Prodrift Academy UK – Birmingham

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My race-widowed Fiancee bought me a voucher for some drift training as a Christmas present from Groupon.

I think it cost about £60 for a 3 hour experience, so I thought I’d go along for a bit of fun sliding a car around.

I was expecting a couple of downbeat ‘instructors’ and a slippery car park, much like you’re average skid-pan training facility. I soon discovered that the Prodrift Academy was far from that!

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When my confused sat-nav finally got me to the venue at Birmingham Wheels Raceway not far from the City Centre, I parked up and followed the email instructions to sign on in the, err, signing on hut, where they took a few details and the £8 weekend surcharge. I’d already paid the £15 damage waiver, because £15 is better than the bill for the car you’ve managed to put through the tyre wall upside-down!

From there it was a short walk to the skid-pan, where there was another porta-cabin which sold snacks and drinks, and a horde of instructors were hanging around chatting and watching some live drift championship racing.

I soon realised that this wasn’t some back-street set-up, and their instructors had a wealth of proper drifting experience at high level, and this could be a serious stepping-stone on the way to doing it in a championship.

The staff were all very friendly and upbeat and you could tell they were enjoying it as much as the customers!

We sat down for a briefing and Yo took us through the basics and what we could expect to get from the day, and then names were called out to jump in the cars with an instructor.

I should also note here that the tools of the day were Mazda MX5 NB’s with welded diffs – even better for me as it’s my daily road car!

They break down the art of drifting into a manageable way – the first step was simply to get us used to breaking traction at the rear using the handbrake on corner entry, and then catch it. First you get a demo as the instructor does it and talks, then you swap seats and go for it.

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Setting off I was instantly slewing sideways thanks to the diff and rainy track. How people ever drive them on the roads with a welded diff I will never know!

We only ever kept the car in first gear, but you still had plenty to think about. On queue, I pulled the hydraulic handbrake and the rear started to swing around. I instinctively caught it by counter steering and giving it a bit of throttle – which was wrong! What you have to do is pull the handbrake, then as the rear swings out pull the clutch in and let go of the steering wheel and let the car sort out the first part for you.

After a good few attempts to master that, the next thing was to then get control of the steering and get the power on to maintain the slide around the whole curve.

For this level we were only using one curve, so you had a better chance of mastering the technique without too much to think about. I found it relatively easy, but there was still a lot of polishing off to do. The instructors recognised I had some sort of skills already from my racing, and so were happy to teach to my level rather than as if I was a total novice.

After all, remember this beast of a drift I did during a race at Silverstone?

The rain finally eased off, but left the track wet, which I’m sure made things easier for everyone. I don’t know if they’d normally use a dry track or would wet it anyway to get the cars to move around more?

The final turn in the car was a quick competition, with all of us getting another few runs, but this time we had to drift the rear of the car out to touch a cone on the outside of the turn. Like a true drift event, bonus points were awarded for style, so a lairy angle and bouncing it off the rev limiter rewarded your fun if you weren’t quite up to clipping the cone! (I got 3rd, just in case you were wondering!)

Most people there were total novices and picked up enough to be enjoying themselves out there and I don’t think anyone was disappointed.

Of course, it was fun for me but also business. Any driving skill is good to help with racing, so naturally I was inspired to see the extra training Prodrift Academy offer with one to one training, and essentially training you up to fly free on your own drift career.

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Yo took me out for a quick demo of what the next stage would teach me, using left foot braking to change lines and how to transition the car through corners. I will, of course, be having a crack at some more in-depth training where he said they could tailor the skills more to something I could use on track to improve my lap times and car confidence.

Overall I thoroughly enjoyed the day – It’s a great present to get someone that’s fun and a little different, and they have a brilliant team there to help you enjoy it.

I’ll look forward to going back there soon!

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Season prep update & 2018 compilation video

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This weekend the Formula Vee circus descended on Brands Hatch to open the 2019 race season.

But you may have noticed that I wasn’t there…

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Some of you will already know that Glenn’s brother Malcolm sadly passed away in February, leaving Glenn with a lot of slack to pick up for his business.

With his other brother also being in poor health, it means that he simply doesn’t have the time to do anything with the race car.

Add in a dose of other ‘life stuff’ getting in the way, we’ve had a discussion and decided to put all race plans on hold, for now.

I am still registered for the season, and you can bet that when the window of opportunity opens we’ll be diving through it with the same fire as always, and giving it everything!

I will still continue to give updates on here and on the Facebook pages, so please ‘like’ them to see what’s going on!

Until then, I did knock up a video with the main action from my 2018 season, so I hope you enjoy that. I do have another more technical video to post on the RTV blog where Gelnn talks through the engine problems that cut our season short last year, so look out for that, too!

Oh yes, and my top picks for the title this year?

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James Harridge – He’s finally took the plunge and got a GAC engine, so with the reliability issues sorted and more power, his driving skills could make him a proper weapon this year! (note: shocking story here that stopped him racing at Brands – but I’m not going into that here…)

Craig Pollard – Still fired up after winning the title last year he should be full of confidence to repeat it in 2019.

Ian Jordan – He’s probably done more Vee races than the rest of the grid together (ok, that might be a slight exaggeration), and he’s always well up the front in the mix. I’d expect a few wins (note: updating this after the weekend to say that he won the opening round!)

Graham Gant – Proven to be very fast in what could be the best Vee on the grid. I’ve had him in my top picks for the last few years but he hasn’t done a full season – if he does in 2019 then he’s a major threat. He doesn’t seem to like the rain much, though… (note: yep – and he won the second race at Brands this weekend!)

