Rockingham - March 2003Datalogger reference lap
The weather forecast had been looking good for days and come Friday morning it was as good as its word. Light frost on the windscreen but clear skies and the prospect of a great day ahead. Met up with a few of the usual suspects at Baldock services and set off for Rockingham. I had decided to avoid the busy part of the A14 and run through Corby by taking back roads to the circuit and arrive directly into the industrial are of Corby. Almost went to plan until I missed a turning and then found a road closed. Didn't cost us too much time and the roads were pretty quiet. The last stretch from Oundle to Corby was excellent.
Arriving at Rockingham was quite an experience. You enter the infield through a tunnel with a large sign stating "Exhaust Appreciation Tunnel". My kind of place. Being in the paddock, the place felt like it had a lot of atmosphere. I really wasn't expecting that from such a new circuit but it felt good. Marcus gave the sermon - I mean briefing - from the top of the pit garages and half way through 20 Nissan Skylines trundled into the paddock. I had forgotten they would be present. Anything from 400-1000bhp apparently, this would be interesting. There were also a number of race Caterham Academy race cars at the track to do some pre-season testing.
I'm in session A as usual so go to change my shoes and prep the car straight after the briefing. As I'm doing that Paul asks me if I want an instructor to which of course I answer "yes please". Most people like to get a handle on the circuit before taking instruction so I get an opportunity to learn the right lines from the off. Lined up on the grid it seems that there are only 12 or so cars in session A. I expect that a lot of the race cars are still being prepared and the Skylines have missed out. Pete the instructor does a good job of pointing out the lines to me and a few of them I have a really hard time taking in. It's odd learning lines on sighting laps as you don't get a feel for the natural line as you do at full pace. By the end of the session I've not done a decent lap but I know where I ought to be putting the car. It helps when I share my received wisdom with Tom by pointing out turn-in points on the large circuit map in the signing-on garage.
In the next couple of sessions things are going pretty well. The lines are working out well but I'm not enjoying a lot of the infield section. It doesn't really seem to flow. But the banked section of the track is awesome. You leave the infield from a slow 2nd gear hairpin then floor it as you approach turn 4 of the oval track. As you drop to the bottom of the banking the car feels a little unstable and wants to creep up towards the concrete wall. Yes, concrete wall! And it looks hard with lots of paint-marks and tyre-scuffs along it. I'm feathering the throttle around the bottom of the banked turn and then flooring it again as you exit the turn and run back up the banking right next to the wall before braking for the very fast chicane that avoids turn 1. It's a fantastic experience - and I thought ovals were boring!
The car is going pretty well. It doesn't like turning into right handers very much so it's handy driving on an anti-clockwise circuit for a change. After a couple of sessions I put an extra click on the rear dampers which is a good move. Most importantly the brakes are 100%. New discs went on the night before and I managed to put a couple of heat cycles through them on the way to the circuit. They needed to work hard as well. Twice per lap they need to stop you from over 110mph with plenty more use the rest of the lap. The only real problem is that my tyres start overheating after 2-3 laps. At that point they get a bid slidy as rubber peels off the tyre and rolls over the tyre. There's still plenty of grip but it's a bit hairy as the tyre 'goes off'. I could really do with some sticky tyres about now.
There are only two Skylines in session A. The first one I come across brakes mid-corner and spins as soon as I catch up with it. The session is red-flagged while he's recovered from the gravel trap. The next one I see takes a few laps to catch up. It's driving pretty well and disappears down the straights. As I get close to it on the banked straight he outbrakes himself into the fast chicane and carries straight on to rejoin the circuit behind me. More of a problem are the racing Caterhams. Many of them are showing no regard for the overtaking rule. More than once I'm waiting behind a slower car for him to indicate to let me by. As I'm waiting, two or more Caterhams come screaming past, racing eachother and passing me through corners. Not what you'd call good track day behaviour and what's more because they're racing cars there's no number plate to memorise and they're gone in a flash. It seems there are even more problems in session B with the Skylines making a real nuisance of themselves.
At lunch, there is a second briefing. Two Caterhams have been sent home and the sessions have been reorganised into groups of similar spec cars. All the SELOC cars are put into session B and things are much more civilised from then on. I start to get into more of a rythm with the circuit and figure out a decent line round the long double-apex left hander. Eventually I make myself hold the throttle fully open round the banked corner and carry another 5mph down the straight. The first time I did that I had my heart in my mouth! Now I was really enjoying the circuit and according to the DL90 I was lapping 1-2 seconds faster than in the morning. I got some good data from the DL90:
Out on the circuit towards the end of the day I shift from 2nd to 3rd before the long left hander. The gearlever moves into 3rd but I'm still in still in 2nd! It takes me a couple of seconds to figure out what's happened and I crawl back to the pits at 40mph. One of the clips from the gear linkage has fallen out and is preventing fore-aft movement. Back in the pits I get assitance from Sinclaires and 'Spanners' Dave fabricates a replacement clip and uses a tie-wrap to keep it in place. It's all fixed up before the next session starts - what a result! So I make it out for the last session of the day and take Peter Haynes out for a passenger ride. Apart from Pete the instructor, it's the only pax ride I've given all day. I have a good session and Peter's happy too.
What a day! One of my best track days so far. Special thanks have to go to Paul and Marcus for making it possible and keeping things under control. Rockingham was great and I can't wait to go back.