Pistonheads Sunday Service at Aston Martin

Owen and I had a great morning visiting the Aston Martin factory in Gaydon for the Pistonheads Sunday Service. Owen has been to a few Pistonheads events before, but only as a baby in a pushchair, this would be our first one just the two of us in the MR2. My parents were also going, so I knew I would have back up if needed.

One of my favourite parts of Sunday Services is the convoy down with my friends from the Pistonheads Midlands forum, it was Owen’s first time experiencing this. He was made to feel very welcome, and enjoyed checking out the ten or so cars assembled before we set off. Once back in the MR2 it became clear that Owen had a favourite car – he was asking about “the fast version of Grandpa’s car” (a Jaguar Project 8) all the way to Gaydon! He definitely has good taste in cars!

At Gaydon I was going to park next to a group of Toyota GT86s, but at the last moment spotted a space next to a 1920s “Blower” Bentley – as much as a line of sporty Toyotas would have been cool, Bentleys are way cooler! As we were checking out the Toyotas (I decided not to tell Owen one was actually a Subaru – two identical looking cars being made by different companies would have caused a flood of “whys”), my parents turned up in their Porsche. So I suggested to Owen we had a look at a cool Porsche I had spotted. He was happy to see his grandparents and excitedly told them about the cars we had seen. As we walked past the Jaguar Project 8 he told my Dad that it had a big wing and big brakes. We then looked at a lovely yellow Triumph TR6 – exactly the same as the one my Dad had when I was a toddler!

Inside the Aston Martin HQ/factory Owen was most excited about the model cars in the gift shop, but with prices starting at £180, he left empty handed. As we walked from the entrance to the cafe to grab some breakfast, there was a display of Aston Martin cars from 1905 through to the current day, which we all enjoyed. My favourite was the DB5 “Superleggera” – I have not even dared to check how much they are worth though! Aston Martin had loads of staff on hand to help people and had obviously put a lot of effort in to hosting the event. When Owen started to get into a grump as we were leaving, straight away an employee came to offer him a sticker, which cheered him up. Owen proudly wore his Aston Martin sticker for the rest of the day!

With so many new Aston Martin cars about, on display and in the car park, the main thing that struck me was just how big they are, with the exception of the Valkyrie. Maybe it is because I am used to my little MR2 Roadster, but they all looked huge! My Dad and I agreed that the previous generation Vantage looked perfect though.

Every time I visit the Aston Martin part of Gaydon (they share the site with Jaguar Land Rover) I leave thinking “this would be a great place to work!” – I have been keeping an eye on their job postings, but have yet to see anything that would suit me… Owen seemed to really enjoy his morning, other than the one almost-tantrum he was on his best behaviour, but the excitement was obviously too much for him, as he fell asleep on the way home, despite the roof being down in the MR2.

Clean MR2

One of my goals for 2019 was to detail my MR2 Roadster. Now, this may not seem like a big goal, but given I last cleaned it in 2016, after a hoon to the Peak District, it was going to be a big job. As it is my pride and joy I wanted to do it properly – no cheating by taking it to the local hand car wash! Cleaning cars is something I find therapeutic, but to do it properly takes a lot of time, which is something increasingly rare for me these days.

Unfortunately I failed in my other MR2 goal, which was to get it to 60,000 miles before the MOT. I was 1,000 short, in fact it clicked over 59,000 while I was giving it an “Italian tune up”, after it initially failed the MOT on emissions.

Jen took the boys out to visit a friend, leaving me with an afternoon free – and a space on the drive! Getting the MR2 on to the drive is usually a three car shuffle, so one less car to deal with made things easier. In fact, my BMW also got a quick wash too and the drive got swept. The MR2 had the full works though: snow foam, two bucket wash, tar remover, fall out remover and a final rinse, before being driven back round to the garage to be dried, panel wiped and treated to a coat of Soft99 Fusso Coat Dark – a Japanese wax/sealant that I had bought for Jen’s Toyota Yaris and seemed to give good results. Given that the MR2 is usually garaged and rarely gets used in the rain, I would normally use a regular wax, but as I had a tin of this special wax for Japanese cars, it seemed a shame not to use it. Waxing the car I noticed that is has picked up a few chips and scratches, but from a few metres away I think it still looks great – especially now that it is clean. I had forgotten just how sparkly the Toyota Sable grey paint is.

After treating the roof and tyres with the appropriate potions, I was able to get out for a drive. It rained – typical! However I still had fun and when I pulled over in front of a yellow field, the sun popped out from behind the clouds and I was able to get a photo of my newly clean MR2.

Sunday Drive

My poor MR2 has been taking a bit of a back seat recently, which is slightly ironic as it doesn’t have any back seats… These days most of my Sunday mornings are taken up with mountain biking, so the MR2 only gets used if I’m driving somewhere and don’t need to take a bike or Owen with me. However this weekend both my bikes were broken, awaiting parts to be delivered to fix them, so I decided to take the MR2 out for a blat!

