This isn’t a post I thought I would be writing. After 22 years, I’m leaving IBM.
A close friend once wrote about a fictitious character, Boliver Rand. Boliver obsessed over IBM. He bled blue and was in it for life. That could have been me.
I have loved my career and the people I worked with! I want to thank all my managers, mentors, coaches, leaders and teams. Without you and your support, I would not have had the opportunities I enjoyed at IBM. To say I will miss you would be an understatement.
Heeding a wise mentor’s point of “Pay mentorship forward!” I have written the below. In the hope it helps people starting out in their IT Careers.
Advice for early career IT professionals
Bruce Springsteen wished for his kids to make and learn from their own mistakes. To not repeat his. Here, I offer a combination of my mistakes and things I learned along the way. In the form of 5 things to help people starting out in their IT careers:
Have a plan that aligns with the business
Find coaches & mentors
Find your fourth batsman
Doing a good job is not enough
Bonus: Be the underdog
Have a plan that aligns with the business
On day 3 of joining IBM, my manager asked me, “What are your career ambitions?”. As a naive 18-year-old, I replied, “3 years to learn new skills and add IBM to my CV. Then I want to go contracting as an IT Consultant”. SHOW ME THE MONEY. If you didn’t cringe, this is the post for you…
BIG mistake. My manager tried to dig me out of the hole I’d excavated. Alas, I was so deep I didn’t see the lifeline. Imagine you are my manager. You have 20 reports. I told you my intentions were to leave IBM. The other 19 had ambitions to be IBM Developers, Architects, Analysts, Consultants… How can my manager help me achieve what I’ve shared? How much harder is it for them to support my plan? What’s in it for them and IBM?
Imagine if I had said, “I want to be an IBM Consultant”. How much easier would I have made my manager’s job? My manager could have easily supported my career. We could have worked together to develop my plan, skills and network. The easier you make your manager’s job, the more you both get out of the relationship. A classic win, win, win aligned in a way the business also benefits e.g. becoming billable earlier in your career.
It took me 7 years to become an IBM Consultant. I suspect I could have shaved years off achieving this had I said “I want to be an IBM Consultant”. I didn’t even want to contract anymore. I wanted to be an IBMer.
Early in your career, there are fewer expectations of you. It is time to experiment and try different roles. Even later on, don’t be afraid to pivot or change a plan. They aren’t fixed. Aim to be a consultant and find your true calling as an architect, no problem! The breadth of roles and opportunities is a major advantage to working for a large company like IBM.
The only thing worse than a bad plan is no plan! If you don’t have a plan, how can your manager help you? What message are you sending, “I have no idea why I am here”.
If you have no idea, the first step is to work with your manager. Be prepared for the question. Know your likes and ask your manager to help and share their experience, advice and network. A good manager will help develop and support the right plan for you. A bad manager could put you at the bottom of their working stack. Or, coerce you into a doomed plan to suit their agenda. I’ve been that ‘bad manager’. I tried to get a colleague to do 6 months of testing because I needed a test lead and knew they could do it. It did not end well and was a painful lesson learnt.
Have a plan and align it for you, your manager and the business.
Find coaches & mentors
‘Grow your network‘ is classic advice for a reason. Find people you admire, in and out of your work. They become trusted people to discuss ideas and sources of high-quality feedback. Building on the point above, work with them to develop your plan and career. Seek their counsel for big decisions and tricky situations. They will knock some of your edges off by sharing their experiences and viewpoints. They will help you think.
These are some of the most rewarding relationships you can have. If you are lucky, your manager is great at both. If you aren’t so manager-fortunate, other coaches and mentors are crucial. Either way, I recommend having some coaches and mentors not linked to your day job. The air gap offers less biased advice and fresh perspectives. For example, an outside view of the business and industry.
Don’t be afraid to ask or approach people. It is nice to be asked. A lot of professions need examples of mentoring and coaching for promotions. You might even be doing them a favour. Likely, they will be busy people. You will need to find a way to interact that works for them. Some will come and go. Some will be useful at specific times. I’ve never once regretted a discussion, email or asking.
I’ve been fortunate. A lot of my mentors are now good friends. I try to live up to their standards and pay it forward (like this blog attempt). When you’ve reached a point you are able, pay it forward; Coach and mentor.
Find your fourth batsman
This advice is courtesy of Ramesh. Ramesh described my impact on his role as that of a fourth batsman. He felt I enabled him to smash balls as our opening batsman. Safe in the knowledge, that if the worst happened, I was in as number 4. Ready to go in and “save the day”. This describes and names another important relationship; Find your fourth batsman. Someone who offers you in-role advice and air cover. Someone who encourages you to push and take calculated risks. Whilst offering coaching and a safety net should the worst happen. And, when you no longer need a fourth batsman, work out how you can be the fourth batsman to give others the chance to open.
You don’t need to be a manager to be the fourth batsman. All teams and squads benefit from a good fourth batsman. Even if that means staying out of the way while your openers hit centuries and bring the team home. Enable and empower more junior members of the team. Encouraging them to excel and grow should be a significant part of being in a senior role.
Thank you, Ramesh! Watching you open has been a pleasure.
Doing a good job is not enough
Who turns up to work with the approach “Today, I am going to do a bad job!”? Accepting everyone has the odd bad day. Most people turn up to work to do a good job. We can assume doing a good job is the average. To be above average requires a blend of:
Overachieving – Keep looking through a lens of how can I add value and iteratively improve. Try to do it in a way that is smarter, not harder. Working longer hours is a short-term strategy. Automating, improving a workflow, re-structuring a squad, refactoring code so it is easier to change and deploy… These are all examples of ways to positively impact your team and work. Overachieving beyond delivering in a way everyone benefits. Made easier by being the underdog, see the Bonus point below.
Giving back – This can take many forms. Discuss ideas and suggestions with your manager, mentors and coaches. Check the giveback is valid with your manager before you spend time on it and incur an opportunity cost.
*Adhering to company processes and policies – JFDI! Complain about it after but JFDI. And, JFDI it well. Doing it well and being one of the first to do it helps your manager. It sets the right tone. Always ask for feedback and improve your JFDI craft with each iteration. If there is time, because you are doing it early in the process, ask coaches and mentors for their feedback. If there isn’t time, or they are too busy, retrospectively ask for feedback.
Making your manager’s life easier – See above and learn what motivates them. How can you make their life easier? Don’t be too needy and don’t be a doormat. Have a plan. Communicate your plan. Collaborate on your plan. Gain their support for your plan. And, don’t surprise them with negative things too often. If you raise an issue, try to raise it with ideas for how to resolve it as well.
*This one was learnt the hard way. I hated IBM’s 360 review process and would put it off. All I achieved in a year was let down by a rushed write-up. Delivered in the closing minutes, or worse, late. You are a manager with your reports submitting their end-of-year reviews. You take these to moderation to face off against your peers and their reports. Is it easier to represent and sell a well-written case delivered with lots of time spare? Or the scraped-together one you had to chase and arrived over the weekend…
Learning to code is often dismissed as a means to be a developer. However, learning to code:
Opens new ways to think and paradigms to follow
Helps you understand and work with developers better
Enables you to automate repetitive work
Offers a significant competitive advantage versus someone who can’t
Do it! There are many innovative ways to learn! O’Reilly’s Safari and Udemy platforms are available to all IBMers and offer impressive instructor-led courses. Why work in tech if you aren’t curious about coding? Code is fundamental. Working in tech without a basic level of coding is like saying, “I want to be a journalist but I’ll skip grammar, thanks!“. You would end up writing blog posts like this…
Bonus: Be the underdog
Overdeliver versus over-commit. Another lesson learnt the hard way. Say yes to too much or the wrong thing and you start on the back foot. Being too confident on a training course pins a marker on your back. Oversell yourself, idea or plan and you start from behind. Sometimes the pressure is good. But if there is no slack, it is harder to deliver without leading to issues. Issues like burnout or sacrificing too much life for work. Both are best avoided.
People get behind the underdog. Leaving room to overdeliver bakes contingency into everything you do. I have too many examples of this going wrong. Especially in my mid-20s. I was hungry to prove I was the shiz and merely proved I was an idiot. Thankfully, the people I worked with had the patience to coach and mentor me. No one likes the shiz. Worse, no one likes people trying to prove they are the shiz. Good managers can help here. Bad managers can pour fuel on the fire. Coaches and mentors diffuse the risk of all your career hopes and dreams resting on your manager. I was lucky and owe three big thanks in chronological order:
Thank you, Jenny! Especially for your magic slate wiping and steering my early career through interesting waters.
Thank you, Matt P! I thought I knew what a work ethic was until I met you.
Thank you, Jon! For all you’ve coached, mentored and guided me through.
Commit to the 5 points and deliver a bonus sixth. I’m still learning this! As an energetic optimist, I want to do it all :D.
Side note: I’ve mentioned good and bad managers. That’s more for the benefit of telling the story and examples. In reality, the world is less polarising. Few relationships are perfect. Some managers are exceptional for all and everything. For others, it is a more complex juggle of strengths and weaknesses. Theirs and yours.
There are far too many people to thank. It has been a privilege to be an IBMer. With a heavy heart, I’ll say goodbye to IBM. For now…
I’m joining Collecting Cars (The Collecting Group) as their Cloud Architect and I’m excited to work with AWS and Cars!!!
