dan horne

dan horne

Saturday, 21 May 2016

Mighty Minis are go!!

Here we go start of the Mighty Mini race season. Brands Hatch here we go...

We left on Thursday evening, got there a bit late but that's OK. Some of the other drivers were there.

Waking up on the Friday morning to glorious sunshine. All four race cars were ready. The day went well just cleaning the cars and chatting to other drivers.

Saturday morning race day... Yes rain and windy…Great not. All cars went through scrutineering easily, now to get ready for the races.

We all had a free practice session first thing in the morning, that was great to refresh the brain.

Quali was not good. The rain was falling and the track was really slippery. I got the car back in one piece though. My other three drivers all did good too - no damage.

The first race for the Supers was OK but still very slippery . I did not do too well in this race I came 9th but it was the first race in this Super.

Then it was time for the Mightys. My three drivers were all ready to go. I gave them some advice and away they went.

Josh Young came 6th, Paul Ogborn !! and Kev Strutt came 12th. Paul and Kev have never raced in Mightys before so they've done well.

With all cars back safe it was time to check all the Minis before the next races. Fueled up, tyre presures and nut and engine check.

In the evening we had a barbeque that was good, it gave us all a chance to catch up what we have been doing over the winter..

First out was Supers. Yes it's still cold and wet.. I did OK and came 6th. Poor Scot Kendal rolled his car. He is fine but the car was a bit of a mess.

The next race is the Mightys. My three were ready to go. This was an amazing race. the top 3 was changing all the time; Paul Inch, Stuart Coombs and Josh Young. The final lap was not so good though as Josh Young skidded and Stuart just nudged his back and Josh ended up in the gravel on his side. He is OK and the car was not too bad. All Josh was worried about was the car bless him. Well done Paul Inch for first place.

What an amazing meeting - ups and downs. Well done to all drivers. that was a hard race.


A few days later
Better sort Josh's car out. It was not too bad but there was gravel everywhere. It needed to put a few panels back straight and a good check over. Paul Ogborn's and Kev Strutt's car just needed a check over and few adjustments. My car I have to do some work on it.

Don’t forget Octane Racing don’t just do race cars they do anything classic Mini. Need work done or advice look us up on Facebook.


Friday, 20 November 2015

My novice season is complete - how have I done?

After being weighed at my last race and finding out that I was 15kg over the minimum weight I needed to lose some weight from both me and the car.

An easy win was to swap the standard car battery (weighing in at a whopping 13kg!) for a light weight race battery. The new battery came complete with a cage to hold it in place. I just needed to fit that and then change the terminals on the battery cables. All in all it was a straightforward job.

It got a bit more scientific after that, I started weighing things. I’ve not quite mastered the amount of petrol the car uses whilst on track. Probably as a result of nearly running out of fuel on my first track day at Croft I overfill the tank each time out and end up having a fair amount of fuel left at the end of each session. Now that I know there’s a big weight problem carrying extra fuel means carrying extra weight. Out came the kitchen scales to find out how much a litre of petrol actually weighs, then back in the garage I developed a fuel gauge of sorts. I drained the fuel tank, and refilled it a litre at a time marking the tank at every stage so I could start making a note of how much fuel is used in each session and refill accordingly. Finding the ‘sweet spot’ between not running out and not carrying excess weight would involve a certain amount of trial and error but we’d have to sort that out at the track.

A few other unnecessary bits were removed including the enormous 400g washer bottle! It doesn’t sound like much but every little helps and the more I can get off the car the less I’ll have to lose off myself! I wouldn’t be able to find out how much it all added up to until we go to the track.

All in all, and with the benefit of hindsight weight saving is something that should have been done right at the beginning but I’m not going to lose any sleep, I’m still learning!

In the weeks running up to Donington we had a new arrival at home in the shape of a puppy, so my plans to do some ‘home work’ before the weekend went out of the window and my packing was a little more rushed than normal. I wasn’t too worried, it would be the first time that I’d be at a track I’d driven before so was hopeful I’d remember at least some of what I’d learned last year!

I set off early on the Saturday morning. Our timetable for the weekend looked good. We weren’t signing on until 1030, qualifying at 1230 and racing at 1640, Sunday’s race would be 1240-ish so I was hoping to be home in plenty of time to get unloaded and get the transporter back to Bradford.

With Meg staying at home with the puppy I’d arranged to meet some friends at the track, Ryan, who’d been at my first trackday with his various cameras was coming for the weekend to hopefully get some more pictures and video footage. Ian who wanted to get a closer look at the Mighty Minis with a view to possibly joining the grid in the future was there for Saturday and Sarah and Paul were coming up on the Sunday. Needless to say their support was very much appreciated.

In the paddock the car was unloaded and I went to sign on. This weekend I would be able to get the last of the six upgrade signatures I needed and, if I remembered to actually collect my upgrade card and take it home with me, I’d finally be able to remove the ‘novice’ cross from the back of my car!

Once I’d signed on I joined the queue in scrutineering, thankfully it was a much smoother experience than last year and I managed not to break the car!

Next up, the big fuel debate, how much to put in. It was a bit of a stab in the dark, I didn’t want to go to the usual level because it would be too much, didn’t want to go with too little and risk running out of fuel on track. So after a bit of a debate with Ian we went for 6.5 litres.


I headed out from the assembly area to start my qualifying session with the usual plan, get 3 laps done and then start trying to build up my speed. 

It was going well, to my surprise I was keeping up with the car in front, even on the straights! I stayed put to try and learn as much as I could from their laps, I figured I had plenty of time as it was still fairly early on in the session. After a few laps I started to back off a bit to give myself some space and let the tyres cool down a bit. 

