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The Gymkhana Slalom Test

Our second, and last, activity in the 2015 Club Le Mons mini-gymkana was a test of our car’s handling ability. As mentioned previously, a nice skid pad and some proper instruments to measure G forces would have been good, but all we had was a bit of airfield and some cones. So a slalom it was to be!

And fun it was! Anyway as they say, a picture tells a thousand words..

Bruce having fun on the slalom course

Bruce having fun on the slalom course

Bruce taking the slalom course very seriously

Bruce taking the slalom course very seriously

Angela giving it all she's got!

Angela giving it all she’s got!

Neil trying really hard in the SLK

Neil trying really hard in the SLK

The GT86 on the slalom course

The GT86 on the slalom course

The RX8 coming up to the end

The RX8 coming up to the end

The Z3 showing off some bodyroll

The Z3 showing off some bodyroll

The FTO going round for another go

The FTO going round for another go

The MR2 caught mid slalom

The MR2 caught mid slalom

Can you believe the G forces?

Can you believe the G forces?

Getting ready to go. Concentration faces on!

Getting ready to go. Concentration faces on!

 

So, what were the results?

Slalom results

Well, in the absence of the S2000 and MX5 – two very strong contenders – it looks like the FTO, with its sticky tyres and handling focused chassis takes the win.

Considering the SLK’s performance in the brake test it did surprisingly well here, but once again the Toyota GT86 was disappointing.

 

The Points

So, what does this mean for the overall points?

Well..

Brake Test Driver Car Distance Rank Points
Bruce RX8 29.70 1 100
Alex FTO 30.00 2 90
Angela Z3 30.30 3 80
Simon MR2 30.40 4 70
Adam GT86 30.90
Becky TT 33.80 5 60
Michelle MGF 35.75 6 50
Neil SLK 38.30 7 40
Steff S2000 Joker 30
Duncan MX-5 DNF 20

 

Slalom Test Driver Car Time Rank Points
Alex FTO 33.61 1 100
Simon MR2 34.56 2 90
Neil SLK 34.67 3 80
Bruce RX8 35.77 4 70
Adam GT86 37.00
Michelle MGF 39.78 5 60
Angela Z3 40.15 6 50
Becky TT 48.55 7 40
Steff S2000 Joker 30
Duncan MX-5 DNF 20

 

And with the May points awarded the final drivers leaderboard stands at:

Driver Car End of Month Points Difference
Simon MR2 1524
Bruce RX8 1425 -99
Alex FTO 1395 -30
Steff S2000 1320 -75
Neil SLK 1287 -33
Angela Z3 1218 -69
Becky TT 1099 -120
Duncan MX-5 1055 -44
Michelle MGF 944 -110

 

Simon still leads, but Alex manages to claw back a place from Steff, and Bruce is closing in on number 1!

 

And The Best £2,500 Sports Car is?

So, after 11 challenges and 12 months of ownership we decided to have a look at how the cars have done, points wise.

As you know some of our challenges have been based on the drivers (driving test, etc), so if we take all of those out and leave in just the points awarded to the vehicles, we *could* say that this point, that the best £2,500 sports car is:

 

The Mitsubishi FTO

FTO Review

Driver Car Points
Alex FTO 925
Angela Z3 899 -26
Steff S2000 842 -57
Simon MR2 835 -7
Bruce RX8 788 -47
Neil SLK 711 -77
Becky TT 705 -7
Michelle MGF VVC 677 -27
Duncan MX-5 654 -24

 

 

 

And Don’t Forget..

Our gymkhana will be best experienced in an upcoming episode!

 

Video Coming Soon

The Gymkhana Brake Test

Right, so we’ve done all the introducty/explainy bits, lets get down to the results.

Gymkhana brake test

Michelle brake tests the MGF from 60 mph

Gymkhana brake test

The might Toyota GT86 getting ready for her run.

Just as a reminder, there were two criteria we were testing.. how well would our £2,500 sports cars do, some nearly 20 years old, against a brand new £25,000 sport car AND how well would we do against the Highway Code, from 60mph:

Highway Code Stopping Distances

Well, the results may surprise you.