A new starter to the team asked me how and why I chose Node & React. It led to the below…
The Pivot and POV
In 2018 we released our latest and most significant Cognos Application. Next, my manager tasked me with leading the development of a cloud-native app. Our ‘New Tech’ Team was born. Conceived to add cloud-native development capabilities to our repertoire. A future-proofing hedge for our continued bet on Cognos and DB2. I did a lot of research: online training, in-person training, badges, and reading. LOTS. To develop a point of view [POV] for Operations:
Cloud-native Microservices and APIs, delivered using open source & open standards, accelerate our cognitive journey and improve our operational efficiency and user experience.
To test and support my POV, I grew my network and skills.
Internally: Slack, more training courses, and internal resources.
Externally: Slack, Udemy,blogs, developer websites and social media.
Around the same time, a mentor offered me some timeless advice: “leave past success”(thanks, Rich A.). Pivoting my career from Cognos to Cloud was a risk. My research, IBM and the market all signalled it had potential.
I used SWOT and Porter’s Five Forces to help select the technologies that best supported the POV. Hat tip to the IBM Technical Leadership Master Classes. They taught me about Porter’s Five and applying this analysis. Concluding on Node and React.
My manager was the first person I shared the POV with. They had a high technical understanding. I knew their concern was the adoption of too much emerging technology. My research and networking revealed IBM had invested early in Node. Including having members leading the Foundation. IBM’s Design Team also invested in the React Framework. These findings helped sell the POV, tech stack and approach.
Why did I pick Node and React?
React wasn’t as easy a decision. My analysis and research came down to React vs Angular. I went on training courses and experimented with both (I developed the classic todo app). I preferred React. Especially the way it functions, renders and manages state. IBM’s Carbon Design System also offered React Components. React training was/is available, including the IBM Carbon React badge. In time React has proven to be a dominant JS library and skill. I’ve no regrets. But I check Svelte and other front-end frameworks and libraries. More than I check for Node competitors or replacements.
Scan the horizon – Spot trends and tech shifts. Establish how we can leverage them.
Show, don’t tell – The speed at which we can create things enable us to show rather than tell. There is less need for Slideware/Powerpoint Prototyping. I am keen to keep building our reputation as ‘builders’. React vs Angular vs Vue vs Svelte vs…? Build something and see.
It only sticks if you use it – The best way to learn is to do/practise/experiment/build. Building on ‘show, don’t tell’ above (pun intended).
Give up the past – Clinging to previous Cognos skills would have hindered the team’s progress. My manager and a wise mentor both coached and supported me on this.
Make time for networking – The pivot would not have been possible without connections. New and old. Coaching and mentoring, receiving and giving, enabled this pivot. Sharing our journey and the POV led to more opportunities to network, coach and mentor.
Start with a POV – Taught early on in IBM’s Technical Leadership Master Classes. A POV is an essential tool and a great starting point. Mine resembles buzzword bingo, but the POV has been an anchor for discussions and focus. In one line, it is what we’ve proven with our approach and helped communicate and sell it.
There is far more to the tech decisions than the above summaries. The analysis could fill many blog posts and has evolved. Such is the ever-changing technology landscape. Keep scanning that horizon.
Since 2018, Cognos has had a resurgence and investment from IBM. Our pivot was to hedge, not replace, Cognos and DB2 capabilities in the team. My manager wanted to do both. It was a great strategy that has paid off and better positioned the team for whatever comes in the future.
Third time lucky! 2019’s Race of Remembrance [RoR] ended with a literal bang. Before my first stint, the owner of the car lost it into Rocket and crashed heavily into the marshal post. Thankfully, he walked away with only a broken shoulder. It was a BIG ONE! This led to a lot of comments along the lines of “You spent all that money and you didn’t even get to race”. Yup! With the owner OK, RoR 2019 was one of the best experiences of my life. Yes, I’d rather have raced but the event is so much more than racing. Being a part of it had a profound impact. I made friends for life and was included in something so special I lack the words to describe it.
When 2020’s RoR was announced you can be sure I was hustling hard to get a seat. And, get a seat I did. Thanks to three friends vouching for me, Richard Brunning [Rich] from Bad Obsession Motorsport [BOM] offered me a drive with him, a friend of his, and some guy called Rick Parfitt Jr. Then a lockdown occurred. RoR 2020 was cancelled and the BOM team generously donated the car to Mission Motorsport [MM].
Take three! As 2021’s RoR was confirmed I was hustling even harder. In talks with five teams. Slowly but surely the options evaporated. From being ghosted by the MX5 Owner’s Club to a friend deciding Harley Davidsons are cooler than racing (to be fair, he has some seriously cool ones). As five became none, I emailed MM and played my “I know Jim” card: “Any seat. If at all possible”. Jim is James Cameron, the founder and CEO of MM. An all-around incredible human being. The MM team generously replied, “Yes, we can do something but we can’t confirm until closer to the event”.
Closer to the event the MM team confirmed I would be in Car #102. A C1 run by David Stubbs, a veteran and main sponsor of the event. Buying my seat enabled a beneficiary to race so it was a win, win. We would be in the same garage as the MM teams. Mega!!! A friend shared an epic Anglesey video and I made sure to watch it daily. I also significantly upped my fitness and went karting to help ‘get my eye in’. GAME ON!!!!
During the build-up and throughout the year I’d been chatting to Rich and knew they were going to be in the BOM car with beneficiaries. Despite not managing to get in the BOM car I was still looking forward to being in the same garage and sharing their first RoR experience.
The drive up through Wales was quite something and we arrived at Anglesey circuit early Thursday afternoon. Towards the middle of the afternoon, a member of the BOM team dropped out. Double booked they were gutted but unable to make it. Living up to my name of asking for more, I pinged Rich to ask if he’d mind if I tried to swap teams. Rich replied, “Go for it!”. So I emailed Adam of the red trousers [Adam], Mission Motorsport’s COO, and pleaded my case, “On the off chance there wasn’t a reserve driver, could I swap teams?”. Adam replied at 9:30pm, “This was one for Jim”. I guessed this might have been the case and I wasn’t going to ping Jim on the eve of one of his biggest events of the year. I left it, grateful to have a seat and be part of RoR 2021.
Arriving at the circuit early Friday morning, the BOM #69 car is there and so is #102. To be fair, #102 is a tidy looking C1. A neat build. I’m excited! Even more so when as Jim is about to start his MM briefing, Adam pops his head into the garage, points at car #69 and sticks his thumb up. I float through the briefing.
I can’t get the smile off my face and the adrenaline is ramping up in my body. We head off for a coffee and debrief at the cafe. I can’t take it in. I sit at our table slowly sipping my coffee. Then the penny drops. The element I hadn’t considered. BOM are YouTubers. They are going to make a video of this…
The pressure hit hard in two different ways:
1) The level of responsibility and risk Jim had underwritten by letting me go in this team (I guess rolling it and being on fire would have been good YoutTube footage…)!
2) I don’t cope well having my photo taken, how am I going to cope with a video camera floating around?
It’s time to switch on! The above doesn’t help, and more than the above, this isn’t about me. Nor will the video be. I’ve prepared as best I can, I’m in good shape, and I am ready to give everything I’ve got to not let anyone down and make the most of this pinch-myself-moment. Our drivers are Rich, I and two beneficiaries: Matt Stringer (multiple RoR entrant and owner of Matt’s Wraps) and Ben Norfolk (GT4 racer and also an RoR vet). Ben also raced #69 this year at Snetterton. I latched on to both and tried to soak up all of the advice they had to offer. Ben kindly took me aside and talked me through the car. The number 1 thing he imparted was to look ahead, as far as you can possibly see.
The BOM team were due to arrive after practice, which meant practice was just Matt, Ben and me to get a feel for the track and car. Given I’d only done 16-laps of Anglesey up to this point, it was a welcome opportunity. Matt and Ben both delivered competitive times and it slowly ticked round to my go. I’ve spent my track days driving low powered momentum cars. I’ve raced C1s and KAs. I’m feeling confident I can drive this C1. Then I stall it as they release me. OH FFS! Once the crew finished nervously laughing, I am safely released again and on to the live circuit.
At this point, I felt no nerves or pressure. I explained to our team boss I’d be going steady, checking the marshal posts and re-familiarising myself for my 5-laps. Asking to not take this as a time of all I can do. Car #69’s digi-dash had a lap timer, predictive lap, and LEDs that lit up to inform how your lap was going: All red for down in sector, and one green for each tenth up. I settled in and did a 2:13 on my first lap. Slow but within the confines of what’s OK. Then the dash showed a -3:33:33 and that was that. Without the lap timer, I just kept it smooth and tried to take it all in.
Coming back into the pits, I jumped out and started with my list of racing driver excuses. I could see lots of time lost at Seamans, Peel and the banking. Our team boss had a wry smile on his face and greeted me with a “Perhaps you’re not a useless a f**k-stick…”. I am, but I’d gone fastest and that was deemed the end of my practice. The team figuring to save the car for the main event.
As much as I’d like to lament I am a naturally gifted driving god and Chris ‘Monkey’ Harris has already been in touch re: Top Gear… Neither is sadly true. The above came from just how epic car #69 is. It just did exactly what you needed/wanted, whether you realised it or not. Every input did something to help you. Everything happened naturally. It was effortlessly fast and flattered the driver’s ego hugely.
#69’s initial turn-in didn’t inspire confidence but if trail braked you could trust it to stick with no hint of understeer. From mid-corner on it was a delight. Stable but easy to manipulate and correct. Small inputs directly affected the line and car’s attitude. All the ingredients of a great and well setup car.
