The amazing thing is that this is where I had my first ever Formula Vee race back in 2015, and so will be a bit like a re-birth after my two year lay-off.
The Covid lockdown was tough for my fitness. Actually, that’s not entirely true – it’s been so damned long that I’ve put on weight, lost loads, then put on even more into the start of 2021.
More serious than that, was that my overall fitness was terrible. Working from home, rarely going out of the house, no gym, and with no real fitness routine, things had got pretty dire.
I started doing quick five to ten minute online workouts – mainly from Billy Blanks’ Tae Bo program. This was brilliant to get me moving again, and quick enough to fit in on a morning work break to get me away from staring at a PC all day. Highly recommended if you don’t think you can face full-on fitness malarkey (and if you can, he also has hour long, 5000 calorie killer workouts).
There is a fitness program provided with the iZone Driver Performance Training, but that looked far too full-on, so I’ve saved them all to work through when I want something more hardcore. My main focus was to get back to the gym ASAP, which I finally got to do. Oh how I’ve missed that heavy bag for slamming in Thai-style elbows and shin kicks, rather than just filling my face with Thai Pla Sam Rod!
Other than working the bag, my two or three weekly sessions have been all about getting my aerobic fitness back up, and flexibility. I have a strong martial arts background so losing my flexibility for the first time since I was eight years old has really bugged me!
Lots of cross trainer, indoor cycling, rowing and pounding it out on the treadmill. I will switch my focus back to core strength by picking up my weights and going back to 100 squats per day and stuff.
iZone also helped with other things that are often overlooked, and I planned to change this year anyway: I barely used to drink liquids, but upped that to at least two litres per day. I switched to an ‘intermittent fasting’ diet (basically skipping breakfast and having two meals per day between 12pm and 9 in the evening – you just need to learn that feeling hungry doesn’t mean you have to eat). Kevin from iZone recommended healthier snacks that you might not expect – like greek yoghurt, peanut butter or cheese so that your body gets the fat it needs to think it’s full. And I always have a nut mix of almonds, Brazils and walnuts as they all give great nutrition.
This has all lead to me dropping a stone of weight I’d put on, but more importantly hasn’t been anything so extreme that I can’t easily sustain all the changes. It also means I’m not denying myself the odd takeaway or fried breakfast – hey, I still want to love food and this isn’t exactly Formula One!
All of this has also massively stabilised my blood sugars and generally seems to suit me. So that must be worth a few seconds a lap, right?
I have plans for a few other things to boost my performance when I get back on track – some of which I might tell you about in another blog, but possibly not all of it!
I hope you have all been keeping yourselves in shape – you never appreciate your fitness until you don’t have it any more. Go on – do a quick Tai Bo Body Blast and see how good it makes you feel!
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.
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!
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!
We all run Formula Vee with our ignition timing advanced. It’s a way to use all of the potential of higher octane fuels, and I’ve even heard some claim to be running more than 30 degrees advanced – but people in the paddock don’t always tell the truth for that kind of stuff, and even if they are doesn’t mean they’re sticking to the rules to be able to do that…
With the bodged-together engine since our old one died at Croft, we’ve been running less advance than normal. Using his vast experience, and with none of the right equipment, Glenn advanced us a degree or so to tap into a bit more bhp. Very risky, but I was getting slaughtered on the straights.
The car balance had help up fine, but corner exit grip was a bit iffy in places. The near-bald right rear tyre wasn’t helping, so I dropped the pressure a little on the rear to see if I could get it to dig in a little more without just overheating. A rear anti-roll bar would have been useful here, as a few clicks harder would have been good, but I was reluctant to change our rear damper settings as I suspected it was more the bumps upsetting that aspect of the car, and other drivers were saying the same.
All this aside, I knew everyone else would have made improvements or just learned the track better, so they would all be putting faster lap times in, relatively (technically about a second slower than Saturday, because of the heat).
The lights went out.
My plan was to latch on to Ian Buxton a few rows directly in front of me, and though we both started quickly, by the time I snatched second gear his car was already picking up it’s petticoat and giving it legs over mine.
I’d blasted past Bill Stenning and had Andrew Cooper ahead for second in class B as my target, when Bill Garner appeared on my left.
I held the inside and let the brakes off to ease up to the inside of Cooper around Hawthorne. He had to concede my better line through the chicane, although it pushed me wide on the exit, where I found air under my right wheels at the end of the curb, before manhandling it all back onto the tarmac.