Daniel Hands – He was strong before in Vee and hasn’t lost anything! He’ll be out to take it.

One to watch:

Christian Goller – he must have had horrendous luck, as he always seems to start from way behind me, and then just comes flying past during the race. If he qualifies well his true pace should surprise a few.

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Bowen Therapy – Injury Recovery

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An unfortunate (and thrillingly unique – but that’s another blog…) part of being a racing driver is that you’re going to be involved in a crash.

Thankfully, Motorsport UK are continually doing a great job to make sure we all walk away from accidents without too much physical damage.

But there’s always a chance you’re going to pick up an injury – or, like me, you’ll pick up an injury away from the track which affects your racing. Then what do you do?

After my motorcycle accident in June, I underwent a course of physiotherapy, which got things moving again but left me with near-constant pain and a body that just didn’t feel right.

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One of my managers at work told me about Bowen Therapy, which had helped her after a nasty road accident. I figured anything was worth a go, and so booked up a session with a local therapist.

I deliberately looked into what was going to happen to me as little as possible, so that I wouldn’t have any expectations. I’m also a firm believer that even a placebo effect gets the job done, so all I had to lose was the £45 per session it would cost, for a minimum of two sessions.

My main problem is lower back pain which is made worse when sitting in a chair or standing up. Somewhat ironically, I’m only really pain-free when strapped into my race seat in the Formula Vee! I also have a lot of upper back issues and my neck got ripped up pretty badly by the whiplash of getting hit in the side by a two tonne car and then slapping off the tarmac. My broken rib healed, but ribcage on that side felt twisted, my whole body was generally weak, and I’d hurt my wrist a bit.

This means my fitness program ended right there, as did the karting I was doing between races.

I survived the rest of the season with deteriorating fitness whilst unable to train, and clearly can’t have been driving my best.

I turned up at my first Bowen Technique session with Julia Foster, having filled in a brief questionnaire on my injuries, and chatted to the friendly therapist to give her some idea of how to treat my plethora of injuries.

I was told that rather than focus on my lower back as my traditional physiotherapy had, she would treat and balance my whole body, as the source of my pain may actually be elsewhere in my body. This made sense to me, but I was determined to keep a healthy dose of cynicism and just see what happened.

Laying on a massage table is where it all gets a bit tricky to explain. The moves where almost like a massage at times, but more of the gentle pinching motions. Then there was some pushing of areas of my body, a bit of prodding and poking, some laying on of hands, and stuff I have no idea about.

It’s not quite massage, not quite acupressure, not quite pressure point meridians and not quite fingertip massage. Overall, it’s a very gentle and relaxing experience with some brief, mild pain, and many more ticklish moments where I was trying not to giggle and flail about!

I was told to drink lots of water over the next few days, and booked in another session about a week later. And to work a little on my posture by doing things like not standing with my wight on one leg.

I wasn’t disappointed as I left the session, as I did feel generally better, but it wasn’t some mindblowing jump back to health – although I had been told it may take a few days to take full effect.

I thought I’d be needing some full-on chiropractitioner crack-and-snap treatment to get my bones back into alignment, but after the first Bowen session the difference was fantastic – especially given that the touching was so light!

Sitting at my desk the following morning I was surprised to find the pain almost gone, although this had been masking another nerve-type pain in the same area of my lower back. Either way it had definitely reduced my pain and increased the time I was able to sit for.

I have also been doing a pilates class for the first time ever, to help get things moving. This had also shown up several issues such as not being able to lay flat on my back because my ribs felt twisted. At my next pilates class I found this was greatly reduced, and this improved my performance overall.

Going back to the second Bowen session, I was completely honest about all this with the therapist, and we got down to more of the same. She did comment that my alignment did look much better, and I had been paying attention to her advice on posture etc.

After another hour on the table we spoke for a while about what else she had found, and I booked up a third session.

I now found that the nerve pain in my lower back had gone, too – but the next layer of pain was slightly higher up in my back, plus something going on with the back of my ribcage.

I noticed I was performing much better and stronger at my pilates class, but this was followed by a couple of days of the new back pain at pretty nasty levels. Again, it seemed to be caused by sitting and standing.

Speaking to Julie before my third session, we reviewed all of my progress, and then it was more of the relaxing work.

Right from the start it did always surprise me how she could go straight to the problem area – not finding her way by my reaction to the touches as most would do. I gave very few clues as she worked, just relaxing myself and letting her do her thing.

Whilst I do understand a bit about energy within and around our bodies, I’m also a cynic of it all. Whilst this can make me a tough customer, I try not to let that colour my thoughts on the end results – and without a doubt the Bowen technique has helped me a lot.

I’m not completely cured just from this, but it’s given me enough of a stable base that I will be able to ease back into some heavier training. I’m sure a lot of my remaining pain is due to the weakness of my muscles over the months I’ve been affected. That and the fact I’m getting older and don’t bounce so well!

Would I recommend Bowen therapy to anyone else? Absolutely!

There’s definitely something there that makes sense and works. It’s quite likely that I’ll go back for a ‘top up’ at some point, and if I do get banged around in any racing incidents I’d also expect that Bowen could do something to help me.

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Getting Back On It For 2019: How to get fit

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I lost half a stone in the month after my motorcycle crash last June.

Unfortunately, my injuries (especially my back) then meant I couldn’t really do anything training-wise, and when I went to a medical appointment in December I found I’d gained a stone since then!

More importantly, my fitness was screwed.

