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 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 much have been better to watch from the stands, it meant a bit of car shuffling, but the queue seemed to go down fast, and in next to know 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!

2016

Happy new year!

2016 has started quietly, we saw in the new year with our friends in York, then on the way back to Coventry visited some other friends in Sheffield for lunch and a stroll in the park. The weather was rubbish all day, so disappointingly I didn’t get to take a photo for this blog post. Hopefully this isn’t a sign for the rest of 2016.

After a really busy 2015 I don’t really have any firm plans for 2016. Jen and I don’t have any gigs of holidays planned for the first time since 2010. Most unlike us. Some possibilities which have been suggested are hiring a Morgan 3 Wheeler for a day with my Dad, a Scottish mountain biking trip with Ali and I’m sure Jen and I will find ourselves in Croyde at some point. I’m looking forward to finding out what adventures 2016 has in store.

A look back at 2015

Signing the register

©Richard Long 2015

2015 has been a great year – possibly the best yet!

January and February were fairly quiet, I think we were mostly planning the wedding, which was a good move as from March things started getting a lot busier! Starting with my first trackday of the year on the Silverstone National Circuit, then the Leisure Lakes Demo Day at Cannock Chase, where I got to try some expensive bikes. We also went to London to see Frank Turner at the Royal Albert Hall as part of the Teenage Cancer Trust’s series of gigs – a great gig in an amazing venue, all for a worthy cause.

In April we went on our first road trip of the year – to Scotland in the MR2, also calling in at Scarborough and York on the way home. In May we started the redecoration of our front bedroom, the aim being to have it ready for us to move into after the wedding. We also went to Prescott Hillclimb to see the La Vie en Bleu French themed event.

June and July were both busy, in June I only had one weekend at home for DIY with a day out to Matlock Bath to meet our friends from York, my little brother’s stag do in London, then a weekend mountain biking in Wales, which was allegedly my stag do, but thanks to my best man Partho turned into a Welsh A&E tour. After the madness of Wales with the lads a relaxing long weekend in Croyde with Jen was just what was needed. The next weekend we went to a wedding, then the weekend after I flew to Japan. After a mammoth 42 hour journey home the weekend after and a trackday at Donington Park (which I really should have blogged about) it was already August!

August started with a Segwaying adventure for my friend Richard’s birthday (Richard took the photo at the top of this post). Also in August was Jen’s hen do, I took this opportunity to go mountain biking at the Forest of Dean with Jen’s cousin Richard. At the end of the month we were back up to Scotland for my little brother’s wedding – I was best man, so no pressure there! It was also the first time I got to wear my kilt and good practice for the main event in September!

Of course the highlight of the year was marrying Jen, having all our family and close friends there to share the day with us made it even more special. We are still humbled by all the kind messages and gifts we received from everyone. After the wedding comes the honeymoon – in our case a California road trip, a trip we had been talking about since we first got together in 2010. The trip was all we expected and more – I’ve still got the last few photos to sort out, but will be updating the blog posts in the next few weeks, as they were quickly posted whilst we were there.

Since getting back from California the last few months have flown by, I did another trackday at Silverstone, with Jen driving a session too, actually getting more laps in than I did. I got out on my snowboard a few times, bought a sensible car, spent my birthday weekend in London and completed my 2,015km in 2015 mountain biking challenge. We are going to see out 2015 with our friends in York.

Thanks to everyone who made 2015 such a special year!

2,015km in 2015

Mountain biking in Wales

At the start of 2015 I challenged myself to cycle 2,015km by the end of the year – this morning I completed the challenge!

Today was meant to be a day off the bike, but I knew a short local ride would take me over my target for the year, and the weather was nice. I’d done most of the work yesterday, with a hard, muddy 37km ride south of Kenilworth.

The challenge worked out to be at the perfect level, I had to push myself to ride a few times every week, but I knew the goal was doable as long as I kept that up. I had a few weeks off the bike due to picking up a cold, or traveling, so some weeks I really had to put the effort in. The fact that I only accomplished the challenge with two days left of 2015 shows how tight it was!

