Aintree Sprint - Saturday 12th April:
At last, the Academy competition has started for real! I set off for Aintree on Friday lunchtime and spent the next 5 ½ hours crawling through traffic wondering if the trip would be worth it. It would!
Upon arriving at the glamorous Liverpool North Premier Inn I set about cleaning the car which was still filthy from the Castle Combe Test Day and the trip up to Liverpool. The old girl certainly looked much better after a good wash, so even if I wasn’t quick I rationalised that the car would look good. A few of the other guys were staying at the same hotel and I had organised dinner for us, which was a great way to start the weekend. In the end there were about 20 of us, some taking it very seriously and avoiding the booze and others, myself included, partaking in a few pre-match beers. I am not sure it was the best idea (the vodka chaser certainly wasn’t) as I only had 5 hours sleep, but it was a great evening full of banter and bravado.
After a few hours sleep it was off to the track for a 7am sign-on and scruitineering, then quite a lot of hanging around. I checked and re-checked my kit, fitted my go-pro camera and pumped my tyres up to 33psi, more for something to do than for any scientific reason. At 8am the Clerk of the Course met us and took us on a track walk, which was useful and helped add perspective to the You Tube videos I had been watching. We then had a briefing from the Clerk of the Course before going back to our cars and waiting to be called. At this point I was surprisingly calm and enjoying the atmosphere of the event and banter with my fellow competitors Jason, Paul and Zoli.
When the call came for our first practice run I started to panic slightly and took an age to get myself settled in the car and belted up. I hadn’t really learnt my lesson from the handling day! After gathering in the holding area we were funnelled to the start line for our runs. My first practice run was OK, but there was plenty of room for improvement and I stopped the clock at 56.88 seconds (anything in the 54 seconds is reckoned to be very good for a Sigma engine Academy car).
It was then back to the paddock for a 45 minute wait for the next of our practice runs, which I was ready for in much better time. During my second run I attacked the course much harder and was rewarded with a time of 54.86 seconds, which I was really pleased with. I still felt there was room for improvement on my starts, my braking points were too cautious and my turn-in too early, so I was confident I could achieve a quicker time, possibly even something in the 53 second range.
Before our first timed runs I took a stroll around the paddock and chatted to a few of the guys, including the course record holder. I asked for hints and tips, but to be honest there was little that I could gather from him given his car was crossing the finish line at 160mph plus, whilst we were doing well to top 110mph. Still, everyone was incredibly friendly and the atmosphere relaxed. There were also some very beautiful old Lotuses (Loti?) competing in the Paul Matty championship which I spent plenty of time dribbling over.
My first timed run yielded a slight improvement in time, but perhaps not as much as I had hoped for. I was still getting too much wheel spin on the start and was perhaps not as brave on the brakes as I could have been. My time of 54.53 was enough to give me first in Group 1, but I was approximately a second behind the fastest guy in Group 2, showing just how much scope for improvement there was.
After lunch and much banter with the rest of the guys it was time for our second timed runs. I attacked the course harder again on this run, but actually went slightly slower , losing too much time to overseer in the first and third corners, crossing the line in 54.78 seconds and being bumped into 2nd in Group 1. I still felt that there was plenty of time to be gained and hoped to find it on my third run.
My third run was my best yet and resulted in a time of 54.42 seconds, but unfortunately (for me) a couple of other guys in our group went quicker still and I ended up a frustrated 4th in Group 1. It had been a fantastic day and I felt that I had driven well, but that I still had more to give. Those of you that sprint regularly will probably recognise this feeling and it is very easy to see how sprinting could become very addictive as you chase the perfect run. I wanted more time to play around with my tyre pressures a little to see if I could find more grip and to try some different lines/approaches, but the 5 runs we had were great fun and a fantastic way of easing into competitive motorsport.
The guys in Group 2 were quicker still, with two of them breaking the old class record and the fastest finishing in 53.24 seconds which was a stunning time. Both have done over a 1,000 track miles in their cars with tuition, one even had his instructor there with him on the day, so it is easy to see why they are quick (at least that is how I rationalise it in my mind). This is the beauty of the Academy for me. You have guys with instructors and great big motorhomes with mechanics, right through to those who drive their cars up and sleep in tents at the circuit. I guess I sit somewhere in the middle as I tow and stay in hotels, but I am definitely behind the curve in terms of track time and tuition having only done Castle Combe un-tutored. It would be nice to get more time on the track and get some tuition to give myself a chance of being right at the pointy end of the grid, but given my family circumstances I can’t really see that being a possibility this year. I will have to keep trying as hard as I can at the events themselves and focusing on enjoying them, which if Aintree is anything to go by, will be very easy indeed.
Run Number 1 - 54.53 Seconds
Run Number 2 - 54.78 Seconds
Run Number 1 - 54.42 Seconds