Sorry for the lack of updates, we’ve been really busy over the last few weeks, preparing for last weekend’s race at Brands Hatch. Things went much more smoothly this weekend than they did at Oulton Park!
-The Brands Hatch Indy Circuit is relatively simple
The weekend really began a week before. We went to Brands Hatch to test the weekend before the race, and this constituted our weekend practice session, since the Friday of race weekend we would go straight into qualifying and race 1. The test was vital, since we learned that after getting the bodywork re-painted and repaired, none of it fit together correctly. A sidepod top flew off in testing and most of the rest of it was held together with duct tape. We had a steering rod bent as well, and discovered two bent screws in the steering column from Oulton Park that needed to be replaced. All of these issued were sorted out after the test, the weekend before the event.
-Our new livery got a lot of compliments
If we had a traditional weekend with a day of practice before qualifying, I would have been quite confident of our chances, but going straight into qualifying threw a bit of a wrench into things, as we also replaced the front brake pads for qualifying. As my mechanic Jack said, “full-on qualifying isn’t the ideal way to bed new brake pads.”
I was disappointed to qualify second-to-last for all 3 races, but qualifying was a victory for the team as it was our first completely problem-free session. Our plan was to run 5 laps to scrub the tires and bed the brakes, let things cool off for a few minutes and then run the rest of the session. Everything went according to plan and we were able to run the entire session without any glitches, although we all would have preferred to go a bit quicker. Since we were the first ones on track in the morning, and the last ones on track for our race, it was a long, long wait for race 1. However, it was totally worth it.
-Pre-race engine checks
Before the race, the weather had been extremely cloudy and dark, and as we lined up for pre-grid a fine mist was falling onto the circuit. The paddock looked like it was getting quite wet, and minutes before we were scheduled to roll off, every team started a rush to put rain tires on. Knowing this might be an issue, we practiced quick tire changes during our downtime, and we were able to change all 4 tires without any power tools quicker than some of the other teams that had some. I told the guys to only change the roll bars to a semi-wet setting, in case the track wasn’t as wet as it looked or if it dried up during the race. While the paddock looked wet, the track seemed to still be in decent condition so a full wet setup wouldn’t be necessary.
Rolling onto the track for the warmup laps, it was immediately obvious that the track wasn’t ready for a wet setup and wasn’t even ready for wet tires. Every car had wets on, so it wasn’t a disadvantage, but if we had gambled and kept dries on, it would have been a significant advantage. It’s also worth noting that the race was going to be significantly shorter than intended, since delays throughout the day had pushed us right up against the circuit’s curfew time.
In Oulton Park, my 5 years of non-driving manifested themselves during the race in the form of timidity. I wasn’t as aggressive during the race as I had been in the past, and was somewhat afraid to take any risks, even when a good chance presented itself. This weighed heavily on me all day, and I knew I had to push myself to not be content just to finish the race. I had to make passes and I had to take risks.
-More pre-race checks
I got a poor start, the only car starting behind me beat me easily into Paddock Hill bend, a fast, blind down-hill sweeping corner. I noticed in the middle of the corner that even though I was off the racing line, I was well under the limit and, in the pack of cars, I gunned it going down and up the hill to Druids hairpin. Again, the pack was traveling much slower than possible, partly because of the natural concertina effect, and partly because of the unknown weather conditions. I took the outside and managed to drive around two cars. Over the next few laps, I swapped places with Australian Olly Rae. I got a better exit out of Clark Curve and made a move into Paddock Hill. He immediately responded with a solid move into Druids. I stayed behind for a lap, analyzing our speed difference and where I could take him. After following for 3 laps, I made a move into Clark Curve, outbraking him from 2 car lengths behind and decisively beating him to the apex. From there I was able to pull away, and began catching leaders Fabian Welter and Mat Rao. Behind them were a gaggle of EcoBoost cars, which are usually considerably faster than us and very difficult to pass.
-Working away at a podium finish!
Unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to try since the race ended just as I had caught onto the end of that pack. I was very satisfied with how I had driven, and had no idea where I had finished. When I pulled into the pits, I saw all the guys waving at me excitedly. Thinking they were just very pleased with my drive, I gave them a thumbs up. It didn’t hit me that we were on the podium until one of the stewards pointed me into the spot where podium finishers parked their cars. My eyes must have filled up my entire helmet as I realized what happened. I got out of the car slowly to allow the guys to run over and we all had a big group hug. After being distraught with my poor result in qualifying, it felt really good to finally show everyone what we are capable of. We’ve still got a bit of work to do to put up these results consistently, but the constant mechanical issues that plagued us at Oulton Park seemed to all be weeded out, and now we could focus on going fast. Also importantly, my racecraft was coming back to me and I had proved to myself that I’m still capable of taking opportunities that come to me, and being aggressive when I need to create an opportunity myself.
-“I’m not sure what to do with my hands.”
Plenty more drama unfolded over the weekend, but you’ll have to wait for part 2, as this post is getting a bit long!
With all of our previous mechanical issues sorted out, we went back to our campsite on Sunday night optimistic of better results in races 2 and 3. As I awoke on Monday morning, I hadn’t even opened my eyes before I foresaw the challenges ahead. The unmistakable pitter-patter of rain hitting the tent told me that it was going to be a very wet day.
This actually made me happy. There’s a saying in motorsport that goes something like this: “Nobody likes racing in the rain. If they say they do, they’re either lying or crazy.” I must be crazy, because I genuinely enjoy racing in the rain. I had one wet practice session early in my career where I was effortlessly 1.5 seconds faster that everyone else. Since then, I’ve always been at or near the top of the timesheets in every wet session I’ve been a part of.
There are two big challenges in racing in the rain. The biggest is lack of vision. It looks like you’re drowning. By that I mean the message that your brain receives from your eyes are that you are submerged under water and you need to somehow come to the surface. If you aren’t careful it can drastically affect your breathing, and you need to regularly take deep breaths to remember that you are in fact breathing air. To get an idea of what it’s like, next time you’re on the highway in the rain, find the biggest truck you can, drive alongside and turn your wipers off (actually, don’t to this. It’s dangerous!). Now keep in mind that our cars don’t have windshields, and the windshield that you can’t see through is actually right in front of my face. Driving an open wheel car in the rain, you don’t even have the luxury of seeing your own hands.
-It kinda looks like this
The second major problem is the lack of grip. This is actually the fun part. Both because driving a race car that’s sliding around a lot is fun, and the intellectual exercise of looking for the grippiest part of the track. When the track gets covered in water, the oils in the rubber that has been laid down in the track come to the surface. The rubber that was very sticky in the dry is now an oil slick that runs all the way through every corner on the track. Rather than looking for the largest radius to keep speed up, racing in the rain is all about finding where on the circuit the grip is. Typically this is on the inside of the braking zones, and around the outside of the corner where there’s no rubber.
The really odd thing is, the Europeans haven’t figured this out yet. Watch a wet F1 race, and you’ll see the drivers taking the same line through corners as they did in the dry. I went out before our first race to see if it was just a Formula One thing or if everyone in Europe drove like that. I watched a few laps of F3 qualifying and discovered that they were taking the exact same lines in the wet as in the dry. This was my time to shine! I had a secret weapon that apparently nobody else knew about.
I was feeling good going into Race 1, and carefully took note of where puddles and running water were positioned along the track. I got a decent start, now confident that when the lights went out I could go.
-Driving onto track for Race 2
Then my lack of recent experience kicked in. 5 years ago, after competing continuously for several years, I had developed a sort of 6th sense about where I was on the track. When you can’t see your hands, you need that, along with some vague visual cues of trackside objects flashing by, to figure out where you are, when you need to brake, and where the next corner is. I didn’t have that anymore, and the only visual cue I had was the rain light on the back of the car in front. I was also able to pick up the bright orange suits the track marshals were wearing, and was sometimes able to figure out where I was because I knew vaguely how they were positioned around the track.
Nevertheless, I was hanging on. There were a few corners where going off-line didn’t help much, but there were others where I could easily gain several car lengths by taking the rim-shot “American” rain line. According to Austin, I had gotten up to 8th overall, simply by virtue of the EcoBoost cars falling off the track.
My turn came, yet again. Again, at Druids, and this time I got stuck in the gravel (retiring, again, 2 laps from the end). I was disappointed and frustrated that I was consistently making mistakes in that corner (I hadn’t had problems in any other corner, even in the rain), that we hadn’t finished the race, and that my rain racing chops hadn’t come back as quickly as I had expected them to. Still, when I got out of the car and behind the barrier, two other drivers had gone off there, and one of them stuffed the car into the wall. So it could have been worse.
