laps registering through the whole of my qualifying.

Thankfully, I was given another slot, where I managed to lay down a couple of laps that was enough to get me in.

Then it was time for the long overdue tech upgrade – I bought a reconditioned desktop PC set-up for £500, featuring a Nvidea GTX1650 GPU and Intel i7 processor. Basically the best bang for my buck that I could get. Old but will still more than do the job. A bit like the Sheane Formula Vee I race!

I could also justify this because it gave me a monitor, keyboard and mouse that I can use for working from home, rather than my current work laptop. It might save my back, and to be honest is something I should have done at the start of lockdown when I knew it would last more than a few months. (there you go – now you can justify it to your wife, too!)

It boots up in around 20 seconds! Sometimes you just have to get the right tools to make life easier for you…

So things were looking much better just in time for the first race at Silverstone GP in the Dallara F3 cars we’d be using for the season.

I made a great start, weaving through the field until I found a car slam it’s brakes on around the outside of the first turn, and I slammed into the back of them.

This was the first I knew about damage not being turned on in the sim. This is great as you can keep going, but encourages everyone to drive like idiots.

You might notice that on my recovery I ended up, well, upside down, as another car hit me.

This put me dead last, with so many incident points that a couple of minor off-tracks gave me a drive-through penalty as I tried to fight back through the 28 car field.

Finally things settled down a little, and I finished 17th. Not bad considering my fastest lap was about 5 seconds off the pace, so at least I’m consistently slow!

The Dallara F3 is a good car to drive (it feels a lot like the Praga R1), but as I’m not used to driving it at all, let alone used to downforce, it’s going to take me a while to get up to speed. Plus when I took a look at some of the other names in the field, they’re racing this kind of car in real life, so have a bit of an advantage there!

That said, it’s great to be amongst them, and I can learn a lot from them.

The next round is at Spa on June 22nd, so I will try and get more practice in. That is hard when I’m doing ok racing the Mazda MX5, Skip Barber, RUF GT3 and a couple of others in the regular iRacing series, though!

We’ll see if this all helps when I get back in the real car…

The Return To iRacing

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I hope you are all safe and well out there? Or, to be more specific, I guess – in there.

With all racing cancelled due to Covid-19 (you might have heard of it), if you haven’t switched on to all the brilliant sim racing that is being broadcast, you really are missing out. Many ‘real drivers’ have switched to sims for their first time ever to try and get some of that buzz back. And you know what? It works!

Me? Well, I last did a blog on iRacing years ago. In fact I let my subscription run out and hadn’t played it for around 3 years.

Why?

Mainly because my internet connection wasn’t good enough, so I’d get my laptop hooked up to the TV, plug in the wheel and pedals, fluff up a few pillows, and then on the first lap of the race my connection would drop out, no times would be recorded, and my game ratings just took a dive every time…

Add to that a not insubstantial monthly fee, and that was that.

But despite having most of the other racing sims, I still knew iRacing was the one I really wanted to be playing. The one that was most rewarding to race against others on.

I signed up for one month for $15, as tax is now included. That’s a crazy increase!

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My first impressions (after a few hours of downloads and updates) were that the tyres felt much more realistic – especially on braking where they’d nailed the floaty feeling before it locks up.

I’d also forgotten how to drive the sim, and my safety rating took a clattering, along with some more disconnection issues…

But I reset my brain again. I started driving like Miss Daisy and put the racing line back on. I did a load of Time Trials with just me on track, so I could lap consistently without going off track without overdriving the car everywhere.

I concentrated on the Skip Barber and Mazda MX5 only. The Skippy is the closest the game has to a Formula Vee, and feels great. The MX5 is much less forgiving, and will swap ends frustratingly quickly, but the actual racing you get is brilliant.

ir skippy

I’m trying to get my C Grade licence back, so will literally start the race slowly and keep out of everyone’s way to let them pass me through the first few turns. Assuming they’ve still not taken me out, I then drive a few slow laps, and half the field will crash on their own or in tangles. I then just cruise through and normally end up in the top 5 just through consistency.

If someone is catching you by 2 seconds per lap, just let them through. You’ll gain a lot more by avoiding the incident points for contact and following them to see how they’re faster.

Honestly, all you want to do is stay out of everyone’s way and even if you finish last as long as you have no incident points your rating will climb and you’ll be put into races with more careful drivers.

