[Road 2 RaceTrack] Ep.1 - Intro & ARDS Test
During the stone age, I decided to purchase a 2005 Mazda Rx8 without any knowledge of what I was really doing. I remember sitting at my desk in my old job and saying to myself "I'm going to buy a car and", Dramatic pause "Go Racing". Little did I know, I had just given myself one of the most soul destroying, mentally challenging and, wallet emptying tasks anyone could given themselves, besides going to the moon perhaps.
Imporving my racecraft in the virtual world in the 12h of Silverstone
Having competed in more than a decades worth of sim-racing events, I simply thought that I would be able to transition this knowledge over and learn "the trade" as I went along in "no time at all". I persuaded myself that by taking on an ungodly amount of overtime it would suddenly transport me to brands hatch in this brand new shiny race car, full of top rate parts, gadgets and goodies. Sadly, this, was a dream.
The Mazda all clean, back in 2014... If only I knew how long the journey would be..
Seven years down the line and a slow trickle of parts came through. As the years went by, the rust arrived.. The steering UV joint seized up, wheels would not turn freely, the battery was always flat by the next visit and the starter motor was as powerful as an electric toothbrush. I would fix one problem, only to find another the next day. It was perfectly clear that I had completely underestimated the task ahead and, therefore, like any petrol head would do, I threw more money at it.
The list continued to grow, as did the budget required to rectify the many problems left by the previous owner. A new engine rebuild, roll cage, exhaust system, manifold, uprated pads & discs, suspension, Air Intake, Front & rear arms, you name it, I have probably had to replace it. For the most part, I did not intend to change that much, just finding my feet in my first year in hopes I can learn and improve in the next year moving forward. Having said this, many of the parts I replaced were out of necessity as corrosion set in, adding to my river of tears as I dug deeper into this financial mess.
Installed Front coilovers & upper Camber arms. go me!
I'm happy to say that as a result of the several issues I have subsequently learnt allot about the car and how to replace & fix several components. I've adapted a "do it yourself" mentality which has saved me a ton of £££ in the process, but I've also had others work on the car when the tools weren't available (engine rebuild, roll cage, etc). It was not easy, the garage is extremely narrow, barely fitting the car itself nevermind my fat behind. Just to get into the car I tranform into a contortionist, the door hitting the garage wall each & every time. We have also spent an unhealthy amount of time underneath the car, killing all remaining braincells by banging my head on every component possible, leaving me with the characteristics of the Hunchback of Notre Dam.
However, Having said all of this, I said "enough is enough!", to, myself... And I said "Im going racing this year if it's the last thing I do". So I registered for this years Trackday trophy despite knowing the car was not yet ready in hopes it would push me to get everything done once and for all, and this, is my journey.
Opening the "Starter pack" for the first time
First things first, I needed a race licence package. Going over to the Motorsport UK website and purchasing the "Starter pack", which was £100. I surely hoped it was made of gold, but on arrival, I have a fancy box, a nice application form to fill in as well as a USB stick with all the knowledge I would require for the test. I quickly filled out the relevant information and went to get my eyes tested so make sure I still wasn't blind, a requirement for any racing application.
I was due to attend Brands Hatch in March which was perfect as the first race was at Donington Park at the beginning of April. Then Boris came on the TV and extended the lockdown and my ARDS date was cancelled, meaning we would miss the first round, it turned out Jimmy broadbent was there too! I was at work at the time the announcement was made, so when I got home to reschedule the only date left was on the 19th April at Snetterton. Not thinking about it, I booked it as quickly as possible before it dissappeared, the next slots being in late May!
All booked, I thought no more of it, watched the video every so often and waited for the date to come around. For those of you that don't know, You need to sign on & watch the briefing 24 hours before the event is due to take place. So thats exactly what I did. Reading through the document I noticed something, strange. It stated "The ARDS practical assessment will be carried out in your own vehicle", yes, oh Sh*t.
Snetterton Circuit in all her glory.
So, the moment of realisation was Sunday afternoon and, I thought, Thats fine, I'll just take the race car, except it was on axle stands, with no wheels on it, with a torn CV boot, with just one Seat up front... I looked out the window at my Red 2014 Mazda 6 2.2 Diesel, and gulped. Well, it was either that or the recovery truck. I hurried downstairs and drove to the garage, emptying the boot along with any loose objects as quickly as possible. I checked the brakes, tyres, lights, literally anything that might lead to me being denied access to the circuit. I found that my front tyres were slightly worn, with one with a slight crack down the centre wall, Dam.