After we retrieved the car, Austin got it weighed and discovered we had 15kg (33lbs) of rocks on board!! After removing all the rocks (that took a while!), and cleaning the dirt off the car, the guys kept working on a few minor electrical problems while I went off to a Formula Ford autograph session.
-I was working on building an aquarium in my sidepod…
By the final race, I was exhausted. We’d been working 16-hour days for the last 3 days, and I don’t sleep well in tents. On top of that it was cold and soaking wet. Sitting in the assembly area for Race 3, all of this was swirling in my head. I desperately wanted to finish at least one race this weekend, but my brain was running on fumes.
More precisely, it had enough gas (petrol?) for ¾ of a lap, because that’s as far as I got. Yet again I carried too much speed into Druids. This time I missed the gravel, and had it gathered up just as I slipped off the track. But by then I was on the grass and there simply wasn’t enough grip to let me steer the car back on track, and I hit the wall. Surprisingly, the only damage was two wishbones, a bolt, and parts of the steering linkage. At least it was our last session of the weekend, and we didn’t need to rush to fix it. At the end of the race we brought the car back and began packing up to go home.
-Cold, wet, and exhausted
While packing up, the race coordinator came by to remind us about the post-event awards ceremony, and she insisted that Austin and I attend. “Great,” I thought, “I can’t wait to watch these other guys get awards for races that I didn’t win.” I was cold, wet, exhausted, and I just wanted to go home to some clean sheets.
Still, I didn’t want to seem grumpy and anti-social, and they hinted that there were other prizes aside from just race performances. So after sitting through 3 race trophy presentations (actually 6, because they scored the EcoBoost and Duratec champions separately), they moved on to other awards. They were clearly watching what we were doing, because they awarded us the “Spirit of Formula Ford” award for the weekend. After working our butts off all weekend with no on-track results to show for it, this was a huge morale boost. It’s a tribute to how hard Austin, Evert, and Jake had worked throughout the weekend just to keep the car working, and it’s great to see their hard work recognized by the Formula Ford community. Also significantly, we were awarded a free set of Dunlop racing tires (sorry… tyres). This will at least help offset some of the unexpected costs from the weekend, and maybe help us stretch our season budget a bit further.
It was definitely the most exhausting race weekend I’ve ever had, and I was a little disappointed that I didn’t get back up to speed as quickly as I expected. A big part of that was the lack of practice, and qualifying 1.5 seconds off the pace with only 6 laps of practice was encouraging. As well, the ease with which I kept up with the pack in Race 1 was another bright spot. We’ve showed some great potential, and I’m excited about the possibilities this season. The dedication, effort, and commitment my team showed was inspiring, they worked incredibly hard for nothing aside from sheer passion for the sport. We’ve got 5 weeks now before the next meeting, and we’re determined to come back more organized and with all of our mechanical gremlins sorted. There’s a shop in Lichfield where we’re going to give the car a new paint scheme, and there’s also a small sprint track where we can run the car cheaply. It’s not quite a full road course, but it’s enough to get the small problems we had this weekend sorted out.
As I’ve been saying, we have all the pieces we need to succeed, we just need to put them all together.
-The exit of Druids. Looks simple enough.
What a weekend. They say that a bad dress rehersal leads to a great opening night, and perhaps our test at Silverstone went a little too well. So as not to write a huge block of text, I’ll go day-by-day and recount what happened:
My job on Thursday was to take the train into Birmingham, pick up the rental car, drive back to Lichfield and pick up the racecar, then head off to Oulton Park. Evert, another team member, would pick up Austin after work and we’d meet in the evening. Everything went smoothly, although I never found time to grab lunch, and on my way I got a call from Austin. He said that Jamun Racing, the team which had won the Formula Ford Championship every year since 2006, couldn’t fit their awning onto their trailer. Since we had ample space in our 6x9 meter tent, they offered technical support in exchange for letting them use their space. We eagerly agreed, and definitely took advantage of it throughout the weekend!