Watching Cooper in my mirrors, I hammered it into Tower but the tyres didn’t quite have the heat in them to grip. The rears lurched into oversteer mid-corner, which I collected with a flick of opposite lock but this meant I had to delay getting on the loud pedal.
Cooper got the run off the corner and just had his front wheels ahead as we turned into the Jim Clark Esses – normally taken flat out with only one line through.
Cooper was throwing up all kinds of dirt from his outside line, and with him still just ahead, to avoid disaster for the right hand exit, I had to ease off and let him through. I tried to fight back on the inside into Barcroft, but he closed the door.
All this had definitely slowed us down (I hadn’t even changed up to fourth gear!), but luckily Garner had stayed behind (probably expecting us to crash) and I got on the throttle early into Sunny In and let the car slide all the way around onto the next short straight.
I had one last snap at Coopers heels into the hairpin but then he was edging away and I just sat back and tried to see exactly what he was doing, so that I could try and copy it.
My car felt like I could do anything with it. I was getting pretty out of shape in places, but there was never a moment where I though I might lose it… where I wasn’t fully in control, really. Something had definitely clicked in my head and I think it has a lot to do with confidence.
Although losing Cooper, I was also steadily drawing away from Garner in my mirrors (with a flash of Jamie Harrison before he encountered problems), but wasn’t cruising to maintain the gap as I was enjoying it all too much.
I remember going into Sunny In far too quickly, still trail braking and clearly overcooking it all, and just planting the throttle to bring the rear around as I drifted up to the edge of the curb on the exit as if nothing had happened.
And of course there was lots of opposite lock as I tried to get whatever was left of the tyres to do something out of the hairpin.
I’d been noticing my pit board, for once, too – I think the first time was when Craig Bell must have spun off, and I caught him onto the pit straight. My board read ‘P10’ so I was chuffed with that, and gave Glenn, Mark and Michelle and thumbs up!
Suddenly the red flags were out as I came into the complex, and I dived into the pit lane pretty sure they wouldn’t bother restarting the race.
Sure enough, the marshals waved me down pit lane and through into the holding area. There was nobody here to stop me, and I was first off the track, so I was a bit paranoid about getting a penalty, but if the gates were all open and nobody was there, surely that couldn’t do me for it?
I rolled back happily to our awning before getting out to shake hands and chat to the other drivers. It’s nice to see the respect we all have for each other after the races, despite how hard we race.
Oh, and I had my first ever trip to a real life podium for coming third in Class B, with a great trophy! And 10th place overall gives me my best ever result to date (not counting non-championship results), and it was earned the hard way rather than through attrition of the front-runners.
There is still loads of work to do before we go international and head to Mondello Park in Ireland in July, and I’m a bit gutted that it’s so long away, as I feel like I’ve unlocked something in me as a driver. I need to get back out there right NOW and try it!
With time to work on the car and address some of our issues, it looks promising for the trip, though – and at last I’m back in the championship with a strong chance of racking up points!
As I stood at the back of the trailer, being pelted by raindrops bigger than the umbrella I was hoping to shelter beneath, a river of water ran off the ramp and filled my entire ‘waterproof’ shoe within seconds.
It was like starring in a sad French film, so I shrugged, waiting for Glenn to bring back another wire to bypass the right running light – the latest in a chain of disasters that morning.
By the time our woes had been sorted, and we’d changed the battery on the Land Rover which had gone flat as we worked, FIVE HOURS had passed over our expected leaving time.
With our luck this season, it was hard not to get depressed. Plus, as we loaded the Sheane up the night before we saw the top suspension arm was bent. It had taken Glenn every spare moment to repair the damage we knew about from Brands Hatch (bent steering arm joint, holed side panel, side chassis tubes all caved in, bent rear axle tube etc) and so we’d be using the gutless and untouched engine we’d struggled with, only this time on a power circuit.
At least I got my first attempt at towing the car as I drove part of the way on the long trek to Croft in North Yorkshire through Bank Holiday traffic.
But when we got there, with the shadows drawing longer, it was sunny and dry! And that’s how it stayed for the weekend, as the Midlands suffered horrendous thunderstorms!
I’d found a last-second way to attach the brand new RTV gazebo to the trailer, and so we set about getting that up as Michelle and Mark arrived to help out for the weekend, and things were definitely looking brighter as the sun faded over the fields.
