Curborough Sprint – Caterham Academy 2011

Mole Hill

With just two days before out final sprint on the Snetterton 100 on Bank Holiday Monday, my thoughts have been to get writing as I’ve still not pulled my finger out since the Curborough Sprint!

Yet again the winners of this competition for group 1 and group 2 are Elliott Norris and Andy Welch, putting in times of 65.00 and 64.27 respectively, though Mike Hart’s lap record of 63.99 set in 2010 remains safe for another year. Well done guys and on one hand a fantastic performance by both, on the other, come on chaps, let the others share a little of the limelight at Snetterton! 😉

Sprint School Feedback
Sprint School Feedback

The week started for me on the Tuesday when I attended the ‘Sprint School’. Although I had planned to take the R500 to learn the course, Nick Potter was able to deliver a ‘Demonstrator’ that morning, being Caterham Midlands is less than an hour drive away. Following the briefing and walking the course, the Demonstrator turned up in the nick of time, around 10.00am. The format of the day was to be two “double lappers” before lunch with a feedback/review session followed by the same in the afternoon and if time, a “single lapper”.

As we all lined up in numerical order it was my time and it all went pear shaped from the beginning. Braking (correct spelling this time!) for the first corner, there was minimal effect! I also found quite quickly that my right foot was clipping the accelerator pedal while braking which created a rather wobbly first go. To add to the panic, the car seemed to be understeering like a mad woman and with grass covered mud banking and ‘soft play’ covered Armco in full view, I can’t say I was happy to be driving someone else’s car. The rest of the day and sessions were pretty much the same, although I put on a slimmer pair of race boots and braked hard after the finish line on each the home straight after each session in an attempt to bed in the braks, as I assumed new pads has been fitted.

The weather was fine all day and although well organised, I felt the format was too rigid with very little track time, a consolidated thought of many others too, especially at the £155.00 price tag. Each of the feedback sessions lasted about 45 minutes and we were told to stay with our car with a rather scardonic comment that the appraisers didn’t want people congregating in groups so that they would have to run around and find people. I wouldn’t say the feedback was critical, but there was no real explanation on how I could perform better. There was no timing allowed and for sure, on the Demonstrator there was no data logging anyway, so there was nothing to judge one’s performance against. Am I glad I attended? Yes I am as it was good to learn the lines from instructors who drive there regularly. However there was minimal track time due to the amount of cars on the day and I did perceive a rather pompous if perhaps arrogant attitude by a couple of the organisers who were undoubtedly upset that an ARDS instructor had hired the course for practice the following three days. I recall comments such as “We will show you the correct lines and no matter what anyone else will say, they are wrong”.

Mark Cox in the Rain
Mark Cox in the Rain

I was next back at the Curborough course on the Thursday for a day with Ben Elliott. One of Ben’s comments to me was that he had to “re-educate” one of the competitors who attended the Tuesday Sprint School, made me think this was going to be an interesting day. Although arriving late in the morning,  I was able to have half a dozen runs before lunch, already more than the runs already completed at the Sprint School. During lunch Elliott Norris and I re-adjusted the accelerator pedal to help my foot clipping the throttle while braking and I must have had about 20 runs throughout the afternoon which was great to have some time on track, recalling the lines from the previous Tuesday. For sure, I was more than happy with the majority of the course but it was the ‘Mole Hill’ that continued to have me perplexed. Video feedback from a Video VBOX allowed review and I felt I got better throughout the day, but I was still uncomfortable in the Demonstrator, especially with the understeer. Nonetheless, this was certainly a more relaxed day that Tuesday and a great way to practice lines.

Curborough Weather Report
Curborough Weather Report

There was a post on the Facebook group suggesting some were going to camp on the Friday night before the Saturday sprint. Being the weather was looking damp, if not wet, I opted for the local Holiday Inn which when I arrived, there were about a dozen Academics lurking in the bar, including the campers. A quick check in and pint of Stella and it was off to Litchfield for a curry after Jenny and the taxis had turned up. General chit chat ensued and everyone seemed in good spirit including Ade with his new Mankini!

I think most hit the sack around midnight though I wanted an early morning to get to the circuit without a rush. Having been there earlier in the week, it was going to be tight to get the trailer onto my allocated space if the paddock was busy. The plan worked and I arrived around 06.45am. I was also conscious that there was a lot to do before 08.30. Sign-on commenced at 07.30am and our group had to be at scrutineering between 07.45am and 08.30am, at which time anyone wishing to walk the course should have done so too and assuming a drivers briefing at 08.30am for a 09.00am start, there was a lot to do in an hour!

It was time for my first practice and although recalling everything from Tuesday and Thursday, I was relatively happy. There seemed more room in the pedal box subsequent to yesterday’s adjustments, I had my slimmer boots on, the brakes felt firm though I was still worried about the understeer. I recalled what was said on Tuesday that if in the wet you should start from the left of the start line and as there was lots of rubber on the right and still residues of cement on old oil, the left seemed the optimum choice.

The start was good with little wheel spin and I was off into corner one, ‘Flagpole’. Recalling the ‘Sprint School’ directive, it was a quick dab on the breaks and then full throttle into corner two, onwards along ‘Woodside’ to the ‘Mole Hill’. Braking too early, it felt too slow in though the exit was good and no spins, which I did experience during the previous Thursday practice. Around the last corner ‘Fradley Hairpin’ on the ‘Sprint School’ line felt correct and onward along the ‘Shenstone Straight’ for the tight right for the second of the laps around ‘Flagpole’ again. This second lap was slower than the first into the Mole Hill which made it more comfortable, but again I felt it was too slow. Fradley Hairpin complete for the second time and down Shenstone Straight for a time of 68 dot something seconds. Not the best but a yardstick on which to improve.