As I write this Friday seems like it was months ago. As I run the tape through my memory, I vaguely remember waking up in my tent, and then it’s a blur until I see myself strapped in the car rolling down pit lane, eager to get my first look of the track. I carefully accelerate onto the track and check my mirrors to let anyone by. I’m not going to be going fast in my first few laps. Suddenly, the car veers left. I instinctively tug the wheel right but the car does what it wants, and goes perfectly straight. Once I get into the cold, wet grass, there’s no hope and I slide towards the barrier, hitting it firmly but fortunately, not enough to do any damage. I hop out and notice the left front A-arm had snapped. After about 400 yards our first practice session was done. I wish I could say it was bad luck, but I had seen a crack there before and didn’t say anything. I thought it was obvious enough that the other guys had seen it, and since they didn’t say anything it wasn’t a problem. Next time I’ll speak up!
Since the car wasn’t damaged and we had only lost one of 4 sessions, I wasn’t too bothered. We changed the broken suspension piece and got the car out for our second session. Once out on track things were going well, and our times were coming down. After about five laps, I began hearing a rattle. I chalked it up to loose bodywork and continued on, not knowing at the time that it was the beginning of a very long weekend. Two laps later the engine started sounding strange, like it had a loose exhaust header, and by the end of the lap it had progressed to sounding like a cylinder had gone down and was pumping air. I pulled in and was engulfed in oil smoke as soon as I stopped. The inside of the engine cover was dripping in oil and clearly something had gone very wrong.
We pushed the car back to our paddock spot and determined that the oil filler cap on top of the engine had come off. Formula Ford teams don’t use it, since it is covered by the intake, but when the Duratec engine is installed in Ford’s road cars, it is used to refill the engine with oil. We pulled a replacement cap off of one of Formula Ford’s show cars (I asked- we aren’t the first team to borrow parts from show cars!) and decided to test-run the engine, hoping we hadn’t lost enough oil to do any real damage.
At this point, we still had a chance to get on track for the last session of the day.
While we were preparing to test the engine, Austin and Evert noticed water coming out of the exhaust. Evert concluded that we had blown a head gasket, and one of the Jamun mechanics confirmed it. We wouldn’t be going anywhere with that engine, and I suddenly felt like Jim Lovell in Apollo 13 when he declared, “we just lost the moon.” This is where our temporary partnership with Jamun really helped us. They had a spare Duratec engine and offered to lend it to us for the weekend. After one of their mechanics, Tom, gave us a rundown on how to remove the engine, we got to work. And by we, I mean Austin and Evert, while I helped as much as I could by staying out of the way. Formula Ford had organized several seminars giving career advice for drivers, and I attended those while the guys got to work. We realized while taking the car apart that it would be exponentially more difficult to install the new engine, and Austin brokered a deal with the Jamun mechanics that I am convinced is the best investment in the history of the sport. After I got out of a seminar about nutrition, vowing to myself to never eat a piece of fried chicken ever again, Austin found me and said “the Jamun guys have agreed to stay late tonight and install the new engine in exchange for beer and pizza.” Jackpot! While they got to work, I found a nearby Domino’s and headed out to get dinner. Four large pizzas and a case of Carlsberg bought an engine install from the most successful team in Formula Ford. If only we could pay race teams in gum, racing would be so much more affordable! Watching the Jamun guys work was really amazing, and the engine was installed and ready to go before 11pm.
Qualifying and Race 1 were scheduled for Saturday. Between our Silverstone test and the 6 laps I did on Friday, I have had less than 100 miles’ experience with the car as we rolled out to qualify. Our quickest time would be used to sort the grid for Race 1, second quickest time for Race 2, and third quickest for Race 3. I didn’t really care much, since I was still learning not only the track but the car itself as well. The session went smoothly, my times dropped consistently from one lap to the next. One lap from the end of the session I pulled the car in, sensing I was making some careless mistakes and hoping to quit while we were ahead, for once. We ended the session 1.5 seconds off of the quickest time, which was very encouraging considering our lack of testing time. One of my biggest issues was that coming from the Star Mazda, which had significant downforce, I was too timid when jumping on the brakes. I was afraid that without aero, when I would get on the brakes hard I would lock the front wheels, before the weight had a chance to transfer forward. In fact I was getting on the brakes far too gingerly and losing a lot of time.
