Home  

Cars  

Race Diary  

Setups  

Trackdays  

About Me  

Contact  

 

 

     

 

Diary 2009  

  

2009 My first season of circuit racing

                            

Having passed my ARDS test in December 2008 I had a good few months to prepare my car and buy the various bits needed to turn my Caterham back into a race car.

I had a whole list of jobs to do, with the main ones being -

Full service
Source and fit roll cage, roll cage padding and mirrors
Remove windscreen and wipers, replacing with aeroscreen (less wind resistance)
Plumbed in fire extinguisher
Transponder (allows timekeepers at the race meetings to know when you pass the startline each lap
New race harnesses
Race numbers
Tyres
Spare set of wheels
Replace brake pads
Set geometry (camber, tracking)
Buy crash helmet and race suit (already owned boots)
Freshen up the paintwork where the old race stickers had evidently been removed with too much force
Save up for race entry fees

 

Bit by bit I ticked off the list through the early part of 2009.

                           

Localised paintwork done, excellent work by my work colleague, Martin.

 

March 2009

 

                           

FIA roll bar removed, new seat and harness fitted, windscreen, wipers, wiper motors and washer bottle removed. Fitted JPE aeroscreen using 3M dual lock tape! Not shown are the mirrors, which I was able to acquire for free thanks to a garage clearout advertised by a member on Blatchat. Even better for me was a carbon fibre nosecone which hadn't been advertised. Nice bit of weight saving over the original fibreglass nose, plus that all important carbon look.

Not shown in pictures is the headache that became the full roll cage. Having painted it anthracite colour to match the newly acquired (used) 13" x 6" 8 spoke alloys, I got it fitted ok. So, sat in the drivers seat, limbo dancer like, underneath the roll cage. My head was touching the underside of the cage, so it would be impossible to drive safely or legally once I add roll cage padding and a crash helmet. This leaves two options; lower the seating position, or go for a taller roll cage.

Of the two choices I felt lowering the seating position would be the better choice. Many Caterham racers use a home made moulded foam ‘bag seat’. However, I like the comfort and support the GRP Tillet seat gives me, plus it is mounted on runners so that others including Beth can drive my car in comfort.

So, I looked at lowered floors. Caterham offer lowered floors for £480 both sides (2011 prices) which would stretch my racing budget a little, so I visited  SP Engineering in Frome, Somerset (now sadly closed) and asked if they could make me up welded floorpans. They were happy to oblige and I knew that their quality of work was good having used them before when making camera mounts for my old business www.fastfilms.co.uk.

So, I drilled out the old rivets holding on the floors (some of which had pulled through!), cut out the floor behind the footwell cross bar with an air saw and took the pieces to SP Engineering. In less than a week they had made me some lovely 3mm alloy floors, pre drilled for riveting. These would give an extra 50mm or so of head room once fitted. The photo shows the indent in the centre tunnel, presumably where a previous owner has exited out the top of the car with their feet in the centre. Whilst it looks slightly untidy I have noticed this on other race cars, and it does cradle your elbow nicely.

                

Having checked them for size, I sent them back to be welded up. Steel rivets were used for strength, the floors were fitted once the chassis tubes were painted with messy POR15 (cleared up afterwards).

              

Seats were put back in, I clambered in to fit to find my head was still very close to the underside of the roll bar. Grrr!

Well, a taller roll cage would have to wait, so on with the rest of the jobs on my list above. All went smoothly and the appearance was finished off nicely with the addition of the Caterham Motorsport number backgrounds. I got these from Caterham Midlands and I was only charged the price of postage.

 

Next important decision was which series should I race in? Ruling out those series which my car wasn’t eligible for (Caterham Graduates for example)

 

  1. BARC SE Intermarques
  2. CSCC Magnificent Sevens
  3. SEMSEC
  4. Castle Combe Sports and GT

 

Knowing that I would be driving to events without the benefit of a trailer I thought it was sensible to pick a series which had some fairly local rounds. Semsec is Kent based and just too far away to risk being stranded with a damaged car. Then I looked at a series which had a class in which I would be at least slightly competitive. This sadly ruled out my local series at Castle Combe. I didn’t want to spend most of my race keeping an eye on my mirrors for Radicals and other super fast cars.

Magnificent Sevens was a new series which looked excellent, catering for all sorts of Seven cars. It had an interesting format with long races and a driver change and represented great value. The Mag Sevens also run on road legal tyres which is a bonus. A race at Spa in Belgium was appealing, having driving the circuit a few times at trackdays.

The BARC Intermarque series runs double header events (two races in the same day) at different circuits in the UK and has a really varied mix of cars entering. The series appeared to have a class for allsorts including one for my 1400 engined car. The second round of the season was at Castle Combe in April, so that decided things for me and I joined BARC, then the SE section membership and paid my entry fee for the first race which was less than two months away! I chose to run with number 77 when racing as it's my year of birth, plus it is a Caterham Seven and when new my car raced with a number 7.