Deep In Thought
Deep In Thought

The second practice was pretty much the same, but this time discussion in the paddock was around how to take the initial corner 1 from the start line. I think I had heard half a dozen different ‘lines’ into Flagpole by now, but which was the best? I decided to ignore all and still concentrate on the ‘Sprint School’ way, recalling their “We will show you the correct lines and no matter what anyone else will say, they are wrong” comment. However, how could I improve?

Then as it so happens and out of coincidence, Gavin Gough turned up out of the blue having heard there was some competition on at Curborough. I had met Gavin twice in the past, both at Silverstone Arena track days as organised by Silverstone themselves as part of their ‘track day’ events. Gavin studied Sports Psychology at Regents Park College, London successfully qualifying and was awarded a certificate as an NLP Sports Practitioner in 2007. We chatted for half an hour about this and that, though the subject turned quite quickly into my problem at corner one, ‘The Mole Hill’ and the uncomfortableness of the car. Similar to what we practiced earlier at Silverstone in the R500, Gavin asked me to hop into the Demonstrator and we went through some simple sports psychology and how I could improve with my first timed run.

Gavin Gough
Gavin Gough

Lunch was upon us and I went back to the paddock for a bite to eat. As soon as I got a mouthful, my phone rang and it was Jenny. She was looking for me as had something to ask. It seemed Owen Daniel had an accident on the way to Curborough and his car was undrivable, having phoned Jenny earlier and been trailered to the circuit by a fellow competitor tow car. Jenny wanted to know if I would be happy to let Owen use the Demonstrator? Although I explained it was a Caterham car and I have no objection, she felt it was only correct to ask first as I had the car on hire. Thus for the afternoon, both Owen and I shared the Demonstrator.

Time for the first timed sprint and recalling discussions with Gavin about “bite sized chunks”, I knew exactly how I was now going to address Flagpole, leaving the Mole Hill to be addressed on the second and final timed session. Net result, 66.99 and a whole second and a half from the initial practice, placing me in 9th alongside Duncan Cundall-Curry. From start to first Split I was 38.16 and with the final time of 66.99, thus equating 28.83 from split to finish.

A little later NosiyPaul turned up with his family who had decided to pop over as the rain had held off to see how we were all doing. Chatting to him about how the day had progressed, discussions with Gavin and car setup, he started to look around the car. “Come here” he exclaimed, “look at this” he said while rubbing his hands over the tyre wall, “They’ve put tyre dressing on the tyre walls to make it look pretty for the showroom”. As I rubbed my fingers over the tyre wall and onto the side of the blocks, yes indeed a rather black slippery substance was coming off onto my fingers. “No wonder you have been understeering all week” Paul commented “this stuff will have penetrated into the rubber, you’ll have problems again unless we can try and rectify things” and to this end, we tried to get as much rubbed off as we could.

Myself Negotiating the Mole Hill
Myself Negotiating the Mole Hill

Time for the final timed session so Owen, I and Jenny went over to the start line. Chatting when we got there, Jenny’s motivational speech of “Drive it like you stole it, enjoy yourself” was foremost on my mind and with tyres ‘walmed’, I was on the left of the start line again as per norm. Gavin’s comments still in my mind too, I was focused on the Mole Hill, this was the Nemesis I had to overcome. The light was green and into corner one, the Flagpole with a light dab on the brakes, then full gas into turn two and a late brake into the Mole Hill, coming out the other side in one piece thinking, “that was quick”. Second gear screaming on the limiter it was into the Fradley Hairpin, braking hard with the wheels locking at one point, turn into the apex and catastrophe! Perhaps a combination of too tight a turn as came in a little too fast and a little too much gas took the car into a 360 spin. Luckily all four wheels did not go over the white line perimeter and as the time was still allowable, I continued along the Shenstone Straight at full blat. Right for the second lap around Flagpole again and onward to the Mole Hill. Putting the spin behind me I wanted to get the Mole Hill right one more time though finished this second session at a disappointing 74.45 seconds. Head hung low it was back to the paddock as although on the whole I felt the second session was better than the previous three, it was the spin did banjax this last attempt. If only!….

Albeit to me a disappointing day result wise and perhaps shadowed with the unease of driving someone else’s car with such setup idiosyncrasies, I am glad I attended and thank Caterham for the availability of the Demonstrator. More so, a big thank you to all group 1 fellow competitors who were happy for me to run the Demonstrator, being a pre season specification. Without their permission, I would have not been able to partake.

Medals
Medals

The day finished with Andy and Eillott picking up first positions as aforementioned, with Robert Chappell and Adrian Flemming picking up second and third in group one (65.75 & 65.87 respectively), then Ash Patterson and Michael Steeden picking up second and third in group two (64.60 & 64.87 respectively).

Interestingly my second session times were from start to finish 74.45 with time to split of 45.77, equating the spin cost me a minimum 7.61 seconds from my first attempt. The time from split to finish on this second timed session equated at 28.68, thus a 0.15 second quicker time than the first timed session. So although disappointed with the ultimate outcome, I can honestly say I was happy with the performance increase during the day and will for sure, be looking forward to Snetterton this Bank Holiday Monday.

Final scores on the day placed me joint 12th in group 1 alongside Duncan Cundall-Curry and overall 9th in the Championship Points from 27 competitors.

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