Following on from the 'Chicken Shed drifting' in 2010 I
wrote an article which was published in Januarys 'Low
Flying' magazine for the Lotus Seven Club, copied here -
The aim for the early part of the year was to discover the
reason why the performance of my new 1600 engine seemed
lower than it should have been, particularly shown in top
speed/high revs. Having had a power and fuelling run I then
saved for an Emerald
ECU which comes highly recommended for the Caterham.
Nice and simple installation with no cutting of wires
required. I had difficulties getting the car to start,
requiring much advice from Emerald and
Dave Andrews. I
booked in to have the Emerald mapped by a friend of mine I
have known for years through the Fiat Coupe Club - Leighton
and his company
FC Performance. We chose a date and booked to use the
rolling road at the unusually named
Badger 5. The day
came and it was a bit dull with rain forecast. I brought
along my laptop and cables and we got to work. Leighton had
done some homework before hand allowing him to play around
and familiarise himself with the Emerald software.
It soon became apparant that the supplied map was way off
ideal so every load and rpm point needed correction. For
anyone that has ever had their car on rollers, especially
during mapping would probably agree it's a slightly worrying
experience. I was pleased to be involved in the process with
Leighton operating the laptop with knock cans on as well as
controlling operations, with me sitting in my car doing as I
was told and the owner of Badger5 operating the rollers
(photo below shows the owner of Badger5 in my car).
It's actually quite difficult holding a steady, light
throttle in my car but we managed just fine. It's a bit
breezy in my Seven with no screen, doors or roof, so the
fans blowing full force in my face did make hearing (and
seeing!) a bit tricky. Added to that the car was breathing
heavily so a good amount of oil vapour was being thrown back
Still, after a couple of hours we were there with a good
basic map that Leighton was happy with. I really liked the
way that the cars safety was paramount, at no time did I
feel like we were pushing the timing or fuelling too much
(unlike a Coupe experience at another location years ago).
Next up was a few hours spent fine tuning the mapping out on
Leighton is a strapping six footer better built for Rugby
than Caterhams so it was a little snug for him getting in
the passenger seat.
With the Tillet one piece racing seats
with 6 point harnesses, and an extinguisher on the passenger
floor between your legs as well as a full roll cage space is
tight. In addition for the live mapping to take place in the
roads Leighton would have to have my large laptop with
open screen and 12v transformer on his lap. Still, I heard
no complaints and off we drove at different speeds around
the local area whilst Leighton had his eyes glued to the
screen as he tapped the keyboard.
We called a halt as the sold rain was falling, having done
pretty much everything we set out to do, plus the full
throttle runs were getting very difficult with a wet road,
rubbish tyres and rush hour traffic!
All in all a good day, and the result? A gain of 1BHP! Yup,
1 measly horsepower! Taking the grand total to 139BHP which
is only 1 above the book figure. However, further research
has shown that few standard 1600 Superport make close their
manufacturer figures, so I have gained in real terms. more
importantly the peak power is now produced about 300rpm up
the rev range and the torque curve is looking fatter. I can
feel the difference on the road so am hoping to see a
difference in lap time also.
What FC Performance has done is given me a safe but well
performing car (at a sensible price too) and highlighted
that it is the mild camshafts which are the limiting factor
in power and torque. .
After the mapping day it was found that cold running and low
throttle response was not ideal so a second visit was made
at no charge, with good result.
In March I was asked to drive paying
passengers around a slalom/drift course as part of the Dads
Day Out charity event taking place in May 2011 at Dunsfold
(Top Gear Track). I was happy to accept and was looking
forward to drifting around all day. Good tyres on the front
and worn, hard tyres on the back pumped up to high pressure
made things easier to unstick the back end. The best thing of all for me was
chatting to total strangers sat next to me in the car.
Almost all of my passengers had never been in a Caterham
before, but knew what they were by reputation. When asked
what they drove at present (or what Mum/Dad drove) the cars
ranged from KA/Civic/company car through to three Aston
Drivers and an M5 owner. ALL of them left the car with a big
smile, totally blown away by what a little car with not much
power on rubbish tyres can do.
I had a young lad in the car proudly tell me his Dad owned a
BMW M5. I said wow, good car and asked him did his dad ever
drive the car sideways. He said no, well, only in the snow
when he didn't mean to. Right I said, lets see what we can
do about that then.....there followed a particularly lairy
run. He seemed to enjoy it. One of my runs (typical that it
is one where I make a mistake!) was captured here -
The event raised over £100,000 in total, with the Caterhams
certainly helping towards this total with their 300+ rides.
I hope to do the same event next year if asked, and Beth
also wants to get involved as a driver too.
The week following the Dads Day Out event we were back at
Dunsfold for the annual club Handling day. Club members get
to drive their cars on the Top Gear track (in return for a
charitable donation), a slalom circuit, drift/freestyle area
and a 0-60 drag strip.
I was asked by the club to be a pace car driver to
lead other Caterhams around the track. The Top Gear layout
is actually a figure of eight type layout, therefore you
can't just let cars out or a collision would be inevitable
at some stage! Not only that it is also quite a difficult
layout to follow at first; no wonder celebs get lost.