Rich, Nik and Ben/Dan [the man behind the camera] from BOM meet us at our garage. I nervously took a bit of a backseat. Or, as much of a backseat as a nervous extroverted introvert can. When an opportunity presented itself, I let Rich know I was up for any and all feedback. He found a moment to talk me through his fastest lap to date, a 2:02:8. I can see my assessment from practice is close. A few tweaks at Seamens and on the banking should see me right.
It’s all a bit fourth dimension, meta. Having watched all of Project Binky it feels like I know Nik and Rich. But I don’t. I’ve not had this experience before. It’s an unusual feeling. However, they are ace and we’re soon starting to feel like a team. Banter is being bandied about. It helps Ben has raced #69 and Matt is an experienced RoR-er. The banter extended to Nik winding up Aston, MM’s chief mechanic and our team boss, with some ‘interesting’ suggestions for how to set the car up. I backed Aston as best I could. The car felt great in practice and Nik’s suggestions are on the side of out there. Ultimately, we lost the argument and our mechanic Larry started going to some extreme measures. Qualifying was going to be interesting…
On the subject of upsetting Aston, Rich then asks “How do you brake?”. I looked bemused because he elaborated further, “How do you find the brakes in the C1?”. They’re fine. The same as other C1s I’ve driven, not a lot of feel. Occasionally I was over-eager and triggered the ABS. A fractional lift seems to work better than letting ABS do its thing. Rich said, “Just push through the ABS. It’s counter-intuitive, but the pedal feel will come back!”. Aston looked about to cry. Doubly so when Rich then decided it was something Ben/Dan needed to film and the whole team needed to know before qualifying.
To race in RoR, each driver must complete three laps during qualifying. The team’s overall fastest lap determines the starting grid position. Qualifying is split into two sessions, day and night. To be eligible to race at night drivers must complete three laps in night qualifying. Because of my not so humble brag of setting the fastest time in practice, I am almost chilled for qualifying. Rich will likely set the fastest time. Therefore my goals are to:
1. Bring the car home safe
2. Learn as much as I can in five laps, and feedback on Nik’s settings changes and Rich’s braking strategy
3. Improve on my time, using lessons learnt from practice and coaching from Rich
Our running order is Ben, me, Matt, and then Rich. Let’s go!!! Ben hopped out and explained it’s much like practise. He’d managed to find four seconds! Pleased for Ben, however, this added a side order of pressure. It also confirmed the revised car setup and braking technique. As I rolled to the pit exit, this time without stalling, the sun was shining. I was feeling good! I felt the warm green embrace of the pit exit light… But what is that red light underneath it? OH F**KING SH*TTING HELL BALLS!!!!!! It’s the tag system and, rather than being on my wrist, my tag is in my kit bag. My kit bag on the Mission Motorsport trailer.
Tag systems are not my friend. I’ve yet to be stuck at one but I’ve seen plenty of people who have suffered that fate. The system cruelly makes you sit and wait for what feels like an eternity. Waving your wrist at it whilst trying to remain cool. Before it finally relents and goes green. Or, in some terrifying cases, just stays red. The tag system tracks who’s in the car and logs lap times and penalties to the driver. There is a certain amount of wiggle room if the system fails or stays red. But that wiggle room is delay and hassle we could do without. Qualifying is less pressured than in the race. In the race, it’s 10x’d stress because every second counts. Now is the time to make this mistake, but not making it in the first place is betterer…
With my tail between my legs, I looped around the back of the garages and arrived to everyones’ surprise. Quickly explained the error of my ways and described both my kit bag and its location on the trailer. There was no time to find and attach a proper wristband. Out came the insulation tape and I paid for my mistake removing it and half my arm hair later that evening. Doubly paid, because Dan/Ben caught it all on film…
Tag firmly taped to my wrist, I trundled down the pit lane again. The former sunshine is long gone. It’s overcast and started to rain. This helped as it offered the experience of the car in the wet and removed any pressure to set a ‘fast’ time. It was harder to assess the setup changes but the car still felt good. The ABS trick was a joy. Exactly like Rich said, push through the ABS and you actually get some pedal feel. The weather put some cars off so there wasn’t as much traffic. Lots of space to experiment and work on my lines. I’m torn between second and third for Seamens. Bringing it home I let Matt know it’s greasy, the ABS trick works well and it all felt fine. He also goes out and also finds four seconds. Things are looking good! Rich brings the car home. His first go, a bit damp, and he’s a fraction slower than Ben’s time. Which goes on to be our qualifying time. Thanks, Ben!
Seamens is tricky. You approach it downhill, slightly off-camber, with all the weight on the front wheels, and the crucial bit is the exit. It’s uphill with a reasonable straight to reflect on how you wish you had preserved more momentum and braked a fraction less. We approach it in third from Peel’s exit and it’s not an easy down change to second, whilst picking the right turn in point and managing the brakes. A mistake here is going to be costly. Leaving it in third doesn’t feel as controlled. It feels like you’re sliding and tyre scrubbing more. But it’s significantly less stressful than trying to find second. No one is confident which is quicker or better, so we park it for night qualifying.
Note: lap after lap, quicker is more about consistency in an endurance race. Second feels a fraction quicker but is the risk and effort of the extra change worth it versus leaving it in third and consistently getting round. This is a corner where you could easily have a big off and lose a lap or more.
Between day and night qualifying we have seat runners fitted to allow Matt to get more comfortable. Let’s say Matt isn’t over 6ft and the other three of us are. Ben significantly. How Matt managed to this point I don’t know. Aston changed the running order to Matt out first to try the seat, then Ben, me and Rich to bring it home. We’re not anticipating going faster in night qualifying so again the pressure is off. However, fitting the seat rail doesn’t exactly go according to plan. With a lack of time to make a bracket, we end up eating thirty minutes of qualifying. It’s going to be tight to get us all out. Pressure back on.
For RoR 2019, night qualifying was the big unknown and where I felt significant pressure. The unknown combined with the not wanting to let the team down. This time around I didn’t feel the unknown element but it’s still a wild ride of emotion! If Spinal Tap did track events, they would be at night! My night goals were the same as day qualifying:
1. Bring the car home safe
2. Learn as much as I can in five laps
3. Improve on my time
Thankfully it was dry, and the forecast for the race was looking dry too! That typed, this is Anglesey. Forecasts are best guestimates not featuring enough wind and rain. Here is me at my favourite tagging station. Just as it has gone green to confirm it picked up my, insulated taped to wrist, tag and I am now the registered driver.
Because of the time pressure, I was released behind the safety car for my out and first lap. I volunteered for this as it’s the least I can do to ensure we all get our laps done. My first flyer felt great. Nik’s settings and Rich’s braking technique worked even better in the dry. The initial turn-in is improved, less need to trail brake, and it’s even more stable mid-corner. But I still couldn’t crack Seamens. Second felt the best approach. Rich had his laps to do and the clock was ticking. So my focus was on the pit board and lap counting. Except it wasn’t ticking. We didn’t realise time under the safety car is added at the end of the session. Rich completed his laps and we were done!
Saturday: Race day, or rather race night
RoR is a Remembrance service wrapped in a 12-hour endurance race:
– The race starts 1500h Saturday
– Racing until 2100h
– Restarting 0900h Sunday, with the same driver
– Stopped at 1045h for the main the event
– Resumed at 1130h with the now legendary “Let’s go RACING!”
– Checkered flag at 1545h
– 1730h drive home to Cornwall with work the next day (mistake)
I find race weekends are a time paradox. Everything happens both fast and slow. You wait for ages to start. Then it’s somehow five minutes to go. And, then it’s over way too soon. It’s the same when you get in the car. A ninety-minute stint feels like the longest short time going. Once out of the car it feels like it happened in the blink of an eye. The anxiety builds and is worst in the final five minutes before getting in the car. I find these final five minutes brutal.
As race time closed in, our tactics and running orders are discussed. I’d love a night slot, but I am the plus one and keener to just fit in. The order is decreed:
1. Rich to do the start
2. Matt to do light into dark
3. Me all dark (Get in!)
4. Ben all dark, 2100h close and the subsequent restart on Sunday
Rich did some ‘Tubing in park ferme. While we started to gather in the pits. RoR is a rolling start behind the safety car. We’re not allowed on the pit wall until the safety car is in and the green flags are waved. As the flag waved we ran across. There was a real buzz, a blend of rivalry and teamwork. Excitement in the air, and then so was a lot of tyre smoke. Wow, that was a lock-up! That’s not good on the first live lap! I felt bad for the car and team involved. Then Rich appeared limping around the corner with a cone trapped under the front bumper. Oh…
Rich came into the pits and the team are all over it so we hung back to avoid getting in the way. While the team put new tyres on and Rich debriefed, a safety car was called out. This appeared as a blessing! The new tyres are on and Rich is released to get out in front of it. Getting us one lap back if he can catch the safety car before it came in. However, the safety car was out to live recover a Honda Civic with a snapped steering arm. It was being recovered via the pit exit. Rich just had to wait. For an agonising ten minutes. The safety car did a further three laps and we are finally released. Seven laps down and in last place. Rich went on a charge. The lap times tumbled. Despite a lack of ABS he was lapping two seconds quicker than our qualifying time and out of nowhere came a 2:00:8. Consistently lapping around 2:01-2:02 clawed precious time back. The Civic is now last and we’re catching other C1s. Rich hands over to Matt and explained the ABS is shot, there is no feel and if the car locks up you will flat-spot the tyres. If not too badly flat-spotted, the tyres will wear down and stop vibrating after a couple of laps.
