June 12th

Well, as it turned out I needn't have worried about the weather at Anglesey because it was absolulty great. In fact it was one of those "have you put enough sun-block on" weekends. What's more, the new circuit is a dream, although rather tricky to drive. Certainly with the weather it was a great place to spend a weekend. Like last time I was here, I had this strong desire to go off and climb up some of the mountains in Snowdonia. This would have been for old time's sake, I spent much of my youth tramping up and down the Welsh 3000s... Mind you, I'm rather less fit now that I was then. Sigh...

I actually took the photo (click it for a larger version) here last time I was racing in Anglesey, back in 2006.

Since then the circuit has been completely dug up and replaced with a new layout that includes 4 separate circuits. We were racing on the Coastal circuit, whose outline is shown in this diagram from the data logger analysis software.

The lap starts where the lap marker is, heads around the innovatively named Turn 1 and up to the hairpin at the top tight. This is interesting because it's a 10° banked turn. Then it's down to Church at the bottom right, named after a small church on an offshore island that is closest to this bit of the track (it's about 100 metres away from the sea) and which is reachable by causeway on four weekends a year. Apparently they have to stop racing on those days so the churchgoers can hear themselves think.

The second after Church is very quick, although never straight and goes up quite a steep hill to the left hander at Rocket In, followed very quickly by the right hander at Rocket Out. After a short straight there's the surprisingly trickly right hander at Peel. Then the track goes steeply downhill to the left, right, left of the Corkscrew.

One of the best things about the new circuit is that there are a couple of great spectating positions. This photo (again, click it for a larger version) is taken from the hill just above the Corkscrew. You can see the Corkscrew going down the hill in the foreground with the loop up towards the banking behind the paddock in the distance. As before, there's the sea and Snowdonia as well. This photo was taken pretty late in the evening, hence the absence of cars on the circuit.

Well, we got back rather late from Anglesey on Sunday night. It was a pretty good weekend. However, I seem to be falling into a sort of mid-field doldrums, unable to go any quicker. I'm not too sure what to do about it, to be honest.

So, that's enough eulogising. What happened? Well, I'd booked testing all day on Friday, as like most other people the circuit was completely new to me. Luckily, the weather looked good, after a rather murky start.

The first session out was a bit tentative. I'd walked the circuit in the morning and knew which way the bends went but a number of them kept surprising me. In particular the innovatively named Turn 1 seemed to be a magnet for turning in too early. FL in the first session was 1:18.77. At least I now knew the circuit. Most of it was pretty tricky and I don't think I really worked out how to do two particular bits (Rocket In and the Corkscrew) properly all weekend.

In the rest of the day I managed to go faster in every session, I was down to 1:17.5 in the last session. A lot of other people will down to below 1:17 though. The main problem really was dialling out the understeer at Church. I ended up softening the front ARB by quite a lot but it still wasn't great, I was having to get out of the throttle rather more that I would have liked, slowing me along the fastest bit of the track.

Best thing, though, was the circuit itself. It's fantastic place and the views were just amazing. On each of the four in laps I was struck by the amazing view across to Snowdonia as I was heading down to the top of the Corkscrew, pretty much as in the photo above, although when it was sunny.

Later in the evening we hosted an RGB BBQ, to which we invited the marshalls. A great time was had by all.

On saturday, we had another great day of weather, rather odd for Anglesey really. The last time I was here the rain was coming across the circuit horizontally.

We scrutineered early and queued up for qualifying. I made a special effort to get near the front of the qualifying queue as there were probably going to be 20 or so people who hadn't been out on the circuit out there. I needed to get two decent lap times as there were two races. I managed to get a banker lap in at 1:17.3 but I knew I could go quicker. So, I backed off, found a bit of space and went for it...

...and immediately fell off at Turn 1 because I apexed too early. Sigh...

So, I went slowly again and threw myself at the start finish straight, only to see the chequered flag. Rats!

So, I was a lamentable 14th on the grid in both RGB races, 9th in class on both occasions.

Later in the day and the race appeared. I must admit that I wasn't looking forward to it too much. The circuit, I was discovering, seems to make me feel sick like Cadwell does and I realised while sitting in the assembly area that I'd forgotten to take the tablets that seem to control it a bit. Hmm, that could be bad news. What's more, this was going to be a half hour race... Gulp.

I got a semi-decent start, only really getting beaten by James who's in a class A Fury so that's OK. However, on the back straight I was still getting rather serious understeer through Church and on the rise up to Rocket In Ian Grey came shooting past (where did he come from?) and Stuart Tanton came skittering up the hill locked up, past Henry and smacked into the back of me. Luckily he didn't do too much damage and I pressed on. Next lap and, again at Rocket, I almost got past Colin but found my way blocked by Ian and I had to get out of it, meaning that Henry got past me into Peel.