The photo at the top of this post is one of the few pictures of me actually on a bike and was taken by my friend Ali, who is one of the many people I’ve ridden with this year. Mountain biking a social sport and it is good to have friends to ride with. Jen even came out for a few rides with me, including one evening where we were meant to be going out for a meal, but ended up cycling to Kenilworth for dinner and a few rides when we were on honeymoon! Jen has also been very tolerant of me spending a lot of time on the bike this year – it took me 185 hours, over 150 rides to get to 2,015km.

I have already been asked if I am going to go for 2,016km (or even miles) in 2016, but now that I have got cycling into my routine, I don’t think I’ll need the extra motivation to get out – if the weather is good and I’m not busy, I’ll be out on my bike!

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…

Long Weekend In San Francisco

After dropping the Dodge off at San Francisco airport we got the metro into town, checked into the wonderful Triton hotel, but we headed straight out again – we had a baseball game to go to!

We hadn’t managed to get to a sporting event when we were in New York in 2013, so a ball game was high on the list for this trip. The AT&T stadium has got a great view over the bay and some tasty fast food options – we got to have our first corndogs. The game was a bit boring – at one stage they went well over an hour without anyone hitting the ball, but the atmosphere made the experience worthwhile.

The next morning we had an early start – Jen was doing Parkrun, a 5km run that happens at 9am on Saturday mornings in parks all over the world. The San Francisco Parkrun is a lot smaller than Jen’s regular Coventry Parkrun, it is also the furthest west, so the last one in the world. The run was held at Chrissy Fields, a large park alongside the bay, from the city to the Golden Gate Bridge, so whilst Jen was running I was taking my first photos of the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz Island. Jen finished 29th – technically her highest ever finishing position, but also the last in the world that day! We had breakfast with some of the other runners at Chrissy Fields, then walked along the bay to Fisherman’s Wharf, one of the main touristy areas of San Francisco. From there we took the old-school tram to the Ferry Building, which is now a hipster food market, where we had a tasty Mexican lunch. After lunch we had our first experience of the famous San Francisco Trolley Cars. We rode from Market Street, up California Street as far as China Town, then walked back to the hotel. After such a busy morning, we had a relaxing afternoon, a spot of shopping on Market Street and wine at the hotel (the hotel provides complimentary wine in reception from 5-6pm) before heading out to a highly recommended restaurant for dinner. The speciality at the Stinking Rose is garlic, but that didn’t seem to put people off, they were queuing out the door – even with a reservation we had to wait a while for our table. The food was worth the wait, we shared a sort of garlic fondue to start, then for main I had garlic meatloaf and Jen had forty clove garlic chicken.

Our second full day in San Francisco was a very touristy day, starting with a ride on the cable car to the top of Lombard Street. We walked down the iconic windy road and from there back to Fisherman’s Wharf where we boarded a boat for a cruise around the bay. We hadn’t been able to book on a tour of Alcatraz, but the cruise around the bay was a good alternative – we had a good view of the Golden Gate Bridge and learned a lot about the bay area. A highlight for me was seeing pelicans skimming across the water in tight formation. Later we had lunch at an amazing bakery; I had a pizza, although I think Jen’s chowder in a sourdough loaf looked like a better choice. After lunch we went to see the famous Pier 39 Sea Lions, they felt more like a tourist attraction than the sea lions in Monterey. Pier 39 was the closest we saw to a British seaside town. From Fisherman’s Wharf we got the restored 1930’s tram to Market Street, then transferred onto a modern tram across town to Golden Gate Park. The park was a lot calmer than either the touristy Fisherman’s Wharf or the hustle and bustle of Market Street, although when we got to the bottom of the park we stumbled across a music festival. My favourite part was the Japanese garden, which felt a lot like ones I have listed in Japan. To refuel after a long day of sightseeing we went to Mikkeller Bar, where we had food with beer pairings – very similar to when we were in Copenhagen a few years previously.