As I lined up for Race 1, I still had under 150 miles in the car, and less than 20 laps experience around Oulton park. I hadn’t raced competitively in 5 years, and I had never done a standing start (if you haven’t noticed already, racing drivers are masters at making excuses!).
At least my reaction times must still be sharp, because as the lights went out to start the race, my thought process went something like this:
“Oh! The lights are out! Did the race just start? Why isn’t anyone mov- oh there they go! Well I best be off then!”
The field funneled agonizingly slowly though the first few corners and at any other point in my career, I should have easily been able to pick off two or three cars. But this time, as I was so inexperienced in the car and track, I decided to play it safe and let the cars in front take themselves out. Going into the second chicane, two cars at the front of the Duratec field obliged and collided. One retired on the spot and one continued on at the back of the field. We settled into a train of 4 cars, with me playing the role of caboose. I kept up with the train easily, and had I not forgotten how to overtake at some point in the last 5 years, I would have moved to the front quite quickly.
Then, on lap 3, it was my turn to go off.
Druids is a blind, double-apex, decreasing radius right-hander that looks like a fast corner on entry and then exclaims “sorry dude, you should actually be going 15mph slower! LOL!” by the time you’ve committed. On lap 3 I got suckered and slipped off the track. I recognized it early, and re-adjusted my mental trajectory before I left the asphalt. This helped me gather up the slide quickly and stay straight, with decent momentum, through the gravel. Back onto the grass I was slow enough to have grip and curved back towards the track a few feet from the wall. I rejoined safely, albeit well behind the pack I was following. I settled into a rhythm on my own for the rest of the race until, 2 laps from the end, I felt a tug, as if the engine were out of fuel. This was odd since we started the race with a full tank, more than enough to get through the race. It happened again a corner later and then the dash started flashing and shutting down. Remembering what happened in practice, I pulled the car off at the next safest spot and retired. It turned out the alternator wasn’t charging the battery and it had died. While slightly disappointed to not finish, I was thrilled that I had kept up with the train so easily in the opening laps, and catching up with them after my off. I made it my goal for the remaining races to finish, as well as re-learn how to pass.
On Saturday night we went into Chester to have a night at a real hotel, and spent Sunday fixing up a few minor mechanical glitches.
Reports for Races 2 and 3 will come soon!
Anonymous asked: Hi! Thank you very much for your inspiring post, it does give a lot. Can you give me a piece of advice - when I'm looking for the continuation of my career after the karting stage, does it make sense to try formula FORD next or it doesn't give me that much since it's a wingless class?
Hello! Thats a great question. Most of my career has been with winged cars and the lack of aero was something I struggled with last weekend, especially in the rain. Aero cars have much more stability, especially at high speed, and the faster you go the more grip you have. This makes it difficult to find the limit, and is very counter-intuitive if you’ve spent much time in non-winged cars.
I’d say any experience you can get is beneficial. Formula Ford has been around for a LONG time and has a very good reputation, so it won’t hurt. If you’re in the U.S., all the single seater development series have wings so I’d say just go straight to F2000. If you’re in Europe or Australia, Formula Ford is kinda the stepping stone to winged cars so I’d say it’s not a problem.
Racing as a sport presents an interesting dichotomy. On the racetrack, it’s a cutthroat, every-man-for-himself brawl. You’re on your own. Having a problem? Tough luck, figure it out. You won’t get help from anyone else.
Off the track, each driver has a crew backing him up, and it’s very much a team sport. The engineers help figure out how to make the car go fast, the mechanics make sure it stays together, and teammates look at squiggly lines on computer screens, figuring out where the other is going faster and how they can match them.
As the season approaches, I keep telling myself that there’s nothing coming up that I’ve never done before. I’ve competed at levels equivalent to Formula Ford, and indeed even higher. It’s possible, despite my 4 year sabbatical, that I may even be one of the most experienced drivers on the grid. But there are several challenges that I am facing that are unique in my career.
When I raced in the Skip Barber Race Series, they would place instructors at each corner. During every session, whether it’s practice, qualifying or race, they would take notes on each driver’s performance. After the session was over, we would get out of our cars and meet with each instructor and go over ways to improve. I was always impressed with the instructors’ ability to diagnose even very subtle mistakes from ~30 yards away, and it was a surprisingly effective way to learn how to drive.