Expecting the car to try to kill me at the first corner, I was surprised to find it felt very balanced. It pulled slightly to the left, but I could live with that if it was willing to play ball in the twisty bits. Glenn had strung it all up and set it as it was, and so we’d pretty much compensated for the bits that were still bent.
For once, I started pushing a fair bit straight away and got a few slides from the car that were very controllable. Slowly scrubbing memories of last years top speed spin from my mind, and a very tense moment watching Martin Snarey spin in front but managing not to collect me, I qualified 14th and 14th for the races.
Not bad considering I still had absolutely no idea where to brake for a good few of the corners! All I did know was that I’d watched my footage from last year and knew I should be braking later and carrying more speed, well, everywhere.
I stayed out wide on the first turn (memories of getting taken out on the inside last year!) but was on Coopers tail, when Bill Garner slipped up the inside. As soon as we got through the chicane he began easing away on the straight.
I closed in again around Tower and kept it pinned all the way to Sunny In – where Bill had had to brake hard to avoid the backwards me last year! This time I’d mildly locked my front right over the bumps and hung onto his tail as I took a tight line through.
I knew I had a great run but just wasn’t making any impression, and I could see cars all over my mirrors jostling for position behind me. I closed right up again into the hairpin, lighting up my tyres (I’ll come back to that later) as I got the power down and hoping he’d be one of the unlucky ones to miss second gear.
He didn’t, and again was eeking out time on the straight as my lack of power began to get frustrating… As he eased away into the complex again, I was a sitting duck as Jamie Harrison drove up the inside and was out of reach before I even had a chance to put up any fight. I recaught and tussled with him a little but couldn’t make it too much of a scrap.
As Dave Leniewski got alongside and passed unchallenged as well, I realised I’d have to seriously push it in the bendy bits and see what more I could reach for. A few things started to click in my head as I got the car sliding more, controlling it on the throttle rather than steering, but I still had a long way to go, and Sam Engineer and Mark Egan shuffled me back one more space at a time in the pack.
I knew I was much faster into the first corner and Sunny In than the herd of cars around me, but without the grunt to stick my nose alongside anyone I just couldn’t use it. Even when I got a great exit they’d soon pull it back and drive away again.
And, of course I had to keep it all clean to get some much needed points on the board. “Don’t spin” had been Glenn’s advice, and the lairy slides I was having might have been slightly at odds with that advice.
But I was learning all the time, and enjoying it, and eventually got Egan back (much to the amusement of our respected crews, who were stood watching after Glenn had helped solve a few problems with Egan’s Ray before the race!).
It’s hard to appreciate how difficult it can be to race in a tight pack. When you go for a move on one car, the cars behind you will take advantage as you get blocked, and sweep around you even as the disappointment of your own failed pass sinks in.
Following Sam through the flat-out back section, his car misfired and I had to brake (yes, not even just lift off!) for two crucial corners up to Sunny In, and on Sunny Out, putting myself out of position on the exit. Mark didn’t need an invitation, and drove past me at my weakest point on the run towards the complex.
I tried to find a way past onto the finish straight, but had no chance as I saw the chequered flag being waved up ahead. I’d been shuffled all the way to the back of our pack, but still finished a respectable 16th and 5th in class.
And now I had a few lightbulbs clicking on in my head…
Here is the full video of the yellow flag violation:
So, yeah, I had no idea I’d done anything wrong, as I either didn’t see the yellow flag (the only thing I cared about in that race was the white car behind me) or thought the marshals further on had the green flag.
Bear in mind the camera is much higher than my eye line, and so my vision was very much blocked by the cars between me and the incident (ironically, the stationary car causing the yellow was Jamie Harrison who had just won the B class championship!).
I wasn’t intending to violate the yellow flag conditions, the safety of marshals and other competitors was in no way compromised, and I later dropped four or five places down the order so didn’t gain any advantage.
I do not in any way dispute that I overtook under a yellow flag – only the fact that the imposed penalty took me from second in the championship down to fourth in the final race deciding the season.
Called to the Clerk of the Course
My name was called after the race to go see the Clerk of the Course, and to take my video footage with me – which I did very promptly, breaking off celebrations and went straight there. I still had no idea I’d done anything wrong, and thought they were checking my footage to try to catch someone else doing something (I didn’t think I’d be able to help here, either).
I was told what I’d done after the Clerk had spoken to two other drivers, and we reviewed the footage. She said she had three choices of penalty for the offence:
Exclusion from the race.
A 10 second time penalty.
Points on my race licence.