Do that a few times and you’ll find yourself leading races and THEN you can start to enjoy it all.

I’ve definitely got the bug again, so will be taking out a full year subscription.

ir mx5

I also remembered a few essentials for people using their laptop and basic equipment:

  1. Plug into your router with a top quality (class 8) ADSL cable, and do not use a WiFi connection.

  2. Use the lowest graphics setting. I have a very high spec laptop, but it’s still only barely good enough…

  3. Lower the screen resolution slightly to get more FPS (frames per second).

  4. You need a custom desktop PC if you want it to look pretty, but you can still do it if you have limited space and just a laptop and your TV screen.

So I’m still building my skills up again, but loving it for a few hours a day. I might even try some oval racing – or the new dirt oval and rallycross that’s now in the game.

If you’re on it, feel free to add me as a friend – I’m called ‘James Cater’ weirdly enough.

I bet you’ll enjoy it, once you’ve slogged your way out of the crash-happy Rookie series!

ir spipcrash

BONUS BITS!

Did you know that Motorsport UK licence holders get 3 months of iRacing for free? Click the link in the Members Benefits section of your account and they’ll send you a code in an email.

As someone already paying for iRacing, I tried this and the code did not work – I’ve queried this with Motorsport UK to see if it’s for first time members only, or if it will work when my sub runs out…

Also, there is an e-racing championship being organised by Motorsport UK and iZone for all licence holders, with analyses and stuff all free for you! You need to sign up to the league before Monday 25th May (tomorrow!!!) ideally, or you won’t be guaranteed a space. The link in the last mag is wrong, so go here to sign up: www.bit.ly/izone-esports

The Speed Of The Praga

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Reading back through my blog about driving the Praga R1S, it strikes me that I missed some important stuff about the experience!

Part of the blame was that it hadn’t really sunk in, but part was also that the blog was already far too long to be adding more in.  So now, four months after I wrote this, and with zero motorsport happening around the world, I thought it might be a good time to post the blog!

I did a bit of research into the Praga before my drive, watching a few onboard videos and reading/watching reviews for the road version.

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A term that cropped up a few times was that the car is “motorcycle fast” – as in the way it moves is more like the sort of speed you get from riding a superbike than a car.

I’ve ridden sportsbikes almost every day of my life for the past 20 years, so I’m very used to 0-60 in under 3 seconds, 85mph in first gear, and top speeds approaching 200mph. That sort of performance literally gets me to the office (admittedly with a grin, most days), so it takes a lot to phase me. Plus throw in a bit of driving and instructing in supercars…

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The Praga R1 looks like an absolute beast, with wings and diffusers all over the place, and it’s a tiny car so you’re almost wearing it when you slide in through the window. And it’s clearly a very fast car around a race track.

To be honest, though, at no point did I ever find it intimidating. I’m not saying it felt slow (far from it!), but it was very… user friendly.

The cockpit is far more comfortable than you’d ever imagine from a very basic carbon fibre seat – if cradles you well, and there are headrests to help you cope with cornering if 3g’s gets too much for your neck to take. Everything in there is within easy reach, feels pretty natural, and visibility is much better than you’d think – a great testament to the designers.

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There was no speedometer, so I have no clue what speeds I was hitting, but can say that mashing the throttle didn’t elicit fear – in fact my heart rate monitor shows I only got up to 115bpm (in Formula Vee I’ll normally be around 130-140bpm in the wet and 140-160bpm in the dry). I should note here that I was in the normally aspirated R1S with about 260hp – the turbo powered R1T has around 460hp, so I’m sure that would pick up its petticoat and go a fair bit faster!

From the onboard video I’d seen from Donington, I noticed that the braking points were about the same as I’d use in the Vee, so used the same thinking for my Silverstone drive. I’ve got no doubt that the Praga was massively faster than the Vee, but it didn’t really feel it in terms of driving.

I was in 6th gear for a long time down the straight, so was seeing a bit of the top end, although I’m sure I’d be able to get another 20 seconds per lap out of the car with a bit more time to feel things out in the corners.

I mentioned that the mechanical grip in the corners was very good – the Praga feels and drives like a single seater. Very stiff but still compliant, and it just goes instantly wherever you want it to. Obviously it has much better, wider tyres than a Formula Vee, plus about 40 more years of suspension development. It soaks up all the bumps without ever getting skittish, and whilst it’s a bit of a cliché to say it felt like it was on rails, it was – except you could seemingly change the line at will, too.