With Matt out, Rich came straight over and explained the whole ABS situation. If the car locks up you have to get right off the pedal and just deal with it. If you stay on the brakes you stayed locked up and won’t be slowing down anyway. You’ll just be flat spotting the tyres. Jem, a friend who came along to experience RoR, made the observation I’m used to driving cars with shit ABS systems so this should be fine. After what didn’t feel long, the paradox in action, Matt is done! He’s done a mega stint, nice and consistent, no offs. He hopped out and explained I will lock up, the vibration will go after a few laps and good luck. I’m released, tagged and on the live circuit in the dark.
It’s everything I hoped for, but it didn’t feel right. I couldn’t find a groove. I overdrive the car and the relentless traffic messed with my lines and flow. Sometimes you get in a car and it’s just effortless. The flow state we all crave. Everything else evaporates and you are just driving. Single focused meditative bliss. Professional drivers must be able to switch this on and JFDI. This felt more like a reminder I am not a pro-driver. But it was exciting, full-on, and mind-bending! Everything turned up to 11. I can smell an mx5 burning oil, lock-ups and brakes. Despite feeling like I am driving with the interior light on and having to be ultra-aware of the faster cars it’s brilliant. I can see from the lap timer I am equalling Matt’s pace but I am just not feeling it.
Then, about 20 minutes in, Aston stuck his thumb out on the pit wall and it all changed. It’s on! Flow state unlocked. I’m no longer thinking about anything other than reeling in C1s. My times dropped and I get into some decent battles. The top of Rocket and Peel become my hunting ground, including catching out a few of the Minis and a Clio with the pace of the mighty #69 in the corners and even under braking. About halfway through I’ve been reeling in a C1 for three laps. I get a good run out of Church into its slipstream, just as an MM Morgan goes to overtake us both. I predicted the Morgan would push the C1 off its line and open a gap I can also go through in the Morgan’s slipstream. It works well. Too well, because I’ve approached Rocket faster than normal…
Too fast. I braked as much as I dared but as the C1 neared the crest the weight started to transfer and I locked it up. Priority one is avoiding the Morgan so I take a wider later line into Rocket. This puts me on the marbles and unused track, adding to my woes as the grip is significantly reduced. Remembering Rich’s advice I am right off the brake pedal and ‘just deal’ with it. Which translates to throw it in and slide sideways off the track. Just before sliding, I can see the top of Rocket is concrete and not grass. I also use this time to work out I’ve got 2-3 car lengths on the C1 I’ve just overtaken and nothing else is around. Gathering the car up I safely rejoined the circuit and thanked my lucky stars. The rest of the session is thankfully all on the track and soon the pit board is out and I am in. I’ve gained a few places and given it literally everything I had. My helmet and suit are sweated through and my watch recorded a heart rate peaked at over 180 BPM. No prizes for guessing at which point.
Reflecting, I can’t tell if Aston’s thumb was up to question if I was OK or to denote I’d already started going faster. What I can tell you is the first twenty minutes, up to the thumb, were hard work and time went slowly. The next seventy were easier but no less intense. Time went FAST. I kept coming back to Ben saying “Keep looking ahead”. As far as I could possibly see, using the side glass as much as the windscreen. Picking off the next C1 quarry. Reeling them in. Enabling me to maintain as much momentum as possible, and as mentioned above, in some cases surprising a Mini or Clio with a counter-attack.
At some point, the other City Cup Car, a Toyota Aygo, overtook on the exit of Church. I had defended for a third of a lap but it’s clear the driver was quicker than me and I was curious to see where and how. I jumped into their slipstream and held on through Rocket but got caught by a couple of cars and the Aygo escaped. Kudos to them, they were consistently fast all race!
The other standout memories are just how effortlessly classy Rob Boston’s Elise is and how cool the Morgans are. It’s a privilege to see them come past. Rob Boston’s Elise effortlessly scythes through the traffic. Every time, they get passed without slowing or compromising my line. Other drivers excitedly flash or make a point of slamming the door shut and robbing precious momentum. But their Elise just breezed past. A quality act.
In my tired state, I handed over to Ben and re-iterated Rich’s point “If the ABS triggers get fully off the brake pedal ASAP!”. Jem explained something I hadn’t considered, if you flat spot a tyre then each lockup will make it progressively worse. Because the flat spot’s reduced friction compared to the rest of the tyre means it will likely lock there again. Each iteration increases your flat spot and woes. Ben is off and did a great job to 9pm’s end of session flags. Saturday done. We’re not last, we’ve all made up some places and we’re hungry for tomorrow. At RoR, unlike some events, cars aren’t locked in park ferme. Aston, Nik and Larry can work on the car in the garage. Overnight they fixed our ABS issue. It’ll feature in the BOM video so I’ll link to that instead. Rich and Aston summarised it well.
This is what I look like after 97 minutes of racing in the dark. Sporting an improved tag attachment mechanism. Engineered and green taped by Nik. A sweaty adrenaline-fuelled contented mess. Describing the Rocket off to Nik, Matt, Jem and Richx2 (Rich B and another Rich, another friend who came along to experience his second RoR and like Jem got stuck in too). Struggling to comprehend what had just occurred.
Sunday, part deux
We’ve agreed on Seamans, with or without working ABS, is best in second. The extra control mid-corner and pace on exit made it a worthwhile risk to down-shift.
Ben took the restart and did well. From the pit wall, Ben/Dan videoed a great move Ben pulls at corner 1, Target. Hopeful that will make the video. A slipstreamed brave on the brakes squeeze. Ben handed over to Rich and he jumped back on Saturday’s pace and consistently rocked 2:01-2s. Thanks to Ben and Rich’s efforts, we’re moving up the C1 rankings. Whilst we are watching Rich’s lap times, Nik sidles up: “Now Olly, what are we thinking for today?”. Given the context of standing in front of the timing screen, I replied “A 2:02 <<pause>>”. Turned back to look at the timing board, ah f**k it… “A 2:01”. Nik nods and said, “That’s my boy!”. There was my goal. My fastest to this point was a low 2:03 in the dark. So only 1-2 seconds to find…
The flags come out to halt the race for the service and Anglesey went quiet. The contrast between cars racing and a quiet circuit heightens the mood. Not that it needed any heightening. It’s less of a punch in the feels and more of a Street Fighter-esque Hadouken. It’s both the highest and lowest moment of the weekend, all of the feels. I wholeheartedly encourage all readers to attend and experience it for themselves. Followed by Jim’s sweet release, “Let’s go RACING!”.
Rich is straight back on it while I got suited and booted. As his stint is done, I’m on fire extinguisher duty and get a good look at the rear tyres. They are not going to pass an MOT. Shagged doesn’t cover it. I mention this to Aston and in no uncertain terms, I am told we have two tyres left and they are for Matt to bring the car home. Oh, and by the way, all that stands between Matt and bringing the car home is your stint. No pressure. Rich was buzzing, he tells me Peel is flat but warns it’s “emotional” and suggested the gearbox wasn’t the happiest. And, that was it! Back via my favourite tag machine and on to the live circuit.
Approaching The Banking from the pit lane it’s obvious this is not the same C1. It’s tired, the crisper turn-in is gone and the back is LOOSE. I make The Banking but pretty sure from mid-corner to the late apex I used more opposite lock than lock. Second to third it crunches and Church feels quite emotional. I don’t turn so much as course correct and try not to breathe. A fractional pause between second and third seems to stop the crunching, I can work around that. On the brakes, into Rocket it feels exactly like my former Clio Cup. When you brake hard the back starts wagging its tail like a dog. Hold the wheel too tight and try to fight it, you will overcorrect and risk spinning. You have to hold it loose enough it won’t spin and tight enough it doesn’t get out of your control. Once you’re used to it, it’s actually helpful. The reduced rear stability helps turn-in and initial rotation, requiring less steering input and you can be quicker to get the steering lock off and back on the accelerator. Ninety plus minutes of this is going to be interesting. I don’t think a 2:01 is going to be forthcoming. For the first ten minutes, I found my feet and managed a ‘flyer’ with minimal traffic. A solid 2:03. I parked any thought of 2:01s and cracked on. It’s too much fun. It feels like chess with 80-90MPH moving pieces. Again, Ben’s advice echoes in my head “KEEP LOOKING AHEAD AS FAR AS YOU CAN!”.
This Morgan promo photo offers an idea of how busy it was and what I mean by chess. It’s hectic, frantic, nirvana. You cannot afford to think about anything else. While the pic above is a highlight… This next bit was a definite low… Remembering Rich said Peel was emotional, I built up to taking it flat in the first few laps. At my skill level, I am not convinced it’s faster. Flat it’s very sideways! vMin is no doubt faster, but I am not convinced I am going any faster on the exit. However, I managed to overtake a C1 fully sideways and the feeling of ambition over talent slowly creeps in. Except at the time, it’s more the delicious delusion of “I AM A DRIVING GOD!”. It’s an epic feeling, I am sure most reading this can reminisce about the last time they felt it. Or, their favourite ‘dab of oppo’. When a car is moving and you are either ahead (pro move) or at the very least with it. No speed is lost and you may even be moving faster as a result of your ‘epic’ driving skills. You just know you have it.