That meant that we had Colin, Ian, Henry and me in a four car train and then Ian half-spun on the start/finish straight and it was Colin, Henry and then me (altough I was just a few yards too far back to really get involved). I did pretty well at keeping in touch but then Ian caught up again and was all over me like a rash. I had to adopt a large array of defensive lines to keep him there. Then we caught up with a collection of three backmarkers and I must admit that I made a dog's breakfast of lapping them. (Although, reviewing the video, there was an alarming lack of blue flags.) In the process I lost touch with Colin and Henry. What's more, I started feeling really rather ill.

Luckily, probably, Ian started suffering from overheating and he had to drop back and that's essentially the situation that it finished in. I was 9th in class and completely knackered. What's more, when looking at the car the rear left corner was crunched a bit. What's more, the light had popped out and had apparently spent the whole race hanging on by the cable. A marshall came over later and said that I'd probably over-specified the cable as it swung to and fro for the entire race without actually coming adrift. The lens of the light had completely disappeared and the body of the light was significantly the worse for wear, having been scraped against most of the track for half an hour. It did still work though, at least when I put some new bulbs in it!

My FL was a 17.2 which I'd done on lap 8, before the sickness set in. What is clear is that I need to work on maintaining my pace, and not being fazed by backmarkers. I think I'm too nice, to be honest, and I should just barge up the inside. Ian said later that he'd been screaming inside his helmet at me to just get past them.

Sunday dawned as yet another beautiful day. WTF is going on? I wandered over to the toilets first thing and bumped into a few RGBers. We hatched a plan to enter the allcomers later that day, if we could get in cheaply. We did, and so we lined up for another quali session at 10am. Before that I'd taped up the bodywork, stuck the remains of the light back in the bodywork and taped an orange (I couldn't find a red one) plastic bag over the light to be a "lens".

Qualifying was really a chance to see how the car was going as the other thing I'd done was to change the front springs. I'd changed the fronts from 170 to 200 over the closed season as I'd never really liked the amount of pre-load that was needed with the 170s. However, the understeer at Church and Turn 1 was just too horrible. First impressions were that it was much better, I should have done that earlier. Mind you, of course, I now need to get the scales out again.

I ended up with a 17.6 time which was good enough for 4th on the grid, the best of the rest behind the radicals and just in front of Bob Mortimer (an RGB newbie with a 'busa Fury) and Adrian. Adrian was really getting the hang of this circuit and going quicker and quicker.

The allcomers race was at 2pm and by this time Jonathan who was on pole (and is an ex-RGBer) had pulled out, meaning that if I could stay best of the rest then I could be in for a 3rd place. At the start Bob rather surprised me by getting the jump on me and I was behind him. I then spent some considerable number of laps crawling all over the back of him at every opportunity. The problem is that his extra power (about 180 against my 130ish) meant that he could always pull away on the straighter bits. However I did eventually annoy him enough so that he missed his braking for Peel and went very wide. I was past and pulled away comfortably, all the way to the line where I did indeed finish 3rd. I didn't push after I got past Bob as I knew there wouldn't be any point, hence the FL of 18.0.

Towards the end of the day and it was time for the 18min RGB race. Luckily this time I'd taken my tablets and was hoping to stay together. In a short while it was pretty much as before in that I was just behind Ian Grey and Stuart who had somehow or other got past me at the banking on the first lap. There was a considerable melee there and all sorts of things happened.

There was couple of laps of things sorting themselves out then, and I was up to the back of Stuart. He was over-driving all over the place and I knew if I harried him enough he'd fall off, and sure enough he did, at the inevitable Rocket In. Immediately I came across Ian who'd spun at Rocket Out so I was past both of them and could try and catch up with someone else. However, it was not to be as Stuart caught up again and I had to go into defensive mode.

Eventually, though, he went straight on at Rocket In (the marshalls there must have thought it was a hoot, it certainly looks great in my race video) and I got to the line. This time I was 11th, 5th in class which was slightly better. FL was a 17.4 which was really in the vicinity of the fastest time I'd done all weekend. I just know I could be quicker, especially if I could do Turn 1 and Church better. Oh, and the banking, Rocket and the Corkscrew too. Hmm...

Oh well, it was a great weekend though.

June 18th

We're counting down to the next race meeting at Brands Hatch. This time there are two races, although both on one day. One of them is the replacement for the race that we didn't manage to make at Snetterton right at the start of this season. This means it's going to be a very busy day as there's only a couple of hours between the races.

So, I've got a bit of preparation to do. First thing is to patch up the bodywork. This photo here is how I finished the last race at Anglesey with an orange plastic bag taped in place over the bashed-up bodywork.