I’ve been doing Pilates (and another therapy I’ll do a blog on) to keep things moving, but I can’t class it as ‘real’ exercise – that is, it’s not exactly the intensity I’m used to! Don’t get me wrong, it’s great and has helped me a lot, but you’re never going to hear an interview where a boxer has used it to train up for his next fight…

So what to do, now I feel I can start to push things again?

I very nearly joined a “Couch to 5k” course. 9 weekly sessions to get you from nothing to being able to run for 5km. I love the idea, and know that running is the ultimate exercise – but I don’t actually LIKE running. So that came and went, along with all the Park Run events that you could follow it up with… not for me!

Should I join a gym?

It’s great if you can motivate yourself to go, but I know after 3 months I’m going to be bored with it and make excuses. Plus it costs far too much for my budget! I’m still open to it, and may pay for the odd single session – I actually will run on a treadmill, weirdly. Not that I run weirdly – I mean, for some reason I don’t mind doing that.

It’s a fact that if you’re doing something, it’s better than doing nothing. So, short sharp bites to wake things up again.

Years ago I used some Billy Blanks workout videos. He does Tae Bo – like kickboxing but more focused on your aerobic fitness. Or like less poncy aerobics, if you prefer.

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On YouTube, he even has some “10 minute” fitness vids. You’d think this would be a nice, mild workout to fit into your day, and you’d be half right. Give one a go and you’ll soon see that they’re anything but mild, though!

How hard is it to get yourself up off the couch for 10 minutes? So I have an alarm set and I’ll be doing this on a regular basis.

There are actually a load of 10 minute workout vids on YouTube – so there’s enough variation there not to get bored. And remember it’s all free!

Sure, if you want something even easier then drop and do 20 push-ups, 40 squats, 40 seated leg raises but you will get bored of that quickly. And Billy Blanks is actually quite entertaining!

And speaking of entertaining, Karting has to be the most fun training – and it is very hard work. OK, so it costs a bit, but there are usually offers around the ease the pain…

The best thing is you’ll be using the actual muscles you use for racing, so will strengthen all the right bits, and it is an awesome workout for your heart and breathing.

After finally going for it, I’ve also found out that the one part of my back that it doesn’t make ache is the damaged bit, so I’ll definitely be doing more of that!

I feel a bit like I’ve been beaten up and was starting to make some very strange noises around the hairpin turns towards the end of the second session, but it’s good pain! I also set a personal best lap at Teamworks Halesowen, so there’s still life in this old dog, yet! And more motivation to knock off the few hundredths of a second that will drop me into the 22 secs… And of course it keeps that competitive edge nice and sharp!

There will be some sim work before I race again, and I’ll cover that in another blog.

What are you doing to keep you race fit? Any interesting revelations that you’d recommend?

2018 Season Review

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My 2018 racing season in the Heritage Parts Centre UK Formula Vee championship certainly had some ups and downs.

From blowing the engine on my out lap at Castle Combe in qualifying, being involved in someone elses crash at Brands Hatch, overcoming engine problems to prove I can still drive at Croft, flying to Ireland with broken ribs and concussion (after a motorcycle accident) to challenge for a class win at Mondello Park, and then random problems which ultimately led to me not racing in the last round of the season and being left with two scrap engines.

It was a definite uphill struggle all year long, but sometimes I managed to see over that crest. Sometimes I got to taste that joy of both victory and the unbelievable exhilaration that only comes with motor racing.

I could focus on my engine problems and pure bad luck and frustration – or I can remember going for the class win at Mondello Park, wheel to wheel with Bill ‘Wom’ Garner in a titanic scrap on the final lap! Or the way I overcame serious power loss at Croft to lead B Class Championship winner Andrew Cooper in the opening laps and still hang onto him despite it being a very fast power circuit.

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However frustrating things were, I’m still doing the thing I only ever daydreamed about as a kid, and to me, dropping back through the field at Silverstone with the engine dying but still fighting hard to stay ahead of the pack – that’s the sort of victory many will never be able to understand.

Despite missing 6 races and not finishing 1 – so half of the scheduled 14 – I somehow ended up 6th in class and 22nd overall. And more important than any stat is that I know that I have clearly improved and I’m a much faster and consistent driver and loving every second on and off the track!

If you were wondering where I was for Snetterton, basically the oil leak that stopped me doing the last race at Donington turned out to be an insert for an engine stud that had come out. As this meant we couldn’t use that engine case, we swapped all the internals into a spare case, only to find that case needs to be line bored as the main bearing was warped, and the barrels couldn’t be shimmed up evenly as that surface has warped, too. So whilst we have two scrap engines at present, we should be able to recover at least one.

For 2019 I’ll be hitting the season at full blast after a few improvements to the car, and fully intend to win my class, as well as stick it in the overall top 10 on a regular basis as I push myself even harder.

It’s a roller-coaster of a ride, but what’s better than throwing both hands high in the air and yelling “faster!”?

Thanks for all of your support this year, and for reading my (sometimes very long) ramblings!

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Special thanks:

Primrose Hospice for their amazing service, and allowing me to proudly carry their logo on my car and help their promotion.

Glenn Hay for heading up Racing Team Vee and for the use of the car.

My beautiful fiancé Julie for putting up with my sacrifices to go racing and my total obsession with it.

The Bromsgrove Standard and Craig Gibbons for publishing my race reports.

