Monday, 8 August 2022


 I have recently been shamed by a laundry aid. I own a thing that I call a “socktopus” although I think its real name is an Ikea Pressa. It’s a plastic body with eight legs. The whole thing will dangle from the washing line, and each of the eight legs has two captive clothes pegs on it. I use it to dry socks. I have two feet and I change my socks daily, so if I do my laundry weekly then there are two unused pegs on the socktopus. That extra leg gives me one day of leeway in my laundry schedule. If it takes me more than eight days to get round to doing it, then the socktopus is full. Hanging a few socks on the line with individual wooden pegs feels like a punishment, and I can see the disapproval in the cartoonish painted eyes of the socktopus.

Richard “slovenly” B

Saturday, 6 August 2022

Going to Your First Track Day


There is no insurance unless you buy it for yourself. You will have to sign a very comprehensive waiver. It basically means that anything that goes wrong is your problem. If your car is smashed up, or if you're injured or killed you can't blame someone else. If somebody is driving recklessly, you have to avoid them, you can't make any claim against them if they damage your car. 


You have to be fit and well and sober, and you have to be able to see well enough to drive safely. Bring your driving licence. You have to be dressed so that all of your body, arms, legs, and feet are covered. (generally this means you need to bring a long sleeved shirt, you will see some people in a fireproof race suit). Most track days do not lend crash helmets, so you will generally need to bring your own. In a soft top car it needs to be a full face crash helmet. I have only ever seen a crash helmet being inspected once at a track day. It is your responsibility to make sure that your helmet is suitable.

The Day

There will be a large car park called "the paddock", it will open early, generally 7.30am. People will start arriving, picking a place, and getting their vehicle ready. There will be cars that drive in, cars on trailers and possibly cars in lorries. There will be people doing a huge amount of preparation, and other people standing around chatting and smoking. Don't be intimidated, just get your car ready and check it over.
There will be some sort of signing on procedure. Queue up, show your licence, get your wrist band (or however it is done on that day). You will often be asked to display a sticker on your car. It's generally best on the windscreen on the nearside, but nearside headlight lens is good too. 
There may be a safety briefing or you might have already done it online. Attend and pay attention. They will explain how they wish you to drive, what the driving rules are, and how they will communicate with you.
Depending on the circuit there may be a static noise test. Queue up in your car. When you are instructed to, pull up to the test station and hold the engine revs at whatever number your are told. You might get a sticker to display, or they may just make notes.
Groups of cars will be taken on sighting laps. This will be a couple of dozen cars following a professional driver around the circuit a couple of times. Queue up wherever they tell you (this will be either the assembly area or the pit lane). Follow the car in front closely and use the same line that they do. The professional at the front knows the lines very well, we're all trying to pass that knowledge to the back of the queue. Sighting laps are also opportunity to look carefully at the circuit and to learn where the marshals will be standing. The next time you enter the circuit you will be at high speed, you are expected to know the corners and the lines and where the marshals are.
Depending on the day, they might release the cars from the sighting laps for a few high speed laps. If they do this you don't have to go. A chequered flag will tell you when it's time to go back to the paddock, but you can always exit the circuit whenever you like.
The day will then turn into "open pit lane". In this regime you queue up to enter the circuit, drive a few laps, and come back to the paddock when you're ready.