As I started to build up my speed again I started to catch one of the cars that had come past me when I slowed down, who in turn was catching the three cars in front, if I could get close enough I might be able to take advantage of the big hole that those cars were punching in the air and get a bit of a tow down the straights. It was going well, I was gradually catching the cars but running out of time, I pushed hard for the next two laps. I crossed the start finish line again, came around the first two turns, dropped down through the Craner Curves and braked hard for Old Hairpin. As I turned through the corner I put my foot hard down on the accelerator and nothing. No power, no anything in fact! The engine wasn’t playing. As I started climbing the hill it picked up again, I was relieved it wasn’t totally dead! I pressed on, as I came down the back straight and hit the brakes for the last chicane it went again, I wasn’t going to risk another lap. I pulled off the circuit into the pits, I had a theory about what the problem could be I hoped I was right and it wasn’t something more catastrophic. 

Once I’d parked up in the scrutineering bay I got out and found my gut feeling was right. The fuel tank was bone dry, 6.5 litres wasn’t enough! A couple of minutes later the rest of the cars came in. I’d only missed one or two laps. I was a bit annoyed as I felt like I was getting faster on the track but then I always knew it was going to be a bit of trial and error with the fuel.

We were all weighed after the session and to my surprise the combined weight of the car and me was 745kg a full 7kg’s lighter than this time at Silverstone! The weight saving was going in the right direction but even so I was still 7kg’s overweight so had more work to do! I headed back to the paddock to put some more fuel in the car and check the results.
I’d be starting 21st. Alice Hughes in car 4 would start behind me in 22nd following a mechanical problem. The car ahead of me was only 2 tenths faster, in fact the five cars ahead of me were all covered by half a second. Although I was still at the back of the grid I was getting closer. 

Race 1

Lights out and we were off! I got passed by Alice Hughes off the start and the cars started to disappear into the distance on the straight. By turn one and I’d got closer, and I stayed with them through turn two and down the Craner Curves. As the cars approached Old Hairpin there was a cloud of tyre smoke ahead, as I got nearer I stuck to the outside of the corner - there was a car in the middle of the track either stationary or very slow - I dropped down a gear and went around the outside, I’d gone past two cars! As I came out of the corner I went to change up to 4th too early and messed up the gear change, then the two cars came back past. I was annoyed but it was still early days and we had another 20 minutes of racing to go.

By the time we got to the back straight I’d caught up a bit, I locked up the wheels braking into the chicane and lost a bit of ground again. As we came back around and dropped down the hill it didn’t seem like they were getting any further away. I felt like I was getting a better run through Old Hairpin and gaining a little ground there and I was pretty much staying with the cars for most of the lap. Unfortunately I was losing out on the main straight and through the first corner so any ground I gained on the rest of the lap was lost there.

As we came down the back straight again on the next lap there was another cloud of tyre smoke as Laura and Morgan Harris almost had a coming together turning into the Chicane. It nearly caught me out too as I turned in going too fast and nearly lost the back end, which cost me some speed as I heading back onto the straight to start another lap. This carried on for another few laps, I’d gain ground on part of the lap, lose a bit on the main straight and then try and brake later to get it back going into the first corner but end up losing out by going in too fast. I started to lose ground on the cars in front and in doing so I was losing the tow. By lap 7 I was 7 seconds behind the car in front. There were yellow flags in a few spots over the next couple of laps and I dropped further back finishing the race 10 seconds behind the next car.

Race 2

Due to a few retirements from the first race I started race 2 in 18th position. The faster cars behind me came past on the straight, but going into the first corner I was still right behind them. Dropping down the hill and climbing out the other side I stayed close, I lost a bit of ground on the back and main straights again but with a couple of different cars in front I was still gaining through Old Hairpin. It was starting to look like a replay of race 1 for me. What I’d gain through some corners I’d lose on the straight. I was closer at the back of the circuit than I’d been in the first race but I made another mistake coming into the last chicane turning in too fast, losing the back end and running wide over the kerbs coming back onto the main straight.

I lost a lot of ground on the cars ahead and Penny Jones, who was recovering from going off a lap earlier, came past me. I spent the next couple of laps following and keeping up with her, she is a much more experienced driver and usually runs a lot further in front than me so I was feeling quite chuffed. I saw a puff of smoke coming off the front of her car as we were going through one of the corners. I couldn’t tell if it was just the tyre rubbing or something worse. As we came around the next corner some liquid splashed onto my window, I presumed it was from a radiator but wasn’t sure whether it was mine or hers. My temperature gauge looked fine but I kept half an eye on it just in case. As we came down the back straight again I was gaining on her. Turning into the last chicane and I was getting closer. As we crossed the timing line I pulled out from behind her and started coming alongside. We approached the braking point and we were neck and neck. I was on the inside and turned in, careful not to run out wide into Penny’s car I edged ahead. I couldn’t believe it, I’d just overtaken someone! As we dropped down the hill, I was a little more defensive than normal going through Old Hairpin turning in from the middle of the road. I felt like I had a bit of a gap as we started to climb the hill so I drove my normal lines through the next corner, big mistake! I noticed too late as Penny came straight up the inside and back past me. The next two turns I stuck with her, pulling up right behind her at Coppice and just as I was planning to dive down the inside she indicated left and pulled off the track - gutted! I came down the back straight feeling elated at having actually raced with someone else on track. I know it was only for 1 lap and even though the fact that I was able to get so close was most likely a result of her having some sort of mechanical issue than anything else it was still the most fun I’d had in a race! The next few laps to the chequered flag were a bit lonely, I could just about see the next two cars as small dots on the horizon but I was too far back. I finished 11 seconds down in 18th place.

Unlike the other race weekends, I got slower as the weekend went on, only a few tenths off but still, a few tenths the wrong way.

Feel free to visit my YouTube page to watch my onboard videos.

All in all my first year with the Mighty Minis has been an amazing experience. I feel like I’ve learnt a lot and have improved as the year has gone on. From being lapped a lot in my first race 12 months ago to being able to hang on to the car in front is progress, fairly slow progress but progress none the less! Nobody said it was going to be easy and it’s definitely not. It’s been so much fun though. I wish I’d done this a long time ago.