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Changing the Class B Regulations – Formula Vee

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Essentially the only differences between a UK Class A Formula Vee and a Class B car are that Class B cars:

  • Must use steel dampers
  • Can only use dampers with one adjustment (ie combined bound & rebound)
  • Must have the dampers attached to the lower trailing arm and the beam or chassis (so they’re on the outside of the car bodywork)
  • Can only use a maximum of 2 coil spring/dampers for the rear.

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So the theoretical advantages are the suspension components are cheaper to buy and simpler to use, and will likely be heavier than those allowed for Class A cars….

And, umm, that’s about it.

It means that whilst the dampers are much older technology, it’s arguable that using more modern stuff (within Class A rules) will make the car any quicker at all, let alone be a big difference. Overall car/driver weight is the same for both classes, so you can just offset the damper weight by using a lithium battery or eating two less burger at the Vee Centre Annual BBQ!

As clear and definitive proof of this, James Harridge has won races outright in his Class B Maverick – in fact he’s only in Class B to make the point that there is no difference. I believe Ian Jordan could also run in Class B and whilst winning races overall, but chooses not to.

I’m proud to be in Class B, and take the championship seriously, but even I have to admit there is no real difference, so it’s pretty pointless.

So what is the point of a Class B?

To be cheaper? To allow cars of a different specification to race? To reward newer/slower/less ‘financially gifted’ drivers?

At the moment, it’s none of these things – which is a shame because it could really be used to do so much more! For drivers and for the championship overall. Anything that gets more cars out on the grid is a good thing, right?

Now at this point I have to state that I don’t think Class A regs should change. Class A should be the hardcore, tune everything until it breaks class – and ALL cars from any class should still be Class A by default.

Here are my proposals for what Class B should be:

Irish Style:

Class B is for new drivers. It gives them a chance to win a trophy whilst still learning their skills. If you finish in the top 3 in B Class, you’re automatically shifted up to Class A from the next season, so it keeps fresh blood in B.

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Vee Centre Style:

Class B points are only awarded to anyone finishing outside the top 10. This makes it all a bit more fun, and also means that when you do progress into the overall top 10, you stop scoring any B Class points. So effectively your reward for outgrowing Class B is that you’re already finishing in the overall top 10.

Those are the quick and easy options that will cost nothing for anyone. Then we get into the more meaty options:

1600cc aircooled VW engines:

Again, this is basically adopting the Irish series regs for Class B. Because all the Class A people will already be frothing with outrage, it’s probably a good idea to have controls on these cars, again much like the Irish series, so that overall they’re not as fast as the Class A cars.

The Irish cars, as we’ve seen when we’re combined on track, are pretty evenly matched and yet have different strengths and weaknesses. They run on smaller wheels, different tyres and have a control camshaft, which (in theory) keep the cars very even.

Our Class A cars definitely have the legs in them in top speed, but they have more grunt – this means a Class B car could win overall, on the right track.

The biggest advantage is that the controls keep the cars reliable to the point that you can stick an engine in for a season or two and not touch it – something our current 1300’s couldn’t even dream of. As engine costs are huge in our series, this could mean a massive saving, and that new people with no mechanical skills would have a much better chance in the championship.

As a bonus, if we did adopt the full Irish Vee regs, it would mean all of their cars would now be eligible to race with our series as Class B cars, and we could also go racing with them in Ireland.

When I’ve raised this with drivers I’ve found massive backlash – but why? Just carry on with your Class A cars and regs! You don’t NEED to change anything!

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Watercooled Polo engines:

Another suggestion is switching in a totally different engine, such as the watercooled Polo. This would mean much cheaper, much more reliable, and more powerful engines with greatly reduced costs.

The downsides are that they would be outright winners unless you hamstrung everyone, and could mean massive changes to chassis to get them to fit. And is it losing the whole spirit of Formula Vee, even with a VW engine?

Claiming Rules:

Anyone can buy anyone elses engine for a set fee.

This would mean there would be no point spending thousands on your engine, because after every race everyone else has the option of buying your engine, and you have to sell it for that set price.

Very controversial, and no doubt comes with a whole heap of problems, but a great way to stop costs spiralling…

Other Restrictions:

These should make the formula cheaper and more accessible, and preferably raise reliability. Obviously, targeting engine costs and reliability are the best targets here.

Cheap and easy options are:

  • Add a rev limiter
  • Raise minimum weight
  • Control camshaft

***EDIT***
Oh, and I missed a couple of things out!

Age of Car – we could do a lot more to get the hoards of old Vee’s out of sheds and back on track! Maybe having Class B as cars over 15 years old would knock out the newer and more expensive to buy cars in one fell swoop, and encourage owners of all the 90’s cars to get rebuilding? Maybe even Class C for the proper vintage Vee’s – I know Glenn Hay has a 60s Beech (or is it Beach?) that could see the light of day again if we had anything to race it in, and the 70s Scarab Mk I.

This also has the plus-side that it really shouldn’t affect the front-running A’s, as it’s doubtful any 60s spec cars would be able to win races outright. I should note that it wouldn’t be entirely my choice, as drivers like Ben Miloudi have proved it is still possible to win races in a 20 year old car that’s well prepared – so to me a “15 year or older” Class B still isn’t enough of a difference – although it would make it easier to enter B as in theory all cars would be cheaper to buy than modern machinery.

I should have also mentioned that the older Class B regs from around 2008(?) had Class B cars using points ignition. It was an attempt to distinguish the classes, but in reality just meant to be in Class B you had to put up with severe unreliability and a multitude of problems – so I’m definitely not suggesting we go back to that!