Which brings me nicely onto the biggest unknown for me: downforce.

I don’t know what speed is needed for the diffuser and stuff to do their thing, so that may well still help in the slower corners, but then once the speed gets up things move from pure mechanical grip into the physics of downforce created by the wings etc.

Whilst I didn’t feel like The Hand Of God was pushing me down into the track, it was very clear that grip had increased – especially through Stowe and Abbey. Going through Farm in a Vee you’re pretty much hanging on and fighting the car drifting to the outside on the exit, but in the Praga it still felt like you could turn in hard and hug the inside curb.

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I’m sure you can dial out any smidgeon of under or oversteer quite easily in the car using set-up, but the impression I got was very neutral and balanced with maybe a slight hint of understeer.

It really is a beautiful car to drive on a track, and if I ever got the budget to race more than Vee, the Praga would be at the top of the list. I think it’s the kind of car that would teach you a huge amount because it just does everything – it’s a bit like a blank canvas inviting you to do what you want with it.

Whilst I’ve always loved ‘tin top’ cars, I’ve had the impression that they’re not as ‘pure’ as single-seaters.

Maybe that’s true for the GT cars, but the prototype-style racers are just a single seater with a roof – and driving the Praga showed me that it’s every bit as pure and exciting as a single seater.

And You get to stay dry.

A small Lottery win or a big promotion at work, and I will be having a serious chat with Vincent Randall again…

**As a bonus – check out the new liveries for whenever things get going again!
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Physical training for an amateur racing driver

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Something we often neglect (especially us oldies) is our physical fitness for racing.

Let’s face it – unless you’re in Formula One or doing the Le Mans 24 Hour race, you can get away with driving a Formula Vee fuelled only by Big Macs and donuts.

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But that’s the danger – you CAN race so long as you can fit into the cockpit, but you won’t be the best that you can be.

If you walk around any amateur racing paddock you will see drivers of all shapes and sizes. Yes, there are some super-fit specimens there, but most of us have lives and stuff going on outside of racing that means we can’t commit to a full training regime and diet. Hell, we even laugh nervously when we chat about about how unfit we are, but we all know we should be putting a lot more into our personal fitness.

Weight is a crucial factor in motor racing, and when you’re racing a 370kg single seater the difference between you being a 68kg active Lightweight boxer and a 100kg post-Christmas lummox will have a huge effect on the performance of your car.

Around the middle of last year I was the heaviest I’ve ever been in my life – slowly creeping up towards the 14 stone (89kg) mark.

This was all my own fault, as the rule is very simple:

James Cater’s Book Of Dieting: Chapter One –

Eat less and exercise more.

The end.

Around July I had a ‘lucky’ break and had a nasty bout of gastroenteritis, which saw me lose almost a stone over a few weeks. I saw this as a golden opportunity to join a gym, make some lifestyle changes, and try and keep it going.

It also helps a massive amount if you have a training partner, and so when The Ryland Centre were offering a free ‘taster session’, my fiance and I went to check the place out and see if we liked it.

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We didn’t want to go down the whole personal trainer route, and decided to just do our own thing – once my fitness is back to a certain standard I might review this, but ideally I’d need a trainer who knows how to deal with a racing driver.

I figured the first step for me was to chip away at core strength and get my aerobic fitness up – so started increasing my pace on the treadmill to a fast jog, and taking advantage of their indoor cycle, rowing machine and cross-trainer.

The Ryland Centre have a good variety of machines, so I can switch it up a bit rather than bore myself on the same machines every time, and also use the weight machines and free weights. I will use these more once I’m happier with my overall levels.

That’s another thing about gyms that can be a struggle – you have to drag yourself there for at least a month or two before you start to really see any results, and maybe even start to enjoy it.

After about 7 weeks of going twice per week, I ambled into the section to do some stretches (I know how important flexibility is from my martial arts training) and was absolutely ecstatic to see a punch/kick bag hanging up!

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This totally reignited my training, as it’s a piece of kit that I’m good with, plus it gives an amazing workout! I challenge anyone to do 60 seconds punching a bag as hard and fast as they can – it will kill you!