Gymkhana Brake test results

First of all there wasn’t much in it. With the exception of the Mercedes SLK. But then, as Neil pointed out, he should probably have taken all the camera equipment out of the boot.

All of our cars easily beat the 55 metres the Highway Code considers typical, so you’ve got to wonder what rust buckets they used to measure that.

What was surprising was that the GT86 didn’t win. Now, this test was in no way scientific, so we can’t say with absolute certainty that if we did it 100 times over this would be the result every time. But on the day, this is what happened. It got beat by 4 other cars.

The winning cars were in fact the oldest and newest in the Le Mons fleet. They are also, both, the only cars wearing very sticky -track day- rubber. Now, what does that tell you. Oh, and the FTO? No ABS, unlike all the other cars here.

 

Next time – the Slalom.

Challenge 11 – The Gymkhana

…and we’re back.

You may have noticed we’ve been a bit lax when it’s come to updates lately. That’s entirely due to the fact that in June we hosted the amazing Roundel Run, a 75 car & bike strong adventure through the counties of Surrey, Sussex and Kent, all in aid of the Biggin Hill Festival of Flight and our charities. More on that on the Roundel Run website, Facebook and Twitter feed.

Although the Roundel Run was a great success, raised a nice amount of money for charity and will be held again next year (hint hint) it did mean most of the team were flat out, so catching up on sleep and work were required.

That said, on to our gymkhana!

 

What’s a gymkhana?

Well, basically, and according to Wikipedia, it’s roughly:

“a place where skill-based contests were held”

From an automotive point of view you might know it best for a gentleman named Ken Block, who does things like this:

Obviously that’s slightly more adventurous (and skillful) than we might manage in our £2,500 cars, but we thought we’d take the name anyway and test our cars to their maximum too. Just slightly less insanely.

 

Where can you properly play with your cars?

Obviously, unlike Mr Block, we couldn’t have closed any roads, and with our limited budgets we couldn’t exactly rent a whole track or airfield. But, a couple of quick calls to our friends at Car Limits later and we had a small section of the North Weald airfield for our very own! A massive thanks to Andrew and his team for making that happen!

Map of North Weald Map of North Weald

 

 

What’s this about a special guest?

Ah, you’ve seen our tweets!

 


One of the things we’ve been trying to achieve is to see if a £2,500 sports car is as much fun as a super car. For this event we thought we’d ratchet that down a notch and see how our cars compared to a modern day sports car.. and what better opposition than-the-already-future-classic Toyota GT86.

And thanks to the great folks at Hills Toyota of Bishop’s Stortford, we we’re able to borrow one, plus a driver, for the day. Adam was so excited about taking part he arrived before anyone else, in a gorgeous black ’15 plate ’86 auto, with the Aero pack. An absolutely stunning car. And fantastic to drive too.

We chose the ’86 as it matched many of our cars – RWD, reasonable power (200 bhp), coupe styling and, like 5 out of the 9 Lemons – Japanese. A few of us left that day, more impressed with it than we already were. It would be fair to say it’s on a few must-have lists now.

A massive thanks to everyone at Hills, they couldn’t have been more welcome, accommodating or sporting! In fact, they even joined us on the Roundel Run!

On the down side though, two of our drivers couldn’t make it on the day. Steff and his S2000 and Duncan and his MX5 were all sorely missed, as we believe they would have done very well in our activities. Still, more points for the rest of us!

 

 

So, what were the activities?

The idea behind the day was based on further testing our cars. We’d had them on the dyno, we’ve tested their acceleration, some of the cars have been put through their paces on track, but we’d never really tested braking and handling in a comparable way.

With limited space (just one long straight) and technical resources (i.e. no official timing gear, just stopwatches), we needed to keep things as simple as possible.

Braking

The braking test was based on the publish Highway Code for Typical Stopping Distances. We wanted to see how our cars might do against each other, the GT86 and the official numbers.

Highway Code Stopping Distances

Each car was driven up to 60 mph and then stopped as quickly as physically possible. We ignored the Thinking Distance element by setting out two cones through which the cars would pass, and at which point they were to start braking. Our target to beat – 55 metres.

