Pistonheads Sunday Service at Silverstone: Damp on track

Being at Silverstone for the WEC race reminded me that I hadn’t blogged about the Pistonheads Sunday Service I’d attended at the circuit last month. It was similar to the event I attended last year, except it was wet. Very wet. I was leading the convoy of cars down from the Midlands forum and had to slow right down on the M40 due to standing water.

The weather wasn’t much better at Silverstone, with the first track session being cancelled. By my session the rain had stopped and the track was mostly dry, except for a river across the track where the access road to the international paddock cuts across the National Circuit, between Becketts and the Wellington Straight. Copse corner was also extremely slippery, it felt like the MR2 was understeering, but was ready to snap into oversteer at any moment. It took some delicate balancing on the throttle to keep on the track. I found it a lot trickier than the wetter trackday I did at Donington Park last year. The wet weather seemed to have put people off attending, so I managed to get some relatively clear laps, including the one in the clip above, and coping with different track conditions is all part of the fun!

When the MR2 had its MOT test recently the tester pointed out that it really should have a suspension overhaul before I do any more trackdays. Following on from the big bill on the BMW and my plans to buy a new bike, that may have to wait until next winter, so this short session at Silverstone may be my only track action this year.

Pistonheads Sunday Service at Prodrive

Prodrive Factory

Prodrive are a company that I’ve admired for years – they ran the Subaru Impreza rally cars that Colin McRae drove in the ’90s. So I was excited to hear that Pistonheads were holding their first Sunday Service event of 2017 at Prodrive’s new HQ in Banbury.

Before I could go I had the small matter of finishing my winter jobs on the MR2; in summer it makes sense to put off these jobs until the winter, when the car isn’t being driven, but the reality of lying on a cold concrete floor is less appealing at the time! With all the jobs, and a brief shakedown completed yesterday – I was ready to join up with some friends early this morning for the drive down to Banbury. Via the country roads of course.

At Prodrive I met up with my Dad for a look around the factory – I was surprised to learn that they do some much more than building race and rally cars. What initially started as something to keep their motorsport engineers busy during the off season has evolved to 60% of their business! Motorsport is what I am interested in though, so seeing numerous Aston Martin GT cars in various states of build was a highlight. The workshop looked so much more appealing to work in than my garage too.

Their heritage collection brought back memories from my childhood, alongside a few Impreza WRC cars there were Honda Accord and Ford Mondeo BTCC cars and a Metro 6R4. My favourite however was the ’80s 911 Safari Rally car in Rothmans livery,

Being a Pistonheads event the car park also had some interesting cars, alongside the usual selection of Porsches, BMWs and Loti there was a lovely little Connaught sports car but it was another Porsche that I’d have loved to take home – a 356 Speedster. It was parked between a Cayman GT4 and a 911 GT3 RS, but they barely got a glance, to me the little Speedster is the coolest car ever.

Peak District Hoon

It is that weird time between Christmas and New Years Eve where you don’t know what day it is, I actually enjoy it, as I rarely have time off work with nothing planned. So when I saw that a group from the Pistonheads midlands forum were planning an early morning hoon to the Peak District, I ignored my own rule about not driving the MR2 on salty roads and joined them. Fortunately my Christmas gift from Jen was a chassis cleaner attachment for my pressure washer (I had dropped a hint) so I’ll be able to wash off the salt.

It was a clear, cold morning with a heavy frost and patches of mist/fog. The countryside looked beautiful. I should have been out with my camera but I was enjoying the drive too much! The slippery roads meant that the MR2 could easily keep up with the other cars, which ranged from modified MINIs to a Cayman GT4, which sounded awesome. Andrew’s M3, which I was behind for most the drive also sounded amazing.

We stopped for a cup of tea at Flash Bar Stores, in Flash, the highest village in Britain at 1,519 ft above sea level. Whilst we were inside the sun came out, so we retraced our steps and actually got to see what the scenery looked like over some of the twistier roads.

I did 150 miles in the MR2 and loved every moment of it, now all I need to do is clean it…

Pistonheads Sunday Service at Silverstone

Since Owen was born I haven’t been able to get out in the MR2 much, so when Pistonheads announced another one of their Sunday Service events at Silverstone, I had to go.