You know until you don’t. Until something comes along and shatters the illusion. My illusion shattering moment presented itself next. Coming into Seamans, I observed there was nothing around me, picked my usual braking and turning in points and the back just went… I’m too slow to catch it and smash into the lock stops trying to force it the half-turn more I need. Whilst on the lock stops I’m too slow to get the lock off, it regained grip and spat me the other way. That feeling of being behind the car is the antithesis of the aforementioned driving god feeling. IT SUCKS. You’re supposed to be the driver, not a passenger. Mostly luck, with gratitude for two days on the MM Thruxton skidpad and a deep fear of letting Jim and the team down, I somehow keep it mostly on the black stuff and only briefly leave the circuit. Taking a cone with me down the entrance to Corkscrew. Sheepishly rejoining the track under what I assumed was the glare of three marshals reaching for flags. The speed it went made me think it was an issue with the car, or I’d killed the moribund rear tyres. But all seems fine around The Hairpin and I continued on my ego-checked way. Contented to be a mere driving mortal and still in the game. Mindful it could have been a lot worse. As I cautiously came around again the marshals have their yellow and red flags out. They’re comforting, but my ego is still checked. That was too close.
The rest of my stint goes all too quickly. The pit board is out; over ninety minutes, 99% on the track and I just don’t want it to end. I hopped out and briefed Matt to not rush changing second to third and that it felt less confident on turn-in but still stuck. I’ve no idea what times I’d done and Aston’s just excited to see me because the car is in one piece for Matt to bring it home. As I awkwardly removed my helment and HANS, another friend and team boss of the Morgan #666, Neil was enjoying a well-managed rest in a camping chair. He asks, “How was that?”. I replied, “F**KING AWESOME, apart from one minor blip…”. Neil informed me I’d managed a 2:01 and was only a little slower than Rich. Confirmed by Jem at the timing screen. Much like my night stint, there appeared to be a moment where Jem said “Olly’s woken up” and the lap times dropped from there. Goal achieved! Even two weeks later it still doesn’t feel real. But the story has a further element equally as difficult to comprehend…
Matt does well, we’ve managed to get from last/51st place up to 35th-ish. 4th or 5th in the C1s. After our ABS issues, with seven laps to makeup, a podium wasn’t a realistic goal. But then neither is an IT geek racing with Veterans and a YouTuber in a 12-hour endurance race. Then, much like the driving god illusion, our podium hopes and chance to finish dissolved. With thirty minutes to go, we heard over the tannoy “Matt Stringer in car #69, the Bad Obsession Motorsport team, has come to a halt just off the circuit”. The safety car was deployed and Matt was towed back to the pits.
Jem did some maths and worked out we could be out of fuel. Aston is convinced it’s an electrical issue. The vibrations from the flat spots had taken out our in car camera and now the ECU and fuse box were loose. Aston agreed with Jem to fuel it while we are in and also reattached the fuse box that was bouncing around the engine bay. With these fixes in place, #69 started and Matt is released. We’ve lost a few places but by this point, the finish is the goal and we’re relieved. Had this happened fifteen minutes later the pit lane would have been closed and we’d have been retired instead of being able to fix and add fuel. With that done, Matt brings it home!
We’d done it, we’d finished the 12-hours of Race of Remembrance. Even a podium or coming first would not have added much to this feeling. Massive thanks to the whole team and all of the incredible MM team and marshals. I’ve said it before but endurance racing is it for me. I will try sprint racing but endurance racing gives you the competition, camaraderie and long magical stints. That’s what I crave. Lap after lap battles. Mixed classes and night racing add to it even more. It’s hard to fathom being here. I am under no illusion that I’m here because of luck and a little persistence. Matt and Ben are far more deserving of this feeling and I am beyond privileged to have got to know them and been part of this team.
This photo is taken before the next bit hits home. Peak happiness has been achieved. As we gathered for the prize-giving, my mental maths put us 5th or 6th. But the C1 class is called out and Team Torpedo, our incredibly fast rivals in the City Car Cup Toyota Aygo, aren’t first. On the entry list we are down as two separate classes:
1. Other C1s = Class AC1 – C1 Racing Club Cars upto 85BHP/tonne
2. Us = Class ACC- City Car Cup Cars upto 85BHP/tonne
I look at Rich and mouth, “Does this mean we’re going on the podium?”. He shrugs back. Then it’s announced, second in class car #69… My mind refuses to compute it and Ben, Matt and Rich are equally in shock. So now on my desk, I have an amazing handmade pen and, as long as no one asks how many in class, we came second in class at the 2021 Race of Remembrance. Not that it matters. To have finished and had this experience was worth more than any finishing place. The event is so much more than where you finished. In my first year, even finishing was academic.
If you’ve enjoyed any of this please consider a donation. The link is currently down so I’ll edit/update with a new link. And, consider attending RoR ’22 and the mega fun skid days and future MM events. I swear, while I didn’t catch the track offing moment, the days on the skid pan allowed me to keep my cool and stop it big a much bigger off. DO IT!
Snetterton hosted round two of MSV’s EnduroKA series. The temptation of a 12-hour race competed with it being a long way to drive another unknown circuit. If others were keen it was on. A sense of ease was released when Rob, owner of the KA and Amigo Motorsport, confirmed skipping Snetterton and focusing on round 3, Oulton Park. This also gave Rob more time to source and fit a new engine (see Race 2 for why we needed that…).
In 2014, I attended a track day at Oulton during our house build. It wasn’t the most relaxing of times. Despite being stressed out before the day even began, lasting impressions were of a fast, fun, and challenging circuit. As per our last race, we had a few interested parties, then one, then none. Rob put a deal together and we entered as a last-minute duo with two objectives: Finish, and place in the top ten. Rob’s deal included support from two mechanics local to Oulton. As I’ve not cleared mentioning them, let’s refer to them Northern Delboy & Rodney, premier BMW specialists, Vanos-kicked-in-Yo! Edit: Actually Ben and Twigg from Vtec Direct Motorsport. Both were mega, but that’s jumping ahead a bit… Rob’s MSV relationship meant we were in garage one paired with Pistonheads. Another good opportunity to talk Clio’s with Sam and great, chair stealing, garage buddies.
With only two drivers, qualifying was a case of banking laps and then Rob would set our fast time. Driving the car to the assembly area it was clear all wasn’t quite right. A sinking feeling, confirmed by the noise tester “I don’t mean to alarm you, but your car is missing”. The KA struggled to rev past 4000rpm in third and was clearly down on power. Coming round Old Hall Corner, someone leaving the pits managed to out-accelerate me. That low point was further followed by Rob going four seconds quicker and still only qualifying 25th of 25. Delboy and Rodney swiftly diagnosed the misfire as injector one and fixed some other niggles while Rob sourced an injector. Delboy and Rodney also fitted our pit-to-car radios and gave the KA a final once over. Even with two drivers, you have to do a minimum of three driver changes. We planned to go off inevitable safety cars and use the radios to keep in touch. This enabled Rob and Delboy to be adaptable with our tactics and stops.
The weather was best described as wet. Wet enough race control decided we’d be starting under the safety car. Rob started and was flying. We were back to a KA on four cylinders. Delboy encouraged Rob to go faster with a mix of ‘mood sensitive’ music and ‘gentle’ encouragement. Relaying crucial information over the radio: lap times of the closest cars, threats, opportunities etc. It was impressive to see in action. Delboy also asked if I was nervous, and I was, 8 laps of qualifying with three cylinders and four seconds from Rob’s pace wasn’t confidence-inducing. It’s hard to describe the feeling of before, a knot-in-stomach feeling of “Wow, I pay money to feel this bad” with a side order of “Am I going to puke?”. Perversely, the feeling is part of the experience. Satisfying to acknowledge and still go out. All is forgotten when you join the circuit. Adrenaline takes over and it’s back to being one of the best feelings in the world. Even in a lowly c1 or KA.
Rob was now up to 9th! A car buried itself in the gravel and the SC was deployed to recover it. Thanks to a previous SC, I was already suited and booted. Rob came in, Delboy dragged him out, I hopped in and then set about trying to catch the SC up. At first, I thought the SC was brilliant. It gave me a few laps to get some experience of the track and conditions. Rob came over the radio and offered some pointer and things to look out for. Slowly, it dawned on me we were 9th and the KAs I was now bunched up with were hungry for our place and beyond. As the SC came in things got messy, fast.
The two cars in front were slow and the two cars behind were faster, leaving me stuck between them. After defending as best I could through Cascades, there wasn’t a lot of room left to do much. My choices were to be passed and try to follow the faster KAs through or dive the KA in front going into Shell. As the car in front moved over I went for it. Despite taking a compromised line as a result of the dive, I got a good drive out of Shell and managed to pass the second car on the brakes into Britten’s. Having made it through Britten’s I could see the two faster KAs had also made it passed. As we came down into Hislop’s I had a huge lockup, the KA went unresponsive and I had to reach for first and do the shame slalom to rejoin the track behind the two faster KAs. I radioed the pits and explain my two steps forward, two steps back position. F**k it, all that hard work thrown away with one mistake. Coming round the start-finish I was in for some further bad news… Rob was consistently lapping at a 2:40 pace, I’d just done a 2:48. The conditions were interesting, but they were consistently so for both of us. This was a lack of talent and experience.
