When you compete in motorsport one of the peculiar things is the change in your perception of what’s possible. You do an amazing run and you just think to yourself “there’s no way I could go any quicker there.” And then next time out, you go that bit quicker again. And you wonder where on earth the extra time comes from. I have some theories – but more on that further down the article.
If you’ve followed previous posts you’ll know that having the car in a fit state for this event was a problem. The toelink had failed and gave the car handling that could most charitibly be described as ‘novel’. With the field at Aintree being full of quality drivers such as Bobby Friars and Gary Thomas there was no way to compete without a well setup car. At 4:30pm the day before, I collected the car from Christopher Neil in Northwich – Paul there had done a sterling job in getting the Eliseparts kit fitted in time for me. You have to give credit to any franchise dealership willing to fit a third party item to a car. Unfortunately, apart from a quick run on local roads there was no way to be sure that the kit was going to work properly or the geometry hadn’t been messed up.
After first practice at Aintree it was quite obvious that everything was just fine. The car still handled beautifully and I was able to post a first time of 52.40 – only a third of a second slower than the record which stood until this year. I felt good, though I noticed Gary Thomas had gone fractionally faster. We’d set out our markers and it was obvious where the battle was going to be.
For second practice it rained. I was able to go much quicker than Gary, but quite possibly that’s just because I’m much more stupid. If it continued to rain I might have a straightforward win, but frankly I wasn’t interest in just winning – I wanted my old class record back. It stood at 52.07, before Gary took it with a 51.84.
First competitive run… and… 51.44! I cheered the car as I passed the finish line – it was .63s faster than my best ever and a long way inside Gary’s best. I felt like I had the record! Which is a shame because when I came I was told Gary’s time… 51.07! How on earth….? I was wondering where this extra time was going to come from. I’d beaten my own target of breaking 51.5s but finding another half a second was going to be some challenge.
Second run. I’ll mention now that Gary went a little slower. But me… I had to nail it. The first corner was slightly wild, but still quick. The rest were great, everything coming together. As you come towards the finish line at aintree you can see the clock ticking up for what seems an age. 49… 50… and as I crossed the line it flicked over to 51… point 14. Damn!
Third and last competitive run. I had to really be perfect this time. And I was – the start was great, the first corner utterly perfect, the second just right… and then I decided to go asleep for a second. Really – I was so angry with myself. As I approached Bechers I braked just a tad too early. It’s not a huge problem, but perhaps worth 1/10th of a second. But what really messed me up was that as I turned in I realised I’d not shifted down for the corner. Now, in a race, if you’re followed by someone slower they still won’t pass you if you make a mistake like this. And if you’re chasing someone slower… well, you’ll make up the lost time on the next lap. But in a sprint at a simple (ish) and fast circuit like Aintree you have no chance of recovery. So what did I do? Well of course I made things even worse by changing down to third, mid-corner…. corrected the resultant slide, and headed for the finish line.
Stupid stupid stupid. Now, let’s go back to my first paragraph – when I set the 51.44 time it felt rapid. Really good and it was hard to see how I could go faster. And now, in spite of rampaging stupidity and careless driving I’d managed a 51.40. Huh?!
But it was game over. Gary drove a stonker on the next lap and is now the first to take a road-going production car around the sprint circuit in less than 51s, with a 50.97s time. Damn – he was the first to crack 52s as well! We’d pushed each other so hard that we’d smashed up all the old records. Gary has a distinct power advantage over me, but it’s possible for me to drive better still. I believe I’ve managed to develop the car to a point where its handling is pretty much perfectly balanced and benign. I could add more power – the underbonnet engineering is done now to handle over 200bhp and I guess that would bring me in line with Bobby and Gary’s cars.
Theories on speed
At some point I’ll write up an article on what I think it takes to get quick on the race circuit. But for the time being I’ll expound one little theory I’ve been building up.
I reckon there are three phases that you go through in becoming a decent driver, maybe more. I can only really speak from my own experiences.
But it’s kinda hard to explain. You get through these three step changes – from first fumblings in a kart you realise that winning isn’t always feasible – so you learn to maximise what you have. Then you discover that a ‘moment’ won’t necessarily turn nasty if you keep cool. So then you go a bit quicker again because you’re not scared of the car. Then suddenly something else happens – a smoothness develops, along with courage over recovering the car, and so on. And suddenly you’re getting there. I guess there’s more still to come, but I’ve no idea where it comes from. If it happens to me… I’ll let you know!