Cadwell Park Race summary. 24/04/21
Location - Cadwell Park, Louth, Lincolnshire, United Kingdom.
Weather - Sunny with little wind.
Temperature - 22 degrees Celcius.
The race weekend started Friday afternoon. Having failed to book my trailer license due to Covid restrictions and the lack of owning a trailer, I had to drive the race2 all the way to Cadwell. A journey that should have taken 2:20 to complete but actually lasted nearly 4:50 due to traffic, getting lost, and stops so I could get out of the bucket seat and stretch my back. Still, this was to be my first ever proper race weekend and spirits were high.
I met Steve, whose new race weekend nickname is to be Bossman, en route at Fox Valley shopping centre, shout out if anyone saw the car while it was there! Bossman fired up his satnav and we set off to meet Dary, who has also been given a nickname without being consulted of Mr Mechanic, a few miles out of Doncaster. Again shout out in the comments if you saw the team traveling around the area.
As a three, we conveyed the rest of the way to the circuit in a mad rush so we didn't miss the track walk being led by Paul Rodison. We arrived at the circuit with twenty mins to spare. Just enough time to crack open a beer and pitch my tent while the Boss and Mr Mechanic worked out how to erect my 15-year-old garden gazebo as a shelter from the sun, or wind, or whatever the weather intended on throwing at us the next day!
Paul called everyone attending the track walk to attention and led the way down to the circuit. Attending the walk with Paul and my unruly crew was Joe and Kimberly. Both fellow rookies, both driving MX5s. Joe's car is a MK1 1.6 and our direct competition. Kimberley was running her 2.0 MK3, so well out of our league.
The track walk started with Hall bends as this was closest to the paddock. Paul talked the group through where we should be looking to send the cars during the race and offered advice on which gear we would benefit from as a starting point to learn our cars. In addition, to the many hundreds of MX5s of all ages that Paul has prepared for racing, he has also built a Mazda2 so that I have someone to race with and tested the car at Cadwell the week before so his advice was spot on and very simple in places.
Our walk continued around hairpin, through barn and onto the start-finish straight. I was stood at the top of the hill at the beginning of the straight, thinking how pretty Cadwell looked in the sunset when Paul decided it was pop quiz time. On a previous meeting with Paul at his garage, he had given me some advice on which were to be the most important corners on the circuit and he was now checking if I had retained this information. Feeling like I was back at school, I stumbled over an answer and with a little hinting got to the correct answer.... the most important corners, are those that lead onto the longest straights.
For those with now Track experience let me explain why. If you can exit a corner onto a straight with a 2 mph advantage over the car in front of behind you you will gain 1 or 2 seconds by the time your arrival at the braking point at the other end of the straight.
So to answer Paul's question at Cadwell park, the most important corners are turn 3, also known as Charlies 2, and the last corner on to the start-finish straight, Barn.
We walked on past the pits and the start gantry to turn one where everyone paused to look, this turn is a very fast left-hander which turns steeply uphill. Only by walking a track do you get to appreciate just how steep the elevation changes can be. Paul's advice was as follows: Kimberley, you can do this flat but you may want a little confidence lift to help the front grip to begin with. Joe and Neal, you have no power so you're just flat out through here.
The advice at turn 2, Charlies 1, was the same but with the option of a downshift to help get up the hill. Turn 3, critical corner time to really pay attention. Turns 2 and 3 can be linked in an almost constant radius over the crest of a hill. The advice given was changed from foot flat to a small lift and roll the car towards the apex and hard on the power again as soon as possible. The back straight isn't straight it kinks left about halfway down its length. The group had a great chat about lines and corner radius here and Paul treated us to an anecdote about when he had been out on track with Touring car driver Dave Weldon at Rockingham. We concluded that the middle of the track for the first half of the straight and the left side in preparation for the right-hander at the end of the straight for the second half would be quickest.
We paused again at the end of the straight to talk about turn 4, Park, and the braking points for each car. Park was something of an unnerving corner once driving it. It was so much faster than it first appears! Turn 5, Chris Curve was flat out and we walked on to the infamous gooseneck chicane which leads to the very steep downhill section culminating in the tight left turn of Mansfield. You'll have noticed reading this I've stopped adding the advice Paul was offering. This is because there was so much brilliantly useful content I am struggling to remember it. What does stand out at this point of the walk is Dary's comment "jeez it's so tight through here". Dary wasn't wrong.