Rather than driving straight to Silverstone, a few of us met up between Coventry and Birmingham to drive down together. I’ve joined a few of these convoys previously, but this was much bigger – around 30 cars, ranging from my MR2 all the way up to a Porsche Cayman GT4 and a brace of Italian supercars. We took the scenic route to Silverstone, somehow managing to arrive all together, despite the group splitting up and following different routes. I made a time-lapse of the drive.

At Silverstone I met up with my Dad for breakfast and some tyre kicking, before heading out on track in the MR2. I had driven the National Circuit at Silverstone a few times previously, but I felt like I was faster than before, I expect that this is due to having a few more trackdays under my belt in the MR2. I really enjoyed myself, the driving standard was better than the same event last year, where Jen drove the MR2, and I was surprised to have the track pretty much to myself for the last few laps – perfect.

To finish off a great morning I followed my Dad back to his house – via the cross country route. I has been a long time since we’d both been out together in our sports cars, and driving together through the Cotswolds, with autumn leaves being kicked up by Dad’s Boxster in front of me, was just as enjoyable as convoying with the supercars or taking the MR2 on track earlier that morning. Including driving back to Coventry I did 170 miles in the MR2 and I can’t think of a better way to use 2/3rds of a tank of petrol.

Classic 500

Jen in the 500 To celebrate our first wedding anniversary Jen and I hired this little Fiat, and spent the day pootling around South Warwickshire in it. Jen has got her own modern 500, and both of us love the 1950s classic, so when I found out that Great Escape Classic Cars have one available to hire, a plan was formed.

The 1966 model is a lot harder to drive than the modern version, especially as this one was LHD. Both brakes and steering are unassisted, the 4 speed gearbox didn’t have synchromesh so double clutching was needed. Top speed was 40mph – you wouldn’t want to go any faster!

We both enjoyed our trip in the little 500, it could have been a case of “never meet your heroes”, but it wasn’t at all. Despite the trickiness to drive we would buy one if we had space for another car, even a really small one.

Donington Park Track Day

MR2 at Donington Park

After drag racing last month I had my first real track session of 2016 last week at a rainy Donington Par with Circuit Days.

Checking the weather forecast the evening before the track day I knew it was going to be wet, so I dug out the old bottle of RainX from the car cleaning box and applied some to the windscreen. The MR2 had recently been treated to a big service at Rogue Motorsport so that was the extent of my trackday prep.

The weather forecast was right, the track pretty wet to start with, a lot of the race cars stayed in the pits so the speed differential between the MR2, which in my hands is usually the slowest car on track, and the faster cars seemed lower than normal. The lack of power probably helped me to stay out of trouble. As I was on my cool down lap after my first session the red flag came out for a radical which was backwards into the pit wall, right by the pit entry. Possibly the worst place to crash as everyone else has to drive past you on the way in from their cancelled session. Later in the morning I had some instruction, which was especially useful for finding the right line in the wet and telling me where I didn’t need to brake.

In the afternoon the rain stopped and the track dried out, the MR2 was still going really well, and after my instruction I felt like I was going faster than the trackday I did at Donington last year. I was able to lap with other cars too which was fun, notably an Austin A30 race car. Just like last time I was there, about 15 minutes before the end of the day the rain started again, last year I pulled into the pits and went home, but with my new-found confidence from the morning, I pulled into the pits, put the roof up and went out for a few more laps! By this point the track was almost empty, but I spent the remainder of the session lapping with a Caterham, swapping places every few laps, probably the best experience I’ve had on track. The car had been moving under me all day, especially at Redgate and Coppice, but on my penultimate lap I had a bit of a tankslapper coming out of McLeans, fortunately the Caterham was well in front at that point and I managed to keep it on the black stuff – I did catch this on video, so hope to share it with you soon!

I was happy with the 185 miles I clocked up on track, I was doing 15 mins on/15 mins off with no trouble from the car. I had a few people come up to me and say how the MR2 is so underrated. After the last month of drag strip, road trips and a track day I really need to treat the MR2 to a good wash!

Drag Racing

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Since visiting Santa Pod Raceway as child drag racing is something that I wanted to have a go at. With Pistonheads having one of their Sunday Service events at Santa Pod was the perfect opportunity.