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Donington Park 2018– My View

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After coming away from Silverstone with more piston problems, we were left with a few hard decisions for the rest of the season:

  • Quit and prep the car ready for 2019
  • Put a new piston and barrel set on, and risk the exact same thing happening (or worse), or
  • Totally strip the engine down, rebuild with part run-in pistons (as we had no testing time we couldn’t use a new set), and risk running out of time!

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We’re not quitters, but we’re not stupid, either, so went for the latter option with some long hours for me and even longer for Glenn!

We made it, driving down on the morning for the one-day event, and the sun was even shining enough for me to make use for my customary sun cream.

Qualifying

I still had to be a bit gentle for a few laps to run the engine in, and with the maximum of 32 on the grid (with several reserves also waiting in the wings) that was always going to be a bit risky.

For Silverstone I’d made a change to the front anti-roll bar that shouldn’t have worked at all, but weirdly it had, so I left it. Even weirder, now it chose to do what I’d expected it to do, meaning I had some horrible understeer going on! At Old Hairpin and Coppice especially I was having to really wrestle the front end in – easily fixable, and the balance of the rest of the car was great, so I was still happy.

Unfortunately the number of cars on track led to inevitable yellow flags out for cars that had gone off. This meant the only flying lap I managed to get in was red flagged into the chicane, leaving me in a disappointing 21st and 17th for the races.

As most other had the same issue, this would mean a fair few of us were out of place, so I had some work to do in the races to get back up there!

More worryingly, we had been leaking a bit of oil, which we didn’t need at all.

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Race 1

I got off the line fairly well, but then got boxed in behind Vaughn Jones. I’d still made up a few rows and could see Bill ‘Wom’ Garner and Andrew Cooper just ahead, so we had the first 4 Class B cars that close into the first corner, and changing positions all through Old Hairpin and up the hill.

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Alex Jones went to the outside of Vaughn around McLeans, and I had a good enough run to outbrake both of them, sailing through on the inside and setting my sights on the orange car of Sam Engineer ahead.

As we hit the brakes for the chicane I could see all sorts of nonsense kicking off ahead.

Colin Gregory had spun and was stationary sideways across the track, and Rik Lanyi spun in avoidance, also ending up sideays just as I was turning into the first part.

With no clear route through I scrubbed as much speed as I could before abandoning it altogether and flicking my car to the left, away from the carnage but over the gravel trap and raise ‘sausage’ curb.

After getting a bit airborne I landed facing the right way on the start straight, t back on the power – miraculously, everyone else made survived the spins without any contact, and so everyone continued!

It had shuffled the field a little, and now the orange car ahead was Ed Lowndes, with Sam behind me.

I pulled the same move as the previous lap on Ed, my front right locking slightly but still sticking the car up the inside on the brakes. I held him behind me for the next lap as I tried to get on the back of Wom, but then Ed got a great slipstream to get ahead through the chicane, and Sam followed him through on the next straight.

I now had the two Bears cars of Alex and Richard Waddingham looming in my mirrors so figured I may as well just go for the orange cars instead of worrying about defending.

Sam pushed Ed hard into Redgate, but I knew they’d both left their braking too late and let Sam slide from the inside line, cutting Ed off, and then I cut back on the normal line and was alongside Sam at the top of the hill. Not seeing me, he moved right for the kink, putting me on the grass and forcing me to brake (something he did apologise for afterwards).

I didn’t let it phase me, and got a much better run through Old Hairpin to overtake Sam up the hill, then driving hard to pull out 2 seconds by the next lap, chasing down Wom who was also getting a move on in the distance.

I’d also noticed the infamous black and white flag with the number 18 next to it – I’d been exceeding track limits, so also knew I had to tidy things up and stay well away from the green bits on the other side of the curbs. I knew I’d been taking a few liberties and cutting corners to the maximum, but wasn’t entirely sure if I was being warned for that or my excursion through the gravel trap at chicane.

Suddenly a red car appeared ahead – I could see that Tim Probert had a few bits of his car flapping around that shouldn’t be, so assumed he’d gone off or tangled with someone (I could see after he had a huge ding to his trailing arm). And like a shark I tasted blood in the water!

I hung onto the tail of him for a few laps, almost sticking my McLeans overtake on him before he finally seemed to gather himself together a bit and start to edge away.

By this time I was well clear of anyone behind, so it came as a bit of a surprise when I saw the white Sheane of Colin Gregory closing in. I took Old Hairpin pretty well, thinking I may be able to hold him behind me even though his (ex-Adam MaCaulay) is faster overall, but he flew past me up the hill doing about 20mph faster!

It was crazy! I just threw a hand up and had to watch him disappear – although he almost overcooked it into McLeans! I miss my old scraps with Colin, but will have to find a good bit more to get back on level pegging with him, as he’s on it this year!

And then I saw the chequers, bringing it home 14th overall and 3rd in class behind Wom and Cooper.

The scrutineers pulled me and a few others in to check the chassis was all matching their spec drawings, which was new to me, but again my worries were more with the excess oil from the filler cap. This was likely related to being held for a long time yet again on the grid – occasionally everyone seems to forget that you can’t do that with aircooled cars!

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Race 2

I was confident I could knock at least a second off my lap times, and this time I was starting ahead of Cooper and a few rows back from Wom.

As I chatted to my sister Michelle in the holding area, her boyfriend Mark Russell, who was helping out, noticed a pool of oil in the right side air scoop.

I flipped my mirror to have a look and knew it was over. Glenn had a quick look but there was nothing he could really do with that much time – a push rod tube had sprung a huge leak. I told Michelle to let one of the marshals with a radio know that one of the reserves could jump in to race, and we pushed the car back to the trailer.

