Today I went to the "Academy Set-up Day", a new addition to the Academy calendar held down at the Caterham Dartford factory, which is geared towards helping us get a better understanding of basic car set-up. It has been established this year following feedback from previous groups and a desire to help us keep costs down by showing participants that they don't need to go to race teams and spend a fortune getting their cars set-up. It was an excellent morning.
We started at 10am, as usual, with a cup of tea and a good chat with new and old faces alike, before being separated into our groups. My group started by going to the "skunk works", which was really a small building a couple of doors down from the factory where we got to have a close look at the new Caterham SP300R. This was a really exciting opportunity and the car really was a very impressive looking bit of kit, sold to us as what we would all be driving in 5 years’ time if we followed the Caterham motorsport ladder all the way up. At the best part of £70k (excluding VAT) that may be wishful thinking, but one can always dream.
After this we went back to the factory to be shown the production line, which was quaint and fascinating at the same time. The thing that amazed me most of all was the number of different car specifications that the guys building the cars have to deal with. There were a lot of left hand drive cars on the line when we were there and there were all number of strange exhaust systems, mirror mounting points, lighting set-ups etc. It really is like stepping back in time with about 30 cars on trolleys and not a robot in sight. Just how you would imagine and want it, albeit more sophisticated than the garage I built mine in!
After this we were taken over to a car in one of the service bays where the guys talked us through tyre pressures, camber, castor, toe in/out, anti-roll bars, corner weights and ride heights. The aim was to try and explain how each of these settings affects the car and the rough parameters that we should be looking to work within, before finding our own preferences. I had a reasonable understanding of these parameters before going in, but it was a really useful refresher and as always the guys patiently answered all of our questions, no matter how silly.
We finished around 1pm, but before leaving I popped into the parts office to pick up some race spec brake pads, a thicker front anti-roll bar and some nylon wing bolts so that I now have all I need to finish preparing my car next weekend. After that I have booked the car into Caterham to have a flat floor set-up done, which they are offering to us at £50 and is a real no-brain decision as far as I am concerned. I am also looking to get a bag seat made up at the same time as I am just too tall to fit the tillet seats properly. It is fine on the road, but with a helmet on my head is too close to the top of the rollcage. It will be yet more money, but Caterham really are doing all they can to help take as much of the sting out of the tail as possible. Today was another excellent example of that.