In Star Mazda, we had even more coaching tools. While my engineer looked at hieroglyphics like shock histograms, oversteer/understeer graphs and what-is-this-I-don’t-even graphs, there were several tools that I used regularly to diagnose driving mistakes and make myself faster. The most important tools were my teammates, speed trace, throttle position, video, and C-time.
After each session, data from the cars would be uploaded to wireless servers and subsequently downloaded into our engineer’s computers. After writing session notes on a track map, all the drivers and engineers would get together, and we would overlay the speed and throttle position traces from our best laps. This would give us a visual representation of how we were driving compared to each other, and which technique was faster. For example, in a particularly fast corner, driver X may be lifting off the throttle later, but that causes the car to be unstable and they can’t get back to power until well after driver X. Although driver X has the higher minimum corner speed, he loses momentum and driver Y makes up that time and more down the straight. That sort of thing is very easy to see, especially with C-time. C-time (comparative time) is a graph that uses one driver’s time (let’s say driver X) as X=0 , and traces driver Y’s time along the X-Axis, with the Y axis being the time difference between each driver at any point on the track (Look at me using all these math terms! My high school pre-calc teacher would be so proud!). This may sound complex but it gives us a very simple visual comparison of our technique in each corner. In the example described above, you would see driver Y’s graph bend up as he “overslows” the corner, but then as his momentum continues, it would slope down. This would suggest that in that particular corner, driver X should lift sooner and work on carrying more momentum. We then dissect each corner of the track in a similar way. Despite my life-long hatred for math, these tools are extremely helpful and actually a lot of fun to play with.
But guess what! This year I won’t have any of it. No coach. Extremely limited data. No throttle position sensor and no speed sensor. I won’t have a teammate to compare to anyways. We’re kickin’ it old-school. So, as a driver, the biggest challenge I’m facing this year is to self-diagnose my mistakes, and the only tool I’ll have is in-car video. I’m not sure what the solutions are, but I know they’ll come. I’ll have to watch the video very carefully. I’ll have to observe what other drivers are doing when I’m behind them. It’ll be difficult, but it should definitely make my mind sharper and a better driver. The owner of the Star Mazda team I used to drive for said once, “it seems you like to be really busy when you’re driving.” It may sound like a paradox, but the more I have to think about, the less I over-think things. So maybe driving without the crutches of data and teammates and coaches will keep my mind from thinking too much.
“Was it oversteer, or was it like Juan Manuel Fangio OVERSTEER? –Austin Brauser
At the end of part 1, Charlie was just leaving the pits at the start of session two. We had him run another install lap to make sure everything in the gearbox was fixed. About 150 seconds later he rolled into the pit box and verified that the gearing was ok, so we sent him out for his first flying laps. It was extremely exciting the first time we saw him fly by us on the pit wall and I could tell that Adam was having a blast with the radio system. After 5 laps Charlie returned to the pits; we checked tire pressures and temperatures, and then noticed the smell of burning plastic. We looked around and located the source as one of our Formula One spec heat stickers. The fiberglass was fine, but despite not showing its maximum temperature reading the sticker was cooked. All things considered, not such a bad loss. Charlie then mentioned that he was experiencing a lot of oversteer. I think some of this can be attributed to the almost freezing temperatures and newly paved track, but nonetheless we began our attempts to dial it out. After a few minor suspension adjustments, Charlie headed back out on track and got some valuable seat time throughout the rest of the session.
Once Charlie was out of the car and had some time to collect his thoughts we had a debrief in which he explained the behavior of the car in each section of track. We then prioritized the issues and set about with a development plan. The car still had a large amount of oversteer so we replaced the rear anti-roll bar with a softer one. We also reduced tire pressures by about 2 psi after gaining some valuable new setup information from some of the other teams in the paddock.
I think at around this time we may have run off to the Silverstone café and grabbed our lunch. I will say that aside from Lime Rock’s Chilidog, Silverstone has some of the best race track food that I have ever had. This time I went with the chicken stew. When we headed back to the garage Louise Goodman from ITV was grabbing a spot of tea, so Adam and I made sure to say hello and introduce ourselves and the team and hopefully get on her good side. Unfortinately we had to cut the conversation a bit short to get Charlie out for session 3, but she was very understanding.