I wasn’t even too angry about it (yeah I might have given the steering wheel a quick jab before I got out, but that doesn’t count!) – I think this year we’ve hit such bad luck it really didn’t surprise me!

As it happened the rest of the Vee’s only got a few laps in before a red flag – then with some car mistakingly following a retiring car into the pit lane rather than stopping on the grid for the restart, the race was cancelled. I bitterly thought that the car would have probably lasted long enough for me to finish!

In hindsight we should have just binned the old pushrod tubes and stuck a new set on with the rebuild (they’re fairly cheap), but it’s not something we’ve had before so didn’t know.

Don podium

It’s yet another blow to my championship, but we’re still hanging around in 4th place going into the last round of the year. We debated bothering to go to Snetterton, but other than a 15 minute fix the car is ready, and I still need to see if my improved driving is enough to fight it out with Cooper – even though he is out of reach for the B Class win.

I have a feeling Wom will be a bit handy around Snetterton after many kart laps but then me and Jamie Harrison have scrapped it out there, too, albeit in the 300 track and not the 200. Vaughn Jones has shown very good improvement through this year and so he’ll be in with a chance of tying up a championship podium, too. And will James Harridge return for the last race?

It’s set to be a good one just for the Class B battle, but you can guarantee I’ll also be scrapping it out wheel to wheel with Sam, Ed, Rik and any of a host of others!

And that’s just around me – no doubt there will be more awesome 5 way battles through the whole field, and what’s been an amazing Formula Vee season that’s been turning a lot of heads in the motorsport world.

Come along and see the best UK single seater race series – and don’t forget to drop by and say hi at Snetterton on October 13th.

SJN 2

Silverstone 2018 – My View

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With my rib on it’s way to healing, you can imagine my joy when lower back pain from my motorcycle accident took over! Thankfully, the reclined race seat position actually made it the most comfortable I’ve been since the accident, rather than putting me in pain again.

Having fixed all the gear selection issues after Mondello, and having straightened the trailing arm, I went out to qualify with the car feeling good, just stiffening the dampers slightly on the dry track.

Before entering the holding area, we were subject to a sound check. This is normal, but they kept us waiting for about 10 or 15 minutes with engines running – this is A Very Bad Thing for air cooled cars and it seems to be impossible to get the message across to the marshals that they can’t do this with Vee’s! The two cars ahead of me were cooking and smoking, and I was restlessly checking my mirrors for any signs that I was overheating. This could well have a bearing on what happened next…

Qualifying

I built speed steadily and was feeling very relaxed and in control – the Sheane was taking everything in it’s stride and I was giving a slight lift into Abbey and building up to taking it flat.

Coming down the Hangar Straight, the engine note changed and all the power disappeared just before I lifted off to get o the brakes. I switched off instantly, cursing as I let the car coast all the way back around and into the pit garages.

Fearing a bearing failure and seized engine, a compression test showed the front right cylinder had no pressure at all, and all the rest were down about 50 on what they should be…

With just two hours to go before the race, Glenn Hay did his thing to replace the piston and barrel, hoping that would at least get us back out there. Unfortunately we ran out of time, but were confident that we’d be on the grid for the second race the next morning.

The curse of Silverstone strikes yet again!

By way of consolation, I learnt I’d been running 14th for most of the session, and only dropped to 18th in the final laps, so I knew I was up to speed with the rest of the grid.

Race 1

Staring at my empty grid spot from the top of The Wing, at least I knew I could look forward to watching some great racing. Sam Engineer was the stand-out driver, as he was right on the pace and challenging Andrew Cooper!

I figured if he could do it, I could get into that little scrap myself, and with James Harridge not racing that could still mean a class B win if I could take Cooper!

That was my target set for the next day…

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Race 2

Overnight rain had left the track greasy. Just after I arrived at the circuit, marshals started shouting for us to get ready, as they wanted to send us out an hour early.

I pointed out that a few drivers hadn’t actually arrived yet, and the decision seemed to change to wait until after the church break. I’m too nice, sometimes!

There was a dry line on the warm-up lap, and I made sure to work my tyres hard. Rooting for rain, I’d softened the front anti-roll bar. It should have been taking a gamble if it stayed dry – as it turned out it did stay dry, but the car coped just as well with my compromised settings.

When the red lights came on I was completely focused on them. My whole world was just waiting for those lights to go out.

They did, and I passed six cars into the first turn with probably my best start ever!

John Hughes and Alex Jones snuck past, and Sam Engineer spun ahead, separating the pack as we took avoiding action. I was right on Coopers tail, exactly where I wanted to be, and poised to go for that class win.

I could tell I was a little down on power (we hadn’t done anything about the other cylinders), but I was driving well enough to keep me in touch in the twisty bits, so thought I could still make a move.

As I skittered through The Link onto Hangar Straight for the second time I knew I was in trouble. As I changed up to 4th gear Cooper shot away, and Jamie Harrison simply drove past me.

I saw a cloud of oil smoke in my mirrors as changed back to 3rd, but it hadn’t been the same power loss as in qualifying, so I decided to stay out and see if anything got worse. I didn’t seem to be losing much oil, but Mark Egan had also gone through as I concentrated on whether my engine was about to grenade itself or not.

I locked up the front tyres into the complex as I tried to claw them back in, and was right on Egan’s exhaust until we got back on the power, when he just started edging away and then I caught him up again carrying more speed through Abbey and hanging onto the back of him, Jamie and Cooper as we hit Hanger straight for the third time.

