Baby Owen

Baby Owen in his blue hat

Owen Robert Craik was born at 23:27 on the 6th June 2016, he wasn’t due until the 12th July, so he was a bit small (2.59kg). He spent a few weeks under the excellent care of the neonatal team at University Hospital Coventry & Warwickshire, with lots of visits from Mummy, Daddy and his grandparents.

He’s now at home, being cheeky and causing mischief at every opportunity – I think he will feature a lot on this blog in the future.

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

_MG_8734.jpg

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!

Leisure Lakes Demo Day 2016

Orange P7
As I had such a good time at the Leisure Lakes Demo Day last year, I made sure that I would be attending this year too! When I got there I went straight to the Orange stand, hoping to try a Four – seemingly along with everyone else! When I got the front of the queue all they had in my size was a Crush, keen to get out I took it for a spin. I enjoyed the bike and seemed to get a lot of PRs on Strava, although looking at the trace when I got home it seemed a bit fishy, skipping a few sections out. Dropping the Crush back I clocked a nice looking P7, which I didn’t realise Orange had brought back.

The next bike I wanted to try was a fat bike, I’d noticed Cube had some, but the person in front of me took the last one out. Gutted. I settled for a Stereo 140 Race, which is a potential next bike. The spec was good, full XT 2 x11 and a dropper post – my next bike will have one of those! This being only the second time I’ve ridden a full suss bike, it was a lot smoother than the hardtails, especially on braking bumps. There was one section, into and out of a dip where the Cube was the only bike I didn’t lose traction on and made it up the other side. The bad point was all the pedal strikes, I was on slightly chunky DMR V8 pedals, but the pedals were striking way too often. I didn’t notice strikes with the other bikes.

I headed back to Orange to try my luck getting a Four, but settled on the P7 I’d spied earlier. Not having ridden a steel framed bike before, it was interesting to test one with almost the same geometry as the Crush I’d ridden earlier. The spec on the P7 was better though, SRAM 1×11 with Pikes and a dropper post. The SRAM shifter took some getting used to, but not enough that I’d rule out a bike because it had SRAM. The P7 felt more fun than the Crush and even had me thinking that an expensive hardtail would be a better bet than a cheap full suss for my next bike. It was also the only bike I took a picture of.

The event seemed better organised than last year, especially signing on. The route was better too, with less fire road, although the long rooty section was particularly energy sapping. I’m not any clearer on what my next bike should be an I didn’t intend on writing that much, but it was a fun day out.

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…

Honeymoon Roadtrip Day 9: Death Valley

Death Valley

This was our longest day on the road, from Las Vegas, through Death Valley to Mammoth Lakes. Before we set off we had breakfast at the Hexx restaurant at our hotel. As the terrace was in the shade we decided to sit outside, over looking the strip – perfect for people watching. The restaurant specialises in creative combinations, so I had their carrot cake pancakes, which were good, if a little big, and Jen had their take on eggs benedict.

Suitably fuelled, both us and the car, we set off to Death Valley. Even before we got into the national park the scenery was beautiful but it got even better inside the park, with multicoloured mountains rising either side of us. At Furnace Creek we took a diversion to Badwater – at 280 feet below sea level it is the lowest place in America. It was also bloody hot – 41°c, so we only stopped briefly for a few photos and a quick walk onto the salt flat. We returned to Furnace Creek via Artists Drive, a one way scenic road showing off the multi coloured mountains.

The next part of the drive along the Death Valley Scenic Byway (CA190) was one of the best roads I’ve driven, with dips, twists and hairpins. It reminded me of the old military road in Scotland, but obviously a lot warmer! The remaining slog up to our overnight stop at Mammoth Lakes seemed to take forever – it was 8 hours in the car in total, and the sun was setting as we arrived in town.

Tired from the drive, and the after effects of a few days in Las Vegas, we just took a stroll down the road to Roberto’s Mexican Cantina for what turned out to be a lovely, but very filling Mexican meal.

Honeymoon Roadtrip Day 8: Las Vegas

Las Vegas from above

Today was meant to be a chill out day in Las Vegas, but it isn’t really a place for chilling out, everything is so full on! We started our day at the breakfast buffet at the Bellagio. It was the most decadent self service restaurant I’ve ever seen, carrying on with the Italian theme from the rest of the casino. Pretty much all food groups were covered, but my highlight were the pancakes with caramelised peaches – surprisingly my first pancakes this trip. Breakfast was followed by a quick go on the fruit machines, then a walk round the miracle mile shops and sorting out tickets for a show in the evening.

