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Diary 2011

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 at us!

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 the roads.

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 Caterham Graduates 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 package.

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.