The Driving Rules

Track days are strictly non-competitive. No racing and no timing.
Always do what the marshals tell you.
Overtaking is by consent, only on the left (At Castle Coombe it might be only on the right - pay attention at the safety briefing) and only on the straights. When a faster car catches up with you don't panic.  Finish the corner you're working on. Indicate right, move your car clearly to the right and ease up on the throttle so that he slips past you easily. Open the throttle again, cancel the indicators and move back onto the racing line. When you catch up with a slower car follow him closely and stay on the racing line. When he moves over, over take briskly on the left. Be aware that he may not have indicators fitted, or he might be too busy to use them.
Most circuits operate "spin and in". If you lose control of your car then you finish your lap and go back to the paddock, no matter how deftly you rescued yourself.
When you see the chequered flag: finish your lap and go back to the paddock.
When you see the red flag: There is a hazard. Slow down (say 50mph on the straights, easy cornering speeds) finish your lap and go back to the paddock.
When you see a yellow flag: There is a hazard. Slow down. When you see a green flag, or you are passed the hazard speed up again.
When you see a black flag: There is a problem with your car or your driving. Finish your lap and report to the marshals.
Blue flag: You're holding people up, let them overtake.
Red and Yellow: Be aware of slippery surface.


The Driving

On your first track day you will follow the "club line". On the straight before the corner make your way to whichever side the next corner demands. For a right hand corner, you will be all the way over to the left in plenty of time. Do all your braking and gear changes on the straight. You will get to the entry point at the right speed and in the right gear to get round the corner. The only controls you will use during cornering are the wheel and the throttle. Make the initial turn into the corner and then try to balance the turning force and the acceleration so that you come near to the apex of the corner on the inside and exit the corner on the outside. Once you're on the straight you can open the throttle all the way and briskly work your way through the gears. The straights are much less challenging to drive, this is where you should check your mirrors and get a picture of what is going on behind you.

If you are in a powerful car it is very easy to think that there is nobody behind you. There might be someone who is much faster than you over the course of a whole lap, but who isn't as fast as you on the straights. If he catches up with you anywhere, he's faster than you and you should let him past.

Do not feed the steering wheel through your hands. Hold it at 9 and 3. Never let go of 3. Let go of 9 only to make a gear change and then put your hand straight back. You will be able to turn the wheel enough to make all the corners on a racing circuit without letting go, but your hands might be upside down. This is safer, it gives you better control, and it gives you better balance if you get shaken around in the cabin.
If the car loses grip during braking quickly reduce pressure on the pedal and then apply it again more gently.
If the car loses grip in cornering steer into the skid. If the car is rotating to the right steer left. Do not make large changes to the throttle, just ease off gently. If the car started slipping sideways and you quickly took your foot all the way off the throttle you would change the balance of the car and put more stress on the driven tyres and make the skid worse.
If you car slips away from you and you can't rescue it, press the brakes firmly and depress the clutch, like you would in an emergency stop on a driving test. If the car has rotated so far that it's going sideways, you're not going to rescue it. Do an emergency stop before it spins and you wind the engine around backwards.

The Car

You don't need a racing car to go on a track day, but the faster your car is, the easier you'll find it to keep up with the traffic. Don't go in a car that wouldn't get an MOT. The tyres must be good quality, and the same type on all four corners. If you go in the rain, then the tyres must have plenty of tread left. The brake pads must have plenty of material left. If you wouldn't trust the pads to last the next 10k miles on the road, change them before your track day. Change the brake fluid if it's any more than a year old. The brakes will be the hardest worked components and they will get very hot. Old brake fluid absorbs water, water boils, and then you've got squashy gas in your brake lines. Change your brake fluid.

Do not use the handbrake during the day. The brakes will be nearly red hot and the handbrake would clamp the disk and the pads together at that temperature - damaging both,
Your car must be completely empty. Any loose items in the cabin are exceptionally dangerous. No litter, no baby seats, no ornaments, no sat-nav cradle, no air freshener, no shopping bags, nothing.
During the course of the day: Check your tyre pressures, engine oil and fluid levels, and make sure that the wheel nuts are done up tightly.

Richard "you can do it" B

Friday, 22 July 2022

Climate Change

 On Monday I took my Caterham to Snetterton circuit. It was the hottest day sin... ever yet the car behaved very well. The coolant and oil were running over 100°C, the track was hot, the air was hot, the sun was very strong but nothing leaked out or went wrong. One of the worst bits was the temperature in the drivers compartment. When Caterham switched over to using Ford engines the exhaust moved over to the driver's side. That means that it's you who gets deafened (not you passenger) and it's you who burns your leg getting out of the car (not your passenger). It also means that the hottest part of the engine bay is right in front of the pedal box. By the afternoon putting your feet on the pedals was like putting your feet into an oven, and both my guest and I damaged our shoes. I melted the rubber sole on mine, and my guest melted the glue that held the sole on!

