GUEST BLOG: ON TRACK FOR THE ACADEMY WITH ROB OLDLAND #8

GUEST BLOG: ON TRACK FOR THE ACADEMY WITH ROB OLDLAND #8

After a top ten finish at his first race of the season, Rob Oldland aims for more success at Cadwell.

With only two weeks between my first race at Oulton Park and my next race at Cadwell Park, I only just about had sufficient time to come down from the excitement of making it through the wet race to take 10th position. What little time I had would be spent preparing the car ready for its next outing.

What did require attention was pedal adjustment as at Oulton Park, I found I was unable to heel and toe comfortably, making downshifting tricky in the wet conditions. It was while then adjusting the brake light switch to account for the higher pedal position that I found I had no brake lights at all.  I initially blamed the switch as they are known to fail — wrong.  Taking off the rear lenses revealed that the bulbs had got so hot they had melted themselves to the lenses, probably due to using the foot brake for long periods at a time as the handbrake is covered and so out of commission during the race.  This is so you do not accidentally snag the arm restraints that are worn to stop you raising your arms through the roll cage in the event of a roll.  With both bulbs replaced, still nothing was working, so the fuse was next to check.  The thinking proved to be correct, although identifying the correct one was easier said than done as I could not locate a fuse diagram anywhere, so it was a case of trial and error until sorted.

Caterham provides an excellent race preparation checklist which includes all of the items to spanner-check to make sure they have not come loose and other items to check visually to make sure they are serviceable and fit for the two days of testing, qualifying and racing ahead. Working through the list, I found that the rear brake pads were two-thirds worn and needed to be replaced. They might perhaps have made it through the weekend, but a recent story about another driver’s misfortune of needing a chassis replacement due to meeting the barrier at Donington through worn rear pads had me erring on the side of caution. With the checklist complete, car washed and new ‘Rob Oldland Racing’ vinyls applied to the rims of both sets of wheels, the Seven was ready to race again.

 

 

While the car may have been prepared to race, I wasn’t! Like Oulton Park, I have never driven at Cadwell Park before. My first time would be Friday morning’s testing the day before the race. However, what had proved successful before Oulton was my approach of using the simulator to practice. Again, Chris Hutchinson’s CaterhamRacer.com Cadwell Park Academy event would be held on the Tuesday evening before the real race. This gave me the focus to use the sim to learn the track and improve my virtual lap times. In addition, there were a number of people I knew who were familiar with Cadwell and who offered to share their knowledge and experience to talk me through a lap which was duly accepted and most appreciated.

Louth in Lincolnshire where Cadwell Park is located is around a four hour journey from home, so Derek and I decided to set off at midday on Thursday. We made our way directly to the circuit as we knew many drivers would be there testing, so we could gain access to the paddock and begin to set up. We erected the gazebo which we strapped to the car’s roll cage overnight so hopefully everything would be where we left it next morning!  Then it was off to the hotel to meet Garry who was travelling up after work. Having enjoyed a steak meal (I’m sure Lewis and Valtteri do the same the evening before FP1) we were joined by other drivers and their families. This was exactly what I had hoped for from this experience — the social element as much as the racing. Matt Shepherd and James Murphy who drive in the 310R series, Blaire McConacie (Roadsports) and fellow Academy driver Colin Gould joined us for a socially-distanced conversation, now spread across half of the restaurant.

Friday’s testing comprised four 25-minute sessions. My group was up first at 9:00, so an early start was required. Unlike trackdays, there’s no briefing or sighting laps — when you arrive at the circuit, all you have to do is show your race licence to retrieve your wristband for the day. The sun was shining and it was forecast to be the hottest day of the year so far. At Cadwell, you enter the track from the paddock rather than the pit lane, which brings you out on track several corners before the start/finish straight. Making my way around Cadwell Park for the first time was epic, while everything looked and felt so familiar due to the amount of time I had put in on the simulator. After a few laps I was up to speed and I remember shouting ‘Yee Ha’ as I entered the first corner, Coppice flat at 100mph. In fact, my lap times showed relatively little improvement as I found just two seconds from the first session of the day to the last. However, I was informed that all drivers were going slower in the final sessions due to the track temperature and the loss of power from the warm air. Towards the end of the day, my wife Anita and daughter Abi arrived in the paddock.

