December 09, 2020
GUEST BLOG: ON TRACK FOR THE ACADEMY WITH ROB OLDLAND #11
Rob Oldland’s racing season reaches its conclusion at Donington Park
It was the Monday of the week before my final race weekend of the season when Garry, Derek and I arrived for the Lotus Seven Club track day at Donington Park. I was really looking forward to a more relaxed time out on track with friends. Derek had brought his own 360SV and Garry was sharing my Academy car as he had travelled down from ‘up north’ rather than home and so was without his own Seven. In addition, one of my work colleagues, Jonny, had travelled to join us for his first ever ride in a Caterham and his first time ever out on a race circuit - what a fabulous experience he had in store!
The weather, however, was less than ideal. We were sharing the day with MGs On Track, with the Lotus Seven Club having a twenty minute session at the top of each hour. Thankfully, Garry took the first session which turned out to be the only dry one of the day. While I would have loved to have had a fully dry day in preparation for my races, and to be able to give Jonny the full experience of sweeping flat through the Craner Curves and pulling 1.5+G, time on a damp/wet track was invaluable for me as you need to be comfortable and confident racing in such conditions. Also, you learn so much about the handling of your car at lower speeds in the wet. During the day I was able to explore different lines to find more grip and by the end of the day, I was able to find significant pace through Craners, Old Hairpin and right up through to the top of the circuit at Macleans — awesome!
With 40 cars on the track each session, it was very busy and at times quite tricky to make progress. Less confident drivers in more powerful cars were tip-toeing around the corners and then blasting down the straights; despite carrying more speed, with only 125bhp I had no chance of passing them. I was also mindful I was on a track day not a test day, so was sure not to put any pressure on drivers into the corners and to follow track-day etiquette. A top tip to track day drivers is that if the same car is behind you at the end of lap that you saw in your mirrors at the start of it, then it’s very likely to be quicker than you; ease off, let it pass and see if you can learn something from them, such as braking points and the quickest lines through corners. All said and done, we had a fabulous day and provided Jonny with some memories he will never forget.
Soon, the weekend of my final race arrived so it was back to Donington Park. Derek was first to set off on Thursday lunchtime with my car in tow, so he could get us a good spot in the paddock and set up ahead of Friday’s testing. Garry and I set off at 16:30 and met Derek in the hotel bar around 19:30 ready for a pint and a steak, as he had already taken care of all of the hard work setting up at the circuit, what a legend!
Friday proved to be the perfect test day, wet in the morning and dry in the afternoon and I was joined by driver coach Jamie Unwin. With Jamie’s help in the car, I was able to build on my experience from the previous track day and was able to unlock even more grip by improving my technique and lines. Over the lunch break, we briefed ready for the dry session that was expected in the afternoon. This culminated in my favourite ever track session at the end of the day — I was getting really quick throughout the circuit and had the car balancing on a knife-edge and dancing to my every input of throttle, brake and steering.
Now joined by my family, and also by Lotus Seven Club members, Will, Ian, Peter and Paul, I was feeling confident as I started the 15 minute qualifying session on Saturday. My VBOX in-car lap timer confirmed this as I watched my lap times improving and — I was even setting quicker times than I had in testing the previous day. So, you can imagine how shocked I was when I pulled back under the gazebo to be told — ‘16th place Rob’ — gutted!
The track had evolved for everyone and as I had been lapping on my own, I had not benefitted from the powerful tow. Well, that’s my excuse and I’m sticking with it! Despite the poor qualification, I remained confident I’d have good race pace. While my start was OK, others got off the line even better. This, combined with avoiding a first corner incident, had me back down in 18th place — I do like to make things difficult for myself don’t I? Time to dig really deep, stay focussed, don’t overdrive or make any silly mistakes. I started to make good progress up through the pack to reach 13th place with around five minutes left on the clock. I was at the back of a six car train, heading into the Roberts chicane, when two of the cars came together. I opted to take avoiding action to the right and just managed to miss getting caught up in their accident. Unfortunately, the collision brought out an early chequered flag, as if a safety car had been deployed, we would have ended up following it around until the timer reached zero anyway. The result of aIl of this was that I had managed to claw my way back up to finish in 11th place.
While we would race again on Sunday in the non-championship Autumn Trophy event, this had been the final race of my Academy season. I had achieved what I had set out to do — to complete a season of racing on a limited budget. In fact, my car had not contacted another car or the scenery over the entire year (perhaps I wasn’t trying hard enough?) To be brutally honest, I felt disappointed when the final championship results were published which showed that I had finished 13th overall. The reason for my disappointment was that my finishing positions through the season had been 10th, 10th, 8th, 11th, 13th and 11th. The way the final results work is that you drop your lowest score and as based on this, each of my counting scores had been in the top 10, I was surprised to have dropped down to 13th in the final tally, even if it was only by a couple of points.
So, that’s the end of my season, but please do join me for one more article next month where I will summarise my experiences over the year, share my thoughts about the Academy Championship, confirm if I have managed to complete the season within the budget I’d set myself.
This article first appeared in Lowflying, the magazine for Caterham and Lotus Seven enthusiasts – www.lotus7.club