Onto the last two corners of our track walk, the left-right of Mountain. I do remember the advice from Paul here as I used it every lap to great success, "Neal you will probably want to shift to second on the apex of the left to help pull you up the incredibly steep hill with a 90 degree right turn in the middle," which was edged by the biggest sausage curb I've ever seen on the inside of the turn!
Kimberly even stated, "and we are to keep well clear of that!" To which Paul responded, "Why would you want to do that its a lovely curb that, just go over it".
I did try going over it at one point when I was running very close behind Joe in race 1 and felt like the car left the ground. I did come over the crest of mountain much closer to joe than at any other point in the previous laps so my fear was worth it.
Leaving the track we headed back to camp where Bossman and Mr Mechanic set about the final preparations of the car for the morning, adding last sponsor stickers and checking everything in the engine bay is as it should be. Lastly, we try to fit the race wheels, fitted with their sticky MRF ZTR tyres, only to realize I have made a huge schoolboy error. I've left the narrow fitment wheel nuts at Home!
Immediately, I'm on the phone calling home. Claire picks up and being the wonderful person she is starts hunting around the house looking for a brown envelope with the correct fitting wheel nuts in. She finds them and promises to bring them with her to the track in the morning when she is coming to watch.
After the wheel issue and some choice name-calling at my expense from Steve and Dary, They both depart for home or their hotel room and I spend a night in the pleasant company of the other competitors talking about anything from racing to the future of cars.
The next morning started ridiculously early, I've not spent a night camping in many years and was woken by the bloody crows making a racket at 5 am! The dawn chorus of the birds is supposed to be one of the great wonders of life - Not when the bloody crows are screaming! Anyway, it's race day the sun is up and I am awake with time to kill, as no one else was moving on site yet, I did the only thing I could think of doing and went for a run around the length of the circuit. I finished my first lap of the day on foot in 18 mins and a few seconds. Thankfully, I would get faster than that as the day progressed.
Practice was scheduled to start at 9 am, so I got ready and started checking the car again. Mr Mechanic returned at 8 am no sign of Bossman yet, and Claire wasn't due for another 2 hours with my wheel nuts. Thankfully, Paul came to the rescue with a spare set of nuts.
We finished swapping the wheels and headed down to the assembly area when called via the tannoy system.
Paul if your reading this I still have the nuts, let me know if you want them back.
This was it, the moment of truth, the first laps in the race car I had built! Throughout my time building the car, it suffered many issues and setbacks. I regularly thought about giving up on it and selling it as scrap but here we are about to head out to the race track, me in a car I've prepared with all the other Mazdas and a gaggle of lunatics in classic minis.
The practice session was only 15 mins long, but it's enough to test the brakes and find what sort of grip the tyres and track were offering. I've never used a race tyre before this practice session and the level of grip available was a complete mind warp. My little Mazda 2 could corner at speeds my brain was struggling to allow. I drove around, trying to remember all the advice I had been given by Paul, and when I had been to Cadwell previously with my good friend and fellow racer Jack. I can now say fellow racer, how cool is that?
I was just working on my lines keeping myself to myself when I see a red speck in my rearview mirror. I round the next corner and the red speck is no longer a speck but a fully formed car about 2 inches off my rear bumper and we were heading at speed towards Mounting. I held my line and just as I think I'm going to get rear-ended and have my first race weekend cut short the red MX5 mk4 pulls out of my slipstream passes me, dives in front, back onto the racing line, and takes the corner up Mountain. Slightly embarrassingly, I must have slowed him down so much he didn't even need to brake as he made the turn.
Moments later, I was then mobbed by the minis. They were everywhere. The way they were driving they must have missed the memo saying this was just a practice session.
I finished the practice session with a best time of 2 mins 3-second.
Returning to the paddock area, Dary and I ran checks on the car testing the temperature of the brakes and tyres, the tyre pressures, looking for any excessive wear to the tyres that would indicate incorrect pressure of suspension set up. Everything looked good.
Still no Steve insight, however, it turned out he was having his own car issues back at the hotel, and with me not checking my phone I had no idea. I personally thought he was sat somewhere nice and comfy enjoying a good hearty breakfast after a good lie-in. He did eventually arrive and got stuck in loading up the live timing system for us to monitor from his phone and networking with the other competitors and support teams.