There wasn’t much time to look at lap times, lots more battles ensued and the conditions were challenging. Couldn’t keep track of our place but knew I was losing out overall. Confirmed by Delboy over the radio saying I’d done a 2:47 and then what I thought sounded like we were 16th… It wasn’t clear and it didn’t matter. The facts were I was losing places and that hurt after all Rob’s efforts to get us into 9th. I had to find some more speed. Further confirmed when Delboy came over the radio and said: “You’re doing really well. If you could find a little more pace it would help our position”. Rough translation, SPEED UP!
Scratching around my deflated bag of talent, I seemed to get good runs out of Cascades, through Island and carried good speed through Lodge. But I was slow through the chicanes, Old Hall and Druids. Unfortunately, I’d managed to repeat the lockup into Hislops. Despite trying different lines I kept locking up and struggled to regain traction and get the KA turned in. On the third lockup, I cracked one of the issues! Turns out selecting fourth instead of second isn’t helpful. With that realisation in the bag, I came up with a workaround; Brake hard just before the 100m board, release some pressure and focus on managing the brake pedal still in third, anyway anyhow get the car in, then deal with the over/understeer one-handed while timing shifting to second to when fully off the brakes, use crude (read stab the accelerator pedal) rev-matching to stop any transmission lockup when finding second. If that sounds busy and a mess, it was. However, it stopped having to do the slalom of shame and helped defend going into Hislops.
Eventually established I could get away with taking Lodge in third and be a little faster through Old Hall. These three and settling in saw my lap times drop down to high 2:46s. Not ideal, but better than high 2:48s! By now I’d been out a while, another SC came out and Delboy came over the radio to say pit this lap. Coming into the pits I was exhausted, mentally and physically. The stint was a constant battle, a combination of the conditions, slow lap times, competitors and the demands of Oulton. Getting out the car I was a bit of a mess. Rodney asked me to do the tyre pressures and I declined, in no state to do that. Instead, I hauled my sweaty self to the timing board to see our position. Delboy was at the busy end of getting Rob in and back out. Looking at the timing board I couldn’t find us, I scanned three times and nothing! Wow, was I that slow we’re on another page? Then… there we are… In fourth! As the timings settle and update to reflect the other teams also pitting under the SC, Rob is back out in ninth. Somehow, two contributions and a fluke have occurred.
I didn’t leave the circuit and despite being slow was at least consistent and brought the car back in one piece with no penalties
I was in the car long enough for Rob to bring us home. The regulations state you must do three driver changes and a driver can’t drive for more than 2 hours without another driver going out. Rob’s first stint and mine added together meant less than two hours remained of the race. Rob could drive the rest of it! With one more stop requiring him to get out of the car with both feet on the ground. He could then jump straight back in and head out again.
The Fluke, despite my slow pace we’d held our position. It doesn’t take a maths wiz to calculate if I could drive at Rob’s pace we’d be higher up the order, but given all that did and could have occurred, this was a relief and small comfort.
Just under two hours later Rob brought the car home, in sixth. Rob offered the final laps or another stint but given his pace vs. mine, it was a no brainer to leave him out. Rob prioritised my signatures at Dony, it felt more than fair for him do the majority. At one point fourth looked possible! That slowly slipped away and sixth, given qualifying, seemed a massive achievement! We’d done it! We’d finished, and we were in the top ten!
My stint earned the final two signatures required to earn my National A licence and no longer be classified a novice. But, and it’s a big but, my biggest fear of team endurance racing was being off the pace and letting people down. In my prior 2 races I wasn’t that far off the pace, this time I was. This was also the most demanding stint I’ve done. The KA was never settled, the conditions and close racing meant there was 0 time to catch my breath. Irrespective of if it was the KA or my limits, I spent most of the time at it. I’d be amazed if my heart rate dipped below 160. With Croft I did a lot more prep work, including watching MANY hours of youtube laps, studying the track map, and spending time talking to as many people as possible. With Donington, I’d driven it a lot, had some coaching, and love the circuit already. For Oulton, I didn’t do much prep and put too much stock in having driven it 5 years ago in an MX5. Therefore I need to make some changes to my approach, a new plan of action:
More track time and karting
Learn Corner Names better
Return to sim racing
Thanks to all involved, especially: Rob, Northern Delboy & Rodney, the exceptionally busy/damp marshalls, and organisers MSV.
We came last, caught fire, had a blast, and can’t wait to race a KA again.
Intro & thanks
Firstly, a big thanks to Rob and Amigo Motorsport. What happened, happened, motorsport requires a philosophy degree level of stoicism. Initially, we hoped to race with 2-3 drivers and test Friday. As the race grew nearer people dropped out and the KA’s cage didn’t show up until Tuesday before race day! With no other takers and a last-minute build, this was a gamble. Rob was upfront and explain qualifying would be our shakedown. We’d split the driving and he’d keep costs down as best he could. The prospect of not driving or getting any signatures for the outlay wasn’t an easy call to make. However, nothing ventured, nothing gained. This was an opportunity to race in a new series and help Amigo develop their KA. At each stage of the build, Rob offered an out and registered us at the last possible moment. I made my peace with not getting signatures or race experience for the money invoiced.
Donington hosted the first race of the new MSV EnduroKA series: https://www.enduroka.co.uk/ – A big selling point. Unlike Croft (my first race), I have driven Dony lots and LOVE IT. It’s a close second to Thruxton as my favourite UK circuit. I’d borrowed Pistonheads race notes, thanks to Instagram, and watched some more youtube videos in preparation for tackling the legendary Craner Curves.
Rob planned to take the KA out for a shakedown, bring it in and let me have 30 minutes to get acquainted. Then he’d finish the session and set our qualifying position. Despite a new rad and thermostat, this plan was dispatched five minutes into qualifying when Rob came back in with the KA overheating. Just an airlock? The KA was bled and I was sent out. Carefully, and to bring the car back in at any signs of overheating.
My first laps were a lot of fun. Craners is flat, no question. Only third and fourth are required. The KA felt confident on the brakes, turn in vague but once hooked up the grip was dependable and the KA was surprisingly adjustable on the throttle for the lack of power and torque. After a few laps, it started to feel like all was not right at sea. I could smell heat, a whiff of hot coolant and then the temp light started to flash on Starsky’s straight. Returning the pits wasn’t the happiest experience. This was no airlock, this was the head gasket. This was my two signatures and race disappearing.
Or was it? The Burton Power team kindly offered a bottle of K-seal and I was off again. New plan, similar to the old plan: a few more laps, watch the temps and for the board, and then Rob would go out and qualify us!
This time out I was a little braver and quicker. The team took the decision to simply accept my qualifying time and leave me out until the checkered flag. 1.42.373 qualified us 22nd of 26. I was a little down on hearing this. Visiting other garages, it appeared they’d all used their fastest and experienced driver, as we would have, and lots of the other drivers’ pace was a few seconds off mine. This lifted my mood, slightly. Fingers crossed for the race!
Rob offered the start but with his skills and experience it would have been crazy to not let him make some places up. Especially with the high potential of places to be gained as a result of my qualifying time. As the KAs rolled over the start-finish line, Rob was off! 4-6 cars dispatched as he managed to get an inside line into the first corner. From the pit garage, we saw a puff of smoke and 2 places were lost as Rob locked up the front. As Rob came round for a second lap he’d made up more places but the right indicator was on. He was going to pit next lap, something was wrong.
No rear brakes! Rob and the team leapt into action. The issue was quickly diagnosed as a corroded rear brake line on the driver’s side. Rob told me to get ready, I was going out. A replacement was sourced and fitted (thanks team 19) and I was back at my favourite Mutu tag system and into my first KA race. Being firmly last, many laps down, with questionable reliability, and now out with the faster-starting drivers, a sensible person would have realised that cruising for over an hour would be an easy 2 signatures. Yeah, sensible, get those sigs. Ooooooh look, I’m gaining quite a bit on those two KAs in the distance!
Reeling them in over three laps, Foggarty Esses sees them brake on the crest and before I can overthink it I’m flat down the inside. My nose is just ahead and I’ve squeezed them to give myself as much space as possible. Big stomp on the brake and gingerly peel it off to trail the KA in. Jeeez that feeling! Can’t dwell on it for too long, another KA brakes early for corner one, Redgate. Carrying more speed enables me to make a move on the outside of Craners. THE CRANER CURVES. Forget the double overtake, this is my lasting memory of Dony. OK, KAs are not fast, but two abreast through Craners feels like threading the needle. The extra speed gives me room to move back across for Old Hairpin and more targets up ahead to unlap.
Much like the C1s, some are faster, some are slower. I try and observe the pit boards to see whom the top cars are and give anyone faster enough space so as not to compromise their race. Unlike the C1s I feel more confident and assertive. Most of my overtakes come from inside dives, braking later into Foggarty Esses and Redgate. A few from carrying more speed through Macleans and Coppice. None compare to the feeling of going around the outside of Craners.
Coming round the start/finish and scanning the pit wall I see my T60 board. About now I am a bit of a sweaty mess, the KA is hot and physical. More physical than the C1. Despite the comfy seat, I’m feeling all 60 of those minutes. The wave of euphoria of driving &surviving for over an hour reduces that feeling, all thoughts of fatigue are replaced by the desire to keep pushing. Regardless of our position or finishing the race, I’ll have earnt two more signatures on my race licence!