I pleaded for her to take the third option – especially as several other Vee drivers had been caught overtaking under yellows in the previous race, and NONE of them had been given any kind of penalty at all.
She was firm but friendly, and argued that the consequences to my championship were not her consideration. Fair enough but COME ONE!
I had no choice but to sign the document to say I’d done it.
I was told that I could appeal the decision on one of three grounds if I paid the fee (about £240!!!!!!!) in cash within 30 minutes:
That the offence had never happened.
That the penalty applied was too harsh or unfair.
Another option that I don’t recall.
Of course my grounds for appeal would be that the penalty was far too harsh as it would decide my championship position, and lose me a podium trophy.
In the circumstances, I would be effectively paying £240 to make sure I held onto second in the championship. After all, nobody would be so heartless as to turn down my appeal on those gorunds, would they?
750 Motor Club were supposed to be there for us drivers, to keep us happy, and would make a sensible and compassionate decision, right?
Appealing the penalty to the stewards
I told the race organisers that I would be appealing, and that stopped the clock as I ran to the paddock to try to raise the cash – but someone had let it slip that they could take payment by card if they had to. I should hope so too! Who carries any cash these days – let alone that much?
It had already been around 2 hours after the race finish, so most were packed up and heading home. Tim Probert handed me my two third place trophies as I went past, but I gave one back telling him it was in dispute. Then I went back up to the Stewards with Glenn, Michelle, and James Harridge and chatted with them about my options and what was happening.
I had to write out a statement on my appeal form, in which I made it clear with my first point that I was appealing the penalty, but the Stewards were already pressuring me to hurry up as they wanted to leave for the day.
I waited while they sat in another room considering it, and reviewing my footage.
There were two stewards from 750 Motor Club, one head steward from the MSA, and an observer there.
They called me in and questioned me about my appeal, asking me to watch my footage again.
I thought this was a bit strange but did it, and they told me repeatedly that I’d overtaken under a yellow flag.
I already knew this, and had acknowledged that in my previous meeting with the Clerk of the Course.
The 750 Steward kept telling me I’d overtaken under a yellow flag and would not budge an inch or listen to anything I said. I seemed to be getting through more to the MSA steward, but every time I seemed to be persuading him to my side of things the 750 steward would chime in again telling me I’d overtaken under yellow.
He kept repeating that their recommendation for overtaking under yellows was to exclude me. When I asked why there were three options available to them he refused to answer or discuss it.
Again they kept going over the aspects of my yellow flag violation, speaking about the safety issue (oh, where the marshals were on the opposite side of the track, well off the track, and behind other cars??) and insisting that I had overtaken before the green flag post.
It was like I was arguing with a bunch of people that the sky was blue, but they just kept telling me that the grass was green.
The whole atmosphere was extremely hostile, with all of them against little old me. I stayed polite and calm, but couldn’t help feeling they would just bully me down on anything I said. You are technically allowed to take in a representative, but are told in no uncertain terms that this is discouraged and the stewards don’t like it.
You can call in other drivers as witnesses – which I was asked if I wanted to do – but why would I when I was arguing the PENALTY??!
They asked me to leave the room as they discussed more, and I knew I had no chance at all – and the 750 Motor Club Steward was the main one properly gunning for me. Thanks for the support.
I was called back in and they told me that their decision would stand, at which point I again tried to tell them that they were deciding the championship with a penalty, and THAT was what I didn’t want to happen!
I was threatened with total exclusion again for raising my point, so decided to just shut up.
They told me to go back and wait outside and then they would be out soon with the forms to sign.
“Can’t you post them to me?” I asked, having been there for around three hours.
“No, you need to sign to say that you agree with our decision.”
I didn’t thank them as I left, but also resisted slamming the door on my way out. There was no chance I was giving them another second of my time, so told Glenn, James and Michelle that I was leaving now and wasn’t going to say I agreed with their decision.
I was left with the feeling that the appeal process is totally pointless and just a money-making scheme. I felt that the club at least would have cared that deciding the final race of the season with a penalty (that didn’t even need to be applied!) doesn’t look great for the club, and none of the drivers would appreciate it, either!
I have some pride shining through the bitterness over it all as I got the decision through the post a week or so later, when I read the “Driver left” bit where my signature should have been.
I just have to remind myself that they can’t take away the fact that I did it on track – I won that second place in the championship with a great drive after a head-to-head scrap!