Handling

What better way to test a car’s handling than putting it on a skidpad and seeing what G numbers it’ll achieve? Well yes, except we didn’t have a skidpad or something scientific to measure G forces with. So we settled on the next best thing – a cone course. A quick slalom down, followed by a big turn, slalom back and then a quick sprint to the finish. Our GT86 set the benchmark, and we all followed!

 

The results!

They were, surprising. But you’ll have to wait for the next post to find out!

Challenge 10 – The Driving Test

If you had to retake your driving test, today, how well would you do? Would you even pass?

It’s been a good 20 years, or more, since any of the Le Mons drivers took their driving test, so we thought it would be a good idea to see if they still have the right stuff.

Turns out, they don’t. Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.

This was a secret Challenge. The drivers weren’t told what we would be doing, just where and when they needed to be. Everyone took part, except for two drivers – Alex, who organized the challenge, and subsequently withdrew, forewarned is forearmed, and all that. Additionally Duncan couldn’t make it, owing to a new job, which was a shame as his son Fergus had only just gone through the driving test, so he would have been well prepared.

The Devon Hotel Exeter

After parking ourselves, quite literally, at the Devon Hotel the team were introduced to Ian May, of Top Marks Driving School, and updated on the day’s activity. It would be fair to say a slight panic ensued.

Phones were whipped out and practice tests were Googled.

Club Le Mons Re-takes their Driving tests (3)

The Challenge would consist of three parts – theory, hazard perception and practical. The theory/hazard test results would be combined for a maximum 100 points score, based on results rankings, and the same would apply to the practical. With one caveat. The tests needed to be passed in order to earn any points. As in real life, if you failed, you get nothing. So, no pressure.

Club Le Mons Driving Test DVD

The Theory/Hazard tests were taken, with sound deadening headphones, on a laptop running a 2015 edition Driving Test DVD. Each driver took both tests, using the Mock Test functionality, ensuring that everyone had different questions.

Club Le Mons Re-takes their Driving tests (1)

The Practical was taken with Ian. In his Mini. So no home advantage either in location, or in car. Because of time limitations, the test was a cut down version of the official driving test. Twenty minutes on local roads. Eight minor infractions allowed. No majors. Each minor would be worth 1 point, each major worth 10 points. A maximum of 8 points would be allowed, in order to pass.

Club Le Mons Re-takes their Driving tests (2)

So, how did they do?

In short, not great.

 

Driver Car Theory Hazard Practical
Alex FTO DNF DNF DNF
Angela Z3 Pass Pass Fail
Becky TT Pass Fail Fail
Bruce RX8 Pass Pass Pass
Duncan MX-5 DNF DNF DNF
Michelle MGF VVC Pass Fail Fail
Neil SLK Pass Fail Fail
Simon MR2 Pass Pass Fail
Steff S2000 Pass Pass Fail

 

The only person to pass all three tests, and therefore be eligible for the maximum number of points, was Bruce! And even that was by the narrowest of margins.. you see the practical route included a particularly nasty bend. Now, many had argued that if it wasn’t for that bend they too would have passed. Which is true. And if you grew up in these here parts, and drove that route as part of your driving lessons then it wouldn’t have been a bit of a surprise when you came up to it. But isn’t that the point? Driving, and in particular driving well, is all about dealing with the unexpected. And apparently Bruce was the only one in the team with the right reflexes, on the day.
 

The Points

How did these results translate into points? The Theory test consisted of 50 questions, so each correct answer got you one point. The Hazard test was marked out of 75, so the scores were converted to a percentage out of 100 and halved. Remember, you had to pass each test in order to earn any points.

Theory Points Driver Car Points
Alex FTO 0
Angela Z3 79
Becky TT 44
Bruce RX8 77
Duncan MX-5 0
Michelle MGF VVC 43
Neil SLK 46
Simon MR2 81
Steff S2000 78

 

The Practical, once passed, would be based on ranking of best to worst, 100 – 20, by the least number of points scored on the test.

As mentioned, only Bruce passed. So Bruce earned 100 points.

Neil did the worst, he earned 43 points on the test, which was based on 3 major faults (30 points) and 13 minor faults (13 points).

