The Official Test Day 2014

The first official day of the 2014 British Rallycross season dawned and it was a beautiful morning. There had been overnight rain, but now the sun was out, and the air crisp and clean. Spring might just have finally arrived.

This would be the day I’d been waiting for since Croft. The waiting was over and I was so excited to think I’d be back in the car before lunchtime. I also had the first opportunity to share some of my laps with friends and family courtesy of my GoPro. More of that later…

I woke up at 5:30am and had a brainwave. Get over to the track, walk it (as I always try and do now – test or race) and sign on. Then come back via Halfords or similar, pick up a filter and be loaded and back at the track by around 10am.

I took my son Isaac with me to the track. Lydden Hill, in the clear morning air was looking amazing. Maybe it’s rose-tinted because of the love I have for my new passion. But it was so peaceful in the valley, with amazing light, and the feeling of years of racing history beneath my feet. It’s starting to feel like home and somewhere I enjoy being a lot – even if just out for a morning stroll scuffing the gravel under foot.

IMG_2437View Back From Chesson’s Drift

IMG_2439About to Climb Hairy Hill

By 8am, we’d walked the track and signed on. But the drivers briefing wasn’t until nearly 9am so I had to hang around. Meanwhile, I got chatting to a new member of the Swift championship for 2014 – Jack Brown. He was there with his dad and a very tidy (if unpainted) new Swift. They’d done a lovely job on the routing of the brake pipes and dampers – serious attention to detail. It was just missing some windows which Pete had brought down to the test for them to fit. They were busy getting the car sorted.

We had a brief chat, and it transpired he’s not a novice having raced in autocross amongst other things. “Great” I thought “another challenger to scupper my championship challenge!”. But in reality, I was pleased we are getting some new blood in and he was really happy to talk. It’s a good job I did, because I happened to mention my oil filter woes.

“I’ve got a spare one” he said, and before I could say “Halfords will be open in 10 minutes” he’d furnished me with a brand new, boxed oil filter. Things were looking up! And, yet another unflinchingly good turn which seem to be common place in rallycross.

So after the briefing, we jumped in the car and headed home. Popped on the filter, filled up with oil, fitted the sump guard, dropped the car onto it’s wheels, loaded Maud onto the trailer, showered, donned racewear and headed back to Lydden. By now it was approaching 11am, and lunch was 12-1pm. I had to work fast to get some laps in.

I didn’t mess about with the dampers at that point. I got straight into the car and headed down to the dummy grid. Once there, that familiar apprehension engulfed me, and I worked hard on concentrating on the task at hand; slow out lap, make sure everything feels fine, build up, no heroics.

It’s at this point that I’d like to describe a sensation I get whenever I daydream about racing. It’s the same feeling I get when sitting on the dummy grid – a physical sensation only racing has ever given me. I call it “Fizzly Gooch”.

Now, you can look up the term “gooch” in the Urban Dictionary – unless you’re familiar with Jackass or similar puerile entertainment, you may not have encountered the term. I will leave the rest with you to understand the sensation I am talking about. A combination of nerves, tension, mainly excitement but with an element of fear – no doubt.

At last, the moment had arrived to get on track for the first time in 2014. On the first lap, I was cautious into Chesson’s Drift (the scene of my first lap disaster exactly 12 months previous) and progressive around the rest of the lap. But by the time I came back down Hairy Hill, I was set on cracking on with finding the limits again.

After that first session, I was so relieved it was complete with no major dramas from me or the car. The familiar sense of satisfaction and exultation came over me on the way back into the pits. This was why I do it – that feeling right there and then.

At lunchtime, in typical fashion, there was no time to eat. I donned my mechanic’s overalls, and with some help from Graham (Strugnell) and Nick (Beckett) I had them done before the end of lunch.

Lydden Test DampersLunchtime Mechanics

During the course of the afternoon, I got out three more times for a significant number of laps each time. In total, I racked up around 40 laps that day, and this was on old tyres which had done a couple of rounds on the back and front of the car. However, I got quicker throughout the afternoon, with just one spin on the entry to the Devil’s Elbow when I was having a mare finding 2nd gear for about 3 laps running; it finally distracted me to a mistake. Excuses I know… but all racing drivers do it apparently!

IMG_2447Dummy Grid Behind Graham

On my last run, I exited the pits in the wheeltracks of Graham Strugnell who was doing some Swift sessions as a late Christmas present to himself! At last I was on track with him, and wanted to follow and then, no doubt, start hassling him on track. Unfortunately, he had car problems half way around the first lap, and I had to go round him before gleaning any new skills. I really hope we’ll get the opportunity to race properly one day.

IMG_2460Photo by Rubber Duck

I was happily gaining confidence on my braking and turn-in points, and getting on the power earlier and earlier with the resulting quicker speed into the next corner. However, I still have time to find to get near Graham and Tristan’s times from the August Bank Holiday last year. I’m hoping that being in the pack at the start of the first race, with new tyres, will spur me on to achieve much more than last year.

I got some GoPro footage of my afternoon lapping. There were several holdups with spins and yellow flags, but I’ve put together a lap and a half of onboard for your entertainment. Without further ado, here it is. Enjoy.

Onboard at British Rallycross Test – Lydden Hill Feb 22nd 2014

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