I have also filed a formal complaint with the MSA about how my appeal wasn’t even heard or discussed by the stewards in that meeting, which they have failed to respond to in their stated 10 days. I chased it up a few weeks ago and was told that it will be looked at, and they apologised for not sending an acknowledgement.
We’ll see how that goes – I’m guessing absolutely nowhere. Either way it won’t change the result – but maybe people standing up a bit will get them to change things in the future?
I’m debating uploading my full complaint letter to them, but will hold on and see what they respond with, first. So far it’s been over a month…
When you first start racing it can all be a bit daunting when you become faced with the finer intricacies of getting through a race weekend.
As some of you will be reading this thinking of jumping in a Formula Vee for 2017, I thought you may find it useful.
Arriving at the circuit
More and more people seem to arrive the evening before. The main advantage here is that you can (hopefully) secure a spot in the paddock with the rest of the Vee’s. This is especially important if you have the garages, as most of the time there won’t be enough space for all the cars. Oh, and you want to be finding out where you are by looking in the Final Instructions that will be mailed out with tickets, or published online about a week before the race.
If you are testing at the circuit then you may have to move after your test sessions have ended.
Once you’ve unloaded your car and got yourself set up (tent up, sleeping back in the bag of your car/van, camper set up) then there will be thre options for you: relax, have a walk around the track or get the car scrutineered.
I’d advise always getting scrutineered the evening before, if this is offered, as it give you a lot more time in the morning, and possibly a lie in!
At this point, if you’re doing it the Posh Way, you can head off to your hotel or B&B. Otherwise there will probably be a few other drivers mooching around the paddock pub or restaurant.
If you’re getting to the circuit on the race day itself, be prepared to find you can’t get anywhere near the rest of teh Vee drivers, and you have to set up camp next to a few bins and an ice cream van (not entirely a bad thing!). This will make life harder because you won’t be able to see all the other drivers disappear to some meeting, or be able to follow them when they drive off to the assembly area etc. Not then end of the world – but not advisable until you’ve done a few meetings!
Have a bit of a panic, now – but remember to try and enjoy it!
First off – have a look at the programme. The times your qualifying and race sessions start are pretty important – but there are actually a few more important things here.
Signing on – Sometimes you can do this the evening before, too. You need to show your race licence and sign a register, and then you get a programme and a slip of paper that you need to get your car scrutineered.
Check the times that you can take your car to the scrutineering bay. All classes are allocated slots so they can scrutineer the whole class together, and get you all done in time to get out on track. Stick to the time, and be prepared to stand around in the queue for ages.
If you’re hiring they’ll probably do all this for you, but the scrutineer will still want to check your helmet and race kit so make sure these are available.
When they check your car over they’re primarily making sure it’s safe to race, so will be checking bearings, fire extinguisher, dates on seatbelts and brake fluid, so you need to strip off all the bodywork and have a few spanners on hand just in case. If you’re using a camera you must have it mounted so they can check it’s in a safe position and all secure. They will also check things like your rain light is working, and possibly get you to start the car and then kill the engine with the kill switch.
They will also have a magical gripe list of stuff to challenge you on, so you might have to fight your case! I’ve been pulled up in the past for things like having a tinted visor and having someone else’s name on my race suit… Stay calm and polite and do what they tell you, or you might not be racing!
The first time they scrutineer your helmet you need to pay a small fee (about £2) for a sticker, too.
New Driver Briefing
If it’s your first time racing at a circuit IN THAT CONFIGURATION (and that bit is key), then you must attend a new drivers briefing. These are normally about every 30 mins for the first few hours of the day, and times will be in your final instructions. You can be fined for not attending this before you go out on track. They will tell you where you need to wait before you go out on track, where you need to go when you come back in, and other information and helpful advice/warnings. This is where it all starts to get real, and if the butterflies haven’t started yet, they will do here!
These are for all drivers from all series, so you won’t just be with Vee drivers.
These will only be for the drivers in your series, and you won’t have one of these at every race. They are generally to bring things like driving standards to the attention of your race series. They can be held or called for at any time of the day, so if you ever look up and notice all the other drivers have disappeared, ask someone! Also note that you may well have a new driver briefing AND one of these on the same day – you must attend both. Most of the time these will alos be listed in your final instructions, but be aware of flash meetings arranged by word of mouth.
Now things are flying along, and you’ll feel the buzz in the air!
Try to keep an eye on the programme in case the schedule is ahead or behind. You need to be ready about 30 mins before your qualifying session – as in strapped in and ready to go out on track, so make sure you’ve done everything you need to.