Practical Points Driver Car Pass/Fail Points on Test
Points
Alex FTO DNF DNF 0
Angela Z3 Fail 28 0
Becky TT Fail 18 0
Bruce RX8 Pass 4 100
Duncan MX-5 DNF DNF 0
Michelle MGF VVC Fail 18 0
Neil SLK Fail 43 0
Simon MR2 Fail 12 0
Steff S2000 Fail 31 0

 

So, in total:

 

Total Points Driver Car Total
Alex FTO 0
Angela Z3 79
Becky TT 44
Bruce RX8 177
Duncan MX-5 0
Michelle MGF VVC 43
Neil SLK 46
Simon MR2 81
Steff S2000 78

 

So, what does this mean for the overall standings? Well, first we have to look at the April points.

April

It was a busy month for events, with Alex, Becky and Neil all earning points for going to various events, and blogging about them.

Alex and Neil attended an RX8 Owners Club event, on behalf of Bruce. They took Bruce’s RX8 down and had a jolly good time, apparently. Highly recommended!

 

 

Neil and Becky attended the Piazza Italia, in Horsham and drooled over some very nice, very expensive machinery.  

And Becky followed it all up with some blogs:

Becky hangs out with some Ferrari owners

Becky hangs out with some Bikerz

All together this netted Alex an additional 10 points, Becky 40 points and Neil another 30 points.

 

The Scores

With Alex and Duncan not earning any points for the Driving Test Challenge the rankings have changed, quite a bit! Simon still maintains his lead, and even grows it slightly from 88 points over 2nd to 94 points. But second has changed.. Steff is back! Does that mean Alex is in third? No, Bruce overtakes Alex thanks to his gargantuan 177 point leap.. So, if Alex had taken part, and passed, he could have been in first place by now. Gutted much?

Lower down the rankings Angela overtakes the unfortunate Duncan, but the rest of the field stays the same. With the exception of Michelle, at the bottom, everyone is within 100 points of the next one up.. so things are getting exciting!

Driver Car Points Difference
Simon MR2 1354
Steff S2000 1260 -94
Bruce RX8 1255 -5
Alex FTO 1195 -60
Neil SLK 1157 -38
Angela Z3 1088 -69
Duncan MX-5 1015 -73
Becky TT 999 -16
Michelle MGF 824 -174

 

And as for our graph?

Club Le Mons Points at the end of April

As always, click on the graph for a larger view.

 

What’s Next?

Our next event is on the 9th of May and will be a true test of car (and driver). There are rumours that there will be double points, and even a star guest car..

 

The SLK

We asked Neil to write a few words about his experience of taking the SLK around Blyton Park, on our track day.

He came back with about a thousand words extolling its virtues and its surprising ability not to fling itself onto the grass out of pure protest at having to do something as gaudy and below its standards as drive fast. But most of all, he wrote about its resounding capacity to genuinely amaze all of us on the day. And amazed we were.

He also mentioned serious brake fade and smoking disks. Didn’t we all?

Anyway, rather than read all that, how about that old adage ‘a picture tells…’

Sure it seems a bit wallowy at times – keep in mind it’s carrying it’s own roof in the boot, but every single one of us was surprised by how well it took to the track, and how much fun it was to drive. Biggest surprise of the day? Definitely!

Blyton Track Day Cars

Obviously we couldn’t have done this without the team at Lotus on Track, whose generosity allowed us to raise £200 for our charities.

And thanks to Blyton Park, for their fantastic hospitality!

Blyton Track Day Stickers Blyton Track Day Stickers Blyton Track Day Stickers Blyton Track Day Stickers

 

 

 

The Z3, by son of Newbie

It was with great anticipation that I dragged myself out of bed on that fateful Sunday. It was early, but my laziness had already cost me time for cooked breakfast, and I wasn’t going to let it cost me the track day by missing registration. When we pulled into Blyton Park, I was in awe of the many cars gathered waiting – but was quickly ushered into the registration hut for a briefing.

When asked who was on their first track day, I raised my hand, and was surprised at how many others did the same – it was slightly comforting knowing I wasn’t the only newbie on the track.

