Madical Radical at Rockingham!

So, after my first outing in the madical Radical at Snetterton, it was off to Cockingham… errr, I mean Rockingham… for second helpings. Rockingham is a US-style banked oval – but for this event, they were using about half the oval plus a complicated infield that looked like a carefully drawn diagram of somebody else’s intestines.

This means that to get from the mad oval section to the wibbly-wobbly infield, you have a hairpin bend. On a banked oval. Nice! But more of that later.

Spent the Sunday before the event prepping the car. This isn’t a car that you can just rock(ingham) up to the track and drive. It’s a proper racing car, and thus needs race-levels of preparation. Well it didn’t get them. It got me poking at it with a spanner for a few hours until it gave in.

The drive up on Friday was fraught. Shitty weather, and wank holiday traffic from hell. 155 miles turned into a six hour marathon, meaning that it was beer O’clock by the time we got there.

But before then we called into Silverstone to buy some proper 3-layer Nomex race suits. This was a difficult balancing act between “Do we want to burn to death, trapped upside down in the car in a gravel trap” and “Do we want to turn up at the track looking like a pair of cunts”. We decided to go cunt.

Anyway, beers were imbibed thanks to booking a hotel with FOUR pubs next to it (oh the wonders of StreetView), with Sienna – lead QA on Carma, and her hubby Stu, Game Director on Duels of the Planeswalkers and who has a head as full of petrol as mine is. Oh and then some bloke called Tony turned up…

Anyway, after too much beer, too much Naga chilli-infused peanuts, too much curry and a cheese board each, we retired for the night. And then didn’t sleep a wink thanks to a 6:00am start. How come when I know I’ve got to wake up early, I make things even worse by waking up all night thinking “Is it time to get up yet? Is it time to get up yet?”. Twat.

To the track at the ugly hour of 7:00am, and we started unloading the beast. No, I don’t mean we did a beer and curry poo; I mean we got the Radical off the trailer.

Off to the driver briefing, which has nothing to do with the drivers taking off their pants. No, instead it consists of a bloke standing up and telling you not to crash into one another, whilst cracking ‘jokes’ that you can tell he’s cracked 100 times before. Due to the extreme lack of food the night before, we then chow down on sausage sandwiches from the excellent burger van, and it’s off to the noise test, which I now pass easily thanks to fitting the GAY silencer (the race one registered 118dB on a 105dB limit!).

After the ‘sighting lap’ where you follow an instructor around the track at granny speeds like little baby ducklings swimming cutely after their little mummy down a winding summer stream AND INTO THE PATH OF AN INDUSTRIAL TREE SHREDDER THAT’S FALLEN SIDEWAYS INTO THE WATER… errrr, sorry about that. Errr, yes, anyway, after following the instructor around, it’s time to go out and play.

For the first outing, I stuck to the ‘wet’ tyres, because they work at a colder temperature – i.e. slower. At Snetterton I’d tried the slicks but was just too pathetically slow to get enough heat in them, and spun repeatedly. They scare me.

Rockingham is a great track. The oval is mad – proper bollock-diameter-testing material, and the infield is complicated and includes hairpins and a crazy never-ending multiple-apex left-hander that can be taken as a single corner if you get it right (which of course I didn’t). I thought it would be weird going anti-clockwise around a track (US tracks go anti-clockwise; European ones go clockwise), but actually I didn’t even notice. It didn’t even feel like somebody else…

So after a successful first couple of outings, it was time to bite the bullet and try them scary slicks again.

Out came the tools, including the crazy special jack that you need to get under a car with NO ground clearance.

But a Red Bull pit-stop it was NOT. The heat from the previous session meant that we couldn’t get the wheel nuts undone, however this is where having a BEER GUT helps. So I jumped up and down on the end of the torque wrench until my beer special power did the trick.

With Tony with me, I went back out again, taking it really easy around the oval, as that concrete wall didn’t look very friendly. Got to the first short straight and I gave it some power to try to spin-up the rears to get some heat in them, like wot they do on the telly… and IMMEDIATELY spun. Arse!

Continued in my ginger way for a while, slowly upping the pace, but then spun-off under braking around the second hairpin. Double-arse.

Finally it seemed to be working, and the slicks started really gripping. Everything seemed OK until I have it a bit too much around a corner and… Triple-arse. Around we went, ending up pointing in the wrong direction and causing the driver of the Caterham that we’d just overtaken to shit himself. At this point I thought I’d better come in!

I then went out with Janny and it seemed to be going well – and I’d remembered the GoPro, so there’s footage of this too. Got proper heat in the slicks this time, so I tried to stop being such a gay twat and start doing proper braking like wot them racing drivers does. At Snetterton I’d felt a right dick, as I’d think “Oh shiiiiiiiiiiiit, I’ve left the braking too late!” at the end of the straight, only to hammer on them and then sheepishly realise that I now need to accelerate again to get to the corner! The braking of a 600kg car with 750kg of downforce on race tyres and carbon-ceramic pads is just surreal, and takes a lot of getting used to.