I am already thinking ahead to next year and am hoping to be able to do a full season, but as ever it all depends on money. I have some plans to do some work on the engine over the winter and am looking to do some more weight saving. Realistically I’m probably going to have to bite the bullet and lose some weight off myself as well as the car, but probably not until after Christmas!! Other than that I will be looking at trying to get some sponsors on board to help with the financial side of things.

Hopefully next year will see me improving and moving up closer and starting to battle with the cars ahead of me. I can’t wait!! 

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Mighty Marshalling @ Cadwell

After missing two rounds over the summer I had hoped I’d seen the back of my budget problems for the year. Unfortunately this was not to be!

After Silverstone the calculator came out again and I realised that realistically I would only be able to afford to race at one of the remaining two rounds.

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Mighty Dan @ Silverstone

It’s been a while since I wrote about Rockingham. I had to miss two rounds over the summer, at Brands Hatch and Castle Combe, which was a massive shame. I’m on such a tight budget this year that it only takes an unexpected bill to leave me with some difficult decisions to make. I had hoped that I’d have been able to use some of the money saved by not going racing to try to improve the car. Unfortunately the Mini had different ideas!

The brake problems I had at Rockingham turned out to be more severe than I anticipated. After stripping the brakes down in the garage at home I found I needed to replace the master cylinder, servo and one of the rear wheel cylinders - none of which were on my original shopping list! After putting the brakes back together and replacing the lost brake fluid I was finally happy with how the brake pedal felt! I think Meg was almost as relieved as I was, as it meant she didn’t have to come home from work and then spend the next hour helping me bleed the brakes again! Unfortunately my ‘improvement’ budget had taken a massive hit. I was left with just about enough cash to treat myself to some new rear swing arm brackets which would allow me to adjust the camber on the rear wheels. 

Fitting them was a very straightforward affair. Jack the car up, remove the wheels, whip off the old brackets, fit the new ones and away you go! Setting the camber on the wheels was much more time consuming. I was setting the camber on the front and rear wheels. I would also need to set the tracking and the ride height as adjusting one thing would change the others. We are allowed to run 1.5 degrees of negative camber on the front, I don’t think (without re-reading the regulations) there’s a limit on the rear but I had been advised that somewhere around 0.5 degrees negative camber would be a good starting point. My first few attempts didn’t really go to plan as I was getting different results every time I measured something and was becoming increasingly frustrated. Given the importance of getting it right I persevered and eventually started to make some progress. It took a few attempts and a long day in the garage but eventually it was done.

Given the break I had between races it should come as no surprise that I was organised and ready to go well in advance. I’d taken the Friday off work as well as the weekend so I could pick up the transporter and get everything packed and loaded up ready for an early start Saturday. Being so organised I spent most of the day sitting around feeling very nervous about the weekend and checking the weather forecast every few minutes. It had forecast rain earlier in the week but now said it was going to be dry. Meg had booked us a room at the ‘Snoozebox’ hotel just outside the circuit on the Saturday night and my sister and nephew were coming up from Cornwall to watch as well.

The alarm went off at 0500 Saturday morning. We were on the road for half past. At this point I would like to apologise to my neighbours, the only way to shut the driver’s door on the transporter is to slam it - hard. Even then it rarely shuts first time. I can imagine that went down like a lead balloon at 0530 on a Saturday morning.

I wanted to be at the circuit for 0830 to give me plenty of time to get unloaded. We had a driver’s meeting to attend at 0945, qualifying was at 1030 and our first race at 1430. We arrived and unpacked. I went to sign on and then joined the queue at the scrutineering bay. The driver’s meeting was next. It included a word from the officials about driving standards. Apparently there had been some issues at the last race meeting and we were told in no uncertain terms that there was to be no contact and if there was we would find ourselves in front of the officials explaining ourselves! Once back at the car we were called to the assembly area for qualifying.

We were using the National Circuit at Silverstone. I have never driven the track before, but I’d done a little bit of homework prior to the meeting. The layout consists of three long straights which, given my previous lack of straight line speed, could be problematic for me! My plan for qualifying was the same as usual - get my minimum 3 laps done and then try to improve with each lap. Ideally I’d try and stick with the other cars and try to get a ‘tow’ from the car in front to give me a little help along the straights. Unfortunately I couldn’t keep up on the straights and fell back. Not a massive problem, I’d thought that might be the case. I just kept going around, trying different lines, trying to brake later and just getting used to the car and circuit. I came across a couple of other cars as the session went on, which was useful as I could see where they were braking and what lines they took etc. I seemed to be able to keep up in the slower corners but lost out on the straights. The chequered flag soon came out and we went back to the scrutineering bay. The cars were all weighed at the end of the session. There is a minimum combined weight for the car and driver of 738kg. I have to confess that I had always assumed my car would not be underweight but had never actually got around to checking it for definite. It turns out I was right, my car was not underweight. It was over. Quite a bit over, 14kgs to be precise!! That’s never going to help with straight line speed/acceleration. It seems me and Martine need to go on a diet! The results eventually came through and to my surprise I wasn’t last! I had qualified ahead of someone! I can only assume that the car starting behind me had some sort of mechanical issue but still, it was a nice change!

