Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Snetterton Track Day

Snetterton Track Day – Wednesday 09th May:

After Aintree and the disappointment of not being as quick as I had hoped, I decided I needed to get some track time with the car and some tuition. My times at Aintree were OK and pretty consistent, but 1.2 seconds slower than the very fastest guy. Now I could make all sorts of excuses about my weight, optimum suspension set-up etc., but the simple fact is that a number of people were just plain faster than me. Some of these guys have had significant track time and tuition, so I decided to do the same. I can’t afford, either in time or money, to do this often, but realised that if I was to get quicker I needed someone to help me. Someone who could see what I was doing and help coach me through the issues I didn’t even know I had with my driving. As someone who thinks he was only a lucky break away from F1 this was quite a big step to take, but one well worth taking.

In the end I responded to a post on the 2012 Caterham Academy Facebook page by a chap called Ben Elliott, who runs his own training company and has worked with a number of the Academy guys over the years. He suggested a Javelin track-day at Snetterton the following week, which I duly signed up for. Being mid-week and with a terrible weather forecast there were plenty of spaces, so Ben and I met in one of the garages on a wet and cold Wednesday morning to talk about the plan for the day, which was broadly:
-          go out and complete the sighting laps;
-          then Ben would talk me around the circuit building up my speed and watching what I did, coaching me as we went;
-          then we would come back into the garage and talk about my technique in general and what I needed to focus on;
-          then we would go out again and put into practice what we had discussed;
-          then I would go out alone and try this on my own;
-          then before lunch Ben would show me just how it should be done by driving me in my car;
-          then after lunch we would repeat the above but using the V-Box data logger and dashboard timer to give a real time view of where I was making and loosing time.

Our first laps were taken relatively easily whilst I learnt which way the circuit went.  I had never been to Snetterton as a driver before and was really impressed with the new 300 format, which is a fantastic mix of really quick corners that has the car right up on tip toes in the wet and some really slow technical bits. We quickly started to pick the pace up and find how little grip there was on a greasy track, with plenty of very sideways moments and a few nervous giggles from Ben over the intercom. Afterwards Ben said he was impressed with my car control, but that we really needed to work on two key areas:
-          Braking – going into the corner much deeper and harder on the brakes and bleeding the brake pressure off at the point of turn in, so that the weight of the car is on the nose. I had been braking too early and then accelerating too early which caused the car to lift at the front and cause understeer at the apex. I was then trying to correct the understeer with a load of throttle which was causing corner exit oversteer. Spectacular, but not that quick.
-          Throttle Balance – being quicker back onto the throttle and more balanced with the application in quick corners to settle the car. I was braking then waiting to apply the throttle as the car settled in the corner, which actually causes it to be more unsettled, so I needed to be quicker from brake to throttle and then more balanced with the application so not to induce more oversteer.

With Ben talking me through these two areas and helping me to get my lines right we had a really good morning and found a lot of extra pace. I then went out on my own and completely over drove the car for the first few laps whilst I got used to driving without the weight, or help, from an instructor beside me. By the end of my solo session I felt as though I were being much smoother and faster and was really pleased with the progress I had made. At this point I came back in and Ben took me out to show me how it really should be done. He was noticeably stronger on the brakes than I was and was carrying much more speed into the corners, particularly the first (Riches) and last (Coram), so over lunch I pondered what I still had to do!

After lunch we went out with the timing gear on the car and found some more speed. The track was drying to start with, but then got greasy again, however regardless of this I was much more confident on my braking and turn in, carrying more speed everywhere and unsettling the balance of the car less. It was hugely rewarding and Ben was laughing his head off over the intercom as we went quicker and quicker. I asked him afterwards if I had scared him and he said “yes…..but only because we were really shifting”.

My final session of the day was on my own with the dashboard timer and I really went for it, becoming quite obsessed with where I was picking up and loosing time against my best laps. I did about 15 laps with very little traffic and managed to get into the 2 min 41 second bracket on a very greasy track. Most satisfying of all was sticking with a Caterham R500 for a few laps, despite the significant performance difference between the cars. I was finding huge chunks of time through the first corner (Riches) and the last (Coram) at last and was much more confident on the brakes under the bridge into the Esses. It was a really satisfying feeling, so I decided to call it a day before getting carried away and doing something silly.

Back in the garage Ben and I looked over the data and the video from my solo run. There were still areas of significant improvement to be had, but the difference in performance from the start of the day to the end was huge. It is hard to say exactly how much time we found because the track conditions changed, but I think it may have been as much as 6 seconds over the lap. I was dubious about driver coaching before I started the Academy, but the results of the day spoke for themselves. I was driving more confidently, more smoothly and much more quickly. It was a great investment and Ben was a fantastic teacher. I will get some more coaching later in the year (probably one session at each of the tracks we are due to race at), but in the mean time I need to put into practice what Ben has already taught me. Hopefully the investment will pay off at Curborough, our next event.

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