Richard "warm" B

Tuesday, 12 July 2022


 I don’t have a funny or well constructed story from my week off, but I will try to share a very brief incident with you. I just burned the very end of my nose. This was done while trying to light a cigarette. It was a very short cigarette, a very high flame, and a very long nose.


 One time during my career I invented a whole new way to store tree structured data in a relational database. Once I'd "invented" it and understood it I knew enough to research it and find out that it was a well understood technique.

I've recently become mildly obsessed with geodesic domes. How do you make all those triangles link together, but not end up with a flat surface? I decided that the best way to understand it was to build one, but I don't have the maths or the materials to build it from straight edges. What I did was to buy a polystyrene sphere and mark out the triangles of a "2-frequency subdivision of an icosahedron" on its surface. It was a fascinating project and I’ll do it again better and with a higher frequency.

The great thing is that since doing it I have a much better understanding of the construction and I've been able to find and understand articles that explain the theory behind these shapes. They're both simpler and cleverer than I knew, and I still don't have enough maths to calculate the lengths of the edges myself.

Richard "Buckminster Fuller" B

Thursday, 23 June 2022

Caterham Track Day Tyres

 These are my thoughts on choosing track day tyres for a Caterham. I have sets of 14" and 15" wheels. I don't know anything about 13" wheels with your low gears and ground clearance, or your tall diffs, or your tall wobbly sidewalls. I also drive my car to track days, so I'm only going to be talking about road-legal tyres.

Toyo R888-R

These are my favourite tyres, as long as there's not a lot of water. They're available in 14" and 15". They're about in the middle of the price range for semi-slicks. They have a very sturdy construction and stiff sidewalls. The grip they provide is excellent and you get quite a lot of use out of them. They're asymmetric so you can't flip them around on the wheel, this does mean that once you have worn out the outside shoulder the whole tyre is used up. The technical documentation for them says that the front suspension should have as much caster as the chassis will support. I think this is to try to get more of the width of the tyre on the ground during cornering. I have done this, but I still always wear them out on the outside.

Nankang NS2-R

These are a cheaper track day tyre. They're available in 14" and 15" They're very sturdy and have stiff sidewalls and you get a lot of wear out of them. They're directional so you can flip them over to even out the wear. I have only got on well with them when the weather is hot, when the circuit is bone dry, and when you've already warmed them up. In the cold they're terrible, and in the wet they're dangerous. What's odd is that people race MX5's on these in all weathers and they get on fine. My guess is that they will come up to temperature OK on a slightly heavier car, but that it's hard to get enough heat into them on a Caterham.

Avon ZZR

I've never used these. I believe that they're the top of the range semi-slick for our cars. I think they're 15" only. They're also too expensive, too hard to come by (I think you have to buy them from BMTR or Caterham), and I'm given to understand that they degrade thermally very quickly.

Avon ZZS

I've never used these. I believe that they're the top of the range all rounder for wet and dry. I think they're 15" only. They're also expensive and they're soft, so you don't get a lot of use out of them.

Uniroyal Roadsport 5

This is what I use in the rain. Only available in 15". The grip is pretty good, and they're pretty forgiving to drive on. They're not a particularly high performance tyre and they have very soft sidewalls. The whole car does feel rather detached and wobbly but you can corner and brake even in standing water.

Avon CR28

Available in 14" and 15". I've never used these because I'd wear out a set just getting to the track, but I believe they're the absolute best for wet conditions. They're a road-legal, soft compound, full-wet motorsport tyre.

Richard "Michelin Man" B