Back: Steve Marsh's Caterham page
As the main reason I got a Caterham was to go out on track, it was one of the first things that I did. This pages sets out the track experiences I had in my first year of ownership and what you need to do to prepare for a trackday.
With that out of the way, here are my on-track exploits in 2004.
Binbrook - Jan 04 (Javelin)
Unfortunately, buying a Caterham at the end of November meant that there weren't many trackdays to be had near to Rutland. The first opportunity came at the end of January at Binbrook in N Lincs. I set off for this at 6:30 - pitch black, freezing and a bit of snow in the air. The forecast was good though and so it turned out. As a first trackday it wasn't the best one to have gone on, but in retrospect I learned more about the car than I would have done on a dry trackday. Oh -I forgot to mention that when I arrived I found out that they only had the small circuit open as the developers were breaking up the track for aggregate. It was the last ever trackday at Binbrook.. and the construction vehicles had left the track covered with slimy mud. It was initially more of a handling day than a trackday, but I certainly found out how a 7 handles in the wet.
It was a mixed bag of cars on the track - seven clones, £50 bangers, stripped down Porsches and a full blown rally car (which didn't mind the mud and kept the track well moist!). Several cars were damaged - a bike engined YK found a concrete block inside a hay bale (on the 3rd lap) and an Elise parked on top of a hedge going for it on a corner with no run off....
The best bit for me was following a Sierra Cosworth round for a few laps, watching the Cossie squirming all over the track with me following without sliding at all. As it was my first trackday I didn't have the bottle to go by though.
Lesson for the day: Airfield circuits eat tyres - nearly 2mm off my front left tyre, due to the 270degree right hander on the revised course.
Rockingham - Pre-Academy session March 04 (BookaTrack)
My nearest track - and I was to share the track with 60 other 7s, many of which were Academy racers having a pre-season shakedown. I woke to sleet coming down, with a forecast of wintry showers and sun (how true). It turned out to be an excellent day, other than it was where I first discovered that I had the infamous K-series 'hot start' problem; just as well as there were plenty of people around to give me a push!
Rockingham is a really good track - give it a go if you get a chance.
My lesson for this day was to be wary of the last session - the guys with cars on trailers (i.e. the academy guys) go bezerk and you really need your wits about you on track - no place for a novice really....
Cadwell - Sept 04 (Javelin)
I was lucky enough to pick up a (discounted!) trackday at Cadwell in September from the Javelin Trackday organisers. Cadwell is a fantastic track and one that you should visit if at all possible as its narrow, twisting track is well suited to the Caterham and the elevation changes are something else! Getting Gooseneck right on the way down the hill is a great feeling, whilst going airborne at the top of Mountain (which has to be the steepest climb on any UK track) is something else. Just make sure that your wheels are pointed straight ahead when you take off, or the landing can be interesting.
Unfortunately, reliability of my 7 struck again at this trackday (not the hot start - I have fixed this now). I was driving along one of the straights when I noticed that the rev counter had started bouncing from 6000 revs down to 1000 and back again. Nothing felt wrong with the car, but I decided to back off and return to the pits. On slowing down, I could hear a graunching noise every time I changed gear, which continued until I stopped the car.
Bonnet off, I couldn't see anything amiss (apart from a bit of oil over the side of the engine bay which had sprayed out over the cam cover) so I let it cool down for a few minutes. Switching the ignition back on, the starter immediately burst into life. After a lot of help from other drivers, traced the problem to the retaining ring behing the red starter button. This had unscrewed itself, falling down on the terminals and intermittently firing the starter up. So.... I had been drivng flat out round Cadwell with the starter trying to engage. This had totally fried the starter motor and flattened the battery.
The good thing about Cadwell is the paddock is up a hill from the track, so for the rest of the day I rolled down the hill to start the car and managed to go out for a few more sessions, although it did take the edge off my enjoyment - I really didn't want to stall on the track without a starter!
Subsequent investigation showed that apart from the starter burning out the commutator (one of the bushes had vapourised!), there was no other damage - especially to the starter ring (which is an engine out job to replace). Replacing the starter also fixed the tendency of the starter to stall occasionally, so it was probably on the way out anyway.
I must go back to Cadwell in 2005 and have another go.
Mallory Park - Oct 04 (L7CGB)
Mallory is one of the closest tracks to me - only 40 miles away, and I was lucky enough to get a standby place on the Lotus 7 club trackday. While it looks a relatively simple track, it is full of challenges. I never got the hairpin right, while going round the long, long right hander at Garrards is really satisfying, if somewhat harder on the engine (all the oil runs to one side of the engine and sump for about 10 seconds, so oil starvation is a real possibility).
More engine troubles here. The oil leak I had noticed at Cadwell was much worse, traced to a stripped thread on the camcover allowing the oil to leak out when at high revs and cornering (i.e. Garrards was really bad for me). At the same time, my oil pressure gauge, which had been registering 4bar and startup and then 1 bar once the engine had warmed up, decided that it would give me no information at all on pressure at all. Easy to fix subsequently, but not at the track. I overcompensated by topping the oil up regularly (can anyone read a K series VVC dipstick reliably?) which resulted in oil occasionally dropping on to the exhaust (big cloud of blue smoke) and an oil temp of around 110 degrees (as there was too much oil in now).
The final session of the day was interesting. It had been threatening to rain all day, and it absolutely poured down as I pulled out of the pits. With no side doors on, I got very wet. As I was already wet, and the track was quite empty, I decided to stay out for the whole session. Yoko A032R tyres are not that bad in the wet, provided that you are not going through standing water and as the normal racing line on the track seemed to have a lot of water on it, it meant playing around with different lines, where there really was much more grip. So that is why Schumacher does it!
Comment from the instructor who went out with me: "You have a nice smooth driving style and the car seems to be really well set up. You just need to work on being a bit faster". I was really pleased with this.
Rockingham - Oct 06 (BookaTrack)
It was good to come back to this track after 3 years of experience - wow! what a difference. I was one of the faster cars on the track and much more confident. I just had to watch out for novices though! 2Mb mpeg video - Close overtaking!
Last update: 29 October 2006