By this time we needed to relax for a bit and cool off, so we went to the pool at our hotel, it was quite surreal swimming in the pool and looking up at the Eiffel Tower, I’ll admit that I preferred the view from swimming in Santa Barbara though. Suitably cooled down we took a trip up the Eiffel Tower for a great panoramic view of Las Vegas, unfortunately we’d timed it badly as we were too early to see the Bellagio fountains, which start at three o’clock. Next we braved the heat and madness of the strip to check out the Venetian hotel, complete with canal for gondola rides and replica of St Mark’s square – I imagine that this is the only time that the original would be madder than the Las Vegas recreation. We crossed the strip to return to our hotel, but ended up getting lost in the shops under Caesar’s Palace.

When we eventually made it back to our hotel we both felt like we needed to chill out for a while before heading back out. Before long it was time to walk back up the strip for our dinner reservation at St Mark’s square, where we enjoyed pizzas sat “outside” on the terrace, being serenaded by a band and watching all the tour groups coming past. After dinner we crossed the strip to the Mirage for roulette and cocktails before the show. We saw Cirque du Soleil’s Love, which is based on the Beatles music and was easily my highlight of Las Vegas, the choreography and acrobatics were amazing. We finished off our day in Las Vegas with sore feet – we walked over 23,000 steps – but happy watching the last performance of the Bellagio fountains from our suite.

Honeymoon Roadtrip Day 7: Driving to Las Vegas

Paris Las Vegas

This was another long day on the road, from Santa Monica, by the Pacific Ocean to Las Vegas in the Nevada desert. After a light breakfast I drove the first stint through Los Angeles and onto the i15. Leaving Los Angeles on Sunday morning worked well, the traffic on the freeway was flowing nicely and we reached our lunch stop near Barstow in about two and a half hours.

Barstow seemed like one of these forgotten desert towns, but I’d heard that Peggy Sue’s 50’s Diner was the best place to stop and it certainly lived up to its reputation. The food was good and it has also turned itself into a tourist attraction in its own right with a diner-saur park and gift shop.

After lunch Jen took over driving duties and got us across the state line to Nevada, where I resumed driving and took us on a detour to see Lake Mead and the Hoover Dam – which meant we also crossed into Arizona, so 3 states in one day!

Driving back from the dam towards Las Vegas we got more and more excited as each of the landmarks became visible on the horizon, but it was only when we turned onto the strip that we got the full effect and realised just how crazy this city is. We checked into our hotel – Paris – and decided to upgrade to a suite, it was expensive but the views over the Eiffel Tower and Bellagio fountains were worth it. I’m slightly concerned that Jen is getting a taste for hotel suites though!

One thing we learned fairly early on is that reservations are needed for the popular dinner spots, so we ended up doing an impromptu tour of the strip looking for somewhere to have dinner, eventually ending up at Gallagher’s in the New York New York casino. It was worth the walk – we both had huge steaks which were delicious.

Honeymoon Roadtrip Day 5: Los Angeles

Santa Monica Ferris wheel selfie

Our last morning in Santa Barbara started with a light breakfast and a walk along the harbour. The reason for the light breakfast was that we had planned to call at In-n-Out burger for lunch. We’d chosen the In-n-Out burger on Sunset Boulevard, but also a diversion along Mulholland Drive. After a few wrong turns we eventually got the right road, which was suitably twisty with great views from between the mansions and our first glimpse of the famous Hollywood sign.

After our Double Double burgers, which were good, but I thought didn’t quite live up to the hype, we drove via Hollywood Boulevard to the Griffith Observatory for more views over Los Angeles, including the Hollywood sign. From this vantage point you can really see just how big the city is – we couldn’t even see the ocean, yet the city stretched out all around us.

By this point it was mid afternoon, and wary of the notorious Los Angeles traffic we set off for Santa Monica and the Georgian Hotel on the sea front. En-route we passed or drove on famous streets such as Santa Monica Boulevard, Wilshire and Rodeo Drive. Upon checking in we were told that our room had been upgraded to a suite after I’d tweeted the hotel letting them know it is our honeymoon – I will have to try that at other hotels!

We spent the evening hanging out around the hotel, Santa Monica pier is only a couple of blocks away and felt more like the piers I’m used to from the UK with arcades and amusements. We went on the big wheel for a view down the coast to Venice Beach and beyond.

We watched the sunset from the veranda at the hotel, drinking cocktails- a great way to end the day.