Under the tape it looks like this. As is depressingly normal for Fisher bodywork when it gets bashed then bits of gelcoat fall away and underneath that you see a collection of completely unconsolidated glass matting. That is, it's just the usual lamentable quality. After several years involved with the Fisher bodywork I'm still amazed at this, it's hard to see why it isn't just sorted out. Yes, the moulds are bad but even so they're not used in any sort of skilful manner.

Oh well.

I sorted this in the usual manner, by adding some additional strength at the rear of the damage, in this case by some bits of woven carbon/glass that I happen to have for some reason.

I should then have sorted the surface side with some filler or some gelcoat. However, I have to admit that I just couldn't face the tedium of rubbing down for half a day and just sprayed the whole lot. I know it's naff but it's a race car.

One of the things about the car is that it collects rubber. As part of the Brands preparation I took the extinguisher out and found this alarmingly large cache of rubber hidden behind it. This always amazes me as given this amount of stuff you'd think that you'd be aware of being hit by rubber all time. Odd really...

The most important thing to be done before Brands was to fit some sort of towing eye. I've known for some time that towing the car, at least in the forward direction, using the roll cage isn't really a clever idea. When I fell off into the kitty litter at Redgate a couple of years ago the recovery crew had to pull me out backwards because pulling the car forwards just made the front end dig in more deeply.

Up till now I've just ignored the problem. However, Al apparently got a serious talking-to at Anglesey for not having a proper towing eye.

So, I exhumed a plan I'd had a couple of years ago for making a front towing eye. This is shown in the photo here and is really just a pull-rod welded to the front of the chassis with loop that sticks, ever so discreetly, out of the radiator grill. (I know it doesn't look like it but when you close the bonnet it misses the bonnet by at least 1mm...)

June 28th

So, I'm back from Brands and I've finally got around to updating this site. The problem is, I'm i the middle of writing the "qualifying dissertation" for my PhD and haven't really had the time to get around to this place. Still, the one line summary of Brands is that I went faster than I've ever done before but it was still a rather frustrating weekend.

I got to Brands in the early morning having driven, on Thursday, from Cambridge to York (to see my PhD supervisor) to South Mimms (for the 750 club's Race Technical Committee meeting) to Cambridge to Brands Hatch. I was knackered. There was a bit where the single lane of the M25 that existed just before the Brands turnoff (anyone's who's been past in the last 5 years or so will know the world's largest road works seem to be going on here) came to a complete halt. I think they were craning something over the road. I was seriously concerned that I'd fall asleep in the cab of the bus and the chap behind would have to come and wake me up!

Still, I got there, parked up and went to bed. In the morning the weather looked fine, unlike the forecast. So, I put on the testing tyre set, of which the left rear in particular is a bit second hand these days. Doubtless Clearways would wreak its own brand of havoc this weekend.

Now, the objective for the day was to get below 54 seconds, something I've dismally failed to do in the past. After looking at the logs it seemed as though I could brake lots later at Paddock and Druids without ending up in the kitty litter.

Out for session 1 and I had a grotty time really. I was so frustated that I forgot to stop the logger before I took the data card out so I don't even know what the time was anymore. If I remember correctly, it said something depressing like 54.9 on the display. I thought I'd been driving the nuts off the car, although on the video, which did work, that's clearly not true. I also had armfuls of oversteer all over the place. I was thinking that there was something wrong with the rear of the car. In fact, on the way back to the paddock (it's quite a trek at Brands) there was an awful lots of creaking and groaning from the rear of the car. I decided that perhaps the rear ARB was making life bad and I thought I'd try disconnecting it.

I did so and the next session was a little better. I was now back to a modicum of understeer at Clearways. If I could only persuade my right foot to be harder on the loud pedal then I might be able to kill that although I'd have to be confident enough that I wasn't going to end up in the gravel, of which there's several hectares around Clearways.

Mind you, the time wasn't too impressive at 54.18. A new measure that I've been using that I've dubbed the lead foot metric was 41.3%. This is the proportion of the lap where the throttle is over 90% applied. It seems to be related to laptime in a mostly monotonic manner which makes it interesting to look at. To be fair to myself, I wasn't on the best tyres and that the circuit was thick with marbles wasn't helping. I had a couple of trips wide at Paddock when I overdid my efforts at late braking and the quantity of marbles made it a rather exciting experience!

Much against my better principles I signed on for the afternoon although I knew it'd be busier. (We were mixed in with the locosts which is often bad news as they get in the way all the time. Mind you, they probably get hacked off by those bloody RGB cars...)

Mind you, nothing could be as bad as the boat-tail Corvette that was out on the circuit. At least that's what I think it was, see the video capture on the left. For this thing slow just doesn't come into it... Still, he was probably having fun which is the main thing. It made life rather difficult getting a lap though.

