CKC/Omex Trackday Llandow Circuit (5th September 2009)
I had been thinking for some time about taking the car to the Track, and had even mentioned the idea to Stuart Mills of MEV, it was with his encouragement that I got in contact with Ian Stent at Complete Kit Car (CFC) to inquire about the CKC / Omex organised trackday event at Llandow in South Wales. Unfortunately the event was fully booked but Ian kindly took my details and offered to add me to the growing reserve list in case anyone was to cancel last minute.
Lucky for me a place became available, and a quick check with the misses and a couple of calls to arrange some accommodation, I was on.
Finishing work early, and unable to obtain a suitable trailer, I jumped in the Sonic for the 4 1/2 hour drive from North to South Wales on a Friday afternoon. Arriving at the Llandow Touring Caravan Park at 9.00pm to pitch my tent in the dark. After stretching my legs and putting my tent up I introduced my self to some of the other Track day enthusiasts that were also camping. Although I retired to bed early leaving the others to natter the evening away, the combination of apprehension caused by the impending events of Saturday playing on my mind, and being awoke by the clattering of metal pans and voices of some other campers at about 3.00am as an unwanted guest 'a Hedgehog' as it happens, noisily helped him self to the left over scraps from the evenings barbecue – was this to be a good or bad omen ?
Up bright and early washed, tent packed away, and at the track for 8.45am, 'let the fun begin'. A strong black coffee, bacon butty, looking around the paddock at the number of trailers reminded me of the serious nature of this sport. Registration 9.10am followed by the obligatory drivers briefing at 9.45am.
Based on the wide nature of driver experience, it was decided to split the 35 entrants into 4 groups ranging from 'No track experience' up to 'Extensive'. Each group of drivers were given corresponding coloured wrist bands to wear and stickers for there cars. Each group in turn would be given 2, 15mins sessions on a rotating bases representing the morning session, track closing for 45mins for lunch, very nice buffet laid on by the organisers, with the afternoon session being an open pit lane until 5.00pm with no more than 10 cars being allowed on the track at anyone time.
The first group of drivers on the track were the most experienced and gave the rest of us a fine display of how it should be done, inclusive of the process by which one car is allowed to pass another, and the tricky nature of picking the correct breaking point when approaching the bus stop complex of tight corners. Throughout the day many cars would fall foul of leaving their braking to late and have to make use of the escape road.
It soon came round to my turn to embark on my first track experience with the Sonic, with the initial first 2 laps out the way and used to heat both tyres and brakes, the pace quickened. Having not been near a track in some 20 years and not being familiar with either track in question or the car under extreme conditions, I decided to use the first session to build up speed slowly, increasing with each lap. I very quickly realised I had a problem when under extreme braking, slowing for the bus stop complex, I locked up the off hand side wheel resulting in 25ft of rubber and almost, but not quite, the use of the escape road. Although I was able to hold my own around most of the circuit this problem of front brake imbalance meant that it was not long before the front runners had caught up and I was obliged to move over to the right on the straight, and indicate to let them pass. Although this problem persisted throughout the day it did not hinder my ability to truly enjoy my track experience.
With the first session out the way and approximately 16+ laps complete, no nasty incidents other than my brake problem and arms a little achy from the exertion. I was soon looking forward to getting out again.
I concluded that the brake problem was caused by either my corner weights being incorrect or a problem with my O/H/S Willwood caliper. I decided to make do and investigate when I return home.
Although I mounted my camera on the role bar in order to record my second session, the session was spoilt as the majority of the session was under yellow flags, as 2 cars one after the another were recovered from the circuit due to mechanical failure.
After lunch, and some interesting discussion with some experienced track day enthusiasts, I adjusted my shocks and ventured out on the circuit from the open pit, with an open pit enforce, it meant there was some extremely quick cars and drivers out on the circuit, although with a protocol of only 10 cars on the circuit at any one time there was still plenty of ability to enjoy ones self. The stiffer shock settings and growing familiarity with the track meant that I genuinely felt my circuit times were improving, although I felt I was still nowhere near the capabilities of the car and being held back not only by my own inability's as a driver but also my reluctance to push to hard and risk damaging my beloved Sonic, 'it was my ride home remember'.
I had anticipated being faced with a reluctance to push hard, and had discussed earlier in the week the issue with Stuart Mills of letting a more experienced driver loose in the car, in order that I may truly appreciate the cars ability's. Stuart had suggested that I might consider offering Adam Wilkins – Features Editor for CKC magazine the opportunity. Adam has not only extensive experience in track day events but races a Tiger Avon in the Tiger Challenge series, and was there with his own built Sylva Riot. Having made my mind up I asked Adam if he would like to take the car out, after the initial shock and disbelief at my generosity, a look of considered contemplation swept over his face as he weighted up the risk and consequences of damaging the car. However he was not about to let the opportunity to test drive a MEV Sonic 7 on the track slip through his fingers.
While I had planned for Adam to take the car out on his own, asking him afterwards what he thought, when he offered to take me as a passenger I jumped at the chance, 'maybe somehow I could make sure he wouldn't hurt my baby'. Although I had butterfly's of apprehension throughout the 6 or 7 ever quickening laps, it was without doubt the right decision, even with my brake problem, the extra 100+kg of a passenger and the lack of a quick rack - so helpful for the bus stop section. Adams ability to make the Sonic, a car he had never driven before, dance around the circuit using every inch of available track, easily controlling the rear's power slide through the tight twisty section, and the gusto by which he attacked the chicane dancing the car of the curbs, it dawned upon me that it was not I that required more power from the cars engine, for it to go quicker around the circuit, but that the car just required a more capable, and courageous driver.
Returning to the pits my precious car in one piece, Adam returned the keys and thanked me for letting him drive the car, although I asked him what he though he was some what allusive, and to this date I still don't know what his true opinion is ? However and if by some way god was to rub salt into my wounds, his father polity tapped me on the shoulder and whispered “you do realise Adam was being very gentle with your car, he can go a lot faster than that” - so much for me being a quick driver. Now feeling completely deflated and it fast approaching 5.00pm I decided to cut my losses and call it a day. Pack my car up with tent and belongings and make a start on the long 4 hour drive home back to North Wales.
The journey home was generally uneventful, Sonic behaved himself all weekend, I feeling a little deflated after Adams fathers comments, resisted the urge, to do what should always remain on the track, and not be done on the public hi way – 'Drive Like a Loon'.
Overall the experience was superb, if I've learnt anything then its to make sure the cars right before you start i.e. my brake issue, and next time I'll get some professional race track driving tuition, 'your never to old to learn'.
November Issue of Complete Kit Car Magazine November 2009 Issue