Good fun, and whilst driving sensibly I still witnessed a
few people spin behind me.
These two events showed that the springs fitted were too
soft and stiffer anti roll bars could not control this
adequately. I bought some red Caterham springs from ebay
which were originally fitted to a heavier Vauxhall engined
Caterham. At 300lbs on the front I am aware they are
probably too hard, but it is worth an experiment. After flat
flooring I am happier with the result although track testing
has shown a tendancy to snap to oversteer very quickly. I
have fitted the smallest ARB on the front and backed off the
rear ARB and can live with the result. An added bonus is
that the car is now less likely to bottom out when loaded up
with passenger and luggage.
Over the last couple of years of setting up the chassis for
camber, tracking, rake/height adjustment and flat flooring I
have started to work on others cars. Using simple tools and
even bathroom scales I have got the handling of my own car
pretty much as I prefer towards an oversteer bias. After my
friend Philip changed his Caterhams wheels from 16" to 13"
he asked for my help to set his car up too.
The results on track appeared good, with the car handling
well and better than before. More importantly the ride
height was now perfect, minimising danger of striking cats
eyes. Update 2012, see the new setup page.
In July I heard that Castle Combe were celebrating the 100th
ever Caterham race by staging 100km of racing for Caterham
Sevens. This was split between qualifying and two seperate
races. Best of all it was priced at £100 total which is a
bargain these days. On the same days racing were the
series, so I knew that I would have a bit of competition
with the Super Grads cars being a similar pace to me and the
Mega Graduates being that bit faster. My one advantage being
my old slick tyres. The one thing I didn't know was how many
more powerful Sevens would enter (R400s, CSRs etc.). bought
gloves and a balaclava, fitted the side impact bar (with
some persuasion!) and thought I would give my 8" rear tyres
a go for the first time (thanks to John Chasey for his
advice from Peru). I had no chance of testing whether the 8"
rears would tame the snap oversteer or make it worse by
further increasing the rake.
On the day I was sad to see only 14 drivers had signed on,
with only 10 actually getting out to qualify. I was however
pleased to see that I would start 5th on the grid.
The first race came, and it would be my first experience of
a standing start and I blew it! The Mallock (not a
Caterham!) which was racing with us had a problem on the
line and the yellow flags flew so I assumed they would abort
the start and I let my revs drop. Damn, no, everyone else
started so I dropped down to 8th. A combination of a few
overtakes and a Megagrad spinning saw me get up to 3rd place
and I spent the rest of the race trying to catch the black
Megagrad in front, but could only get within a few seconds
of him. I was being chased down by another Mega at half a
second a lap, so with just one more lap he would have caught
me. I got my best ever lap on that last lap with a time of
1min 17.5. The chap catching me was also within two tenths
of a second away from the Megagrad lap record too on that
last lap so he (Martin Amison) was clearly trying!
I loved the winners parade lap around the circuit on the
back of the open topped winners car especially with the
support of family and friends from here and work. Nerve
racking talking to the commentator!
The second race saw me second on the grid after a driver
change of the Mega in front. A good start this time but no
way I could stay with the R400. A mistake on the second lap
at Quarry saw me caught by the same Megagrad car who was
catching me in the first race, and then I left the door wide
open into Tower and he sailed past! The straight line pace
of the car surprised me and it turned into quite a battle to
stay in the slipstream and work out how to get past a more
powerful car using my advantage of grippier tyres.
The handling was still less than perfect, but thanks to
keeping in the tow and making Martin use some defensive
lines I stuck with him. When he missed a gear I nearly drove
into the back of him, very close!
I won't say any more, take a look at the video instead (I
missed out the last 5 laps or so).
Finishing third in the first race and second in the second
race meant I finished second overall, for which I received
this lovely cup.
Having enjoyed 6
months ownership of a VW T4 Caravelle it was time for a
change of tow car again. The T4 proved ideal for a two week
road trip which took in a drive down the length of France,
the Pyrennes (where I proposed), Southern Spain then back up
through France (via Millau Viaduct and Magny Cours) into
Germany and the Nurburgring then back home. As an everyday
car we really didnít like the VW bus however and wanted to
go back to something sporty that could tow and give us some
safe fun on a wet trackday. Having considered various cars
we decided on a Toyota Celica TRD Sports M, perhaps not the
obvious tow car choice, but rare and good fun in a reliable
More instructing throughout the Autumn, in both customers
and friends Sevens and in a V8 powered Toyota Alteza (Lexus
is200). Great fun and a good way for me to gain free track
practise. for a number of years I have been informally
instructing friends and colleagues on track and have wanted
to become qualified. The difficulty has been in finding a
circuit running an instructor course. For two years I had
been in touch with Castle Combe and Thruxton but neither
were running a course. Late in 2011 I discovered that Brands
Hatch were running a course in January 2012, so I paid my
£400 and enroled having checked I had the required amount of
experience and license to be eligible. I will continue with
this story into 2012.