Monday morning, test day. I called Kwik Fit and asked them to change my front tyres, arriving at 9am I say "two fonts, medium range, thank you very much". Nearly 2 hours later and they are not done and im now running late as sign on was 12:30pm and the journey was nearly 2 hours long! I see one of the mechanics reversing it out, a big sigh of relief, only for them to put it on the tracking device. I run out, wave like a mad man and say "thanks, but no thanks" and leave having parted with £265 and wasting a ton of time. So we are off to a good start.
Arrived just in time! Oops
We arrive just 30m behind schedule, we call ahead to make sure they are aware and luckily, we sign on just as they are about to start, Phew. The instructor runs through the days program, followed by a video on the content in the exam (essentially what was on the memory stick in the starter pack). We are all given 20 minutes to complete the exam and off we go. I tick some boxes, write down some flags and that is all there is to it, nothing too taxing, just don't overthink it.
After completing the exam we get send to sound testing before we are allowed to enter pit lane and begin our practical assessment. Pulling up the guy tells me to give it the beans, the dirty diesel still pretty silent despite doing 4 thousand revs. The man approaches my window and says "Don't worry, you'll not be annoying anyone today". I don't know if I was happy about that or not, but the Rx8 will certainly change things thats for sure.
The Snetterton Safety car. Hopefully we won't be needing that.
I park up on pit lane just behind the safety cars and await an instructor to pay me a visit. I had a good 15 minutes to imagine in great detail how many ways I could destroy this car and find myself stranded at Snetterton. Every now and again the sound of McLarens and several other very fast cars flew past, their engines screaming. A kind reminder that I really was the ugly duckling that didn't belong. Still, could have been worse, the person before me took a VW Up!
The Instructor sits in the car and asks a few questions about the car. How fast is it? Any modifications? I replied: "we aren't going to be overtaking anything", to which he chuckled and said, "ok, let's go then". I have never felt so intimidated in my enitre life, you had McLarens, Lotus Exige's, Caterhams, BMW's, Porsche 911's, and then me...in a Mazda 6...
Giving it the Beans on pit exit! We didn't go very far :'D
Fully aware of my slow car, I floored it out of pit lane, the diesel engine screamed into life as both turbos tried their best to pull the freighter along the tarmac. I felt the difference in grip immediately after buying the new tyres that morning, the front going exactly where I wanted it. The first lap was all about gaining confidence, this was the first time I had ever driven my daily in this manner, especially when going around the corners. After just one lap the brakes were up to temp and I began to push more and more. The instructor made it a breeze as we just spoke throughout the entire drive. Turns out he is a sim-racer too, playing iRacing.com whenever he gets the chance.
We complete several laps, I let several cars go past at speed. I make my intentions clear and communicated to the instructor that I've seen the car and am letting them go, which im sure make him as relaxed as possible. Snetterton was a brilliant circuit, I had such fears going into the infamous corners of Brundle & Nelson, but they went off without a hitch. The car, though swaying left to right like an ocean liner, handled surprisingly well around the high-speed corners and I found myself really chucking the car through the corners as we both got chucked out of the comfortable chairs as we pull the cornering G's! (Probably less than 1G)
The Diesel held on for dear life as the brakes began to struggle.
It would only be a matter of time before the brakes began to fade, so after completing my third lap the instructor said he was happy with my lines, awareness and that we need not continue anymore. A huge relief as I believe another 1-2 laps would have warped my discs completely. We dived into pitlane, parked up and immediately smelt the burning pads & discs, lovely. So we left the handbrake off to let them cool down, leaving the car in gear to prevent it rolling into Race control.
Entering the briefing room im told I passed with flying colours, 100% all around. See, all those years or driving around in circles in the virtual world do pay off! I took my application form with the biggest of smiles, all the previous fears dissapearing in a single moment. We had officially started the journey!
The Mazda 6 enjoying a well deserved nap after the test, she didn't let me down
Going back to the car, it had rolled down the hill! Only joking, it was still there, but the brakes were still baking hot. So as always I went down to the pitlane to look at all the cars flying past, awesome stuff indeed. There were two Macca's flying past in formation which was epic, with a BMW Cup car that was super loud as well as other epic machinery. I always love the atmosphere at these places, everyone is happy, everyone is living in the moment and simply enjoying the thrill of speed in their pride and joy. You can literally walk up to anyone and ask them for a picture of their car, ask them what it is, what modifications it has and they will gladly have a full blown conversation with you about it.
It was now getting late in the afternoon and the track began to die down, so we left Snetterton circuit having completed our ARDS. I'm so glad we are going to visit this circuit again, it truly was a great place to drive, even in my boat of a car. I can only imagine what it's going to be like in the Rx8! Bring it on!
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