July 25th

Lydden circuitIt's late on Sunday evening and we got home a while ago from the race weekend at Lydden. I've come to the conclusion that finishing a race, wired on adrenalin, and then driving a trailered car home is just about the most tiring thing in the world..

Anyway, it was a pretty successful weekend. I still haven't beaten anyone (fair and square, anyway) but I feel that I'm a lot closer to it.

The weekend started with getting up early on Saturday and driving down to Lydden Hill, which is just about at Dover and about a 2 hour drive for us.

Scrutineering was pretty straightforward and we didn't have long to wait for our practice session just after midday. We only had 10 minutes so it was going to be pretty difficult to learn the circuit and set anything like a decent time. It's a very short track, just mile long and with essentially four corners on it. However, they're all very different from each other and there's also quite a lot of gradient and camber changes which make it all pretty interesting. I did spend a while mugging up with the aid of the circuit guide, which was very useful, but of course no substitute for the real thing.

One minor event in practice took place on paddock bend. This is approached at full chat down a fairly steep hill from North Bend. You pretty much have to brake and turn at the same time and as the car reaches the apex the camber goes very negative and the car goes really loose and you drift across the circuit hoping that you won't get in the gravel trap that's there to catch you before you hit the tyre barrier, behind which is a short cliff made of best Kentish chalk; your very own white cliff! I caught one rear wheel in the gravel trap once, as a result of apexing far too early and therefore being pushed wide. I spun off into the infield but got going again without any problems. Apart from the duff lap time that is.

The other corners include Pilgrim's/Chesson's Drift (no idea which bit is which), Devil's Elbox and North Bend. Chesson's is approached on a twisting, camber changing track down a hill and then turning right and sharply upwards. During practice there were loads of marbles just here too, making life pretty interesting. After that you could get on the power and pretty much hold a simple line around the rest of the bend. The name seems to imply some sort of drift, but that probably applies to cars of a bygone ago.

Devil's Elbow is a fairly sharp bend with a very fast approach just needing a lot of brakes and a suitably late turn in and then it's off up the hill (a pretty steep hill) to North Bend. This is a hairpin which I seemed to spend the entire weekend trying to find out how to get around. I tried a late turn-in, an early turn-in, double-apexing it, and so on. Nothing seemed to be right, possibly because the exit was a real oversteer extravaganza. Some of that cars in the races later made it look like a rally bend with a classic tail-out style.

Anyway, after practice I was the inevitable last.I was, though, only 0.3 second behind Colin Chapman (honestly!).

The first race later was pretty dismal, to be honest. At the start I got away moderately well but didn't seem to make any sort of decent progress. After that I just seemed to slip smoothly backwards. I was conscious that I was still learning the circuit though. Unfortunately, I got lapped by a whole bunch of people (although not by any means the entire field this time). I did get lapped twice, just before the finish, by the leading pair of cars though.

Post race scrutineering was interesting. As a consequence of getting lapped just before the finish I was third in the queue, which seemed at least a better result, as I could get away quickly. Then I found out they were checking reversing mechanisms which meant that I was essentially at the back of the queue! The car's reverse worked just fine, which is more than could be said for loads of other people. There were some horrendous graunching noises and lots of drivers that clearly had no idea how to get the reverse to work.

Leaving North BendI got to the next race determined to make a better fist of it. What's more, this race was longer at 20 minutes. I had finished the first race pretty much exhausted so 20 minutes seemed like an age. With a bit more fuel in the tank (although much too much, as it transpired) we went up to the start. As practice had been the previous day we got a green flag lap which was a novelty. This also meant I had to remember where my start position was, which was pretty difficult in the maze of markings on the grid.

Starting at Lydden is fairly difficult because the track goes downhill. This means that as soon as you give the engine some revs with the clutch disengaged the car starts to creep forwards. It seems as though the stewards just ignore this as no-one seemed to be penalised for jumping the start. Anyway, as the lights went out I dropped the clutch and shot forward. The tyres then seemed to get a bit of grip and the car just bogged down and I seemed to go backwards for a couple of seconds. However, after that I went around with the group of about 5 cars at the back of the field for quite a few laps. I could see places where I was a bit quicker but never worked out a way to get past anyone. In reality I was really just hanging on for grim death. At some point I then just lost touch with this group and moved back a bit and, after a while, the end of the race arrived. However, I felt as though I had stayed rather more in touch with things for a while so things are possibly on the up. I did only get lapped by 4 or 5 people this time, and then only once. What's more, I was pretty sure that I know where I was slow. In simple terms, everywhere! However, I do know where I was going wrong, at least at this circuit. One worrying thing, perhaps, is that on the entry to Chesson's Drift I found that there was no way I could persuade my right foot to stay flat on the throttle up to the braking point. The fact that you approach this point over wildly varying cambers and down a hill with the barriers very close is perhaps something to so with this. But, next time.

I did do a little bit of analysis of the first three races. One good sign is that if you take my average speed as a percentage of the average speed of the class C winner for those races then the figures are 88%, 90% and 93%. If I can just get to 98 or 99% that would be great. It was interesting that I was about a second quicker in the second race and just about everyone else was actually slower. (It did rain a very small amount during the race which might account for this.)

One issue that is becoming apparent to me is just how competitive class C RGB is. I was talking to Tim Harmer (one of the class A drivers) about the first race and he pointed this out. I've just worked out that if I had been 99% as fast as the winner I would only have made 5th place. So, there's clearly a long way to go. A positive issue is that the racing seems to be very clean and everyone is very friendly in the paddock. I guess as most people have built their own cars then there is a large desire not to bend them. Certainly I was just a few inches away from loads of other people and never felt intimidated by them at all.

On the plus side I got another two signatures on my licence, so that's something to be cheerful about!

Roll on Silverstone. I can't wait. (Although doubtless I'll forget and get mega-nervous again.)

 next page