So now my routine is to warm up on a few machines, stretch and hit the bag for a few minutes, then back to the machines for a while before round 2 on the bag! I’m monitoring my heart rate as well as recovery time, and toning up very well, so far

I eat pretty well, generally speaking. I eat a lot of home cooked food (believe it or not I’m actually a pretty good cook, and chase perfection with anything I’m doing in the kitchen) but I’m not denying myself the odd takeaway or anything like that. The key is to control your portion size, and if you know you’re going to cheat and eat snacks between meals then you have to have smaller meals to compensate!

I’m here to enjoy life, so don’t agree with total denial for diet, as it never works. I’m also open to trying new food, and will swap in healthier options as and when I find them.

Also, in those spaces between the Winter rebuild, I’m getting myself up into the hills as often as I can! Even just walking can be tough if you chose the hardest route available in your local hills, and a few hours away from the garage does wonders for your wellbeing and mental health!

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In a future blog I may go more into depth with training methods and routines, and even add in a few of the things I eat. This blog is really just the basics, and that doesn’t mean it’s the least important – if you embrace the prinicples here, your diet and training will work, however you specialise and jazz up the finer points.

Have you found anything useful for your training and diet? Let me know in the comments!

Praga R1S drive at Motorsportsdays Live 2019

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After sitting out the 2019 season, I’d pretty much switched off and was looking forward to getting out there again for 2020.

Browsing Facebook I saw that VR Motorsport were going to give out drives to experienced drivers at Motorsportdays Live, and so threw my hat into the ring. A few weeks later I saw a post where the team drew out the winning names, and mine was amongst them!

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First I need to speak about Motorsportdays Live. It’s a brilliant event held in The Wing at Silverstone, with loads of trade displays and offers for racers and people in the motorsport industry, or those thinking about doing trackdays or racing. It was a really good event, and you need to check it out and get down there next year for the third show of it’s kind!

The important bit for me, is that you can book a drive in a car around the International circuit, so you can actually try out a car before you commit to that race series, try a new car on track, take your own car on track, or just experience a drive in something amazing.

For me, that would be in a Praga R1S.

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I watched them racing in the Dutch Supercar series for the first time a few years ago, and loved them immediately. What’s not to love about these ‘superlight’ racers? A full carbon fibre monocoque, huge levels of downforce, less than 600kg and a stonking F3000 engine sat just behind the driver!

I dropped my race kit off and said a few hello’s with the VR Motorsport team, had a little wonder around the displays and paddock, and then before I knew it my 15 minute slot was coming up to get out on track with the LMP/TCR/BTCC/GT4/GT3/Prototype group.

Team boss Vincent Randall and all of the team were very friendly and welcoming as I chatted to them and had a mooch around the beautiful cars. If I’d got on the racing ladder 15 years earlier, something like the Praga would have been exactly what I’d be aiming for rather than going down the F1 route, so I still couldn’t really believe I was there!

Soon I was asked to get my helmet and HANS on, and I climbed in through the tiny window, sliding down into the carbon fibre seat to be faced with a cockpit slightly more modern than your average Formula Vee.

The first thing that struck me was that EVERYTHING is carbon fibre. The ignition, engine start button and a few others were up above the windscreen, along with a tiny switch to work the indicators (I never used it, although we were running trackday rules for overtaking with consent). It was all within easy reach in the tiny cockpit, and although some might feel a bit cramped I thought it was very comfortable in there.

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They clipped the steering wheel on, pointing out the paddle shifts at each side, a ‘neutral’ button for getting the car, err, into neutral, and a few balance adjusters that I had no interest in messing with. I knew there would only be a brake and accelerator pedal, but was surprised to be shown a clutch pedal that was hidden up and back from the these that would only be used to getting moving.

Vincent waved me and the sister car (the Praga R1T turbo with almost twice the horsepower), and I held the engine start button down and flicked the ignition switch, hearing the 2l Renault Sport engine roar into life behind me.

I held the Neutral button and the clutch and pulled the right paddle shift to engage first gear, and got a helpful push start from the team in the pitlane.

Unsurprisingly, the car revs to 7500rpm extremely quickly with the lightest brush of the throttle, so as I drove up the pitlane I found every tiny bump of the track surface was making life tough to hold the revs steady – not a problem as I hit the exit and everything smoothed out with more revs.

I short-shifted up a few gears before brushing the brakes nice and early into Village and almost stopping dead 50 metres before the turn-in point! Of course, you have no choice in these but to brake with your left foot like in a kart, so it’s always in the back of your head not to mash it like the clutch pedal with your big, goofy untrained left foot!