That was then the engine really went off a cliff, and I lost at least 2 seconds on them and Ed Lowndes caught, passed and gapped me, and Colin Gregory who wasn’t even in my mirrors tried to dive up the inside!

I held firm around the outside, sort of good to have last years sparring partner back wheel to wheel, but he still got ahead by half a length before we had to brake for the complex.

I stayed with them again until Hangar, and then had to admit it was futile.

My mirrors were clear (although I knew that wouldn’t last) so I decided to short-shift up to try and save the engine, and limp it through to the finish to pick up whatever points I could. Maybe my speed through the corners could keep me ahead? I knew I should be at least 2 secs a lap quicker if I could improve Stowe, so could have fun trying!

It took a good few more laps for Dave Leniewski to catch me, but then he shot past on Hangar straight in a battle with Richard Waddingham. Again I could stay with them on every other part of the track apart from anything using 4th gear – so I carried on pushing on the bendy stuff in the hope they’d tangle themselves up and I could nip by…

That didn’t happen, and my prayers for a red flag somewhere went unanswered as well, with a horde of white cars growing ever closer in my mirrors, led by Vaughn Jones.

I noticed the smoke increasing as well, now every time I got back on the throttle, and by the last lap I was leaving a trail of smoke all the way around – I still had full oil pressure and hadn’t seen any flags for me, so figured it was just cooking off on the engine.

I crossed the line just holding 18th place overall, and 4th in class, and I don’t think the car had another lap left in it! I switched off well before the end of the lap and coasted into the pit lane.

So a bit of a disaster, but I guess I saved what I could. It’s a shame I couldn’t show what I could do, as I felt I was driving the best I ever have, and the car was handling great.

As I write this we’ve been through all the emotions, from ending our season to mad scientist style planning to keep things going.

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We found the same piston had picked up again, and huge chunks of piston had crumbled away, and at least one more piston and barrel were scrap – but really all of them are done for. A section had also snapped off another piston ring.

After a very long discussion, we decided that if we just put new pistons and barrels on the same could happen again, and in addition we knew bits could well be clattering around inside the engine. Is it worth risking another set for something that could just happen again in qualifying? No.

So the only real option was for us to get the engine out, strip and clean everything, and then hope we have time to get it all done and back in for Donington Park on 2nd September. But then that means if we use new parts we have no chance at all of testing to run them in, and again risk expensive failure.

That meant hunting around to try and scavenge some pistons, and now we’re just in the parts bath and rebuilding race. Then there are problems with the VW Camper, an injector leak on the Freelander, and whatever else the world is throwing at us this week to stop us getting the car on track!

It’ll go right down to the wire, but Glenn says we can do it, so we’ll be there!

We’ve got 2 rounds left for our luck to change, and we’re going to do our best to force that to happen! See you at Donington…

SJN Photo 2

Irish Vee Festival – my view

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Topgear ieThe format called for three heat races, with every car racing in two heats. Then a ‘Last Chance’ race before the fastest car gridded up for the Grand Final, which would decide if the UK or Irish cars were fastest from almost 50 total entries.

Festival Heat Race 1

There is a bit of a fear amongst the UK Vee racers that some of the Irish are more willing to ‘make contact’ on track. Having taken careful note of their steel wheels my plan before dropping the visor was to play it safe – as soon as my world turns blue irridium, it’s a different story, though!

Starting from a random tenth place, I made up four places before the first corner, and then to my dismay couldn’t get second gear again! I’d tested it on the short slow run to the holding area, but I guess race speeds changed things…

The UK cars definitely had the legs on the 1600cc Irish, but their cars pulled much better out of the corners. This made things very interesting, but without being able to get off the corners at all I was just a sitting duck as they all dived up the inside as I swung wide to keep the speed up.

I dropped steadily back down the order (picking up a few places as Stephen Morrin had a spin with another car getting caught up) until Bill Garner put in his inevitable appearance as we got a three car scrap on the go with Nicholas Mulhall.

With Bill getting bulked behind Mulhall on the start straight, I passed them both into the first turn, but then my tighter line meant the car wouldn’t pick up off cam. They both came past me as I hung onto the back of them.

Bill was in front going into the Esses but Mulhall went for the inside of the right hander, over the curbs in a move that was never going to be on, and tangled wheels with Bill.

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Bill’s car was catapulted up into the air, going almost totally engine over nose and actually having all four wheels off the track in that position momentarily. Somehow he slammed back down the right way up and I was left avoiding them both as Mulhall carried on.

I chased on, both of us putting a wheel off the track and almost heading into the pit wall, and then we weirdly took the chequered flag on the next lap as if we’d won!

With neither of us sure what had happened, we had a very awkward lap where I was sneakily trying to edge closer to Mulhall to take the place, and him realising exactly what I was doing and flooring it away until we got back around to take a definite flag!

That left me in 17th place of 22 runners, but I was really reaching the point of exhaustion by now. I guess not breathing properly was taking its toll…

Festival Heat Race 3

Starting from 16th in this one would make it all much tougher.

The first lap was all a bit rowdy, so I made sure I had space and found I had gears again but the positioning of the lever is very tricky to set up, and wasn’t quite at the sweet spot.

I got caught out behind a car that seemed to be blowing his engine, and hung out a little around Bridgestone, but was still in the mix.

Coming around the first turn I could see dust being kicked up, and then cars were sliding everywhere coming off the left flick onto the straight. The car to my left locked up and got dangerously close (I couldn’t see the huge oil slick at that point), but I had a much bigger concern.