Monday started with a traditional diner breakfast – we needed the fuel, as we were off on a bike over the Golden Gate Bridge! After breakfast we got back on the cable car, all the way to Fishermans Wharf, where we collected our bikes for the day. We retraced our steps from Saturday to Chrissy Fields, and continued along the coast to Fort Point, an old military fort, pretty much underneath the Golden Gate Bridge. The fort overlooked the narrow entrance to the bay – you could see why it was such a strategic point and why there would have been hundreds of cannons pointing out towards the water. From the fort it was a steep climb up to the Golden Gate viewing point, where we stopped for some photos before crossing the bridge. After climbing up the hill, riding across the bridge and down into Sausalito was easy. It was only when we got to Sausalito that we realised just how many people had cycled over the bridge – the town was full of bikes! We had a nice lunch in a deli and some drinks by the bay, before catching the ferry back to San Francisco. Just a word of warning for anyone doing this in future – the ride to Sausalito is either off road, or on quiet roads, but the ride back from the ferry to Fishermans Wharf is on the city roads – including tramlines. After freshening up at the hotel, we got the cable car back to Fisherman’s Wharf for another wine tasting. The wine tasting was even better than in Santa Barbara. I’m not a wine connoisseur, I rarely drink it, but even I could taste how good some of it was – we bought a zinfandel, which was by far the best wine I’ve ever tasted. We spent so long wine tasting that the restaurants on Fisherman’s Wharf  were pretty empty, but we managed to get our last clam chowder in a sourdough bowl of the trip.

We didn’t have anything planned for the last day of our honeymoon, our flight wasn’t until the late afternoon, so we had another walk around the shops on Market Street and Union Square. Following many recommendations from friends at home, we went to the Cheesecake Factory for our last meal in California. I tried to be healthy by having a salad, but even that was massive. I still had room left for a huge slice of Oreo Cheesecake, but only just.

Honeymoon Roadtrip Day 12: To San Francisco

Our last day with the Dodge Challenger started with another run up the CA-41 to Yosemite, then west along the CA-120 back towards San Francisco. There was a section of road west of Groveland which was a series of hairpin bends descending thousands of feet into the valley which I really enjoyed. So much for America only having straight roads!

We dropped the Challenger off at San Francisco airport having added 1677 miles onto the clock – it had been a great car for the trip. With the road trip done it was time to start the second part of our honeymoon, a long weekend in San Francisco.

Honeymoon Roadtrip Day 11: Yosemite

Our plan for today was to explore Yosemite. We decided to start at the visitor centre at Yosemite valley, which meant driving the CA41 – possibly my new favourite road, in 30 miles there is only one straight and that is through a tunnel! When we got to the visitor centre we discovered that they were celebrating 125 years since the park opened, complete with overhung star spangled banner and “America is great” speeches – so we left to hike up to another waterfall.

The hike to Vernal falls was classed as strenuous, so we wimped out and stopped at the viewing platform lower down the valley, which proved to be a good move. After seeing Vernal falls we walked to Mirror Lake (which isn’t actually a lake nor did it give any reflections) about halfway to the “lake” the heavens opened – we were soaked through. We finished the hike and went straight to the cafe for emergency hot chocolate and cookies. By the time we had finished those the rain had stopped, and although we were still damp, we were not keen to get any wetter so we decided to resume sightseeing from the car.

We retraced our route down CA41 as far as the Glacier Point turn off, which is a 17 mile road, again with lots of corners and gradient changes, ending at Glacier Point (no glacier to be seen). Glacier Point overlooks the whole Yosemite valley, so we were able to see Vernal falls and Mirror Lake, where we had been previously, as well as a great view of Half Dome mountain, one of the most famous peaks in the park. As a bonus, standing on windy cliff top managed to dry out our clothes from the rain earlier.