Turning the wheel the car moved more as if reading my mind than the steering input, absolutely rock stable and flat on the full wet tyres despite the damp track. Through The Link it felt unflappable with the direction changes, and I opened it up on the Hangar Straight and watched the digital readout climb with ease.

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Braking a bit lighter and deeper into Stowe the Praga simply ate it up without any drama – probably my first time experiencing the power of downforce from the multitude of wings, planes, splitters huge diffuser. Some heavier braking and back down to 3rd gear for the complex showed the car was equally stable using its mechanical grip at slower speeds.

My biggest fear had been for Abbey. I know how fast I can (and how fast I can’t!) get through there in a Formula Vee, but in the damp, with wet tyres, a lot more speed and downforce I had no idea. I gentle dab of the brakes and again the Praga was on rails, asking to be pushed harder to get the full 3g’s of cornering capability from it.

Over the next few laps I steadily built up speed, amazed at the speed I cold carry into the turns and through it without the car so much as shaking it’s tail, and putting a bit more pressure on those huge brakes as I felt them out to see what their limits were.

I hoofed it through Abbey and finally the tail twitched and it all got sideways, but even then I simply caught it with a touch of opposite lock and the car was back on friendly terms with me, barely even raising my heart rate.

It’s tough to describe the handling, as it’s so good it does everything perfectly, and simply goes wherever you want. There is no drama. You can feel it’s just a brilliantly designed car that works perfectly in the twisty bits. I’d love longer in the car to push closer to those 3g forces…

Unfortunately, I never got to see the chequered flag for the end of the session…

As I came around Stowe one lap chasing some of the other exotic machinery, with a McLaren GT3 behind me, I had pushed the car a bit harder and carried a fair bit more speed through and down to the complex.

I was watching my mirrors as I hit the brakes, and this was the first time I managed to exceed the braking grip, locking up the front tyres.

I’m no stranger to driving cars without ABS, and after a fair bit of practice in the Vee I know to modulate the pedal to get the grip back. Using my right foot.

I think the problem with the Praga was that my left foot just doesn’t have the same kind of ‘feel’ for doing this, and once I’d lost it I couldn’t recover it. In hindsight I should have probably just turned in and tried to make the turn, and the car could well have been capable of it – or at least given me the chance to sort it all out after…

But the car sailed straight on, surfing the gravel at a speed that definitely did get my heart rate up as the solid red and white wall got closer and closer as I uselessly sawed at the wheel to try and get some movement to the right to miss it. Luckily I stopped short.

There is only one real chance at Silverstone to find a gravel trap – and that is on entry to the complex. If this first lock-up had happened anywhere else on the track I’d have been fine, run wide, and carried on my merry way knowing to be a bit more careful.

Sat there, not believing what I’d done, my racers brain kicked in and I went to restart the car – not that there would be much chance of getting out of the gravel without help. To make things worse, the car was absolutely dead. I had no power at all as I tried every combination of the ignition and starter button without getting so much of a flicker.

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The session ended and I was unceremoniously dragged out by a tow truck, with my first question to the marshals – “How much damage is there? Have I ripped the front end off?” – luckily proving to be overly pessimistic as there was no damage from my little excursion.

I insisted on helping to clean the gravel out to help turn the car around for the next session, but sadly the car still didn’t have any power for some reason. I don’t think this was directly from anything I’d done – the thinking was that the problem may have been compounded by a marshal hitting an external reset button, triggering a complicated restart sequence.

Despite the somewhat unfortunate ending to my session, I loved everything about the Praga R1S, and if my budget (or sponsorship) ever allows I would definitely look to drive one. At the very least I’d love to get some more time in the car to experience how amazing they are again.

A massive thank you to Vincent Randall and VR Motorsport for giving me this opportunity to drive one of these awesome cars – it really is a dream come true, and I can’t apologise enough for my mistake.

The team treated me really well, and even after the Praga was towed back in they took it all in their stride and never tried to make me feel any worse about it. I’m looking forward to watching VR Motorsport stick it to the Brabham at Brands Hatch next weekend, where the rules are allowing the Praga to use full power for the first time. **EDIT** VR Motorsport have now decided to run in their Class 1 configuration due to concerns over finishing with the allowed fuel and feel that it’s more respectful to the championship for the final round. Make sure you cheer them on!

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