Race 1
We had a couple of hours to have a wander around the paddock and watch some races before being called for the first race. We were sent out onto the circuit and lined up ready for the start of the race. I took up my grid position, now two from the back! One of the drivers had been underweight by a couple of kilogrammes at the end of qualifying so was at the back of the grid with a penalty. The lights went out and we were off. I was passed on the straight before Copse Corner. I’d half expected it. I was cautious into Copse and Maggots in case of any collisions ahead. I was surprised to find myself keeping up with the cars in front, still a couple of seconds back but not dropping away. On lap 6 I noticed the engine temperature starting to rise. Not great. I backed off a bit, the gap to the car in front started to increase. The engine temperature also started to increase! I dropped back some more. I always run the car with the heater set to hot, I don’t have the blowers on as I don’t particularly want to cook myself. On this occasion and with the temperature still rising I didn’t have much choice. I’d need to switch the blowers on to try to cool the engine. Unfortunately, once I’m strapped into my seat I can’t reach the switch for the blowers. At full stretch my fingers are a good couple of inches away from the switch. I tried to loosen my belts a bit, I still couldn’t reach. I loosened them a bit more, still no joy. The needle was nearly at the top of the gauge. I tried again but I still couldn’t reach. I was getting worried now. I waited until I was on the straight and tried to flick the switch with my left foot, I managed to get my foot up to the switch and then got cramp in my hip, it was agony!! I had to drop my foot, on the next straight I managed to get one of my belts loose enough for me to reach the switch with my hands, the blowers were finally on and the engine temperature started to drop. What a relief!! I’d dropped back quite a bit. I was about 10 seconds behind the car in front. I started to try to pick up my pace. With each lap the gap in front started to come down, 10 seconds, 8 seconds, 6 seconds, 3 seconds, chequered flag! I’d run out of laps! Gutted!! I felt really good though. I’d kept up for the first few laps until the car started to overheat. Once it had cooled down a bit I’d started to catch the car in front. Still a long way to go but things are moving in the right direction! I’d improved on my qualifying time by 2 seconds.
I’d start race 2 where I finished race 1, in 19th position although I’d be starting just ahead of a non-finisher from race 1.

Race 2
I woke early on Sunday morning. Our race was at 1030 and I wanted to get to the circuit early and check the car over. I left Meg in the relative comfort of the world’s smallest hotel room and headed to the circuit. I double checked the coolant level after yesterday. It was ok. I checked the oil, brake fluid, wheel nuts and some other bits. All ok. I was ready to go. I sat on the grid with the blowers already switched on! The lights went out. Again I was passed before the first corner but as before I’d expected that. In hindsight and having watched the video back I think I was far too cautious going into turns 1 and 2 which meant I started to lose a bit of ground on the next straight. The next two laps saw me dropping further back, ending up 5 seconds down on the car in front.

On the next lap as I approached Copse I saw the marshals waving yellow flags. I lifted off and as I came around the corner I saw the problem, there were 2 cars sat in the middle of the circuit facing the wrong way, one on the edge of the track and one a bit further down re-joining. It looked like a big hit from what I could see. A few corners later and the safety car board came out. I slowed down and eventually caught up with the rest of the field being led around the track by the safety car. As we came back past the crash again the marshals were hard at work clearing the track. On the next pass the cars were almost clear and there was just debris left to be swept up. I got the occasional glimpse of the safety car but couldn’t see enough of it to know if the lights were on or off, so had no idea when we would be going racing again. I tried to stick with the car in front of me to give me the best chance of keeping up at the restart. I had one car behind me to think about too. The cars in front slowed, I just caught sight of the safety car. The lights were off. We were about to go racing again.

I managed to stay with the car in front. As we came around Copse Corner and headed down towards Maggots, Laura Harris in car 30 was close behind me. I was too busy concentrating on my mirrors and realised too late that I’d left a massive gap on the inside of the corner and Laura came past. To be fair though, given her pace relative to mine I think she’d have come past on the next straight anyway!! The next few laps saw me dropping back again, the gap increased from 1 second to 4, as I came around Luffield on the next lap the tyres started to protest they were overheating and losing grip. In hindsight I should have taken more notice of that! Onto the main straight and starting the next lap I turned into Copse and the back end started to come around and I started to slide. It felt a lot more dramatic in real life than it looks on my on board camera but I managed to get it pointed the right way again. I’d lost another couple of seconds but I had to back off a bit to try to cool the tyres. I’d more or less lost sight of the car in front and a few laps later I took the chequered flag some 13 seconds behind the car in front. I felt a bit disappointed. Not counting the overheating issue, Race 1 had felt much better. We came back off the circuit, back through the scrutineering bay and then back to the paddock to load up the transporter. As I pulled up after the race there was an ominous hissing sound coming from under the bonnet and a little puddle of water on the floor.  

All in all it was a good weekend really. I really enjoyed the circuit. The car was still in one piece. My times improved over the course of the weekend. My best time was a 1.23.637 in Race 2 compared with 1.23.924 in Race 1 and 1.25.184 in Qualifying. The car felt better in Race 1 until it got too hot. I need to do some work on it to find out what the problem was and try to rectify it. Unfortunately my onboard camera didn’t work for Race 1 which is a shame, it worked fine for qualifying and Race 2 so I’m not sure what went wrong. If you watch the Race 2 footage you will see me glancing at the camera every so often to make sure it’s still recording!

As with all the meetings so far this year the races from Silverstone should hopefully be broadcast on Motors TV in the not too distant future. Past races can be found online at


I’ve also uploaded my onboard footage to YouTube so if you’re weird like me and like to watch that sort of thing you can!


I’d also like to say thanks to all the marshals for their hard work over this and every race weekend!

Unless I win the lottery in the next few weeks, Donington is the next round for me on October 17th and 18th. There is a meeting in September at Cadwell Park, I’m going to hopefully go and watch and may even try my hand at marshalling if they’ll let me and I can afford to get there!!

Saturday, 27 June 2015

Mighty start to the season

I'd missed the first round of the year at Oulton Park because we were away on holiday. We've had a fair amount on so far this year with most of our time and energy taken up by packing, moving house, unpacking and then decorating so it was nice to get away and relax. 

After finishing the decorating, (or stopping the decorating because we were both fed up of it), I finally got around to sorting out the garage. Everything felt fairly last minute and with my first race weekend of the year looming the weeks leading up to it saw me frantically working through a list of things to buy and jobs to do to get the Mini ready. I didn't get as far through the shopping list as I would have liked but there's time yet. 

We'd arranged to stay with some friends who live near the circuit so didn't have to worry about finding a hotel or breaking out the tents and it also meant Meg wouldn't have to suffer alone at the circuit! I arrived obscenely early and Meg came down a few hours later. I've never been to Rockingham before so I arrived early so I'd have a few hours to have a look around before having to sign on.

