On the 12th of December myself and Gavin Johnson had our first run out in the 924 we’ll be campaigning next season. The weather was dreadful, on the verge of abandonment all the way through and the track went through various phases of being wet, to very wet, to additionally covered in oil from various Renault Clio’s that expired during the weekend’s running. Seriously, I think the number of Clio’s on trackdays should be limited after more or less every stoppage was a Clio stranded. It’s a real problem guys!
Anyway, as a meter of performance two days in the wet wasn’t ideal, but in theory the weekend was simply a chance to acquaint ourselves with the car, check all systems were functioning as they should, and come up with a to-do list of repairs/changes/improvements to get the car to our liking – all whilst bringing it back in one piece. All of these aims were achieved, and I was happy to set a good pace in the last session, driving away from all but the much more powerful and better suited cars. I think any time you catch and pass a Civic Cup Type R in the rain with a 140bhp rear wheel drive 70’s Porsche, you can count it as a good sign! A couple of hairy moments including a spin on my first out-lap on Saturday (FWD habits die hard…) were the only blips. Dry running required in the near future to really get a handle on it, but this was a success. You can read more and see a neatly created video covering the weekend on the Turn 8 Racing Site. My video of a three-lap segment from the final session is available here.
The track action continued thick and fast and on Thursday I was at Brands Hatch for the for the first round of the Team HARD scholarship! Another chance to hang out with Gavin now he’s officially a member of Team HARD, and to get my hands on some tasty machinery! It’s a much bigger event than I expected and the team were impressive in their organisation and execution. Interestingly it turned into a first meeting with two of our future Porsche rivals Nizar El-Chamaa and Jamie Callender. Given that people were allowed to leave as soon as they completed their second run I never found out how anyone got on, but cool to meet the guys nonetheless. This initial assessment of the 90+ candidates involved two sessions in Cup cars… unless you were later in the day like myself after a couple of billies had wrecked two of the Golfs. Fortunately I got a run in the team’s new VW Cup Passat CC – the wide-bodied car and the only one of it’s type in the championship, and what turned out to be the surprisingly rapid Trackday Trophy Golf! Whilst the greasy conditions in the morning meant I ran on wets with the Passat, the TT car had treaded tyres which while it kept me within my comfort zone means I’ve still never lapped a track with proper racing slicks! Aside from that I was hoping for a little more instructor input but being the last person in a car after quite a torrid day for the team (beyond their control!) I could at least relate to everyone just wanting to get home. Given I was one of the last cars on track in failing daylight I just hope it didn’t hurt my scores!
It was interesting to drive some more powerful, more modern cars. It’s easy to see why sim racing relates so much better to modern cars, everything requires less brute force at the expense of mechanical feel. Steering angles and brake pedal pressure become more about muscle memory than nerve endings. I’ve never driven Brands with power steering before and it’s almost like driving a different circuit! The compression at the bottom of Paddock Hill Bend doesn’t try to wrench the wheel straight on you, and the kerbs don’t send shudders down your arms. Whilst this inevitably means those shudders are now travelling though mechanical parts instead, it greatly reduces the stress on the driver and I feel like I got used to it pretty quickly. The brakes on the other hand were a different matter. The Passat in particular had very sharp – heavily servo-assisted brakes and not a great deal of pedal travel meaning a number of unintentionally sharp, early applications. The whole experience has made me realise that I’ve always been quite “reactive” in the way I drive the car, relying on dealing with braking, turn-in, and throttle application in a rather ad-hoc way. This pays off when you’ve got relatively low power and mechanical linkages, but doesn’t translate well to the era of control modules. Perhaps I’m paying the price for always having raced in older, slower machinery that didn’t punish the bad habits enough, but if I’ve done enough to progress to round 2 of the Scholarship I’ve got a lot of work to do, and I’m up for it!