“We’ve got ourselves a bloody driver!” –Adam Painter
Session 3 and session 4 were much less eventful than the morning sessions, but they were just as productive. According to Charlie the changes we made to the roll bar improved the handling issues quite a bit, we tried softening up the rear a bit more and that helped, but also introduced some unwanted body roll on portions of the track. We stiffened the rear back up a bit, but countered that by stiffening the front a bit too. These changes seemed to get us back on track and we got in as many laps as possible in the final 2 sessions, the only small issue being the camera coming out of its mount. Since I mounted the camera upside down (It’s a cylinder - cylinders are quite symmetrical!) and since Silverstone won’t let us publish any onboard video anyways it actually wasn’t that much of a problem.
At one point in the afternoon session Charlie was running nose to tail with one of the new, more powerful Ecoboost cars for 3 or 4 laps, as well as outpacing some of the other Duratec Formula Fords. Ultimately numbers are what matter in racing, and we can say that between tweaking the car’s setup, Charlie knocking off his rust (Some of which may have been offset by his lunch), and slightly improving track conditions average laptimes between sessions 2 and 4 were reduced by 20%. We’ve still got a ways to go in terms of improving the car for Charlie. I have quite a good idea of what we need to do, but for now the next big challenge for us is to find a more permanent garage so that I can make all of these changes, and to hook up the data system so that it can provide us with some valuable data for the future. We’ve got a lot to do in the next month before round 1, but based on what we have accomplished in the past 4 weeks I am more than confident in our abilities to bring a competitive car to Oulton Park on Easter Weekend.
“Yesterday we were students. Today we become privateers!” –Adam Painter, with a cheeky grin and giddiness usually reserved for children on Christmas morning.
I’ve been to Silverstone several times over the last year and a half, but never with a full night’s sleep. Our test in Friday made sure to kept that record intact. After the drive to Silverstone right after work on Thursday, we rolled the car into Silverstone. Garage 0- right next to race control, at 9:30pm. Penny Mattocks from the MSA Dunlop Formula Ford Championship was kind enough to wait for us and give us a quick tour of the paddock before we began working. Despite all of the progress that we made in Oxford the previous weekend there was still a lot of final preparation to be done. I first refilled the coolant before adjusting Charlie’s seatbelts, and making our area look neat and professional. We left the circuit to meet Adam at his house in Oxford, and got there at about 12:15. We went over our test plan one last time, made a last minute shopping list and got to bed at around 2am.
We were all up and on the road before 6am. We hit some heavy fog on the way, and when we got back to the track it wasn’t much better. As Charlie mentioned in his post, the start of on-track activity was delayed from 9am to 11am so that gave us a bit more time to work on the car in the morning. We finally got our dash from Jamun Racing – a big thanks to James Mundy for taking the time to find the dash, mount, and connecting wire in his massive trailer. After a bit of searching I found the mating connecter on the wiring loom and the dash started to make some pretty colors. Once it was working James showed us how to reprogram it. We stuck it in the steering wheel for the day; it functioned, but we do need to go through before our next outing and fix a few of the settings. We also need to get the cord to connect it to my laptop! Another thing we did was to shield a portion of the sidepod that was very close to the exhaust with some reflective tape, and fitted some temperature stickers in hopes of gaining a better grasp of how close the fiberglass was to its combustion point. When 11 am rolled around and the fog had finally lifted, we had Charlie ready for the first session. He pulled away for an install lap and we watched him roll down pit lane, holding our breaths and hoping nothing would fall off the car.
“The gear ratios are all wrong.” –Charles Anti
A few minutes later Charlie rolled into the pits with everything still attached and nothing on fire, which was good, but he reported that he was hitting the rev limiter about halfway down the Hangar Straight – that was bad. Considering Charlie had no experience with this gearbox, we sent him out for another lap to verify the problem and while he was out we began to make a plan. Between myself, Jake and Adam we had taken apart a grand total of 0 Hewland gearboxes. Our first session was pretty much done at this point but before Charlie got back around I had the manual up on my computer and I had also kidnapped two members of the Myerscough College team who were only in our garage for a cup of tea (we were sharing our garage space with Formula Ford hospitality). Fortunately they were extremely friendly and even more fortunately one of them had experience with Formula Ford gearboxes.
