Bedford 7th June 2021

I hadn’t done Bedford for a few years and whilst I share the view of many that it isn’t the most exciting circuit in the country, it still has its own challenges and the long back straight allows for some very high speeds. A group of us decided it was a decent venue to meet up and share a track day together.

We arrived at the local Premier Inn the evening before and met up for a meal and a beer. For some for us, it was the first time in a restaurant this year! I`ve missed this part of a trackday and it was great to sit down and have the usual banter about the upcoming trackday.

After the usual license check and completion of online briefing it was time to unload ready for the sighting laps. It was already pretty hot and the forecast was for a glorious day.

 

 

Setting off out of the paddock, the clutch felt a little bit weird but I thought nothing of it.

I’d gone down by myself and the plan was to take people out for laps and then drive alone the rest of the time. Before March 2020 I almost never went out on track without a passenger. The sharing of the experience has always been one of the big parts of driving on a trackday to me. There is nothing better than having several good laps, either by yourself or with another car and then you and your passenger climb out with huge grins on your faces discussing how much fun it was. I’ve missed that during the pandemic but now I am happy to go out by myself. It also shows just how much that extra passenger weight affects performance across the board. However, as soon as we are back to normality I won’t hesitate to take out passengers again. The upsides far outweigh the slightly slower lap times.

 

Looking back at the data, I was on the pace straight away. It only took a couple of laps before I was fine tuning the braking and turn in points. The amount of seat time I’ve had this year has really given me a lot of confidence in pushing hard from the start, that’s not to say it used to take me a long time, but the familiarity of the car and the ongoing reliability means I can just drive and not worry about anything.

 

Rich was there in his freshly completed E46, it’s a bare shell rebuild and he was using today for a shakedown. As you would expect he was taking it steady for the first couple of sessions, giving the car a good once over after a few laps to ensure nothing was loose or leaking.

 

Today seemed one of those days where I never lapped with someone at the same pace as me, it happens sometimes but I miss those laps where you are both as fast as each other. What it did mean was I spent more time trying different lines and gears just to see what a difference it would make. I still enjoy experimenting to find what line and technique works best for certain corners on the track.

 

Took Chris out for a session whilst he was having a break from his MX5 and thought I was explaining actuator, boost by gear and high boost modes. I was talking for the entire session about what each was doing. Chris kept putting his thumb up and when we came in at the end of the laps, he said he couldn’t hear a word I was saying but putting a thumb up seemed to make me happy so he kept doing it

 

Ben was there in his R8 and we’d been speaking a lot about the car before today. I’ve made no secret of the fact I’ll be retiring in a few years and will use that opportunity to start a new project. The Golf will be broken for parts and the new car will be developed from road car to track car over a period of time.

The choice of which car to get as the base was something I’ve thought long and hard about and I was pretty much settled on an M2 competition. Then I started chatting to Ben and the more we spoke, the more the R8 appealed. A mid engine, normally aspirated high revving V8 with manual gearbox.

Whilst the M2C ticks all the boxes, its just so good from the factory that it doesn’t leave me a massive amount to do or develop. Everything is available off the shelf and just buying and fitting parts isn’t where I get the development enjoyment. The R8 is a very capable base and not everything I’d want to do is available to buy, that adds to my enjoyment of the project. That all sounds great on paper, but I’m never going to make that sort of commitment without at least driving one on track.

I took Ben out for a couple of laps in the Golf and within a few corners he started explaining how the R8 was no where near the Golf level of performance on track. I told him to stop making excuses , but being serious that I understood his was a completely standard road car where we were in a stripped out trackcar on slicks. What he did comment on was how much body roll there was in the Golf, its not something I’ve ever noticed or found to be a problem, but he mentioned it within a lap.

 

Jumping into the R8 and within 3 corners I knew what he meant. The amount of body roll was tiny compared to the Golf.

