It’s been on the to do list pretty much ever since I built the car to have a day with Tim Gray who’s well known in RGB circles mostly because he’s clearly in a different league from everyone else. Despite lots of the guys at the pointy end of our grid being very quick drivers Tim hasn’t really had any battles yet this season as he usually drives away on the first lap and isn’t seen again. As I’ve already mentioned on this blog he also drove the Baldwins’ BDN in Bikesports at Snetterton and Brands last year. I haven’t managed to sort it before now as last season was messed up by rebuilding the car and this season we just haven’t been able to get a mutually convenient date.
My three goals for the day were:
1. Have Tim drive the car and sort the setup out. The trouble is that Tim could drive a Tesco trolley fast so my specific request was that he get it set up for an idiot to drive rather than for himself
2. For Brian to have a drive.
3. For Tim to give me some pointers as to how I can improve my driving and get past some of my mental blocks.
The bad news is we killed the engine but the good news is that the first 2 boxes were definitely ticked and I think significant progress was made on the third objective. In addition to Tim and Brian, Colin also came along with his trusty sidekick Roger as he was interested to see how we got on as he still doesn’t seem 100% happy with his BDN’s setup.
I suggested Brian went out for the sighting session – he’s driven Donington before about 4 years ago but I thought it would be an idea to get used to the car at low speed first. He came back in with a smile on his face, his main comment was about how easy it was to drive and how nice it felt, he’d expected it to be more twitchy I think.
Once he’d done that we put Tim’s seat in the car and he went out. He stayed out for quite a few laps which suggested that he wasn’t finding the car diabolical. He came in and said it was really nice but there was an issue with the mid corner transition, it was going from a bit of understeer to quite a bit of oversteer quite suddenly. He said it wasn’t bad though and he was doing Craner flat in 6th straight away
So after he’d thought about it for a bit he added 4 clicks to the front dampers, stiffened up the ARB a bit and went out again. He then said it was a bit better but was still doing it. So we added cable ties to the damper rods as tell tales to see how much travel we were using. He then sent me out in the car with instructions to avoid the kerbs. When I came in the ties told us the rear dampers were bottoming out.
So he added 4 clicks at the rear and went out again. This time he said it felt much better and went 3 seconds a lap quicker. The cable ties were still indicating some bottoming out so he added another 4 clicks at the rear and said it was now pretty much spot on and really lovely to drive – and another 1.5 seconds a lap quicker. Given that I wanted him to set the car up for a numpty to drive he thought the best thing was probably to soften the rear back again a tad to calm the rear down a bit, he’s very happy with the back end out but thought better for me with it a bit gentler.
By now it was late morning, so I took the car out again for a session and was definitely going better. I do genuinely think the car felt more stable mid corner but so much of it is psychological and I’m sure just having Tim say it was handling well gave me the confidence to push it a bit harder. After my session we sent Brian out again for the last session before lunch. He loved it and came in with a big smile on his face. He’d managed to get the back end out round Redgate and Coppice and was really pleased how the car had let him know and he’d been able to correct it without it feeling terribly dramatic.
After lunch I went out with Tim in the passenger seat. Main points when we came in were:
1. some poor lines – turning in too late a couple of times leading to missed apexes
2. braking too early resulting in either coasting or just braking too much
3. think about using higher gears for lots of the corners to keep the car more settled
4. just not pushing the car hard enough
I suggested next that he take me out for a few laps. This was really instructive. Despite a bit of apprehension since I’m generally not a good passenger I actually wasn’t terribly worried, it was clear the car was very well balanced and he is simply incredible behind the wheel. First thing was that he was really throwing the car in very hard into the corners, he was throwing it in hard enough that he was getting the car sliding a bit on the way in but it was clear that it was only getting to that point at speeds much higher than I’d been going. So the lesson was that it has more grip than I was giving it credit for and when the grip does start to run out it behaves very progressively and predictably.
The second thing was that he was getting on the power incredibly early and very hard, usually well before the apex and he was power sliding it out of every corner. It didn’t feel dramatic though, even from the passenger seat the car felt fantastic, I know he’s incredibly talented but it was clear the car was working very well. Even with my 90kg in the passenger seat he was taking Craner flat in 6th – I think that was the only place on the lap where I did feel a bit anxious. Dropping over that little crest before the left hander going *much much* faster than I’d ever gone really made you wonder if you were ever going to get round but of course it always did. On one lap it did understeer right on the apex but again no drama, after sidestepping a bit it just hooked up again and round we went. The key was that on the exit, which is the tricky bit at Craner, it wasn’t running wide because he was just turning the steering wheel harder than I ever would and the car was doing what he told it to and keeping a much tighter line than I thought it could.
After that he talked me through each corner comparing what I was doing with what he did. Then I got him to take Brian out, they only did 3 laps before coming in with the car belching out loads of white vapour from the exhaust. I think sitting in the car talking while it was very hot after my passenger session had caused heat soak to discover the weakness in the engine – you’ll remember the block was a tiny bit warped when I changed the head after Pembrey last year. To be honest it’s done pretty well so it doesn’t owe me a lot. Despite my initial concerns about the engine it’s done qualifying and 11 races in 2011 along with associated testing, last year’s Birkett, a couple of trackdays and so far 4 race weekends this season.
So that was a premature end to the day. Pity as we were having a great time until then. The main thing is I know the car is setup right and now know what it can do. I’m also really pleased that Brian got a go in the car. Sadly no video form the day as I forgot the camera battery
With 2 weeks to go to the Anglesey weekend I’ve got some time but not a lot! An upgrade to a 2008 engine has been on the cards for a while but even if I can find an engine I don’t really have time for that as it will mean sorting out the new loom and making a new airbox, possibly also modifying the rear cover. So I’d better find me a replacement 06/07 motor, I think I know where I might find one and a straight swap is no drama.