Following on from my enjoyable test session in the Lola racecar, things have moved ahead a bit. I’ve had more practise sessions and my first race weekend, first lead of a race, first crash. Read on, I shall elaborate!
The practise sessions saw a lot of work go into my skills behind the wheel of the Lola. Translating five years of podgy saloon car driving experience into the twitchy single-seater has actually started quite smoothly. First time out, I could hardly keep the car straight and everything was quite alien. The replacement of the rock-hard tyres with fresh rubber and some suspension set-up changes made a world of difference. The Lola went from very enjoyable but scarcely driveable to a level of handling that was massively engaging and deeply pleasurable.
On the edge of adhesion
I’ll talk you through Turn One at Snetterton – a fast, sweeping, double-apex right hander taken in fourth gear. Approach the corner at the red line in fourth, carefully watch the revs (no limiter) and look for reference points. As the track-side buildings end, a cross-wind smacks the Lola two metres left to the edge of the track. It’s not too bad when it’s expected. Then, scrub off some speed with a little pressure on the brakes. Back onto a trailing throttle and turn in. Then, on the line from turn-in to the first apex, rapidly build throttle pressure and gradually swing steering input left as the car gently transitions into a graceful oversteer stance. From just before the second apex to the exit kerb, the car is dancing on the fringe of adhesion at full throttle, minute corrections of steering input keeping it where it needs to be. This is perfection – and there is still so much more to come: set-up, driver experience, confidence. It’s just wonderful feeling to be able to do this.
Slower corners are just as good – hard on the brakes, quick-as-you-can downshifts (heel-and-toe mandatory to avoid locking the rears), use the transfer of weight to get the Lola to turn, hard back on the throttle as early as possible, potent acceleration, rapid-fire shifts back up the ‘box. Big smiles. The interesting thing in traffic? The Lola is just as quick through these slow corners as the slick-shod, wing-bedecked Formula 4 cars.
Up and down racing
The racing itself was, as is often the case, up and down. At Snetterton on Saturday I qualified second in class on the wet track (big grin) and then took the lead in Race 1 (big grin). I held that lead for a whole three laps, and then spun out of a massive drift through Turn One (big grin) and finished third (big grin).
Race Two started just as well – second place on a soaked track. A few laps in and things were suddenly different; very, very slippery, not comfortable at all. Exiting Turn One, I got the Lola straightened up nicely and then applied throttle. In an instant the car snapped to a right angle to the track: here come the barriers. I closed my eyes, crossed my arms over my chest and waited for the bang. It arrived, swift and hard. Things bent and other things snapped. Turned out someone had dumped oil along the entire track. It had floated out across the puddles. No chance. (No big grin).
Repaired but not perfect
My heroic engineer Derren got the Lola back more or less shipshape for Sunday, cannibalising a sister car for spares. The track dried out steadily which was good, but the Lola wasn’t. And it seems that the rain covered up for a pace gap to the leaders. The racing was quiet – I was slower than the two leaders, but a fair bit quicker than the bunch behind. Anyway – I kept the car on track, got the lap-times down close to pre-accident levels and got two more third places.
Extensive repairs await the Lola now, so our plans of doing the Winter Series race on the island circuit of Anglesey have been scrapped. The somewhat amorphous plan at the moment is to do as much winter testing as we possibly can in preparation for an assault on Formula Ford next year. Whatever crystallises out of this, it’s got to be good. Downs aside, this Formula Ford lark is epic. How epic? The Lola is 12 seconds a lap (yes, twelve) faster than the Mini I used to race. Big Grin!
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