Monday, 22 November 2010

Lateral Thinking

Yesterday, I went on a Caterham Experience Day.  How did I feel once I'd finished?

Well, my arms hurt. My neck hurt.   My back ached.  I was utterly knackered.  It was horrendously cold all day. 

In summary? I'd had an utterly brilliant time.  We spent all day driving around in exactly the way that you're not meant to, in one of these:

The cars were unregistered 1.6 Roadsports, specially set up for the drift days. The front suspension was made as hard and low as possible, with the anti-roll bar completely removed and good sticky tyres fitted. The rear suspension and ARB were set as soft and high as possible, and rubbish tyres were fitted. 16 of us shared 3 cars. They had 5 cars in total, two were for spares (we used one of those up...)

The venue was the huge flat(ish) car park just on your left as you go into the main entrance at Silverstone. We had to get there for 8:30, flash our driving licences, deal with the witty comments about the quality of our mugshots, get some coffee & biscuits (prudence said not too many...), and then we were outside for the briefing at 9am.

Initially, the cones were set up to define an in & out hammerhead plus a mini-roundabout on the way back. The instructions were to go into the hammerhead, drift around both ends of the head before coming out, do a rolling donut around the mini-roundabout and then back into the "pit" (which was actually just more cones!). A special yellow cone was provided at the pit entrance where we had to stop and touch the cone. This was for health & safety reasons - first, it made you actually stop rather than sort of stop (safety), and second it reminded you to breathe out again (health).

The course was demonstrated very ably by Sam, the petite long-haired blonde daughter of one of the organisers. After watching her, we all looked to see if there was somewhere we could go to surrender our Man Card.

And off we went. Each of us went round once, then back to the pits while the other two cars went, then one more lap before getting out for someone else. The typical routine was to head slowly and jerkily towards the hammerhead, go into the first turn, stay entirely stable with no drift, try the second turn, spin, stall, restart the engine, and head for the mini-roundabout. Here, the quick learners really shone - they managed not to stall while spinning it. Then back to the pit for a second try.

By the second try, we had mastered the art of understeering wildly away from the cones. This is a huge improvement, because there is no need to restart the engine.

(A note on re-starting; this is done by pressing the red button on the left of the steering wheel. Not, and this is very important, by pressing the black button on the right of the steering wheel. That button is the horn, and will reduce all the watchers in the pit lane into fits of laughter.)

By halfway through the morning, we were getting the hang of it. With the car set up as it was, on cold damp tarmac, getting it loose was not really a challenge so we were able to try to look for some connection between what the car did, and what we did with our wildly flailing arms and madly stabbing feet. It seems that there is, which was a welcome discovery.

As we had got the hang of that track and were beginning to enjoy it a bit, they changed it to a figure-of-8. Sam demonstrated. We drooled (at her driving abilities...). The instructions were "Keep going round until you see the flag. Then come back." The instructions were not "Keep going round until you are in the zone and completely unable to see the flag that we have been manically waving for the last few few laps and we have to start running towards you to get your attention." However, I think a few people misunderstood. Easily done.

Then lunch. Lunch had one aspect which was hugely welcome. It was warm. Soup, baked potato, rice, garlic bread, korma, chilli, tea, coffee and biscuits were all there to choose from. By now we were quite cold, having been outside and mainly standing around waiting. So the chance to warm up was very welcome.

Then we went back out into the cold, to find that a fiendishly difficult track had been set up. We were meant to go out of the pits, then through a right/left/right/left/right slalom away from the pits, across to a mini-roundabout, back toward the pits via a right/left/right slalom, then onto a final mini-roundabout then back in. Sam demonstrated. Some asked if the Caterhams had satnav.

And off we went. Some proved that they did indeed need the satnav that was unfortunately not present, which was almost as funny to watch as someone trying to restart an engine by use of the horn. We carried on until about 3:15pm, and then stopped to be told we had one more practice then we were being assessed on our second laps. Ulp.

Scoring was that we started with 100, lost 25 for each spin, 10 for each cone we collected, and 10 if we didn't touch the yellow cone at the end. There was also a finer grading based on Sam's subjective assessment of drift quality. Oh, and you lost 30 points if you weren't aggressive enough.

After that was done, back into the warm for tea and prizes. Yours truly scored 82, which I'm quite pleased with as that put me about 4th or 5th, the winner scoring 85. First prize was a bag of Autoglym make-up, second a Caterham hat, and third a Caterham mug.

Then off home. I figured that it was actually medically impossible for me to get any colder, so I left with the roof down. After all, why not... (I managed that for about 20 mins before realising that it was medically possible to get colder, it is called being dead)

The trip home was via the M40.  It was its usual Sunday evening state, which led me to wonder - when filling out an application form for a firearms licence, when you get to the question which asks why you need a gun, would an acceptable answer be "Have you seen the lane discipline on the M40"?

All in all, a fantastic and well-organised day that I thoroughly recommend to you all.

I'm now kind of thinking, a Caterham is so small... surely I could hide one somewhere without anyone noticing?


  1. Apologies for the late-night comment on the previous thread. Erdingerweiss was to blame..!

  2. No worries! No better excuse exists...

  3. Great post! I've always wanted one of those Caterham things (from the days when they were Lotus Super Sevens) and one day I will have one. I'm not sure I'd be brave enough for a day of drifting one, though. Especially in front of an attractive female who can do it better than I can. My Man Card would spontaneously combust.

  4. *Man Card* :-D

    There was I impressed by hand brake turns in my younger days. Is there a glimmer of hope that I could move sideways on to better things?

  5. Hi Richard - thanks! Go for it, you know you want to. We all made a pig's ear of the first few drifts, but picked it up as we went along.

    M - Handbrake turns? Pah. Amusement for teenagers, nothing more. Sideways is the only way forwards, control is everything ;-)

  6. Heh - I'd need to win the lottery first.

    The Caterham ticks the box in my head (basic, muscular, form following function, no fripperies or unnecessary tat) that I currently satisfy with motorbikes. If I ever found I couldn't ride a bike, a Caterham would fill the same mental/psychological slot. Or an MGB Roadster. Or a Healey 3000. Or a Sunbeam Alpine. I could go on ...