 

April 2009

 

Work continued on the car with things like oil, filters and plugs plus a full geometry check. Money was tight, so no chance of any sort of testing or trackday before the race which was far from ideal. I decided to hire a transponder at each race instead of buying one outright.

A set of season old used slick tyres were sourced from Sticky Slicks , these were the princely sum of £40 total for a set of four tyres collected. Formula Renault 2 litre single seaters use the same size slicks luckily. My workshop foreman Aaron loaned me his spare race suit for the season which was kind.

 

May 2009

The BARC Intermarque series is unusual with having rolling starts, so I tried to find out how best to approach them. Final checks to make sure it would pass scrutineering and I was almost ready.

The week before the race my entry paperwork arrived showing me all the other cars I would be up against, a real variety of makes and models.

The night before the race I felt a little unwell with nerves and spent the time loading Beth's little car with the spare tyres, tools, food and all the rest of the bits and pieces I might need. I had invited lots of friends and work colleagues to come and watch, so packed a table and chairs too.

Making sure I had my licence and paperwork in order I got an early night.

 

The day of the race came, up early to get to the circuit in plenty of time to get a parking space in the paddock. The Intermarques would also be in the same races as the Tintop series, meaning a full grid of 42 cars – the most of any race that day! I drove the Caterham from home, with Beth driving the support car (a Kia Picanto!).

                  

A cold, but thankfully dry morning greeted us as the sun came up. The day begins with signing on, scrutineering (checking the car is safe and conforms to the series regulations), briefing (x2 as new to racing on the circuit), hiring the transponder and then a form to get permission to film on board. After all of that lot there was a short wait before qualifying, to decide everyones start positions for the first race.

                
                            You can see how close my head is to the underside of the roll bar.

Would the car perform ok with all the changes made, what would it be like on slicks, what would I do with myself if I damaged my car?! Strapped in nice and tight, checking all the gauges the light went green at the end of the pit lane and 12 minutes of lapping commenced to try to record your fastest lap. I knew that the tyres would take a good couple of laps to get up to temperature and give their best grip, so I was happy to motor round at a fast pace but not too quick. I was amazed at the pace of some of the cars straight away; the Tintops and Tigers use Toyo R888 semi slicks which heat up nice and quickly. I knew the importance of a good qualifying time and it’s a circuit I know well, so just waited for a bit of clear space around me (not easy) and went for it to get a couple of quick times in. You have to post at least three timed laps to be allowed to enter the race. Five minutes in to the qualifying the nerves relaxed and it was like being on a trackday again.

The balance of the car was not bad, it could have been sharper, with a bit of body roll and dive from the front end. It was at least a ‘safe’ set up. A yellow flag signalled an accident with a Tiger being damaged at the first chicane. Next lap around I could see a Celica GT in front of me going to into Quarry corner rather quickly, it understeered off into the tyres! End of the session, chequered flag and back to my spot on the grass at the end of the paddock. Some relief felt and smiles from friends at arriving back safely. Adjust tyre pressures whilst still warm (20psi all round) and then try to relax and chat to other drivers. I spoke to John Chasey who was racing a 1600 Caterham in the class above me. This was the first time he had raced at Castle Combe which did give a good advantage. I also said hi to Mark Funnell, a well known racer at Castle Combe and multiple class champion. I had known Mark for a few years having supplied him camera kit and filmed on track whilst ‘chasing’ his car.

Walked over to the control building where the results of the qualifying are printed. I was pleased with my qualifying time which placed me mid pack, 18th, at a time of 1min 21.6 seconds Went to tell Aaron (our workshop foreman at Toyota Bath) who was mechanicing for a Radical team on the day.

As the morning rolled on more and more people arrived with plenty of well wishers coming to see me.

We were one of the first races of the day, by which time the crowd was a pretty impressive size, especially at Quarry corner, where the blood thirsty gather to watch the accidents!

Back into the car, safety pin out of the fire extinguisher, cameras on, and gather in the assembly area in the correct grid position. Good chance to look at the varied cars surrounding me.  I knew that my little 1400 (smallest engine on the grid) would be slow away from the line, even on a rolling start, and I would have to try to make up lost places in the corners and braking.

The previous race ended, the track cleared and it was time for us to leave the assembly area and form up on the grid. Engines were revved, the smell of unburnt petrol surrounded me and I could see hundreds or even thousands of people around the circuit, especially looking up  towards Avon rise.