Up first were a couple of laps to familiarise ourselves with the track. Following the car in front, I almost felt that this was fast enough, but knew the cars were capable of so much more. When it came to my turn, all briefings and safety messages done, I was nervous as I sat in the pit lane. The engine sat patiently, purring at the red light, yellow light, green! My foot kicked the floor and tyre squeal echoed across the track, traction kicked in and off I flew, down the track toward the first corner. Approaching wide and giving a quick stomp on the brakes, the Z3 glided through the first and second turns. Now I’m on the straight (albeit featuring a gentle left curve) and building speed fast – as I approach the third turn, the chicane, I realise at the last minute I’ve come in a bit hot. With the car in third, I fly through the chicane and, just as I think I’ve pulled it off, I hear that familiar tyre squeal and all of a sudden the scenery is a blur. I spun.

To say that I learnt from my mistakes would be a lie. While I did complete many successful laps following the spin, it was not my only twirl. Throughout the day I clocked a total of 4 spins, I told myself that, since they were all on different corners, I was simply finding the cars limits on each corner.

Overall, it was a day of excitement, learning, speed and burnt rubber. The Le Mons cars were as impressive as Neil’s SLK interior is unsightly, and the drivers themselves are very welcoming and cheerful.

– Adam

Blyton Track Day Cars

The Z3, by Newbie

I couldn’t wait for our track day!

I’m new to this. OK, I have been taught to drive professionally at high speed on the public road, and I have been behind the wheel in many high adrenalin situations. That was then, in a previous life, BC.

More recently, AC (after children), I have driven round Castle Combe circuit to learn racing lines, but the speed limit was 70. I have played on my daughter’s Forza 4 game, but I spent most of the time bouncing off the barriers. I have, of course enjoyed the F1 Simulator challenge with Club Le Mons, but – let’s be honest here – with the exception of Becky who bailed out to find a suitable bucket, I was last (I did laugh a lot…. and turned the air blue at times… and it’s just as well the pit man was virtual as I ran over him! I also spent a substantial amount of time on my roof and even re-entered the circuit driving in the wrong direction – but don’t tell the others cos I don’t think they noticed!). SO, that’s my previous ‘on track’ experience, but this was a REAL track day, with REAL cars… or more to the point MY real car!!

My son, Adam, loves my Z3 so much he bought himself one – and then another three weeks later! Apart from the engine size (his is a 2 litre facelift vs my 2.8), I will admit I’m a little envious of the recent acquisition as she is a bit of a beauty. Anyway, Adam had just turned 21 and we knew he would love to take a decent 2.8 round a track so for the princely sum of around £30 he was added to my insurance for the weekend and we shared the driving up t’North – which also proved handy as we had a rather good social on the Saturday evening, courtesy of Cook Caribe, and I didn’t have to drive – hoorah!

I digress.

We arrived at Blyton in gorgeous sunshine, which was a relief as I didn’t fancy spending my first track day in the rain. I had little idea of what to expect but briefing and helmet distribution over, we headed out for a conga line around the track. Sorry – getting muddled again, the conga was the night before (great fun, btw – highly recommended!).

I had a lesson booked as I wanted to make the most of the experience and the rest of the team are mostly lotus owners so they have all the t-shirts for this activity. I was assured it’s very safe – “That’s why we picked this venue – there’s plenty of run off so you won’t hit anything if you spin”, said Alex. Hmm, not quite the right thing to say but hey, he was trying to help! And I did note in the briefing that a car had been written of just the previous week. Hmmmm again!

Neil kindly took the bull by the horns, donned his fail safe undies and agreed to take me out for a spin (stop – please – not that word!) before my session with the instructor.

Now a track isn’t really the place to ‘go slow’ as there are other vehicles out there but I doubt I was impressive on my first voyage into the unknown. I have no fear of putting my foot down hard, whether on the brake or the accelerator, but I wanted to master those lines. I wanted to get them right. I don’t like ‘being a girl’ when it comes to driving and Alex had already dubbed me ‘Miss Daisy‘ after the MPG challenge (which we won’t talk about). My ride out with Neil was very useful, not least for getting the hang of what was required, but for me, just learning the layout of the track before instruction was a good.