Ahead were cars at all angles, sticking out of a Beano comic-style dust cloud that was across the track and grass from barrier to barrier.

I couldn’t slam my brakes on as I’d have been clattered from behind by everyone, and so stuck my right wheels off the track with left ones on it, guessing what might be a clear line through.

The dust was so thick I couldn’t even see my steering wheel, and then sudden;y there were stationary cars sat both sides of me but I’d made it through!

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Fully expecting a red flag, or at least for the survivors around me to be a little more careful after making it through, I two corners away from the carnage, turning into the Esses, when a car slammed into the side of me.

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Spun onto the grass, I wasn’t happy, keeping the car going and then weaving to make sure I had all my wheels on and nothing was going to fall off. I was dead last.

I came around to the scene of the carnage to see the dust cloud gone and red flags out, but what looked like a bunch of new cars involved. I couldn’t really work out what was going on, but one driver was out of his car and aiding another who was still in his broken wreck in the middle of the track.

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I believe that no red flags were out as the field came around again, and not even an oil flag. The cars that had missed the accident hit the oil full speed and went off, hitting a few of the already stricken cars… Luckily no people were seriously hurt, but a good few cars were….

I’d been hit by Jack Byrne – who at least did come and apologise after. As he said he just lost the front and it wasn’t some mad dive I put it down to a ‘racing incident’ and let it go. But look at where he hit me!

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Could he have aimed for my ribs any better if he’d tried?!? Luckily the impact hadn’t rattled my rib cage and the trailing arm and my air duct had taken the full brunt rather than me.

And though I could have made the restart, the Last Chance, and the Grand Final, I chose to call it a day there. I’d survived without any more damage to my ribs and had pushed my body as far as I could.

It was a shame to have to cut the day early the discomfort was now overriding the fun for me, and I felt I’d more likely be a liability out there than taking the fight to the Irish.

Overall, it was a brilliant weekend at a a great little track that’s far more challenging than it looks. It was awesome meeting some of the Irish legends and the racers I’ve been reading about since before I started racing myself.

I’ll give the race winners and full accolades in my shorter race report on www.racingteamvee.com soon.

I hope I get to race there again some day, and it would be even better if I wasn’t chewing painkillers every few hours to try and get through it!

Massive thanks to all the Irish for having us, and to 750 Motor Club for giving us the opportunity.

Now I just have to get fit ready for Silverstone in August.

Thanks for reading!

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Mondello Park Race 2 – my view

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I was confident going into the second race, pretty sure I had more speed in me even as the day grew hotter.

I was still really learning the track as I went, and had noticed some of the Irish like Jimmy Furlong were taking were totally different in places to what any of us UK guys were doing.

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Race 2

I got away ok, but Steve Ough, two rows ahead had stalled on the grid. I had to make a split second decision and threaded the needle between him and the pit wall armco barrier on full throttle. It’s probably best not to think about how I actually made it – I guess I’ve filtered through tighter gaps on my bike, though!

I was right behind Sam Engineer and Rik Lanyi and held a tight line to follow Sam out of the hairpin.

My Class B rival, and the car leading that class (with James Harridge out with engine problems) was Bill Garner – and he was just up ahead.

For the first time ever I dropped to second gear for Bridgestone, hoping to get more pull up the steep exit and onto the next straight.

A few cars ran through the dust causing everyone to bunch up again as I caught Sam into the final turn, and Rik dived down the inside and didn’t have to drive up and down the grass bank, as if taunting me!

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I suddenly had bigger problems, though, as I was in fourth gear instead of second, the engine chugging away off cam and me going nowhere as I fished around for second gear.

By the time I got any gear at all I was only half way down the pit straight and the entire field had passed me and gone through the first turn. When I finally got there it happened all over again, and I lost even more time trying to find gears…

OK, then.

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I knew I still had power, and third gear worked. I could just about get around in third everywhere, so decided to attack the empty track and at least try and catch someone before the end of the race.

Unfortunately things got worse as I then lost fourth gear, and then couldn’t find third again. I pushed on trying not to change at all, knowing it was pretty much all over…

Surprisingly, I did catch Rik (who had managed to spin at the last turn!) and then caught and pass ed Dave Wallis, who was struggling with the track.

With Sam Engineer limping it home with engine problems I was catching him hand over fist, with Rik also looming in my mirrors – I took at pretty futile last corner dive at Sam but would have needed just one more corner to pick him off before the finish.

This left me in eleventh place overall, bagging another second in Class B – proving it pays to push on even if you have major problems!

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I could see straight away that a nut had come loose on the gear shift assembly, so also knew it was an easy fix. I’d pushed my body about as hard as I could with the actual racing still not hurting my broken rib any more, but with constant pain from whatever I did I was starting to struggle.

However, with the gear problem fixable for the Irish Vee Festival races the next day, and having dropped my lap times by more than two seconds, I decided to enter. I was never going to win anything, but it would be good to put in an appearance to show my support for the Irish lads.

With us missing out on the free BBQ by working a bit late on the car, we headed to the local ‘chipper’ for a very tasty burger, back to see the auction raising around 7000 Euros for Laura Lynn Childrens Hospice, and a few pints with the drivers and crews.

Incidentally, the night before we’d been to the local pub and had some amazing food there, too along with lively banter with racers and locals. And found you CAN get six people into a Nissan Micra hire car if you use the boot.

I’d invested in an inflatable mattress for the night to try and support my ribs, but didn’t really sleep as the slightest movement left me wide awake in agony, but I got enough rest to think I’d be able to have a crack at the Festival…

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