 

 

Now it was race day. While I was feeling a little nervous, it was nothing like I’d felt before Oulton. The weather was lovely, although there had been a storm overnight which meant that the track would still be slippery through the Hall Bends section which is covered by trees. There was also a small chance of rain around the time of the race in the afternoon. Fellow Club-member Will Todd had now also arrived, having travelled from Kent to support me ahead of qualifying which was scheduled for 09:25. In the cooler conditions, I put the car 15th on the grid with a time two seconds quicker than my fastest in testing; I was more than happy and felt confident that I had the race pace to keep up the with mid-order.

With qualifying complete, we had to wait until 15:00 for the race. This allowed us to watch the other qualifying sessions including the other Caterham series. Watching the 420Rs appear over the Mountain with all four wheels in the air is an impressive sight! After lunch, we watched the first race of the day which was made up of a split grid of 420R and 310R. Knowing many more of the drivers really makes watching the race so much more exciting. This year, along with the aforementioned Matt Shepherd and James Murphy are Graham Macdonald (CEO Caterham Cars) and Jonny Jarratt (MD of Oakmere) who are also driving in the 310R Championship. What was also surprising, but so nice, was the number of people who come up to me during the day to say “Hi” as they recognised me from my YouTube VLOGs.  It was great to hear that people are enjoying the videos and sharing my experiences.

Soon it was 14:30 — time to get into the car and make my way down to the assembly area. Abi jumped onto the back of the car, holding the roll bar for the short journey through the paddock to the assembly area. She was so excited. For me, this is the moment of the weekend I am most proud of and a moment I have waited a year for.

I arrived at my position on the grid at the end of the green flag lap. The lights went red and were extinguished soon after. Another great start saw me make up a few places as we made our way for the first time into Coppice and into turn two — Charlies. Marcus Eales had a run on me along the long Park Straight, but not close enough to take my place at Park Corner. However, he had a great exit from Mansfield and pulled a great clean move on me as we entered Mountain. Next lap, as I made my way through Gooseneck on the decent to Mansfield I could see two cars stranded on the track and a third car making contact. Sadly, this was to be the end of the race for Bruce and Micah. With the cars in a vulnerable position and no safe way to recover them, the safety car was deployed. Following the safety car allowed me to count back to confirm I was now running in 10th place, again! I made a reasonable restart following the safety car period, but should have been much closer to Marcus in front on me. Luckily, Ian Hapgood behind me wasn’t too close and I was able to build a gap. However, Ian was lapping faster than me and it didn’t take long for him to get back in my mirrors. Could I fairly defend my position for the remaining few laps? While we were jostling for position, there were a couple of moments of real threat. Ian had made a great exit from Charlies onto the Park Straight and was in my slipstream. Remembering the words shared with me from experienced drivers during my preparation for the weekend, I stayed to the right to prevent Ian from getting up the inside. If I braked in my usual place, Ian would out-brake himself if he attempted to brake later, and this is exactly what happened. Again, it didn’t take long until Ian was back on my tail. Now it was the final lap. I defended heavily through Mansfield, however Ian was able to bring his car alongside mine as we approached Mountain. Thinking back to the move Marcus had made on me earlier, I moved to the left, forcing Ian the long way around. We entered Mountain side-by-side, providing each other with the room we needed, but we were close. On this occasion I stayed ahead; all I needed to do was make my way through the final corners which do not present many overtaking opportunities, which I achieved, and passed the chequered flag in 10th place. I was thrilled!

At the sharp end of the grid, even though Tom Cockerill set an all-time lap record, Chris Skillicorn managed to nick the win from him. They are currently tied at the top of the table for first place and I am sure that this will be an exciting battle to watch for the rest of the season. My consistent finishes currently mean that I’m placed 8th on the leader-board.

I now have a three-week break until the next race at Thruxton, but will enjoy a trackday with Derek at Lydden Hill in the meantime. Thank you for reading and following my VLOGs. Please do come and say “Hi” if you are at the circuit.