Monday, 16 July 2007


I'm always a bit surprised at how hard these airfield days are on a road car (its much easier on a 6-700kg Elise or Seven). There were a number of casualties on our day at Abingdon; a Noble with engine woes, a Radical-alike kept overheating, a 250bhp turbo Hyabusa engined Caterham broke its diff, and KNoB's engine decided it preferred retirement in Anglesea to being thrashed around an old airfield.

Mikey put it better than I could:

"I'm not sure we had quite the day SS7 and I planned on Friday but it certainly lived up to our intentions as a shakedown run for Kn0B. I got to Abingdon around 9:25, just in time for the drivers' briefing. Our mate J was already there in the RS4 so I had some company whilst C waited in a traffic jam somewhere on the A34.
After the briefing, we had three sighter laps to get a feel for the circuit. It consisted primarily of 90 degree left-handers with some little coned left / right chicanes dotted around to keep you honest. There was a lot of run off in areas where you needed it although SS7 and I both collected a small shrub in the same spot on the nearside front during an early outing :-) There was an interesting mix of cars, from a new Radical-a-like to a racing Mini Cooper (original one, not the small house on wheels), via things like a Noble M12 GTO, K plate M5, new FocuST, couple of Boxsters (one a lease car whose engine expired in the afternoon), lots of se7ens of various forms, a few Elises and VX220s, a Scooby, Evo VIII (I think), 997 S, and older 930 Turbo with very interesting bodywork.
SS7 arrived after the sighter laps but had to wait to have a briefing so J and I went back out for a few laps. I was pretty messy at first, not really getting the lines right and still trying to go too quickly in all the wrong places. I put it down to lack of experience driving on a circuit, although others may blame incompetence!! At least I didn't hit anything, spin or do anything too stupid.
After my initial outing with J, we switched to the white 16" wheels fitted with lightly used Pilot Sport Cups. It took a while to fit them so we didn't have a great deal of time before lunch. SS7 was about to go out but found the throttle was sticking open, which was hardly ideal. We enlisted the help of a friendly mechanic supporting Team Mini but it took a while to get the throttle to the point where it was usable, albeit still a bit sticky. SS7 bravely took the car out with James to warm the tyres and get a feel for the heap. He seemed reasonably happy with it after a few laps so came in and let me have another run.
The PS Cups were a revelation after the rubbish PremiumContacts that I used for the first few laps. It was very kind of SS7 to clean up the wheels and get rid of the marbles first :-) The grip levels were phenomenal; you could pretty much lean on the tyres as hard as you dared and they just stuck. Hugely impressed but I'm not sure I could see the point of them on the road. You'd have to be going foolishly quickly to unstick them but if you hit a patch of something greasy, I'd imagine you'd be stuffed.
By this point it was lunchtime so we headed out in J's RS4 for a spot of lunch at the Ock Mill pub in Abingdon (more of which later). Got back just after 2pm and SS7 went out for another run. On his own (iirc) 'cos J and I weren't looking. He was pushing a bit harder and locked up the brakes in the final corner a couple of times (evidence above). He said the traction levels seemed lower without a passenger! I had another run with J and started to feel a little happier other than the frequent bodged heel & toe downshifts.
After leaving the car to rest for a bit, SS7 then took over again with J. He seemed to be having a ball at this point, going much quicker and pushing the car harder. I was really looking forward to a further session in the afternoon 'cos SS7 seemed to have the car working really nicely. He locked up on the way into the final corner on a quick lap, claiming a car fault rather than driving fault (hmmm...) so took to the pit lane and went for a little trip down the runway to cool the brakes.
The car started to billow white smoke from the exhaust at this point, suggesting it might have had enough for the day. The verdict seemed to be head gasket failure. Now this might explain why the PO had about 5 litres of coolant in the boot!!
Throughout the day, I was rushing my driving, going too quickly before getting my lines sorted out. J offered some good advice, telling me to leave the car in third and get my lines sorted. I started to get some of the corners reasonably consistently but I found it hard to judge the correct line into the chicanes. However, I did start to feel more comfortable in the final session before SS7 temporarily wounded Kn0B. I was actually managing to keep people behind me when I wanted to although J accused me of being "too nice" by letting people past me and messing up my own rhythm. That's probably true so I'll have to be a bit firmer next time. I was able to lose a new FocuST and hold a VX220 and Megane Trophy thingy behind me, which isn't too bad considering I haven't done a track day other than the NS since 2003. SS7 was able to chase the Noble through the twisty bits but then he's a better driver and was trying a lot harder than me. I guess he didn't have to worry about how he was going to get home if Kn0B expired.
After the poor thing did give up, we had a "now what?" kind of discussion, deciding to switch the wheels and see if the car could make it anywhere near home. OK, so I was feeling particularly optimistic, but that's just the way I am! Removing the white wheels proved much more challenging than expected 'cos the enamel had almost melted onto the hub. After a lot of tugging we'd managed to remove three of them and replace them with the balloon-tyred 15"s. However, the driver's front wheel was proving unwilling to move until J came up with the brilliant idea of pushing the car with the lock on to see if that freed it up. It did, and rather more quickly than I expected so we only just stopped the car before the wheel fell off. Which would have been funny, in an ironic kind of way.
Anyhow, wheels replaced, car loaded up, and I then tried contacting a few friendly specialists to see if I could leave a sick 924 with them. I tried Northway, Machtech and Autofarm. The former two claimed "no room at the inn" whilst the latter offered a price of around £1,500+VAT as they really didn't want to do the job in the first place. The car was really not happy about going far, spewing clouds of smelly white smoke. We agreed that SS7 may as well go home while J and I set off for Abingdon to (try to) return to the Ock Mill pub so I could ring for a rescue vehicle from somewhere less suspicious than an airfield track day!!
I'm not sure how much damage I did in the two mile journey, but the car was really not happy. As my breakdown cover only covers me in the 968, I had to take out a policy with the AA to cover me in Kn0B and any other car. I'll ditch my other policy if I can as I don't really need two breakdown policies. So £170 lighter, I was told that a man with a van should arrive before 7pm. He did, which was impressive. Unfortunately, it was a new transit with a fold-away trailer built in and the AA man ("Mike") didn't seem that keen on loading a lowered 924 onto the trailer so he called for a low loader and left us to wait. I sent J home at this point and settled into the Ock Mill pub with a Leffe and a bit of work I needed to do.
The low loader arrived around 8:45pm and we hit the road around 9pm. Unfortunately the bl00dy thing was speed limited to 89kmh so the trek down the M40 / M25 / M1 took about 2 hrs instead of an hour if I'd been driving :-( I finally got home at 11pm and deposited Kn0B outside the house, where it will stay until SS7 and I agree what we're doing next. We have a number of options to consider, only one of which doesn't involve spending any money, unfortunately. J did a fantastic job as pit crew, lunchtime taxi service, ballast to assist the handling on the circuit, and company whilst awaiting the arrival of the man with a van. A big "thank you" for not deserting me (unlike some we could mention :-D ) Rose has had a brief explanation of the day, and the car belongs to SS7 :-) "
PS No it doesn't!

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