Again, if you’re a hire driver most of this will be done, and so you just need to make sure you’re ready to jump in the car and race! If you’re running your own car, or want to get a bit more hands-on, do these:
Fill up with fuel. This is easy to forget. If in doubt, just brim the tank – the chances are a few kg of petrol won’t be the difference between pole and last row. I once ran out of fuel when going for a best ever position at Donington because we adjusted a few things and forgot to compensate…
Check and adjust tyre pressures. Again very easy to forget. You’ll get a different answer whoever you ask – but Hoosier recommend 16psi in the front tyres and 18psi in the rear. As a base setting you won’t go far wrong with this. If it’s raining then you want more air in the tyres to open the grips up and help the tyres heat up a bit more. Some drivers go well into the 20s here, but if you’re around the 19-20 mark in the wet it won’t do you any harm. Tyre pressures are a black art, and if you’re new you won’t have a lot to gain here…
Adjust suspension settings. Another black art. Most of the suspension set-up is done the night before we put the car on the trailer – camber, castor, toe, rake etc and it’s all specific to your car and your suspension and weight distribution and driving style. It’s tough to even hint at a base setting here, so this is why you should have tested!
Other driver may help you out here, but be wary they might not know as much as you think, either!
These settings will pretty much stay the same on the car, unless we’re having some kind of issue, and it’s where Glenn’s experience comes in.
What we do adjust at the track are the dampers and roll bars. The Sheane only has one adjuster on the dampers for both compression and rebound – which keeps things simple, but isn’t ideal if, like me, you’d like to separate the two settings. The more expensive shocks with have separate adjusters to fine tune things more. Either way, the biggest quick change you can do with a Vee is with the dampers. In general, you want these softer in the wet, and the harder you have them, the faster your reactions need to be to catch a spin.
The roll bars front and rear should also be softened in the wet, but remember changing something at the front may well also change what the rear is doing. Get advice off an expert, if you can! Or play lots of video games where you can play around and learn what the settings do…
Noise Testing. Before you drive into the holding area, you’ll see a couple of marshals there holding strange long sticks and a clipboard. Stop near them and they’ll tell you to hold the throttle at three quarters or a specific RPM to make sure you’re not above the noise limits. At most tracks this will be about 106db, so if your silencer is any good you should be fine… if you’re over you may find you’re excluded from all the racing and putting the car back on the trailer. But no pressure!
Get to the holding area nice and early – but not too early or you might be the first on track with nobody to follow. At most tracks they will let you out on track in whatever order you’ve arrived at the holding area.
You must do at least 3 laps to qualify for a race – so get these in before any heroics. If the worst happens go and see the Clerk of the Course as soon as you can, and they may be able to get you to follow the course car around for a few laps between sessions or over the lunch break. Take your best puppy-dog eyes.
Once the session is over you’ll come in off the track, guided by marshals, and either stop in parc ferme where nobody does anything, you chat to the other drivers, and then push your car back to your paddock place, or they’ll let you go straight back.
Timing sheets. Relax, and wait for the timing sheets to be published at race control. Most races are now covered by live timing that you can get to on the 750 website, so you may find your Mum is already ringing you to find out why you’re the slowest car out there!
Have a look at where you wil be starting from on the grid, and take note of which cars will be around you so you know where to line up.
Recheck tyre pressures and make any tweaks to dampers/roll bars, and remember to refuel!
You need to go to the holding area again, but this time the marshals will line you up in grid order. When they give the signal, start up and follow everyone to the grid. Have a look to your side and try and find a marker to remember where your grid spot is – a post or advertising hoarding on the pit wall is a good one to look out for. The Vee’s will normally have a ‘Green Flag Lap’ – this means they wave the green flag and you all leave the grid and do one lap to warm your tyres and sight the circuit conditions, before returning to your grid spot.
This time look at the boards that are displayed from the start position. These boards say stuff like “3 minutes until start” but ignore that – it’s usually seconds between these boards and then you’ll see the red start lights come on.
Give the inside of your fogged-up visor one last wipe and set your revs, because those lights are about to blink out any second!
After surviving this you’ll then come back in, and much the same as after practice, you’ll either go to parc ferme, get sent straight back to the paddock, or if you’re really lucky be in the top 3 and have to stop somewhere in pit lane to speak to the commentator.
This is exactly the same as race 1 – but check the time sheets as this time you’ll be gridded up according to your second best lap from qualifying.