The marshals came and asked us to head towards the assembly area ready for qualifying. I got into the car and pulled out of the garage. I'd only got as far as the end of the pit lane when I felt something wasn't quite right. The brake pedal felt different. There was a lot of travel and it felt very spongey. On the way down to the assembly area I tried it again and again and it was still the same. Sat in the queue waiting to be noise tested, I tried pumping the pedal to try to build up some pressure in the system but it didn't help. I sat for a few seconds thinking. I didn't much fancy the idea of coming off the banking and trying to slow for the hairpin with these brakes. We'd only bled the brakes the day before leaving for the circuit so I was happy there shouldn't have been any air in the system. I got out of the car and checked for puddles of fluid underneath, nothing. I turned the car around and drove back towards my garage, whipped the bonnet up and checked the fluid level. It was fine. No obvious leaks that I could see. I was running out of time. The brakes worked but all the effort seemed to come right at the end of the pedal. I thought I'd try one lap and see if they felt any better on track.
I went back and joined the queue again after quick noise test to make sure I was under 105dbs. I was in the pit lane waiting to go out. Luckily, I was at the back of the queue. I drove out steadily, headed towards the hairpin and pressed the pedal. I slowed. The pedal didn't feel 'normal' but at least the brakes were making an effort. Turning into the hairpin I was surprised to feel the back end of the car start to slide, onto the next corner I turned in fairly slowly and the back end felt very loose, I'd read about the track being notoriously slippy whilst doing my 'homework' but hadn't expected it to be this slippy! 

I eventually came back around onto the banking and decided to give the brakes another couple of laps. As the session went on I started to get used to them a bit more. I still wasn't convinced they were right but they worked. I stayed out and worked on trying to learn the track for the rest of the session. Before I knew it the chequered flag was out and qualifying was over. I got out and trying to ignore the smoke coming from the engine bay (courtesy of some oil spilt down the back on the engine block the week before) I noticed a small line of fluid on top of the wing. I wiped it with my finger and sniffed it, it wasn't water or oil. It smelt more like brake fluid. That was a worry. I wiped it off as best as I could before it ruined the paint and waited to be released from Park ferme so I could check the brakes again. 

The scrutineer came over to the car and did some extra checks. He identified a problem with my bonnet, it didn't sit flush at the back, I was told to rectify that before the first race. He also informed me that I'd be having my ride height checked with a number of other cars so I'd need to wait around. There are specific heights in the championship regulations that the car needs to sit at front and back. This is measured with the driver seated in the car. Even though we'd checked and double checked the ride height at home before setting off there was still a part of me that worried that I'd fail the check!! 

The bonnet would be easy enough to fix, it would just need gently 'persuading' to sit down properly when we got back to the garage. Whilst waiting to be checked I was interviewed by Jake Sanson from Downforce Radio. They were broadcasting from the circuit for the weekend. I'd been avoiding the roving microphone all morning but was cornered now. It was a bit of a blur, I've no idea what I was asked or what I said. I'm pretty sure I didn't swear though! 

Thankfully the only issue with the ride height check was getting my car to fit on the ramps. Back at the garage, with the bonnet off and gently bent for a better fit I had another look around the brakes. There was a small amount of fluid on the underside of the bonnet and around the top of the reservoir. The top wasn't as tight as it should have been so I figured some had escaped as I was driving around the circuit. There was no sign of any leaks from any of the pipes or connections that I could see. With the fluid cleaned up and the bonnet back on I started to think about the race and waited for the results from qualifying. When they came in they were as I expected. I was last, a couple of seconds off the car in front. I wasn't worried, my targets for the race weekend were going to be the same at Rockingham as they are rest of the season - to improve my time over the sessions, learn as much as possible and bring the car back in one piece!

Race 1
Race one wasn't until 1530 so there was a fair amount of time to kill. We had a wander around the paddock, watched some of the other races and had some lunch. Back in the garage I checked the wheel nuts, oil, brake fluid etc and filled up with petrol. We lined up in the assembly area waiting to go out. It was so hot sat in the car. I was trying to use the door as a sort of fan to encourage some cooler air in with limited success. 

I always seem to end up strapping to myself in the car too early and sit there melting for fear of being caught out and having to rush to get my belts done up and helmet on last minute. I need to work on timing that better In future! 

We were sent out onto the grid by the marshals. As we set off on the green flag lap I was surprised at how slippery the track felt. I'd presumed it'd get less slippery as the day went on but it seemed exactly the same as the morning's session. The back end of the car felt very loose even on the out lap when I was weaving around warming the tyres. I was starting to worry that maybe it was my car and not the track that was the problem! We came back around and took up our positions on the grid. The lights went out and we were off. Straight away I noticed a massive difference from my race at Donington last year. I was still down on power compared to the other cars but this time it was much more in line with my expectations of a tired old road engine. 

I took it steady for the first few corners. I didn't want to come across any first corner incidents without having plenty room to avoid them. As far as I could see everyone got through the hairpin without any issues. I concentrated on trying to build my speed and trying to keep the car in front in sight. I managed it quite well for the first few laps. But I started making a few mistakes and the car in front was gradually getting smaller and smaller until I lost sight of it all together. I started checking my mirrors for the rest of the race but couldn't see anyone coming from that direction either so at least I wasn't being lapped this time! 

My times started to improve over the second half of the race as I started to get used to the track, my last lap being my fastest. All in all I was quite content. I'd not been lapped and the car was still in one piece. The brakes felt a bit better too. We came back into the paddock and I parked the car up and went to watch some of the other races.

Race 2
Meg and I arrived at the circuit on Sunday morning with about an hour to kill before the second race. I did my pre-race checks oil, water, nuts, bolts etc. whilst Meg was watching some of the earlier races. The camera battery was on its last legs and I couldn't find the cable to charge it up. I'd have to switch it on at the very last minute and just hope it'd have enough power left to capture the second race. 