Instruction time! Well, I do trust Neil but here was an expert so I felt more confident with the Lotus-on-Track instructor next to me. Once I got the hang of how close I could get to a bend before braking, and the lines became logical, I felt on top of the world!

Back to the paddock for a rest, and to let the car cool down.

I went out with Duncan, Neil, Alex and Duncan’s 18 year old son, Fergus. Now, Fergus only passed his DSA test a month before but he threw that MX5 round the track like a demon, yet I felt totally safe with him at all times. Credit I think, not just to his understanding of vehicle handling, but also testament to the benefits of playing a decent computer game. He uses iRacing and I, for one, think it’s a great shame that more isn’t made of the opportunity to manufacture great games from which real skills can be learned.

I will make little comment about my darling son, and his first trek out, I also won’t make comment on his second. After that I refused to accompany him but he continued true to form and can honestly say that he learned about the limits of MY car that day. I still let him drive home afterwards, and may even have fallen asleep at one point!

Neil again accompanied me for my final drive and commented on how I had grown in confidence over the course of the day. On one of my trips I was rather pleased to see, on my return to the paddock, that my brakes were smoking. Now, I’m not saying that’s a good thing (apparently I should have done a slow lap to cool them off – hey, I’m learning, guys!) but I think Miss Daisy was definitely hiding in the boot!

Suffice to say that, by the end of the day, I felt I knew my BabyZed far better. I felt more at one with her, like I used to with my beloved racing bike in my teens, only faster, and more funnerer! Please can we go again, Alex, please, please pleeeaase?

– Angela

It’s Good Friday; I’ve walked and dried the dog from her usual dog bomb into the local pond. What does a girl who loves excitement do on a Bank Holiday?

She heads off in search of pure power in perfect shaped bodyline with an energy that can make any person’s body vibrate. No I’m not talking about Brad Pitt…I am talking Ferrari, a car which oozes pure sex appeal.

Horsham hosts the annual Piazza Italia, a showcase of all things Italian.

Cars parade through the centre of Horsham and the sound vibrates through your body as they weave their way through the crowded streets. Ferraris ranging in colour from the iconic racing red, to the various shades of blues, greys and white.

Piazza Italia Ferrari Piazza Italia Ferrari

Would I buy one? Yes I would. I think I’ll save my money up for a Ferrari California T

Accelerating from 0-100km/h in 3.6sec, a retractable hard top for those sunny British Summers and twin V-8 engines. Need I say more?

Piazza Italia Ferrari 3 Piazza Italia Ferrari 4

Now where did I put that spare £135,000? Can this be next years Club Le Mons challenge!

 

The FTO

Blyton Park…..this is my second track day and I absolutely love it, once I convince myself that I’m not that bad at it and any experience is good for me! Alex kindly let me drive the FTO, which I drive all the time but mainly to work and school runs so I was pleasantly surprised, considering her age, how she handled. Especially when I was passenger with Alex who really gave it some. Very impressive!

I do the speed that is comfortable for me, I may not be the quickest but as it was only my second track day I am still a novice! Luckily there was hardly any traffic which made me feel a bit better not being over taken all the time.

I was lucky enough to be taken out with everyone, except Neil. Have to save the automatic experience for another day…

Not sure how my MGF would’ve faired, wish I’d taken her now!

Overall I thought the track was fantastic for people like me, new to the experience but want to improve. The people were very friendly and the facilities were good.. will definitely go back!!

– Michelle

Editors note: Michelle did have one little issue with Blyton – apparantly it’s missing road signs, or something.

 

Blyton Track Day Driver Selfie Blyton Track Day Cars

 

Having done a few track days I was really looking forward to this, even more so since this would be the first time I’d done a track in something other than a Lotus. One of the reasons I got the FTO was for it’s handling reputation.. being able to go round corners quickly has always interested me more than outright speed. So, expectations were high!

Of course the road to Blyton was paved with a few set backs. It started with a small brake failure..


And resulted in spending time and money down at Analogue Auto, getting it sorted out. You can read all about that here, if you’re so inclined.

