Caterham Academy - Aintree Sprint 24 April 2004

Executive summary: I came seventh, for 14 points out a possible 20, with seven rounds still to go.

The Academy program consists of three sprints, one hillclimb, and four circuit races. This was our first event, at the Aintree sprint.

Aintree Sprint circuit - image courtesy of BMRC
Click on image for a 12MB video of the second timed run
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Aintree is pretty straightforward - a tight left, a tight-ish right, and another very long right. Yup, just three corners (the sprint finish is before the final bend), and a total of five goes at it. Doesn't sound like a lot of track time, but then I console myself by thinking about drag racers, who get considerably less track time and no corners at all.

I'm pretty nervous about this meeting. Not because I'm worried about crashing or anything, just that I'm afraid I might be crap. It's not at all clear that bike racing experience has helped me at all with car driving - the lines and physics are completely different. Yet I feel there's an expectation on me to do well, and I'm not sure I can live up to it.

Much of my bike racing success was down to sheer bravado rather than skill - if you're not scared of crashing you can go a whole lot faster than people who are - even if you're actually no better than them. This doesn't work quite the same in a car - try to drive "bravely" and you just end up being slower.

The five runs consist of two practices and two timed runs. We're told on the offical track-walk that anything under 60 seconds is a good result.

Anti-terrorist marshals check for bombs under the car at the startline

First Practice

On the first run I wheel-spin wildly away from the line. A good line through the first corner is followed by a crap line through the second. The third one I haven't a clue - I turn in too early and too slowly and end up going through the whole bend in the middle of the track. Hence I'm quite amazed that the finish-line clock is showing 57.83.

But I'm not the only one to get well within the 60 seconds, and this is only good enough for seventh. Still, I'm encouraged by that, and surprised to see quite a few people in the mid 60's.

Second Practice

Second practice run I improve on my line into the second corner, but overdo the speed, and find the car understeering to the outside on the exit. I try to correct, and it snaps into oversteer. Oops - but I keep it on the track. It almost hits the rev limiter before the final corner, for which I get a vaguely reasonable line this time. It's a very long corner (nearly 180 degrees), but once I'm through I relax - nothing to do except floor it for the finish line. Ah, except to change into fourth, I realise as the engine starts bouncing off the rev limiter.

This must have cost me some time, but I've still improved to 56.47, though my terminal speed is down from 100 mph to 97.

Of course most others have improved too, but I've gone up into sixth - not that the results count yet.

Run One

The first timed run and I'm determined to remember to change into fourth (though I only just remembered - Christ, how difficult can three corners be?). A good run through both the first corners, but this means I hit the rev limiter well before the third corner. Apart from that, it's smooth all the way - perhaps too smooth, I'm sure a good run should be just a bit ragged. Just under half a second shaved off for a time of 56.08, terminal 102mph. Sixth fastest - but the bad news is that Jeremy Ellis has set the fastest Caterham time of the day on this, his first timed run, at an astounding 53.84.

I've got a "banker" - something to fall back on if it goes horribly wrong, which is encouraging.

Run Two

For the second timed run, I figure I have to use fourth between turns two and three, which is a pain because it means changing up and then down again before the corner. Oh for adjustable gearing: "we need two teeth off the back". I think using fourth helps, but it slows my entry a bit to the third corner. Nevertheless, I crack a bit more off and get down to 55.92, terminal 103. Seventh place this time.

Run Three

Final run - got a to be a "win or spin". I'm determined to go all out. Somehow, though, I don't - and it's all a bit sensible. Still, another half a second comes off for 55.44 - and just upped the terminal to 104.

Overall that leaves me still in seventh place, out of 26 in our group.


Not a bad result - and it clearly shows I'm not crap - but I can't help feeling there was plenty more to come if only I'd had a few more runs. But then I guess everyone else would have got faster too.

But I'm encouraged by the fact that my times were coming consistently down, whereas some others who put in faster best times did it in their first or second runs and then went slower. Hopefully that means I'm driving more consistently, and perhaps if we'd had more attempts I would have got quicker than them. Things will be quite different when we start the races proper.

Was it a good day? Yes, great - OK each run was very short, but in some ways it's still like doing five races in one day. Seems sprints are more enjoyable than I feared they would be. And the fantastic weather helped as well, of course.

Next sprint is at Goodwood on the 5th June, followed by Lydden on the 19th June. The whole calendar looks like this:

24th AprilAintreeSprint
5th June GoodwoodSprint
19th JuneLyddenSprint
1st AugustHarewood (Yorks)Hillclimb
22nd AugSnettertonRace
19th SeptMalloryRace
2nd OctOulton ParkRace
9/10th OctBrands HatchRace

Waffle by Roger Ford - no rights reserved. If you think it's worth stealing, I'm flattered.

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