We were called to the assembly area by the marshals and then headed out onto the grid. One green flag lap later I was lined up in my grid slot tightening my already tight belts. I had the same plan as yesterday to take it steady into the first hairpin in case of carnage ahead. The track didn't feel that slippery today and I was excited for the race. 

The lights went out and we headed off on the banking towards the first hairpin. I started trying to improve my times again and to my amazement I was managing to stay within two or three seconds of the car in front. The rest of the cars were gradually edging away from us so I presume the car in front wasn't as happy as it was yesterday. I made a couple more mistakes on laps four and five and the gap to the car in front increased to around 6 seconds. I figured I was probably trying too hard and I made a conscious effort to try and calm myself and settle down and by the end of the race, the gap was back down to 2 seconds. 

I really enjoyed following someone on the track. I could actually see another car fairly close up for the entire race! And I didn't get lapped! And the car came back in one piece!! Looking back at my times from the weekend I improved by 2 seconds over the weekend. I'm 8 or 9 seconds off the leaders still so although there's still a long way to go things are gradually moving in the right direction. 

As I've said before I'm quite happy as long as I improve over the course of a weekend, bring the car home in one piece, learn as much as I can and enjoy myself. My car is still running the same road engine that it left the factory with. It's 83,000 miles old and although, touch wood, it's not let me down its not nearly at the standard of the other cars! I will look at doing some smaller jobs on it during the course of the year and some more in depth work over the winter to try to refresh it but for now while I'm still trying to figure out what I'm doing I'm not too worried about it.

One of the reasons I originally chose Mighty Minis over other championships was the cost. Obviously there are cheaper hobbies out there but relatively speaking this genuinely is one of the cheaper championships. However, even with my most careful man-maths sometimes it can still be a struggle to fund and unfortunately I have had to make the difficult decision to miss the next round at Brands Hatch. It's not a decision I've taken lightly, it's something I've thought long and hard about. Brands Hatch is an iconic circuit and I'd love to race there especially as the race is part of the Mini Festival. It's particularly hard because due to work commitments I am already missing the Castle Combe round in July so that means I won't be out on track again now until August but I need to be able to afford to eat! 

I'm going to use the time to hopefully make some improvements to the handling of the car ready for my next round at Silverstone and make small cheap dents in the shopping list too so I should still have stuff to bore you with between now and then!

Thursday, 25 June 2015

Nerves as first competitive action looms

Race weekend

I’d thought a lot about this weekend whilst building the car. I’d wanted to go racing for years and I was finally going to do it. I was fairly realistic when it came to my expectations. I’d not set myself any particular targets, having never done anything like this before I just wanted to finish each session with the car in one piece, learn as much as I could and enjoy myself.

In the weeks leading up to the weekend I'd spent a lot of time watching on-board videos from previous races on YouTube and reading various track guides on the internet. I eventually got to a point where I was happy enough that I'd done as much revision as I could and hoped I’d be able to put it all into practice when I got onto the track. Before I could do that I had one last thing to sort out. I needed a timing transponder so that my lap times would register on the system in race control. Looking online there seemed to be a few options. The transponders could either be wired into the car’s electrics or powered via a rechargeable battery, and you could either buy one outright or hire one for the year. 

If you’ve already read about me building the car then you will know I know nothing about car electrics so I wasn’t about to start trying to wire a transponder in! I opted for the battery-powered version and decided to hire one instead of buying it outright (this decision was based purely on the money I had available at the time!).

Finally the weekend arrived. Friday brought with it the familiar trip to collect the car transporter. Mighty Mini no. 20 was sat at home loaded up with tools and ready for the trip to Donington the next morning. 

The day had been spent packing for the weekend, making sure that the transponder and video cameras were fully charged and then checking and double checking that nothing had been forgotten. 

Sure enough the alarm went off at obscene o'clock on the 18th and after a final check and recheck we were on the road. I went in the transporter and Meg followed in her car. My dad was coming over for the Saturday and my sister and her son were coming up from Cornwall for the weekend to offer moral support and we’d booked a hotel near to the circuit for Saturday night (far too cold for camping!).

I’d been looking forward to this day for so long. There was a mixture of excitement and nerves but on top of that I couldn't help but feel that despite all my checking and rechecking I'd forgotten something. 

The traffic was very light on the way down and we arrived at the circuit in good time. We weren't due to sign on until 1000 but I wanted to get there as early as possible so I had plenty of time and wouldn't be rushing around. We found a space in the paddock and unloaded the car. It was very windy. There were a couple of gazebos that had been left up overnight which were now just twisted piles of metal, luckily it was dry so we decided not to bother putting ours up. 

I've been to Donington a few times in the past but Meg had never been so we went for a wander about. We bumped into the championship coordinator in the paddock who suggested signing-on early so we could get the car to the scrutineers as early as possible with it being its first outing. Getting through scrutineering had been playing on my mind since starting the build. Imagine how awful it would be to turn up at the circuit all excited and ready to go only to be not allowed to race for having missed something or not getting something quite right.

I got my licence and headed off to the race control building to sign on. Whilst there I found out what it was I'd forgotten. I hadn’t attached a photograph to my upgrade card. Without it I wouldn't be able to get the first of the six signatures I needed so I could officially lose the 'novice' tag and upgrade my licence. It wasn't the end of the world, I could still race I’d have to just be a novice for a little bit longer. I could live with that I was just annoyed with myself. 