Claire arrived shortly after with her Dad, John, along with good friends Mark and Vicky who had come to support everyone in the Mazda Motorsport Championship. Claire did remember to bring my nuts.
Qualifying would take place over a 20 min session. Feeling braver than I had during the practice session, we headed out to the circuit. I let all the other racers past to make myself some clear space to go about setting my lap times. For me, the key to qualifying was to complete the mandatory three clean laps before pushing for lap times. If I was unable to set three clean laps, I wouldn't be allowed to line up on the grid for the main races. My first three laps resulted in times of 2 mins 5 seconds as I stayed well clear of track limits and off the grass like a good boy. After that, I could have a bit of fun. I increased my pace and finished qualifying in 9th place just half a second faster than Joe in his Mk1 MX5 but a shocking 4 seconds off Andrew who had brought Paul's green Mazda2 out to play and qualified 8th.
Back to the paddock for a debrief with everyone. Andrew gave me some pointers on what he was doing differently to me and It honestly was just as Paul had said during the track walk, don't brake just a lift is plenty at most corners. I had a great chat with Joe and between us, the psychological games began, each playing up the strengths of the other as we readied ourselves for battle. We continued to ready ourselves and then readied ourselves some more. Turns out that some of the other qualifying sessions had suffered stoppages dues to crashes and accidents. Not blaming anyone but Loony mini drivers and nutcase legend drivers were out on track between our events and they always seemed to have something going on.
Time for our first race! My fellow racers and I, (I really do like the sound of that phrase) were ushered down to the assembly area, where we were lined up ready to head down to the grid. I have to say this is the worst part of racing. I was sat alone in my car thinking random thoughts like did I put the oil cap back on the engine, did Dary check the torque of the wheel nuts and will I have enough fuel to finish the race? The Marshals waved us down to the grid and lined us up for the green flag lap. A lap that should be used to check if anything has changed to the circuit since we were last out - maybe a line of cement dust where the marshals have dealt with a leaking mini or similar. How any of the leaders could see anything let alone note any changes to the circuit with the amount of weaving and tyre heating they were doing I have no idea.
After the green flag lap, we lined up on the grid again. A Marshall on the start gantry holds a board up saying 1 min, then 30 seconds, 10 seconds, 5 seconds, the start lights come on, a deep breath in, the lights go out and we are racing. I thought I made a clean start but Andrew in the other Mazda2 next to me on the grid made a blinding start and shot off straight into the gap I was aiming for. He got ahead of an RX8 off the line and that's the last I saw of Andrew till we got back to the paddock. Joe in the mk1 MX5 also slipped past me off the start line. so I was dead last going into the first corner.
I tucked in behind Joe and sat there for a lap then started pushing. I've watched far too many F1 races to risk anything on lap one. Joe was noticeably faster down the straights but I could stop better and, in areas seemed to be able to corner quicker and so our on-track dog fight began. Joe pulled a small gap on me down the start and finish straight but then I pulled the gap back through turn 1 and 2. We seemed equal through turn 3 onto the back straight where joe pulled away again even when I tucked in behind him in an attempt to slipstream from him. The Mazda 2 isn't the greatest car to try and slipstream an MX5 as it's twice as tall even if I'm sat at the same height as joe in his mx5.
We hit the braking point at Park and start accelerating through Chris curve, the gap stays about the same until we get to Gooseneck. Joe brakes whereas I roll the car into the first part of the chicane, I'm traveling much faster than Joe and my car is stable. I'm now right on Joe's bumper as I dab the brakes and accelerate with joe downhill to Mansfield. I have a look down the inside of the corner but decide against having ago here. That little look up the inside has put me on the wrong line for making the tight Mansfield turn so I have to slow more than I want and lose ground to Joe.
We charge down the short straight to the mountain both hit the brakes at the same point. I drop to second gear and launch my Mazda2 left and up the hill keeping my foot pinned to the floor on the throttle, throw the car right just cutting the curb up the second part of Mountain and I'm suddenly back on joes bumper. I should have asked if joe was getting any wheel spin coming over the top of Mountain as I found myself making huge gains on his position through this section. I was gaining, gaining, then I was losing ground again as I'd hit the rev limiter having forgotten to shift to third for the hall bends.