Countdown to Lydden

This weekend the British Drift Championship is at Lydden and I can’t be there. I’ve not been to a BDC event before, but to watch some racing on the banks of the natural amphitheatre in good weather is a real treat.

If you’re free and looking for some high-octane, tyre burnin’ sideways action, get down there this afternoon!

Meanwhile, I am relaxing on the Algarve enjoying my family holiday in the sun, with the prospect of lining up on the grid at Lydden myself in 2 weeks time.

Since Belgium, there hasn’t been much to report. Except that I had it confirmed after the event that I had, as documented in my previous post, taken my joker lap in exactly the way I thought I did/should have done so – namely on the lap Kris span!

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So my fourth place was cemented by the timekeepers. Lesson learnt? Don’t leave the track until the provisional result has been announced. I should have remained at the track until the result was announced and queried it before leaving.

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Also, while we were in Belgium, it was decided that going to the Swift day near Silverstone the following weekend would be a good idea. In fact, it was Graham who said it would be invaluable.

I duly confirmed to Sarah and Pete, and picked Graham, and his son Karl, up en route. Graham and I both wanted a couple of runs each with each other as passenger. That would enable me to observe The Master at work, and for him to identify anything I was lacking, other than gonads. We arrived at the aerodrome bang on 10am, Saturday morning.

“I can’t remember the last time I had a lie-in on my day off” I had said to Graham. “It’s not a day off – it’s a work day” he replied, in order to position the importance of the day in my mind. I approached it in exactly that way.

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After a walk of the track, slight repositioning of tyre apexes and a discussion of lines and grip, we had a coffee and wasted no more time.

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We set out with Graham at the controls first, and immediately I could tell he wasn’t happy with the car. It had no brakes! Now Graham is a keen cyclist, so leg strength isn’t a problem, but it transpired that Pete had disconnected the servo assist. Apparently some drivers prefer this, but certainly it requires a different approach to the brakes which we weren’t there to waste time on.

Pete reconnected, and we headed out again. Quickly I felt Graham was pushing pretty hard, and from the passenger seat it’s a very peculiar feeling to put your trust in someone doing something you find hard to do yourself.

He clearly hasn’t lost any of his cat-like reactions to catch the car and get it back on the limit – something he managed a couple of times. His car control seemed effortless and although he wouldn’t have felt at home as if it were set up for him, he didn’t let that get in the way of finding the grip levels.

My adrenalin level quickly shot up, and when we climbed out of the car after 4 or 5 laps, I really felt the pressure was on to perform. I was going to get Graham’s input on my driving, and I simply didn’t want him to say “give it up – go back to what you’re good at” – whatever that may be! All this in an unfamiliar Swift Rallycross car on an unfamiliar, 80% loose section of old airstrip.

I needn’t have worried. After a debriefing of Graham’s laps over a coffee, I stood up and said “shall we head out again?”. Graham flipped his GPA helmet into place (very cool piece of now illegal racewear, the same as worn by Graham’s racing hero, Gilles Villeneuve) and we clipped in.

Now knowing the track layout, I quickly felt at home, surprisingly. The car gave me confidence, and within that first single lap, I felt I’d found the limit by going past it a couple of times, but maintained control at all times. A few reassuring words from Graham helped confirm the course of action when things started going sideways – and it came back to me.

The words that came from Graham’s mouth at the end of that first lap will stay with me forever. We stopped at the start line for a debrief and looked at each other.

“We’ll, there weren’t much wrong with that” he said. I could have gone home happy there and then, but certainly we needed to work on more than just the lines which have never really been my problem. I’ve studied circuit racing and lines for 20 years, but gravel is a different beast, and the one I need to tame.

We did another brace of laps. Occasionally I got messy when pushing on, and my steering and pedal inputs became jerky and flustered. Graham said to bring it back a bit, concentrate on being smooth with the controls and look ahead. I was driving too much for this corner – not the next 3 on which my exit from this corner depended. Thereby I’d ruin the whole slalom of turns.

You know when this happens because its frustrating. You lose time, but lose even more trying desperately to recover the situation. It’s best to accept the balls up in this corner and get everything sorted for the next.

After another, more analytical drive with Graham where I watched his feet and steering more intently than looking forward out of the window (and sometimes the side window!) my second drive reconfirmed that I was making progress. I didn’t hit a tyre all day, didn’t spin and didn’t feel slow.

We’d wanted to compare lap times, but on Graham’s last flying lap with son, Karl, aboard for the ride, he lost the brakes.

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Returning to the pits, the near side front wheel was peeing liquid. Pete soon had it jacked up and the wheel off. Sure enough, a steel braided brake line had been severed, simply by a piece of plastic wheel arch lining which had been dislodged and become jammed between wheel and hub.

Our day was over. Pete set about repairing the brake line for other paying customers, but we all had evening commitments and needed to head back to Kent.

Suffice to say, the preparation I’ve done for Lydden has comprised mainly of getting all the wheels off and checking those things you simply expect to be OK. Including brake lines and tight nuts and bolts.

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So as I type this in the shade of the blistering morning Portuguese sunshine, I approach Lydden very differently to back in March. I want to get out there on foot (which I’ve still never done and is crucial at any track) and strap into Maud with a new found confidence.

I truly hope to be able to mix and rub (mild!) with the guys ahead. My mirrors will be “off” and I’m keen to give my supporters something to cheer. It’s down to me. Graham’s advice and guidance has been key, but I now need to do-the-do on raceday.

Here’s to sunshine and a great round of British Rallycross at Lydden Hill on 25th/26th. Hope to see you there!

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