Next we went to see the scrutineers. I loaded my helmet, boots, overalls and gloves into the car and with my fingers and toes crossed went to have the car checked. The scrutineers seemed friendly enough, they checked my overalls, helmet etc were all ok, and then moved onto the car. Everything was going smoothly. The last check was to make sure that the cut off switch worked. I’d installed a pull cable that was mounted externally just underneath the windscreen, the cable ran into the car and connected to the cut off switch so that in the event of an accident, if I was unable to operate the switch then a marshal would be able to switch everything off from the outside. I started the car. The scrutineer went to pull the cable. Nothing. The handle wouldn’t budge. The switch worked fine from the inside but that’s not good enough. I presumed that the handle was just a bit stiff so I tried to pull it, still nothing. I tried a bit harder. Disaster! The handle came clean off in my hand! I didn’t have a spare, I was mortified. It was still fairly early though so I had time to try and fix it before qualifying started. I went back to the paddock, I figured if I could free up the cable and reattach the handle somehow I should be ok. I managed to get the cable to start moving a bit using a pair of pliers as the handle, but despite my best efforts it wouldn’t work with the actual handle which by this time was pretty knackered. Next thing I knew, three spare pull cables landed at my feet, courtesy of Neil Fearnley who competes in the Super Mighty Minis, what a star! I replaced the cable, returned to the scrutineers and was given the all clear to race!!

The qualifying session was 20 minutes long. You have to complete a minimum of three laps to be allowed to race. I didn't want to risk binning it before doing that so my plan was just to start off steady, get three laps in the bag, try to build up my speed gradually and try and learn as much as I could following what I’d learnt from the track guide and videos. 

My other consideration was that I was on circuit with a lot of other cars who'd spent the season fighting for championship points. I knew things were close at the top and that this was the last meeting of the year. I didn't want to get in people's way and potentially ruin their quick laps so I hoped to be able to let everyone else go out first and follow behind them.

Qualifying started at 11:15 I didn't want to risk being late so headed to the assembly area in good time. The cars assembled on the Melbourne Hairpin section of track which wasn't being used today. Unfortunately for me turning up in 'good time' meant I was sat towards the front of the queue to go out! Not a massive problem. I'd just try to let as many cars get past me as quickly as possible. Whilst we were sat waiting I sat trying to visualise the track remembering what the guide said, which kerbs to aim for, remembering the YouTube videos, which gear for which corners etc. eventually the marshals waved us onto the circuit. 

I'd love to be able to remember my first qualifying experience but it was all a bit of a blur to be honest. I remember waving at Meg on the pit wall as I drove past a couple of times. But that's about it. I managed my three laps and just kept going from there. No dramas, no near misses, plenty of watching my mirrors. I remembered the track guide pretty well. It all seemed to make sense when I was out there. I knew I wasn't setting the world alight with my lap times but I never expected to. Before long the chequered flag was out and we were back in the paddock. It was then that I noticed that the camera was dead. I'd definitely switched it on in the assembly area because it was right before the Marshall reminded me to take the safety pin out of the fire extinguisher (oops!). I've no idea how long it ran for or if it even ran at all during qualifying but it wasn't running anymore. 

There were a couple of hours to go until the race. Assuming the battery was just flat I plugged the battery into the car charger I'd brought and hoped it would have enough power for the first race, I could charge it properly overnight at the hotel.

Whilst it was charging we went and got the results from qualifying, I wasn’t surprised to see that I was last, but I wasn’t worried about it either. The main thing for me was that (apart from a 2 lap glitch) I got progressively faster with each lap the fastest lap being my last lap. We went and had some lunch and then I got a phone call from the championship coordinator asking me to go and line up with the other cars in the pit lane. Mighty Mini races are televised and broadcast on Motors TV. They wanted to get some shots of all the cars lined up together for the TV programme.

Follow the link, http://www.digitexvideo.co.uk/webtv/index.php/video/170/mighty-minis-2014-program-6-donington-park/# and if you’re quick my Mini is lined up 1.05 (ish) into the programme!!

Race one
Before long we were being called to the assembly area for the first race.
We were lined up in our grid positions ready to go out for the green flag lap (one lap to warm up tyres etc before lining up on the grid ready for the start). It felt like an age sitting there waiting. I was absolutely bricking it too. I'd lost track of time so had no idea how long we had left to wait and not wanting to be caught out and rushing I was strapped in ready to go early. The camera had a bar of battery. I hoped that'd be enough. I tried to calm myself down and just go through the track in my head. Brake here. Change down here. Aim for this bit of the kerb. The sun had made an appearance and it was warming up inside the car. After adjusting my mirrors and using the door to try to waft some cooler air in the marshals waved us on our way. Warm up lap done, the marshals lined us up on the grid. I checked my belts and pulled them tighter. 

The lights went on....the revs rose....lights out and we were off!!
I spun the wheels so didn't get away too well. Even so, I was struggling to match the acceleration of any of the other cars, coming into the first corner and Laura Harris in car 30 must have had a spin because her car was now coming back onto the track backwards! I stuck to the right hand side to give her room. I counted that as my first overtake. It didn't last long. I think it was the same point on the next lap that she was back past me!! 

It was becoming very clear, very quickly that I was way down on power compared to the other cars. I lasted until about lap eight I think before being lapped by the leaders. I remember them coming past and it feeling like I was stood still! From then on I was just trying to keep out of people's way as they lapped me one by one. I tried to make the most of it as cars came past watching where they were braking and turning in etc. By the time the last lap board came out all but five cars had lapped me. Two more came past on the last lap! I was gutted. The plan was always to just finish the race, learn as much as I could and not worry about the result to much but still, I wasn’t happy. The car ran well enough, there were no obvious faults. It just seemed to have no power compared to the other cars. It also made an awful noise going through some of the corners. Oh and the camera was dead too!

Back in the paddock my spare parts saviour gave me some pointers. He diagnosed the awful noise through the corners as a bit of play in the radius arms at the back. The tyre was catching on the wheel arch as it was under load through the corner. A quick session with a large hammer would sort it out. He also suggested dropping into third for turn one. I'd been using fourth (as per the homework I'd done) and the car was struggling a bit coming out of the corner. Plenty to think about before tomorrow’s race.