The 3 minute to go board and siren were shown, then the two minute, one minute and 30 second board. My hands were physically shaking! Revs built, the noise was deafening being in an open topped car, the lights went green and we pulled away from the grid. I knew that this first parade/warm up lap would be important to get some heat into my cold slicks. I weaved around and accelerated and braked hard whilst keeping an eye out for any spills on the track. Plenty of ‘marbles’ off the racing line, where balls of melted rubber had been shed from cars tyres earlier in the day. The pack would bunch up and then spread out as we went around the track following the course car. As we got past the last chicane, Bobbies, the pack closed up, the course car peeled off into the pits and the pace increased.

Right, make sure you are in the right gear David, third in my case, and watch the pack in front. As the pack was so long, by the time the leaders reached the line and the lights turn green, the back of the pack was exiting the chicane! You can see the beginning of race 1 on the video, where I start on the outside row. The speed increased, the cars ahead roar away and it’s GO! Concrete dust from a spill was kicked up in front of me by a Tiger, a bit of understeer into Camp and then hard on the power. I wanted to stay out of trouble so happily stayed to the outside so as to avoid the possible contact which I have witnessed many times at Quarry corner. 

Take a look at the video below, sadly the camera failed me into the first race -  

  Video - Castle Combe Race May 2009

I ended up having a good battle with some of the 2 litre Tigers in the first race, and my nerves soon settled down. It surprised me just how long the race seemed to take, it felt like I had been driving for ages before I saw the chequered flag. I really enjoyed myself, survived with no scares, finished 17th  out of 42 (best lap of 1:20.8) and won a little trophy. The very fastest cars in the class above lapped us by towards the end of the race, so had to keep a good eye on the mirrors, making sure I let the leaders pass at a time that didn’t mess up my own race. I only noticed the large crowd on my cool down lap and made sure I clapped and waved to the Marshalls who do such a good job at keeping us all safe. Wow, I am a racing driver at last! So many people came and said hello once I was back in my little pit area, felt really chuffed.

 

A long wait for the second race meant I could watch a couple of other races as a spectator. The nerves started to build again making it difficult to think of eating or drinking. Before long I was back in the car making my preparations for the second race of the day. The weather remained sunny and warm so a good number of the crowd remained.

Another rolling start of course, this time I left far too much gap between myself and the car in front when the lights turned green. This, and the lack of power/poor gearing meant I lost a couple of places on the charge up to Quarry corner. I stayed wide to keep out of trouble, probably too wide. I was right up behind one of the Silhouette cars into The Esses chicane, then turned tightly to give myself a straighter line into Old Paddock. This allowed a Proton Coupe up the inside, beginners error there on my part. It had a similar performance to my car in a straight line, with my little Seven having the advantage under braking and cornering. By the end of the first lap I was still right behind the Proton, with my slick tyres starting to get up to temperature (you can feel the grip improving). I then made another error by not following right behind the car and benefiting from a slip stream. Caterhams have many positive advantages, but aerodynamics is not one of them, and having a 100mph blast of air does reduce the rate of acceleration somewhat. Into Quarry and I had a better exit from the corner and made the overtake into the Esses. A good feeling to make my first overtake and be able to keep a rival behind. After a few laps there was a big smokescreen up ahead signifying that one of the Tigers engines had expired. The rest of the race was really quite lonely and felt more like a trackday, with a bit of concern coming from slippery surface flags and trails of fluid on the racing line. With no cars around me I slowed down just to be safe and crossed the finish line with a couple of tin tops catching me up.

Another trophy and finished 16th this race and another class win.

                                           

 

I felt really tired by the end of the day and it was odd changing the wheels over and driving back home on the roads again. The experience of this race showed to us that we would need a different support car and a trailer too. The worry comes if you have a mechanical issue or accident on track, it could lead to a difficult conversation with the AA! Kia Picantos might be ok for short drives to work, but packed to the roof with tools and tyres they are not ideal race support vehicles. Still, Beth was happy at the thought of us buying a tow car with more power!

 

June 2009

 

Next race I would enter would be at Silverstone the very next month. Running on the shorter National layout, this is a track I had driven a couple of times before. As the tight budget I was running on didn’t allow any testing or trackdays it made sense for me to enter rounds at circuits I had driven before (It takes a while to drive quickly on an unfamiliar circuit).

As it got closer to the event I was checking the weather forecast daily. I didn’t have any wet weather race tyres (aside from my rubbish road tyres), plus Silverstone is one of the most slippery tracks I have ever driven in the wet, so I was praying for a dry day.

 

The day before the event we drove up to our friends house in Leicester, which meant a shorter drive on the morning of the event. It rained heavily that night and didn’t stop. The early morning drive to Silverstone was done at a very slow pace due to the amount of standing water and poor visibility. An open Caterham with no roof or screen in a complete downpour is not a pleasurable machine on the motorway – low weight makes them aquaplane very easily. Any passing cars were chucking waves of water into the open cockpit and the constant hard rain soon meant I was literally sat in a puddle of water. My speed was down to 50mph or lower on the motorways which is quite scary when 4x4s were hurtling past at 90. Thankfully I was wearing all in one waterproofs - a cheap motorbike suit from Lidl.