This fact and euphoria I need to remember 15 minutes later when the KA doesn’t feel right. As I cross the line I am a few seconds up on my average pace. Going up the hill after Old Hairpin I see smoke in the rear view. Pulling off the racing line the KA starts to miss. The temp light flicks on & off and the smoke develops into a smokescreen James Bond would be proud of. We’re now running on a mix of petrol, coolant and oil. As I enter the pits, spot the team and limp into our garage, the KA’s heart and soul gives out. No amount of k-seal is going to ‘fix’ this. The bonnet is popped and WTF!!!! we’re on fire. Properly on fire, with orange flames licking up the firewall! Our mechanic, Joel, quickly puts it out with the fuel refilling fire extinguisher. Turns out I can get out of a KA pretty quick when it’s on fire. Next time I just need to remember to put the handbrake on and hit the cutoff before leaping out…
And, that’s all folks. If you’ve managed to read this far! Once again, massive thanks to Rob and the Amigo team (and special thanks to Joel for quick thinking with the fire extinguisher). Also, thanks to MSV and the other competitors. The atmosphere, driving standards and general ethos of EnduroKA was great to witness and be part of.
Quite an experience, my first fire, 2 signatures closer to my Nat A (2 to go), and already looking forward to racing KAs again.
C1 vs KA
Three things to consider when reading this:
I’ll happily race either, both are great fun.
I’m not a motoring journalist and have only driven a single racing KA and C1. Others may differ.
The C1 was driven on a track I didn’t know, the KA on track I know and love.
The C1 was less stable and more twitchy, light and lithe. It pivoted around its engine and front axle. Turn in was nervous but good, the rear quick to move. Brakes fair, easier to trigger ABS. If you got on the gas too much too soon it would understeer.
The KA rotated slightly slower, turn in muted but more grip once you committed. Less edgy, easier to control, more physical, heavier. It appeared to rotate more around the middle of the car and the rotation could be controlled more with the throttle. A lot less steering inputs required to correct oversteer. Stronger brakes with more feel, easier to judge and I was more confident on them. It was also easier to trail brake, and pretty essential to getting it rotating on entry to the slower corners.
In the C1 I didn’t have the capacity to heal and toe, and didn’t even attempt it. There was too much else going on and not enough mental bandwidth. In the KA I was better placed mentally and achieved it for most of my downshifts.
With a gun to my head, I’d marginally pick the KA.
Max is having a good time, it’s his local circuit and the marshals and ‘crowd’ love him! There is no pressure, and if I were him I’d assume the team rookie has just had a bad experience warming up. It’s now time to make up some places. AND THEY ARE OFF! Except we’re not. Max gets passed by 3-4 cars coming out of Chicane. He comes into the pits and the team change the coil packs and send him out again. He’s back, it’s even worse. The team are working flat out and I keep well back. Kurt is doing a great job of listening to my verbal diarrhoea. Somehow, someone thinks to check the earth strap and it’s loose! Tightened and Max is off. We’re now dead last, 34th, 5 laps down, which equates to 6-7 once the out-lap is complete, and Max goes on a charge. I’d love to tell you more about this, but it’s this moment that all of it begins to dawn on me. I blink and Mark is in the car and off.
Max’s parents are very sweet. Kurt and I talk with them on the pit wall, and by talk I mean I talk lots. Max’s parents find my situation hilarious and are nicely supportive, explaining where they expect to see me follow their son and Mark’s examples of brave overtakes. I experiment with trying to get my HANS on with helmet attached. 99.99999% sure Kurt wants to laugh out loud watching me, an uncoordinated bag of nerves trying to fumble it all together. Kurt does a sterling job of holding the laughter in. It doesn’t work and I retreat to the garage to get suited properly. Then I’m stood by the car and it’s being refuelled.
Up to this point, it’s been mostly dry and sunny. Max tells me to enjoy it and if it rains watch out for Corner 2 and Tower. The rest of the track will be slippery, just mind how I go and get at it. That’s it, the team strap me in #339 and away I go, via the tag system. This time using first instead of my previous third-stalling-starter-motor strategy.
Lots of drivers were quicker than me and a few weren’t. The opportunity for my first overtake presented itself in the form of a red c1 that was marginally quicker in a straight line but slower through the corners. Over two laps I start to reel him in. As we exit Corner 2, I’m in second and going for it up the inside. My nose is in line with his door, and he comes across to defend. Leaving me the choice of crash or back out of it. I wasn’t close enough to try it and I didn’t commit enough. I stay glued to his bumper through the Chicane and on to Tower. Through Tower he holds me up and I get a run on him into the Esses. Not enough of a run to draw level. Same again, he comes across and I have to back out, take to the grass, or we collide. I get straight back on his bumper and am rewarded at Sunnys when he out brakes himself and the opportunity presents itself to take him on the inside. Thanks to Max’s coaching I’m in early and then keep him on the outside of me as I maintain as much momentum as possible and exit Sunnys. Woooooooo HOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO, my first real overtake.
A few more occurred with people out-braking themselves, getting a wobble on, or making a mistake. Especially in Turn 2, Tower, and Sunnys. In a one-make series I guess, unless you have a serious talent/speed difference, that’s how most overtakes go. Thanks to Max’s coaching I do OK and hold my own. Thanks also to Dale’s coaching/idea (and doing lots of track days in MX5s), a few times I jumped on the back of a faster car pushing its way through and got through as well.
Where possible I did my best to get out of the way of my teammates, 385 and 381. The other people I tried to be respectful, give as little space as I could, and not be jumpy. This is obviously a big difference vs. track days, I think I did OK. In all honesty, I didn’t think about it outside of JFDI. Being surrounded by a gaggle of C1s, some of which are trying to pass you, some of which you are trying to pass, doesn’t leave a lot of mental bandwidth for considering other things. Then it all went a bit dark…
It had been spitting a bit, on and off light rain. The safety car came out for the second time in my stint and I could see the weather looked ominous. The light rain made things greasy but it didn’t slow anything down. I was convinced the team would bring me in as I’d been out nearly an hour by this point. The safety car came in, racing resumed and a few laps later as I came down the start-finish straight all hell let loose. I thought it was just heavy rain, apparently, it was hail. None of this really registered beyond it got slippery fast. Remembering Max’s advice I was hesitant into Corner 2 and so glad I was. There was 0 grip and the car moved 2-3 cars width across, with a ’neat’ four-wheel slide. I could see cars spinning and going off in front of me. One car even missed Chicane. Coming out of Chicane I actually passed a couple of cars and with a flurry of smooth hand movements (if that’s not an oxymoron) I held on through Tower and up the Esses as more cars explored track limits and 360s. I found the light switch and wipers and settled in. As the rain eased things got easier and grippier again. Another safety car, a few more laps, and the board came out. That was it, I’d done it! An incident and spin free stint in my first ever race.
* Croft is really far from Cornwall.
* C1 racing is something I NEED to do more of.
* Max Coates = awesome.
The above contains prattle, waffle, exaggeration, missed memories, and nowhere near enough emotion to convey to Rich and Mark how grateful I am for the opportunity (and to all of the others that helped me get to this point). Thank you all. It’s hard to convey exactly how much it means to me. I’ll always remember the Italian Job Top Gear DVD (geek points), were Jeremy Clarkson finishes his first ever race and is just a mess. That was me. Mark and Max got hugged to within an inch of their lives. I’ve gone overboard typing as I hope I can read this with mini-me one day, so she can start to share in what I hope is a long continuing hobby. And, I hope you’ve all enjoyed parts of it too. Thanks for reading,
Awake at 6ish (better than 5am) and started looking at Max’s lap vs. my laps again. We’re due at the circuit for 10:30ish and I head up for 10am to soak it all in. Thanks to Qualifying and Max’s coaching I feel more excited than nervous at this point. Mark and Max arrive, Rob comes over to talk tactics. What’s our strategy? It’s agreed: Max to start, Mark until we need to refuel, me after refuelling, and Max to bring us home. There is a more to the tactics I don’t think it’s fair to share. I volunteer that I’d like an hour for 2 signatures, even that I don’t mind not doing if they want to give Mark and/or Max more time.
The briefing is hilarious. I’d of previously given BaT’s Jonny and Darren joint first for best briefings. That honour now goes to the C1 organisers. MSE by FAR THE WORST, EVER. Lots of in-fights and digs arrive from the questions. One of the organisers makes a fantastic point. This is a five-hour race, if someone is slower than you, you will find a way to overtake. If you gamble or overly defend a position and take both of you out, no one wins! Mark echoes this advice and likens it to a thinking man’s game more than a 20 minute “who is the fastest?” sprint.
It’s agreed the best use of the warmup is to get me out on the circuit for all of it. So that’s what we do. I head out and make a move on a car at corner 2 (technically 1, you join the circuit at 1 from the assembly area). 2nd gear really does give more drive out of it. Thanks, Max! We’re in a jostling train up to Tower and a few cars pass me on the inside. Going into Tower I use the last passing car as a means to get around two more cars. Then we’re back into a train for the Esses and my elbows are out. I need a clear run into Sunny to practise Max’s coaching. It feels much better and means I exit Sunny out faster. Then I get mobbed. Ah, perhaps I’m not Senna re-incarnated. As we join the start-finish straight I get a poor exit out of Hairpin. I momentarily triggered ABS and it understeers a car length deeper into the corner than I’d like. Which leaves me with what feels like forever turning and waiting to get back on the “power”. Unsurprisingly, I get mobbed on the start-finish straight. This gives me some space and I settled into a rhythm and focus on corner 1 and Max’s coaching. This C1 is far greater than the sum of its parts, it’s pointless trying to justify it, until you drive it you would never believe me.