Once I figured out that we needed some oversized sockets that we didn’t have yet I went on a quest for them. I had Charlie go on his own quest to find out what gear ratios other teams were using, and I sent Adam to Trident Racing Supplies for some gearbox oil. I got what I needed from Enigma Motorsports, and Charlie obtained some correct ratios from Jamun Racing. A great thing about Formula Ford is that despite the competition, the Formula Ford paddock has some very nice people in it and I’m looking forward to some new friendships! Getting back to the gearbox, Jake found all of the specified ratios in our supply box and I had the gearbox taken completely apart. By this time Adam was just getting back and Charlie was off doing his race car driver stuff – probably sitting in a comfy couch surrounded by beautiful women while signing autographs or something like that (Note from Charlie: “yea, close enough…”).
Fundamentally the gearbox is actually quite simple, but it was still a bit intimidating having it apart for the first time – even with our friends from Myerscough helping out. The most important thing is to make sure that all of the spacers and bearings stay in the correct spot. Off the top of my head without looking I’m going to say the order is bearing, dog, gear, gear, dog, spacer, dog, gear, gear, dog, bearing… try saying that five times fast (and don’t quote me on that order)! We got everything put back together and by the time Charlie got back the car was just about ready to go. We did it, with lots of help albeit, but we did it. Not only did we swap the ratios for the first time but it was the first real challenge that we faced and we kept our cool, formulated a plan, and executed said plan without missing the second session. We refilled the gearbox oil and ran through the gears, first spinning the wheels by hand, and then having Charlie go through them with the car on stands. All signals were good so we sent Charlie out for session 2.
As Charlie mentioned, we have a lot to talk about from Friday, so in the interest of brevity I’ll stop here, but look out for part 2 in the coming days!
Hey everyone! There’s a lot to talk about after our test last week, but I know you don’t want to read a novel so I’ll try to make it brief.
We rolled into an extremely foggy SIlverstone at 7:15am, and began working on a few final preparations to get the car ready. In the drivers’ meeting, we learned that the first session, originally scheduled for 9:00, would be postponed until 11 due to the fog. This turned out to be great news for us, since we ended up needing those extra 2 hours to finish working on the car. At 11, with the fog finally lifted and the car ready to go, we rolled out of the garage, fired it up, and I promptly stalled it in front of everyone in the pitlane. I fired it up again, gave it more gas and did a pretty fantastic burnout to avoid stalling yet again.
Our plan was to do a single out/in installation lap, and for the first session that’s as far as we got. The car came with the wrong gears, and I was running out of revs halfway down the straights. It was very confusing for me, since I’m used to driving cars with fixed ratios, and I kept thinking I couldn’t find 3rd and 4th gears. I did another lap to make sure it wasn’t me being stupid, and pulled in to change ratios.
This handed our crew their first real challenge of the season, figure out how to pull apart the gearbox, swap in the right ratios, and put it back together before the beginning of the next session. I’m really dense when it comes to mechanics, so after hanging around for a bit I left meet the tailor who was fitting drivers for custom suits, and also attend a mental performance seminar the series was holding. It all took about 30 minutes, and I got back to the garage 10 minutes before the beginning of the next session. As I turned into the garage, I fully expected to see the car still in pieces. Austin, Adam, and Jake did an awesome job to get the car back together, with the right gears in the right places, in time for the next session. We also owe a big thanks to Jamun racing for helping us pick gears, and Myerscough College for showing us how to take apart and replace the gearbox.
After that initial drama, things went smoothly the rest of the day. My main job was to knock off 4 years of rust, get comfortable driving the car quickly and learn how to use the transmission. I’ve never driven an H-pattern racecar before. After the second session the corners began to flow much better, and I was able to carry momentum and catch slides. It was so cold that even with a 150 horsepower we were still getting power oversteer! Following one of the new EcoBoost cars, I witnessed it lay down an impressive strip of rubber exiting Vale. We tried changing roll bar settings to dial out the oversteer, and we went in the right direction but still had some more to go.
At the end of the day we were on pace with the other Duratec cars there, and 6 seconds off the lap record. But with a rubberless track, very cold conditions, old tires, a rusty driver driving a new car, and a very new team, I think we can be proud of what we did and it’s a very promising start.
We took some great on-board video, but for some reason Silverstone hates free publicity and won’t let us publish it on the internet. I’m going to try to talk to them about it but I get a feeling they won’t be very interested in what I have to say.