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First test in a Sheane Formula Vee 

After finally sorting out the seized engine, we booked in to test at Llandow circuit in Wales. 

We had massive problems finding somewhere to test that was suitable to our needs – I think I’ll do a separate blog about that and what we’ve found out, so that might make it easier for anyone else for the future! 

In short, though, Llandow were brilliant and laid back.  I had sent a few emails to Louise and Sharon, but basically they let us book up the day before, and were happy for us to turn up “around 11ish” and get three hours testing in. 

Aims of the day:

  • Check the engine runs ok 
  • Get the feel of the car 
  • Gain confidence in driving the car 
  • (personal aim) Not to spin, crash or kill the car! 

I didn’t really get a chance to be nervous after arriving at Llandow.  We basically unloaded the car, fine-tuned some things, and then I signed on, kitted up and jumped in. 

There was a brief moment of panic when I slowly let the clutch out (at my Silverstone driving experience they advised to treat the race clutch like a hill start – this was great advice!), only to find the car didn’t move!  I checked it was in gear, tried again, and still nothing… 

Then I remembered that the biting point on the Sheane is stupidly high off the pedal – unnaturally so!  I took my big stupid foot ALL the way off the clutch, and bunny-hopped it forwards a few times.  Doh! 

Just to rattle me even more, I then saw the light was red onto the circuit, so I had to stop again!  When it went green I stumbled away again, then crunched the hell out of the gearbox as I tried to find 2nd gear.  I couldn’t, and pulled off the side of the circuit, thinking I must look like the biggest rookie ever and that I’d be seeing a black flag waved at me soon… At least I was the only car out there! 

Several deep breaths and I found second gear, deciding to pull away in 2nd to at least get rolling, then 3rd and 4th as I eased onto the back straight with no problems.  I was easing the brakes on, and trying to warm the tyres whilst expecting the back to snap around on me like it did at Donington at every second, but after a few corners I realised that must have been the engine seizing that spun me, and all was now well.  I could concentrate on getting some heat into the tyres and brakes. 

Coming past the pits I braked progressively and changed to 3rd, then to 2nd just before I turned left… and just got lots of crunching again. 

Finding 3rd gear I kept it running, and decided to stay in 3rd and 4th for the rest of the session, as getting laps in the car was more important than lap times. 

I warmed everything up and after a few laps had found the line and (safe) braking points.    I pushed a little harder, raising the corner speed, braking later, and getting on the power harder and earlier, before the chequered flag called me back in. 

Second session, and I raised the bar even more.  Faster, later, more speed! 

I tried braking at the 100 yard board into the first corner, dropping to 3rd at the 50 before turning in, but, as I told Glenn after the session, “the front wheels were doing all kinds of crazy shit!”.  I could see both flapping around like a rabbits ears if you gave it a good slap (err, not that I ever have, or would advise doing this – that’s just the image it gave me at the time)!   

I thought this was just a combination of the bumps and crest in the braking area and me braking to the limits and locking the wheels a little (more on this later!).  I found braking 25 yards earlier and a little smoother seemed to fix the problem, and I could get Glenn to add more damping. 

I’d been discussing camber with Glenn on the drive to the circuit, and found exactly as he called it: more throttle in the corners squatted the car down and stabilised the rear.  This was the first time I’d felt the power of camber in action, and it felt good! 

Always wear a HANS device, kids!

The speed wasn’t intimidating to me at all – I’m used to 0-100mph in under 4 seconds on my bikes – but it also didn’t feel slow.  I had a feeling I’d enjoy the high-speed corners, hard on the throttle through the turn, and the two coming onto each straight were indeed my favourites!  The connection to the car was as close to riding a bike as I’ve found.  It’s still a fair way off, but far closer than I was expecting I’d ever feel on four wheels. 

It felt good, and it felt natural, as I improved gear change times and everything started to get into muscle memory.  My lap times for the session were consistently within the same second, even though I was still taking the complex in 3rd gear. 

I had a few twitches from the rear, but was making sure to push gently up to the limits. It was either Mansell, Senna or Skip Barber who said that if you spin you learn nothing, other than that you went past the limits, and you don’t need to spin to find the limits.  Glenn told me after that he was expecting me to spin, and wasn’t sure if I was taking it easy or being smooth and sensible! 

We added a click of damping to see what that did into turn 1, and did the 3rd session with me again raising the pace and feeling for the limits. I braked at the 100 yard board again, but the wheels still did their flappy thing, and I had to cadence brake to get it all back on the tarmac. 

I blasted out for the 4th session – with me forgetting to switch the camera on! 

I’m a bit gutted about this, because I was pushing to what I’d say was a ‘safe race pace’, and would have liked to see the onboard footage.  I was fully on the throttle and not touching the brakes until the 50 yard board on the back straight, dropping to 3rd just as I tipped into the chicane, then straight back on the throttle, hanging the right wheel over the grass on the inside all the way around the curve.  I was changing up to 4th on the corner exits onto both the straights just as I hit the curb, and giggling like a loon! 

The front was still playing up into turn 1, and Glenn waved me in for a closer look after  a particularly bad shake of the old bunny ears.  And we found this: 

Note the very thin metal plate where the shock mounting is welded on.  We thought my shoddy braking was the cause, but looking back over the video I can see it first moves around after that very first 100 yard braking attempt in the second session! 

When stationary, the mounting must have been moving back into place so we didn’t even spot anything when using the adjuster on the bottom of the shock – and although it’s clearly moving in the video footage, I couldn’t the top of the shocks from the drivers seat. 

So that was day over for us, but to be honest I’d got all I needed from the day, and was at the stage where I’d just be taking risks to shave tenths off my lap times – which is not what we were there to do. 

Here’s the onboard footage from the 3rd session:


Results: 

  • The engine is strong and ran flawlessly.  I’d like another 40hp, but after 30 mins in any vehicle I’d tell you that! 
  • I got a great feel for the car, but some things need work – like changing into 2nd gear and clutch starts. 
  • I’m fully confident driving the car to the levels that I did. I know I was pushing close to the limits, but I also know I can push closer, and then I need to know how to go over that line and still keep it on the track. 
  • (personal aim) I didn’t spin, crash, and it appears I didn’t kill the car, either! 

 

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