However at Knobingham, I got a bit too used to it coming into that bloody hairpin at the end of the oval section. You can see this on the vid – I realised that this just wasn’t going to happen, so at the last moment my klaxon went off: “ABORT! ABORT! ABANDON CORNER!”. Luckily the unused part of the oval continued beyond the cones, so I used it as a run-off area, and then quickly rejoined the track hoping that nobody had noticed. Nobody that is except for the video camera…

Slowly started getting the pace up and all seemed to be going well, except for that fucking corner where I’d spun with Tony. The car is so low down, it’s difficult to see the apex until it’s too late, and only after the event when looking at a map of the layout, I realised that the corner is more than 90 degrees – never realised that when driving around it!

This time I turned in way too late, tried to put on too much lock even for a Radical, and we understeered off the track, hit the grass, slid across it and ended-up in the kitty litter (the stuff showing all over us – luckily Janny had only just that moment fully closed her visor, and thus narrowly avoided a severe pebble-dashing of the gob).

(That footage makes me cringe, I have to say, as it is SO SLOW! The best lap is a pathetic 1’36” or thereabouts – over 10 seconds slower than I was by the end of the day. It’s painful to watch actually, as I can see the gear indicator – I was flat out in the next gear up on some of those bends a few hours later! But guess who’d forgotten to charge the GoPro? Doh! So of course you’ll just have to take my word for it. I did go a lot faster, honest!)

Anyway, we tried to rejoin but we were stuck solid, wheelspinning away and spitting crap all over the track. During the take-your-briefs-off meeting at the start of the day, we were told NOT to leave your car if you come off the track and are stuck, so we sat there, awaiting rescue.

And sat there. And sat there. Nothing happened. Then we looked around and realised that we couldn’t see any marshals’ posts from where we were, which by definition meant that they couldn’t see us. We were up against the Armco in a car so low, the Armco was higher than us, so we were totally hidden! After about ten minutes I opted on breaking da rulz, and hopped out and nonchalantly walked across to find a marshall, causing a total panic and the red flagging of the race. Well what were we meant to do, sit there until discovered by archaeologists with Space Trowels of the Future?

They towed us back onto the track, and we drove back to the pits, spitting more crap all over the braking points and corners. Back at base it was off with the bodywork and out with the carrier bags – we filled three whole bags with kitty litter! Whoops.

Back out again and this time I really started to get the hang of it. Fluffed a few gear-changes due to taking the “Clutchless up-changes – just dip the throttle a little” a bit too far, basically trying to up-change under full power. Even a straight-cut sequential race box won’t manage that.

That damned wall is scary though! We were pulling a sustained 2g or thereabouts around that oval section, doing about 140mph. Right next to a concrete wall, which leered “Go on then, take me ON!” at us. The thought of what would have happened if something had let go on the car, or we’d got a puncture, or I’d just cocked it up, doesn’t bear thinking about. Well, other than as Carma research of course, which actually would have been excellent!

Scariest thing was a repaired piece of tarmac, which caused the car to jump about three foot to the right when it hit it – at a fuck-tonne of miles per hour, towards the wall. So I made sure I was four foot from a wall at that point :)

By the end of the day, I’d lost the gayness of my braking points and was really pushing the boundaries (well, for me anyway). There are no cones to mark your turn-in points at Todger’n’ham, so I found other things to remember them by, such as the ‘R’ of Rockingham written on the concrete wall at the hairpin after the oval, and a weed growing by the side of the track coming into the corner they expertly referred to as “The wibble wobble”.

You’re not allowed any sort of timing devices there for insurance reasons – same as any track day – but luckily I had a Tony, who is of course Above the Law. He timed me at 1’26” two-up with a full tank of fuel, and I definitely went a bit quicker than that in my final session (for one, I actually managed to have the kahunas to not lift at all going around the oval on my last two laps of the day). Given that this is what the BTCC cars lap at, and only a few seconds off Radical race pace, I’m now officially A Happy Boy.

We left at 4:40pm in order to make the 9:00pm ferry, as the next one was midnight, and bugger waiting in the anus of the UK known as Portsmouth for three hours. Of course towing a trailer is limited to 60mph, so we needed to leave plenty of time.

But we got to the ferry port at 7:02pm. Errrrr… sorry about that officer, must have hit a worm hole on the way or something… errrr….

Then beer at the port. Beer on the ferry and beer at home.

What a great day. I couldn’t move my girly arms until about Tuesday though – those G-forces aren’t compatible with my pen-pushing physique.

Donington and Silverstone are booked for July, so there’s plenty of time yet to end up on fire upside down in a gravel trap. I promise I will do my best to stack it, all in the name of research.

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