And then some more money putting some proper tyres on it. I wasn’t going to have a repeat of Santa Pod!


But still, we made it!

Blyton is a fantastic (little?) track.. and was a great choice for our novices, with plenty of run off, safe areas and a straight that wouldn’t require V-Max speeds to enjoy. Especially not in our cars. I think the fastest anyone went was about 95 mph, before having to slow down for The Wiggler.

Richard, the owner, mentioned in his briefing that in his Exige V6 he can hit about 120/125 mph, and I’ve been told that when The Wiggler is removed the straight is good for 170 mph, in the right (super) car. But still, for us, it was quick enough!

Blyton Park Driving Centre Circuit

For me though, the real fun is to be had through Jochen/Carmen/The Ump and from Bishops through to Ushers. Especially in the right car. But we’ll come back to that.

So, how did the FTO do? Very, very well. With the new stickier tyres I could not get her to come loose at all. She literally cornered like she was on rails. Considering she’s FWD I was surprised by the relative lack of under-steer, but I did notice her starting to struggle on Lancaster, putting down the power and taking that corner at the same time. Lancaster is the long sweeping bend after you do the Carmen/The Ump chicane and I could see RWD cars having a bit of an advantage being able to split the responsibility of steering and power delivery. That said, that was the only corner that caused me any concern. Interestingly enough I didn’t have the same issue on the Ports (Froid and Vite), despite, or maybe because of, the directional change.

Being a high revving engine – redline is just over 8000 rpm, you do feel like you’re constantly in danger of blowing her up, but with all the power available from about 4500 rpm you don’t really have much choice. There were a couple of moments where, through lack of concentration, I found myself at 3000 rpm or so, coming out of a corner, where you see the distinct advantage the torquier cars, such as the SLK and Z3 have, especially as they’re pulling away in front of you.

But when you’re on the power, and you down shift right, clipping the apexes, it feels like you’re flying through the bends.

(My other driving experience of the day, the Z3, was the complete opposite).

But it wasn’t all sunshine and roses. I did have a major issue with brake fade. In fact, much like the MX5, I could really only get about 2-3 proper hot laps in, before it was all smoke and nothing. And it’s entirely my own fault. For a number of reasons.

1. I like to brake late, and I like to brake hard. My Lotus is equipped with over sized, over powered brakes – and running proper Pagid RS14 racing pads. It also weighs about 300 kg less than the FTO, so there’s a lot less mass to stop. And, on track, that’s what I’m used to. So, this took a bit of adjusting, especially in the morning, on those first laps.

2. I’m cheap. I bought standard, solid discs, and standard pads, when I redid the fronts and rears. Although we put on braided hoses, we could only get them on the front, and not the rears. I should have bought some proper drilled/grooved discs (especially for the front) and at minimum some Yellowstuff pads all round. You can get Pagids, for the FTO, but I couldn’t find them anywhere, not even through the owners club, who advertise them.

Lesson learned! It did dampen the experience for me somewhat, as I didn’t feel like I could really push it, but then again, maybe that’s a good thing. After all this is an 18, almost 19 year old car and we still had a 4.5 hour drive home. But, dammit, it still bugs me.

So, if you do decide to take your FTO out on track, and you really should, then keep the following in mind. Keep the revs up, get into the right gear before the corner and make sure you have the right tyres and brakes on the car! Do that and wonderful things can happen!

 


To finish off, earlier on I alluded to, and mentioned, driving the Z3. So, to be a bit controversial, here’s the kicker.. I love my FTO and I wouldn’t want to own the BMW – tacky interior, weird moving seats, bad ergonomics, etc, but on track I actually had more fun the in the Zed!

Ouch!

Why? Whereas the FTO was more of a precision machine, a scalpel if you will, the Z3 was a machete! The 2.8 inline 6 under the bonnet and rear wheel drive is, almost, the perfect combination for back out fun. Others mentioned this during our individual driver reviews – the BMW is like a muscle car. You could, on every corner, get the back end sliding out, Top Gear/Clarkson style, easily and safely corrected.

Especially on Bishops.

I spent more time going sideways round Bishops in the Z3 than I did doing it properly in the FTO. Every time I got out of that car I, and my passenger, including Angela, had a massive grin on our faces. And that’s what it’s all about!