At most races, there will be a brief awards ceremony for A and B class, so try and attend and do some clapping and cheering! There may also be some information about ‘stuff’ relayed here, so it is useful to go along.
Then you load up, get out of there (or collect your card if you’re getting your rookie signatures done), and that’s it!
The rest of your day will be spent drinking water, going to the toilet, and finding out you can’t go more than 5 steps in the paddock before you end up chatting to someone else for the next hour!
We had a new engine sat on the bench for next year, so with the disaster at Silverstone it was easier to salvage all the internals from the wrecked engine and get next years engine in the Sheane early.
Glenn did all the work in time for us to have a non-running car on display for the SPEAR (Sue Pike Equine Animal Rescue) charity open day. I’m not sure rescued animals would have fully appreciated a running engine, anyway, but the day went well with dog and horse shows and lots raised for the great cause.
However, when small children are jumping in and out of your racing car all day long, they apparently want to flick every switch in sight, and be warned if you have a brake bias adjuster in your cockpit at such events… I’ll come back to that point later…
A lot of other drivers either tested the day before the race at Snetterton, or took advantage of a 30 minute session at the start of the day on Saturday – unfortunately our preparation meant we could only be loaded up and on our way (very) early on Saturday, and so couldn’t test the new engine.
Knowing so many others were already warmed up and dialled in to the circuit, I opted to try and tag onto one of my usual sparring partners whilst using the bits of track information I’d gained from playing Project Cars, watching YouTube videos, and reading track guides.
The sun was shining and the track grippy and warming up as we headed out.
It’s surprising how well you remember a track you haven’t been on for a year, and it doesn’t take long to drop into the groove – however, you have to make sure you get 3 laps in to be able to qualify for the race, and with such a long lap this is half the session!
To make things worse, just as I was on my second lap and starting to push now the tyres were getting warm, the red flags came out to stop the session.
I didn’t see any of it, but Neil Aldridge had put a wheel on the grass on the exit of a corner, getting it sideways, and Bill Stanier had nowhere to go as he came off the corner behind. It looked like a pretty hard contact with both cars badly damaged and out for the day, but both drivers were unhurt.
The clean-up meant we sat in the pit lane for 20 minutes before we were finally let out again – but as this was only for another 2 laps I’d barely got up to speed again before the session ended. This wasn’t too terrible timing for me, as when I came into the pits for the red flag the car was stuck at 2,000rpm. Glenn checked it over and worked his magic with the spanners, and I still managed to get out on track with everyone else.
I tagged onto David Leniewski, sneaking past him but not able to shake him, and held him up twice at the hairpin as I struggled to find 2nd gear again (it was fine before!).
I was trying to get a bit of a move on, throwing the car into a few corners, but for some reason it didn’t feel like I was going very quickly.
After my 11th place overall finish last year, I was a bit disappointed to qualify 22nd and 21st for the races, but given the circumstances and lack of track time figured it wasn’t too bad.
The engine was making a few funny noises but the throttle problem wasn’t anything major. All my suspension settings seemed ok with the time I’d had, so I left it all the same, thinking any improvement would be more likely to come from me for the race.
Perhaps more seriously, I had Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” stuck in my brain, and was sure there’d be 3 seconds a lap improvement if I could just get the damned tune out of my head!
They lined us all up on the grid extremely closely, so I knew straight away it would be tough to find any sort of gap even if I got a good start.
The lights went out, and I blasted away with another great start, but then had nowhere to go. Finding some space around the outside, I made up 5 or 6 spaces on my second attempt, but then got hung out around the outside of the first turn as most of them got back up my inside.
Sam Engineer must have got an absolute flyer as he passed me into the hairpin – but now Dolly Parton had gone, and I got my head back in the game.
I passed Sam on the brakes into Agostini, locking the front wheels up all over the place as I pushed harder than I had been all day, and I remembered the brake bias adjuster, and all those inquisitive hands twisting it as they sat in the car. I made a mental note to tip the balance back towards the rear as soon as I got chance.
Jamie Harrison also had a bit of a lock-up in front of me, with Andrew Cooper sandwiched between all the tyre smoke somehow keeping out of trouble.
I tucked into Cooper’s slipstream down the straight, slipping through on the brakes into Brundle, chasing down Harrison to go down his inside into the hairpin. It seemed I had found the sweet spot with my brake balance again!
I also decided to take the hairpin in 3rd gear, rather than trying to find 2nd, as I couldn’t see a massive difference between the two.