A later than expected arrival at the circuit just as the rain stopped did add to the pressure on me. All the signing on and scrutineering done I could think about qualifying. The Intermarque series were racing again with the Tiger sportscars, although this time we had no tin tops which lowered the numbers racing somewhat. I didn’t mind this in the conditions.

The grey clouds did continue to threaten through the day which made tyre choice a bit of a gamble, but we wouldn’t see rain again. The standing water would take sometime to clear and not quickly enough for qualifying, so I kept my old road tyres on. Standing water was also present in the footwells, boot and seats! Without the luxury of a pit crew, wet ground and limited time I decided to leave the anti roll bars alone in their stiffer dry settings.  As we got the call to assemble I was feeling far more nervous about the conditions than the actual qualifying itself.

The formula Palmer Audis with their wings and Formula 1 type appearance had done a good job of removing most of the standing water. I crept out on track and decided first of all to ‘bank’ three slowish laps to just get me on the grid. I was soon left behind. As I feared the circuit was very slippery, and as I increased my pace I had various slides and I cursed my lack of track time (some of the guys I spoke to had been testing for the previous two days), poor tyres and dry set up. Exiting Copse corner I increased the amount of throttle and without warning I spun quickly, going all the way around before regaining control. It surprised me as I hadn’t been on a white line or kerb and the steering wheel was virtually straight.

I was happy to get to the end of the session with no damage done, leaving me 24th out of 28 cars.

 

I had a few hours to go before the first race, had the drivers briefing, and then my family and friends started arriving. My good friends Mark and Jodi had come down from Leicester to watch, and it was great to have both my Mum and Dad along to watch. My mother is NOT a car person, but has become interested in the track driving and racing, although she still won’t come out on track with me! I felt proud to have Dad there after all those years of talking cars and watching racing at Snetterton. They settled down in the grandstand overlooking Brooklands and Luffield before my race, after receiving a detailed weather report from Dad.

 

The track became dry, so I changed over to slicks. A great relief and maybe a chance to make amends for my poor qualifying?  

                   

Out on track for the first race, and more frantic weaving and braking to get tyre temps up before the rolling start. I told myself I must stick closely to the back of the car in front at the start, but found my cold slicks just didn’t give me the grip needed at the start. The video shows a good few battles and lessons learned about slipstreaming, guarding lines and overtaking. Another class win and far less nerves, I was really enjoying myself.  

                                        

                                         Silverstone Race video June 2009 

Summer 2009

Time to concentrate on work and spend money on making the race day easier. We changed Beths Kia for a rather more suitable tow vehicle - a BMW 330D.

                                           

Having added a towbar we then bought a Brian James Minno trailer as they seem to have a great reputation among other Caterham racers, plus it would fit in our garage, with the Caterham in top. Scotland was a bit of a driver to collect it, but it made for a bit of a road trip too.

                                                  

October 2009

The long wait over the summer gave me plenty to think about. I was really looking forward to racing at Snetterton, with it being a circuit I spectated as a child. It is a circuit with long straights, making slip streaming important if I was going to keep up with the bigger engine cars I race against. Keeping things brief, I had two good races, with some close battles with the Tigers and John Chaseys Caterham.  

                                                

                                  Snetterton Race 1 video October 2009  

A spin in the second race exiting Russell chicane was disappointing after such good work making up places, still, enough of the race left to catch back up and get a place again. The light was fading fast in this second race, lucky their were no further delays. Class wins in both races.

                                  Snetterton Race 2 video October 2009

November 2009

Final races of the season on the Brands Hatch Indy circuit along with the Tin Tops. I would have a fair bit more competition in my class, including some well prepared Escort Mk1s and 2s. The weather was very unsettled for the races, with the second race being delayed for some time with an almighty downpour leaving me soaked, together with some very deep standing water on track. Take a look at the race video below for an illustration, then imagine how cold November rain is running down your back and into the seat! I still had no wet weather tyres, using my old road tyres (Yokohama A539s), which were far from ideal. Removing the anti roll bars did help make the car feel more manageable. Driving a clean and tidy race was what was important, and necessary to take the Class win overall. As the track started to dry I was able to use a bit more of the power and made an important pass on the Escorts (one of which had spun off having only brought slick tyres!). It did make me realise how small and vulnerable the Caterham is alongside the saloons.

 

                                     Brands Hatch Race video November 2009

A good first season of racing during which I learnt how different racing is from trackdays, won my class overall and had no mechanical issues at all. By gaining signatures after each race on an upgrade card it gives me the option to upgrade to a National A license (need a minimum 6 races) which I took up.