– Alex

The MX5

I’d been to Blyton before; I do a bit of co-driving in historic rallies and we did a special stage there during the Tour Brittania a few years ago, but going back for the track day was a first in a couple of ways. Though I’ve done dozens of track days in various cars, it was the first time I’d taken the MX-5 onto track and I’d booked Fergus, my eldest son, for his track outing. Given that he only passed his road test in January this year it was arguably a brave decision but Blyton is as safe as it gets for a novice and Lotus on Track days are rightly renowned for their high standards of driving.

I did take a little time to prepare the car, as at 125k miles it felt a little unfair to lunge the old girl straight onto a track without so much as a by-your-leave! I changed the oil & filter, adjusted the accessory belts as they’d been squealing and generally gave it all a good check over. One of the front brake calipers had started leaking a couple of days earlier so I changed that too, and took the opportunity to replace the brake fluid as well with a mildly ‘hotter’ type, to cope better with the battering the brakes would take. It was a bit frustrating having to replace the brake, as all it actually needed was a couple of new seals, but a reconditioned caliper was all I could get hold of in the time available.

So, how did she go? I’ve got to admit, I was impressed. The brakes held up incredibly well, despite smoking profusely at the end of every run. I didn’t suffer any significant fade or soft pedal issues at all, which to be honest I’d though would be the most likely weak point. She ran reliably all day, but did get a bit hot towards the end of longer runs. A couple of slow laps brought the temperature back to where it should be but I’ve since diagnosed the problem as an old MX-5 favourite – a partially blocked radiator. It’s no surprise really, given the mileage. You can get hold of uprated alloy replacements for under £100, so that’s on the list of little jobs for a rainy day. There’s no rush, as it’s never budged from normal temperature on the road.

The driving experience was everything you’d expect from an MX-5 on skinny road tyres with a ‘fast road’ geo…  a lively but very predictable rear and a nice pointy front-end. What more could a man want 🙂 The only thing it lacked was power; at a short track like Blyton it wasn’t really too bad, but it would get frustrating pretty quickly at bigger circuits. And yes, I’ve been googling turbo and supercharger kits…

Finally, Fergus. Turns out it wasn’t such a brave decision after all. Despite his inexperience and the fact that until then a 67hp Hyundai i10 was most powerful car he’d ever driven, after half a dozen laps he was consistently quicker than me. No spins and plenty of sideways moments corrected with deftly applied opposite lock… you’d have thought he’d been doing it for years. In a way, he has; he’s an avid user of an online simulator called iRacing and I genuinely think he’s learnt a hell of a lot about lines, braking and car control. It’s clearly not the the same as the real thing, but it had definitely made a big difference. Even the instructor described his driving as ‘considerably above average’ –  not at all bad for a first outing!

If you’re looking for some low-cost track fun, you could do a lot worse that the little Mazda everyone seems to love to hate!

– Duncan

Blyton Track Day Cars Blyton Track Day Cars

Sunbeam Motor Cycle Club – Pioneer Run

The Pioneer Run sounds like something from the goldmine rush days to me. What it actually is, is a motorcycle run organised by the Sunbeam Motor cycle club, which was founded in 1924. You can only enter if your bike is pre 1940’s. Even older than some of the Club Le Mons gang!

Becky does the Sunbeam Bike Pioneer Run

They really were built to last in those days. Will any of the Club Le Mons cars last that long!

The event has been running since 1930 and starts these days from Tattenham Corner in Epsom. Which strangely enough I once went to, after I got on the wrong train home from London and ended up on the last train of the night stuck there with two friends.

It follows a route through Surrey and Sussex, and I managed to catch up with some of them as they passed Gatwick Airport heading down the A23 on their way to their finally destination Madeira Drive in Brighton.

I love to watch the old bike and sidecars pass by. I try to head over there every year.

Becky does the Sunbeam Bike Pioneer Run Becky does the Sunbeam Bike Pioneer Run

Where else could you still see these historical machines for free on an annual basis? I’ll be back next year. I wonder if I’ll see the same people?

– Becky

 

 

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