I tried to tuck in behind a James Harridge as he worked his way back up the grid after a spin, which lasted all of 20 seconds – but did pull me onto the back of Darren Lomas.
Making use of a good exit onto the finish straight, I held onto his tow to get around the outside before we got to the first turn, and then tried to hang onto the rapidly disappearing Harridge hoping the horde of cars behind would trip each other up.
Alex Jones must have also gone off somewhere, as he passed me into the chicane, and I could see Lomas, Cooper and Harrison all very clearly in my mirrors again.
To my surprise, I was also catching European karting champion Harry Webb – who must have been suffering some problems – as Harrison overtook Lomas in my mirrors and piled on the pressure.
As I powered out of the hairpin I saw a thick line of oil (Alex Jones had hit Craig Bell, damaging his oil cooler) on the racing line all through Palmer corner.
It was one of those spills that was impossible to avoid, as at some point in the corner you had to either brake or turn on the oil. All you can do is adjust your line to minimise this, and hold on for the ride!
I got through alright with Harrison still on my tail, but could see that Lomas had dropped right back.
With the hard-braking into the next corner at Agostini, I had to make the choice to either slow down and risk Harrison overtaking me, or go for it and risk being the first one to spin off into the wall.
Being a bit of an idiot, I quite enjoy sliding around on oil, and managed to keep the nose at the right end of the car. As I slithered over the exit curb I saw a flash of blue and yellow as Harrison went off backwards – not hitting anything, but being unable to restart and so ending our battle.
Going into Hamilton – a small lift or even flat out but only one line through – was always going to be an interesting experience, but I somehow held that one, too, after several stages of lurid slide!
I could see Bell pulling onto the grass after the next corner, so was pretty sure that was the end of the oil, and got the hammer down, braking a little earlier and shifting a few rpm sooner knowing I now had a considerable gap over Lomas, with nobody within my sights ahead. There’s no point crashing out of a sure thing, but you also don’t want to lose your rhythm and slow too much or make a mistake.
The last lap board came out and I knew I just had to manage that gap and keep it safe on the oily bits, still getting it pretty sideways but virtually crawling around Hamilton successfully back onto grippy tarmac.
Driving out of the last corner towards the finish line I realised I must be well up the pointy end of the B Class, and began to suspect I was in the top 3!
A quick count of the cars in the holding area confirmed the B class was won by Jack Wilkinson with James Harridge 2nd – and some newbie called James Cater had finally fought his way to a trophy!
Phew – that was long, wasn’t it? Fortunately (for you, the reader – not me) this one will be a lot shorter.
I made up a couple of places off the line but got blocked again and had to lift right off.
Within a few corners I’d edged past David Leniewski and caught the tail of Darren Lomas and Mark Egan, so all was set to resume the scrap with the big group before the oil in the first race.
On the second lap Jamie Harrison (after a terrible start) passed me down the back straight, followed a few corners later by Andrew Cooper.
I was driving much harder through the corners – for example, where I was dabbing the brakes hard into the first turn in the first race, in this one I was just giving a small lift… and yet I just couldn’t hang with anyone!
I managed to retake Cooper and stay ahead for a lap until he re-passed me and pulled out a little, and then he managed to hold that gap until the finish. I was clearly missing something, and think we’d lost some engine power.
Alex Jones somehow came from behind me once again (I don’t know how he keeps getting behind me like that!), but other than that my mirrors were empty.
I brought it home a fairly lonely 18th (perhaps appropriately for the final race of the season?) and 5th in Class B, but did enjoy the drive!
After the flag a mixture of lack of concentration and “I wonder if I can take the corner like THIS” into the first turn meant I clipped a high part of the curb and ended up all kinds of out of shape on the grass on the exit. My main thought was that if I spun after the flag I might get into Trouble with the Clerk of Course, so that motivated me to save it somehow as I bounced wildly over the mud!
But nobody saw that bit, right?
I think hitting that curb bent something, as the car was pulling left as I came in – oops!
Up front was titanic as ever, with Paul Smith winning a controvercial photo finish over Dave Hughes, and Adam Macaulay a tenth of a second back from them!
So I have my first B Class podium after so many 4th places, and I’m chuffed to bits!
No doubt I’ll do a year review – but for now I’ll be looking forward to getting back on track for the Vee Festival at Brands Hatch on the last weekend of October. It’s cracking value for track time, and I hope a lot of UK cars turn out for it, because I know the Irish will come over in force again!