After packing the tools into the van for the night and a quick drivers' meeting we set off back to the hotel. We'd just got back in the room and sat down when I realised I was missing something, the camera. It was still sat in the car! I set off back to the circuit to pick it up so I could leave it charging overnight. We'd been invited to a friends wedding that night in Darlington and we'd come with all our posh clothes ready to drive up there after the race on Saturday but by the time I got back to the hotel the second time it was so late it would have meant having to set off back before we’d even arrived so instead we found somewhere nearby to get some tea and went to bed.

Day 2
I woke up at about 0330 and couldn't get back to sleep. I kept replaying things over and over again. Neil's advice to try a different gear in turn 1 had got me thinking. I felt like I'd followed the track guide and videos pretty well, perhaps too well. I'd pretty much religiously stuck to them. Brake here. Use this gear here. Don't deviate from the 'plan' when what I should’ve been doing was using all the homework as a guide and concentrated more on what my car was actually doing. I was definitely a lot slower in a straight line so I must also have been carrying less speed into corners, yet I was still trying to copy other cars that had passed me, trying to brake exactly where they did etc. I must have been braking way before I needed to into the corners. I started coming up with a plan to do things very differently for the next race.

Lying there thinking about it all (instead of sleeping) I also realised I’d been so busy stressing about everything that I’d forgotten to relax and actually enjoy myself in the car! Hindsight is a wonderful thing!! I think I finally drifted off at about half six but was up again shortly after to get ready to go back to the track.

We got to the track early. The race was at 1220 but I wanted to sort out the wheel arches and have as much time as possible beforehand. I jacked the rear of the car up whipped off the wheels and started hammering. I managed to get a bit more space between the arch and the wheel. I hoped it'd be enough. Next I checked the oil, water and wheel nuts and got changed into my race suit. 

There was still plenty of time to kill. My sister and nephew arrived so we had a bit of a wander around the paddock and then I helped him with his homework (homework on a weekend away, can you tell his mother is a teacher?!!). The nerves were starting to build. I kept thinking about yesterday and what I'd learnt/realised in the early hours of the morning! I wanted to try to stay as relaxed as possible and whatever happened I wanted to make sure I enjoyed the day. 

We went to watch the Super Mighty Minis race, we'd be called to the assembly area just after they finished so I came back before the end to warm the car up and give it a final check over. Sure enough a few minutes later the call came and I headed to the assembly area. I was still nervous as we waited to go out onto the track but I felt a bit more relaxed about everything this time around. The sun was out again so I waited outside the car and chatted to some of the other drivers rather than cooking myself strapped inside! The marshals gave us a heads up before it was time to go and I put my helmet on, switched on the fully charged camera and strapped myself in. 

Race 2
One green flag lap later and the marshals positioned us on the grid again and we were off! I spun the wheels up again but it could've been worse! I struggled to match the pace of the cars in front again and was lagging behind by the time we got to turn 1. A couple of laps into the race and I was starting to relax. I was losing sight of the rest of the field but I felt so much better than in race 1. I was braking later into some corners not bothering braking at all into others, playing around with different gears and generally having a ball! I was having so much fun I had no idea how long we'd been racing, I started checking the mirrors looking for the leaders coming to lap me. No sign of them. A few more corners went by, still no sign. A couple of laps later, still no sign. Then as I came down the back straight I could see them in the distance. As I came around onto the start/finish straight I could see the officials preparing the ‘last lap’ board. I presumed the leaders would be shown it as they crossed the line. And I'd get it the next time I came around. If I could just make it round this lap without getting lapped I could potentially finish on the same lap as everyone else!! After being lapped so early yesterday, I couldn't believe it!! 

As I came down the back straight again I checked the mirrors. The leaders were a lot closer this time around, came onto the start/finish straight expecting to the chequered flag being prepared for the leaders behind me. Unfortunately I could just see the back of the last lap board again. It hadn't been shown to anyone it was still in the marshal’s hand. That meant the leaders would get shown it this time around, and I'd have to try and survive another lap!! 

I was desperate to try and make it around, the lead cars were getting closer and closer. As we came to the penultimate corner the leader was right behind me, it was inevitable. I was going to be lapped, I came out of the last corner and tried to stay out of the way and he came past. As we approached the chicane for the last time the next five cars followed him through and we took the chequered flag. I had almost made it. I was so close, just a couple of corners away from finishing the race without being lapped. It didn't matter. I was still over the moon!! It had been so much fun! I felt so much more relaxed in the car and had lasted much longer than in race 1 before they came past. I tried to take it all in as we came back around to the pits. I'd spent so many years dreaming about going racing and I'd finally done it! Not only that I'd done it in a car that I built!! The camera had lasted the entire race too!!

Back in the paddock we packed the tools away into the Mini and then loaded it back onto the transporter. There was time enough for one last mooch around before setting off on the journey home, exhausted but absolutely elated!!

I set out with the aim of finishing races and learning, and I did exactly that. I learnt a lot and got faster with each session. My best time in qualifying was 1.49.812. My best lap in race one was 1.48.355 and with a different approach in race two I took another 4 seconds off that with a best time of 1.44.690 so although there's a long way to go to catch up to the rest of the field things are definitely moving in the right direction. 

I know it might seem odd to have got so excited about finishing last. People who go racing generally want more than to just not get lapped, they want to win. I'm no different. I have ambitions to finish a lot higher up the order than I did do but everyone has to start somewhere. I’ve still got some work to do on the car to get it nearer to the rest of the field and I’ve got a hell of a lot to learn!!

I'm finishing typing this on my break at work. I'm very tired but even now I still get a little shiver down my spine when I think about crossing the line that Sunday. Looking back on that weekend now I can honestly say that even after a bit of a shaky start it was easily one of the best things I've ever done!! It’s just a shame it has taken so long to actually get out and do it! I would urge anybody who's sat reading this contemplating going racing, to stop thinking about it and find a way to do it!! I use the phrase 'living the dream' a lot, probably too much in fact, mostly when I’m at work and almost exclusively sarcastically, but at Donington I got to actually live my dream. Regardless of where I finished on the day I built and raced a Mighty Mini and to me that is pretty amazing!!