Amusingly, there was a yellow Ginetta G20 out on the circuit too, with a novice cross on the back. I wouldn't have been surprised to find out that the driver was a brand new novice and they seemed to be jumping nervously whenever I came up to lap them, which was quite frequently. By the end of the day the car was just being driven up to every corner on the inside of the circuit, which seems an odd tactic. They bang on at you at the ARDS test about sticking to the line so as not to surprise any more experienced drivers. This particular person was obviously not awake at this bit of the test...

After lunch I was, though, really going for it. I seemed to be able to run various bits quicker although Graham Hill Bend still seems to be a bit of a mystery to me. I put my right rear off the circuit at turn-in once which is something I'm not going to repeat in a hurry...

FL in this session was 54.83 and the LFM was a mere 36.4%. I suspect, though, that almost all laps were blocked in one way or another due to business of the circuit.

One of the problems I have at Brands is the Surtees/Maclaren bit which ends with an off camber turn uphill while braking. (See? Dead easy...) It almost feels as though the car's jacking up at the rear as I go through here. I wonder if the rebound damping is too high? Perhaps I should have bought the double adjustables after all?

In the final session I continued tweaking things and even tried setting the dampers to full stiff at one point. A bad idea that, I doubt my dentist will be impressed.... The FL was back down a smidgeon though to 54.3 with the LFC at 43.7%. So, not good enough really. Hopefully it'll be better with the race tyres on.

On Saturday I stayed down at the circuit even though we weren't on track again until Sunday. So I did things like cleaning the car and deglazing the brake pads. I put the race tyres on and did a certain amount of minor fettling. For example, I rubbed the throttle pedal down: powder coating on throttle pedals is a very bad idea as it sticks to your boots. Shiny metal is much better. The only problem is it's now going to rust. I may just have to polish up the pedal before each race meeting.

On Sunday the weather forecast was better than we'd been led to expect earlier in the week. In the assembly area we were looking at the weather, all firmly on dry settings, and hoping that the grey skies wouldn't turn into something horrible. As it turned out, they didn't. The sun broke through and the rest of the day was great.

I'd got near the front of the qualifying queue, always a high priority at Brands so with luck I could get a decent time before we caught up with the back markers. After a couple of laps a 53.9 appeared on the display, and a few laps later I managed a 53.82.

So, at least I'd managed to lay the 54 seconds problem. The only issue is that I was 14th, 8th in class. Martin had done an absolutely astounding 52.47 to claim the class C pole. Of course, his car's actually on the weight limit, not least because the bodywork's so thin that when left out in the sun it cracks. Mine isn't on the limit you'll not be surprised to know...

The best bit about qualifying is that I was in front of Colin, albeit by a mere .02 seconds...

The first race was at about 3pm and it was now bright and sunny. I made a half decent start although not as good as I'd planned (!) and was at the end of a train with Richard and David in front of me. I made several manful attempts at getting past David but he has to be the hardest bloke in RGB. He give the impression of not having seen you at all although I suspect this isn't true. If I was just a bit more forceful it'd be much easier. Oh well. After a while the distant Josh in my mirrors was replaced by Colin and he got closer and closer and I eventually made a stupid mistake into Surtees (a theme of the weekend) and he got past. After that I sort of lost touch with him and finished about 2 seconds behind him in 11th place, 8th in class. FL was 53.9 but I'd done that early in the race and after that I didn't seem to be able to string a decent lap together; there's a whole bunch of 54.3, 54.4, 54.1s etc.

I determined that I was going to try harder in the second race. However, I got a dire start and Josh to the right of me got an even worse one and I had to dive left to avoid him. That meant that Colin got the jump on me at the start. David and I were behind him and we swapped place twice, I think. At one point I nearly managed to get past Colin when he left the door open at Druids. However, he turned in on me and we banged wheels fairly forcefully. However, it didn't seem to do much damage although I'll check at the weekend. Unfortunately, I was still behind him.

Then, in what is a signature move of mine, I cocked up getting past a back marker and David got past me Surtees again. After that I struggled manfully but couldn't make it past again and thatís how we finished. I was 10th, 7th in class and just 0.4 seconds behind David at the line.

However, the FL was the best I'd managed all weekend at 53.74. However, the data loggers theoretical FL is now 52.85. If I could only string those fast sectors together, they were all done on Sunday so it's quite feasible, then I'd be right at the front. So, consistency is still lacking, really...

Next meeting is Cadwell so I need to stock up on Ginger Nuts (for their medicinal properties). I'm also thinking about changing the rear spring rates and putting the rear ARB back on, although being careful that it's working properly.

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