There is a problem. I know I am faster in all three areas Max has suggested but my lap times are up and the car seems to be down on power above 4k RPM. Unfamiliar with the car and aware it’s carrying a full tank of fuel, I don’t know if it’s me, or me driving badly and looking for excuses. It seems to be getting worse and I head for the pits. The team are ace, I explain what’s happening and they take a look. They can’t see anything and send me out again, saying they’ll change the plugs as car 385 had similar and that fixed it. I get an out lap and one more lap before the checkered flag brings the warm up to an end.
The team check the car over and change the plugs. Even on the old plugs, it appears nothing is wrong, no fault codes, and we can’t seem to replicate it. Keith suggests we’ll only find it under track/race conditions. Apparently, it’s not a good idea to try and simulate that in the paddock (my one token suggestion).
I meet Mark (Rich’s partner in crime) at the Amigo Motorsport setup, I can remember floating rather than walking to meet him. He can clearly see I’m a bundle of energy and nerves. Rich neglected to mention to him I’m a complete novice. Thankfully, I told him on the phone the night before. His expectations are low and he gives me a great chat to help settle my nerves. I meet the team, sign-on and it all starts to get VERY real. Max rocks up, loves the fact I pinged him on twitter and our DM chat consists of him saying hi and me blurting out I’ve never driven Croft, never driven a C1 (or sat in one, more on that to come) and never raced. He finds it all funny and isn’t phased. He pulls me aside and gives me some pointers and gears for corners. He’s a great coach, I sense a Teffers-esque level of man-crush developing (minus the hair). I’m hoping to become faster just by standing near him. The team agree Max goes out first to put us on pole (hang on, this is my first race, pole???). Mark goes out second and will just do his minimum 3 laps to qualify. The rest of Quali can be my time to learn which way Croft goes and get familiar with the C1.
Max goes out and is a little way off pole (phew ). He and the team boss, Rob, agree the new engine is tight and we’re down a little on power vs. some of the field. This is a great excuse, I make a mental note of it and save it for later. Mark goes out and isn’t far off Max’s time. The team agree Max should go out again after as many laps as they can squeeze me in for.
Showtime! Our mechanic, Keith, tells me to be smooth and have fun. He asks the standard questions: Driven Croft? No… Driven a C1? No… Well, at least it’s not your first race… Err, about that… He looks at me with a wry smile and with that, I am belted into the C1. My first stress is the Mutu tag, this needs to be held up to the receiver on leaving the pits to log my laps as the driver. I’ve watched a few cars have to reverse and shuffle embarrassingly. If I wasn’t nervous enough, this feels like an extra mental challenge I do not need. Thankfully, I select third, and proceed to use a combination of stalling and the starter motor to get myself to the receiver… Quite what Mark, Max, Keith, Rob and the rest of the team are thinking I have no idea. I have a slightly bigger issue… At this point I realised, I’ve never been in a C1. I have no idea where any of the controls are, and I’m about to join a live circuit for my first ever qualifying and laps of Croft. It’s OK, by the exit of corner two I’ve worked out where the Rev counter is.
There are C1s everywhere, I focused on finding space, practising what Max said, building a rhythm and trying to learn as much as I could from my laps. 99% sure the thing in the middle is a lap timer. Man, I wish I had sat in the car before this moment. My times seem to start coming down, if it is a lap timer. After 8-10 laps I see our board and it’s time to come in. Somehow, don’t ask me, I manage a fastest lap of 2:00:06. 1 and a bit seconds behind Mark’s time. The team look relieved. Max still thinks it’s all funny. We’re OK. Max goes out and puts us 9th. 3 seconds quicker than I managed. It’s not pole but I feel more relaxed. Then it dawns on me how many cars are behind 9th…
Qualifying, completed it mate!!!!
Enter Mental note: Next time sit in the car rather than just take pics of it!!!!!!!!!!
Feedback & Coaching
After qualifying the team are in good spirits. Amigo Motorsport has 3 of 3 cars in the top 10! 381 at 3rd, 385 in 5th, and us in 9th. I’d wondered if not putting the car on pole would impact Max at all. It didn’t, he was still lamenting how much fun it was and had a smile on his face.
We’d put cameras in the car so we could compare Max, Mark, and my laps. Max then spent a generous two hours going over his laps, my laps, and Mark’s laps. The other Amigo Motorsport teams showed some interest and we had good chats, banter, and discussion. This was club level motorsport. I was part of it. This was my tribe, we were doing this. It’s a little cheesy reading it back but it’s no less true. This was what I wanted, it’s not just being sat in the car doing laps, it’s the whole experience.
The consensus seemed to be I’d done alright. Max gave me three things to work on:
Turn in earlier at corner 1. Throw it in and just let the car slide out. Then a dab of the brake and use 2nd for Corner 2.
Turn in earlier for Tower and use 2nd, be more aggressive, throw it in.
Turn in earlier for Sunny In, be more aggressive, throw it in. Then let it run out to the curve before apexing Sunny out.
All three bits of advice proved invaluable, in the race those three are where I made most of my passes.
The dream of racing has haunted me for a long time. Starting around twelve, specifically: Donington, Murray Walker & James Hunt commentating, the rain, and then some utter Senna magic. This has led to many track days and ‘Ring trips. I’ve been lucky to do this as a hobby, and for the friends and experience so far! However, it’s not racing. Involving various friends I’ve tried to push racing further. Finally, announcing doing the Caterham Academy and coming close. However, it wasn’t to be. Too many good and bad things happened. Racing couldn’t be a priority, my place was cancelled, and it hurt. An odd hurt, because nothing is actually wrong, yet something was. The exact ‘thing’ is hard to explain, the Bruce Springsteen line “Is a dream a lie if it don’t come true, or is it something worse” encapsulates it perfectly.
Caterham Academy, didn’t complete it mate…
Enough of the prattling, on to the next chapter of the story (and more prattling)… Picture the scene, it’s a dark wintry night on Wednesday 26th October 2016. Seven friends meet on t’mores at the Cricketers for a meal. Not sure it is the mores, let’s go with just outside the Peak District but I wanted to use “t’mores”. During the meal, a friend commiserates about the Caterham dream and says “Why don’t you just get your race licence?”. And, I’m like: “Yeah, why don’t I just get my race licence”. So I did, I ordered an MSA starter kit and booked my medical and ARDs.
Pub plans, completed it mate!
It’s now Christmas 2016, I am pumped, I’m going racing!!!! I even got some fireproof socks from the family’s Secret Santa! Game on! 28th December, my wife wakes me up and says “I’m late”. It’s 5am, I’m like WTF is she talking about. Surely 5am means we should be asleep. Who gets up at 5am?? Honestly!!! Turns out mini-me is on the way!!!!! Wife and I agree: I’ve paid for it, stressed over it, and done the medical. Do the ARDs and we’ll see from there. Two weeks later, my alarm is set for 5am and I am off to Thruxton. After a long video interlude, I sat the written test, passed it, and was into a Cayman S for 10ish laps of keeping it on the black stuff. We didn’t exactly get off to a great start. On leaving the pits I assumed it was race conditions and proceeded to “do” two of my “competitors” into Campbell. Only to be told by my examiner that this isn’t exactly race conditions, keep it on the black stuff, stay within reasonable lap times, and prove you’re not an idiot who dives people on the first corner. Right, got it… At least it settled my nerves and meant I had a clear track for the remaining laps. By the end, the instructor was pretty chatty and I got the feeling things had gone OK.
ARDs, completed it mate!
The next 12 months are a blur. Watching a child being born is mental and then you have to look after it 24-7! The idea of racing C1s greatly appealed. Most of the cars I’ve driven have been momentum based e.g. they have/had no power. All my Swift laps and MX5s have to count for something. I like endurance sports: Marathons and long distance open water swims. I don’t ever think I’ll be the fastest but I hope I can be consistent and dependable. A friend tells me I’m too light to be part of his team (he wasn’t that polite). Another friend proves more amenable and a plan starts to form. If the opportunity arises I’m joining team Bernard. In my mind, I am thinking it will be a friendly bunch, aim for a circuit I’ve driven, low pressure, do what I can, and have some fun. I’ll be a fourth driver and some finances to help the team race more than my performance on the track. Game on! Bought a black suit from Merlin motorsport (having tried lots on), black so it won’t show up the dirt as badly. What amateur, who has to pay for their own suit, wants a colour other than black! Well, that was the plan… Love it when a plan comes together!
Low-pressure plan, completed it mate (Wait, why is my suit blue??? Oh FFS)
Somehow, the only date I can do is Croft. This presents two problems:
1) I’ve never driven Croft
2) Other than Knockhill it’s the furthest mainland circuit, a mere 460+ miles away (living in Cornwall has some downsides…).
Oh well, the date fits, you only live once, wife gives her blessing. Rich PMs me to confirm our entry and some details, I join the C1 club, the excitement starts to boil over. I want to tell everyone but the Caterham experience and pain of having to tell people it’s off is still too real. So I stay shtum. Rich pings to say there is a chance Max Coates might be driving with us. No idea who that is, so that’s fine.
Hang on, Max Coates, who is that? Google… Oh, oh, right, and the team we’re racing with are also one of the bigger names in C1s now? Oh, right… And, the fourth driver has broken his wrist so he’s out and it’s now the three of us.