I had been thinking of driving to the Elan Valley in Wales, somewhere I have wanted to check out for a while, but I didn’t really have time before family duties kicked in again in the afternoon. So instead I kept it fairly local, the first part of my route to the Elan Valley started in Alcester, so I decided to drive there – taking the fun way of course! Coming out of Balsall Common, I ended up following an MGTF for a while. Back in 2005, the MGTF would have been one of the main competitors to the MR2 Roadster, I imagine that road tests in magazines would rate the handling and driving dynamics of the MR2, but that the MGTF would ultimately win out due to being more practical. I’m certainly glad I bought the MR2 though!

I continued cross country to Wooten Wawen, where I picked up the B4089 to Alcester. This is one of my favourite local(ish) roads, and it was great to have a clean run at it. The road has both corners and gradient changes in abundance – the sort of road where the MR2 shines! From Alcester I joined the A422 towards Worcester. I’d only ever driven this road in Jen’s Fiat 500 enroute to the Pistonheads Sunday Service at the Morgan factory after the MR2 had a tyre blowout the previous day, so the 500 was promoted to show car. I had wanted to return in the MR2 ever since.

The A422 did not disappoint! Starting off with great views over the farmland on both sides of the valley, then progressing through pretty villages as it snaked towards Worcester. I enjoyed this section of road so much that I decided to turn round and drive it again! Unfortunately the traffic had picked up by this point, especially the Lycra clad road cyclists, so I stopped for some photos, and took a detour off the main road, towards Redditch. After a while I started to recognise some roads from when Jen and I hired a classic Fiat 500 on our first wedding anniversary and pointed the MR2 back in the direction of Coventry. With the roads now busier, and the sun already beating down on me, the pace slowed and I enjoyed the sensations of being out in an open top car, cruising though the beautiful Warwickshire Countryside on a warm summers morning!

I was only out for less than two hours, covering ninety miles, so I had plenty of time left to work on my bike and wrangle Owen whilst Jen ran some errands. Whilst getting caught up in mountain biking I had forgotten just how much I enjoy an early morning hoon in a sports car. Plans are currently being made for that trip to the Elan Valley before the summer is out!

Pistonheads Monday Service at Silverstone: Damp on track (again)

Monday Service? You may be thinking that it is usually a Sunday Service… The reason for the Monday Service is that there was a Sunday Service scheduled in March, but snowpocalypse happened and it was moved to Easter Monday instead. Unfortunately, despite it now being April, the weather wasn’t that much better, with a lot of the country under snow and suffering from general traffic chaos.

It wasn’t that bad in the Midlands, it was just very wet. So, much like last year, I led a convoy of cars down a very wet motorway to Silverstone and drove carefully around a wet track. What was different is that the circuit had been resurfaced, so there was less standing water, with the exception of Brooklands corner, which was very wet. Given the conditions I was taking things easy – I would rather be slow than in the gravel trap/pit wall. I still had fun and even managed to do some overtaking, albeit only a replica A-Team van! There was a red flag towards the end of the session, after a Caterham had got stuck in the  gravel trap. I was first back into the pits and lined up ready to go out again, but everyone else, bar two other cars, decided to call it a day. So when the track re-opened there were only three of us out! The clip above is from one of these laps – as you can see I had no traffic. Perfect!

I’d met my Dad and his friend Mark, for breakfast before going out on track. I then convoyed back to Chipping Norton with Dad, where Jen, Owen and my Mum were waiting for us. We spent a lovely afternoon all together, followed by possibly the best meal I have ever had – Mum’s roast gammon with corn in cheese sauce and Jen’s Creme Egg brownies with ice cream. By this point the weather had improved enough to drive home with the roof down. A great end to a bank holiday!

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.

Owen in the MR2 and other news

Owen enjoying the MR2

The last few weeks since my visit to Prodrive seem to have been non stop in all aspects of my life – I have a few things to blog about and others will come to light soon. However, today was an important milestone for Owen (and me) – it was Owen’s first ride in the MR2! I had been excited about sharing my love of sports cars with him ever since we found out we would be having a baby, so I was relieved that Owen seemed to enjoy it. I think he especially enjoyed being sat next to me and able to see where we were going.

One project I have been working on recently is this blog – you may be able to see a few subtle changes, but the big one is that I have moved it to a new server (Amazon EC2 for any other geeks reading), so there may be a few glitches to iron out. Once those have been sorted there will be a few more tweaks and updates.

I haven’t been doing too well on the goals I set myself in my new year post, although my weight has been less than 90kg for over a week, so I’m on my way to the first goal. Hopefully after that some of the others will start falling in to place.

Top five from 2016

I have just posted my contribution to the “Your Top 5 From 2016” thread on PistonHeads.com photography forum. as with my top 5 from 2012 I thought it would make a good blog post.

Owen in Weymouth – this was taken, and processed on my iPhone and is the background on my phone.

Owen at home – Owen doesn’t always have his tongue out I promise! Part of the triptych I posted last week.

MR2 Sunday Drive – This photo just makes me want to get out and drive my MR2!

Rudbeckia – I only rediscovered this image whilst looking through Lightroom for my top 5 pictures. It was taken at Charlecote Park, when Jen and I hired a classic FIAT 500 for our first wedding anniversary.

Ryton Reflections – I blogged about this image last week, I really loved the winter light.

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.

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!