 

As its a road car there is a lot of sound deadening, whilst not only being heavy this also really mutes the noise of the engine which is a shame as a V8 revving to over 8,000 rpm sounds rather nice to say the least.

 

After a couple of laps, we pulled into the pits and I jumped into the drivers seat. I wanted to absorb as much of the next 2 laps as possible and really made and effort to take in everything my senses were telling me. I’d read quite a lot of comments about the tall gearing in the R8 and was concerned it would dull the performance. All I found was that instead of using 3rd, 4th and 5th, I just used 2nd, 3rd and 4th . The mid range acceleration was much stronger than I expected and whilst there was benefit to revving the engine, the amount of torque meant it didn’t feel like that was absolutely necessary to go quickly which is quite different to a lower capacity high revving n/a engine.

After half a lap I told Ben I didn’t like the accelerator pedal. He asked why and when I replied that it felt too sensitive on part throttle, he broke out in a big grin. It was something he’d complained about on the R8 owners forum and nobody else had really seemed to notice it. I think the fact I also found it an issue made him happy that he wasn’t imagining it.

Yes that is me driving .

 

Following the first corner at Bedford there is a small chicane then a fast left, immediately leading into a faster right. You often see cars running out towards the middle of the circuit on the left hander and then have to lift the accelerator before the fast right. That’s exactly what I found on my out lap. Coming into the corner on the 2nd lap, I concentrated balancing the steering and throttle to keep the car to the left before being able to sweep into the right hander on full throttle. That meant I arrived into the next braking zone far quicker than the standard pads and tyres were unable to slow me in the space I gave them. Whoops.

What that one sequence showed me was everything that I’d hoped about the R8 was correct. The fundamental chassis is responsive but responds accurately to driver inputs. It seems a silly thing to say something like that but if I’d have been unable to make the car do what I wanted, it would have really made me question it as my next project car.

Instead it convinced me this is exactly what I will be buying Obviously stripping, adding a cage, brakes, suspension etc. If I did find that even after all that the car wasn’t quick enough, they respond very¬†well to supercharging.

 

It was absolutely scorching and I found leaving the doors and boot open between sessions did help get some of the heat out of the car. The bonnet doesn’t need opening but it certainly can’t hurt ! Even on a day like today, the engine temperatures were all as expected and even after a long session they remained stable and well within limits.

 

I took Bex out for a few laps, she’s a great passenger to take on track as she never stops grinning. People react differently when sat in the passenger seat, some are quiet and climb out with a quick “thanks” and walk off, others like Bex are buzzing the entire lap and their enjoyment is infectious.

 

Coming into the last corner I couldn’t change gear, the clutch pedal wasn’t disengaging properly. I coasted into the pits thinking the cable had snapped, I wasn’t too worried as I had a spare with me but a quick test showed that wasn’t the problem. Everything pointed towards the release bearing or release fork. It was after 3pm so I decided to pack up and head home, there was no time to start removing the gearbox to investigate.

The next day after removing the gearbox the problem was immediately obvious. The release fork had snapped.

 

After doing some research I found other examples of this happening and in every single case it was when the clutch was getting low. I had a spare arm and clutch with me, so if this had been at the Nurburgring I’d have been able to swap it overnight. Fortunately I only lost a little under 2 hours at the end of the trackday.

I fitted a new release fork and had the clutch re-padded and it’s been fine since.

Bedford didn’t disappoint, I had a very enjoyable trackway where I took out loads of people but having a failure on the Golf for the first time this year was a little disappointing. Losing the last hour and a bit of tracktime wasn’t the end of the world, but I’ve grown so used to being able to thrash it all day without concern that I was surprised when something did fail although the fact it was a component failure rather than a fundamental weakness lessens disappointment.¬† Going out with Ben in the R8 and then driving it was the icing on the cake. I am still loving driving the Golf on track but knowing what the next project will be means I can start doing some very preliminary research now so I’ll be ready to begin in a few years.

 

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