Sat in the staging lane amongst BMW M cars, AMGs and other high performance cars I was thinking that taking the MR2 up the strip was a bit optimistic, so I was relieved to line up next to a Mazda RX-8. I took my position at the start line, without doing a burnout, revved to 3,000rpm, with my eye on the christmas tree and let the clutch out when the yellow lights went out. Redline in first. Up to second gear. At this point I realised the RX-8 may not have been standard, as it broke traction on its upshift. Redline second. Up to third. RX-8 is well ahead. Up to fourth and across the finish line. Such a rush of adrenaline!

The only thing for it was to drive straight back to the staging lane for another go! This time I was up against a Golf R. I knew I wouldn’t win, but went for it anyway – starting with a big burnout! With my tyres suitably warmed I gave it a few more revs for the launch, but still watched the Golf fly off into the distance, my little MR2 didn’t stand a chance with less than half the power and only two driven wheels. I did learn that fourth wasn’t needed, I crossed the finish line just as I hit the rev limiter in third gear. At this point I still had no idea what my times were – they are displayed at the finish line, but only once you’ve passed, so you can’t see them. I went to the timing hut to get my print out and was pleased to see that both runs were in the 16s bracket, with the second being slightly faster  – along with an improvement on my reaction time.

My next couple of runs were also against turbo four wheel drive cars, an Audi TT Quattro Sport and a Golf R32, but I was getting the hang of it more, except where I was lined up behind the Ford Mustang press car, which did a monstrous burnout, leaving me in a cloud of tyre smoke and I fluffed my burnout – they were still sweeping up the tyre debris from the Mustang. For my fifth run I lined up next to a Saab 95, I must admit that I felt a bit excited, surely my lightweight sports car could out drag a Saab. Talking to the Saab’s driver put a stop to any excitement – he was running 14s. Then I was approached by someone with a VW Eos who wanted to race me – as he was also running 16s and wanted a closer match – brilliant! On the strip I got a much better start than the Saab, but it rapidly caught me and passed me.

Back in the staging lane I lined up next to the Eos, by this time of the day people had started matching themselves with similarly performing cars, so it must have been better to watch from the stands, but it meant a bit of car shuffling The queue seemed to go down fast, and in next to no time we were called forward to do our burnouts and line up at the start. I knew I’d got a good start. Perfect change to second. Couldn’t see the VW ahead of me. Perfect change to third. Kept the throttle nailed. Still no sign of the Eos. Across the line and saw the yellow light to say that my lane had crossed the line first – an even bigger buzz than the previous runs. The guys in the Eos had enjoyed the close run too. On checking my times this had also been my quickest run – 16.4741s.

Thanks to my Dad for the photo!

BMW 120i

BMW 120i

Now that I’m a married man I thought it was the right time in my life to buy a sensible car – don’t worry, the MR2 isn’t going anywhere – it is safely tucked up in the garage and will still be used regularly.

The main reason for buying the BMW is that I can put my mountain bike in the back, allowing me to explore more exciting terrain than I can cycle to from Coventry. It also has the benefit of not needing to use Jen’s 500 as much, which I’m sure helped with Jen getting on board with this scheme.

I chose a BMW as the roads around the best mountain biking terrain are good for driving too – think Scotland and North Wales, I’m still a car guy and driving those roads in a boring car would really get to me. After driving grey cars for the last 10 years I was happy to find a suitable car in a bright colour – especially as everybody knows that red cars are faster…

La Vie En Bleu

La Vie En Bleu hillclimb at Prescott (Lewis Craik/Lewis Craik Photography)

 

Last month Jen and I met my parents at Prescott Hillclimb in Gloucestershire for the “La Vie En Bleu” French themed hillclimb event. As Prescott is owned by the Bugatti Owners Club, I was expecting a mixture of Bugattis and French hot hatches, but there was a good mix of cars, from Morgan 3 wheelers to Aston Martins. Of course there were plenty of Renault 5s too!

However my favourite cars of the day were the Lorraine Dietrich and the Darracq pictured above. The Darracq particularly caught my attention as it had a 25l engine and no body work, not even a floor – the flywheel was spinning inches from the drivers foot. I later discovered that this particular car held the land speed record in 1905! It also set the second fastest time in class and sounded awesome. I’m glad that this 110 year old car is still being driven as intended and not locked away in a museum somewhere.