SuperPro Europe very kindly invited the 2RacingUK team to Castle Combe circuit near Chippenham. The weather and track conditions were the polar opposite to our last outing with SuperPro Europe at Oulton park back in January. On this occasion we had warm sunshine, a warm gentle breeze and not a cloud in sight, perfect.
The aim of the trip south was to provide unequivocal evidence that handling and chassis set up makes for more fun and driver engagement than point and squirt power.
If you were to pick cars at random to attend a trackday, you wouldn't have come close to the eclectic variety of machinery in attendance at this event. To make the description simpler I'll split the attendees into three groups.
1) The unobtainable. Consisting of machinery over £100k, over 600bhp and wearing tyres so wide all four of our Mazda wheels could be hidden behind one of theirs. This was the Radicals Maclarens and Ferraris
2) The turbo barges. With highly tuned, highly stressed engines. These cars where lightning quick down the straights but trash through the braking zones and into the corners. Here I'm grouping the Audis, BMWs, VAG products and Ford St range.
3) The drivers machinery. Here you'll find the cars set up for proper thrills and not to distract from the inadequacy of the drivers nether regions. Here are the low to medium budget, moderately powered road and circuit racers. These included a Mini Challenge cup car, a Citroen saxo, our little Mazda2 and a bike engined Westfield that sadly broke as it was being unloaded from its trailer.
Being a racing driver I like to get half my excuses in before taking to the track and then more excuses after leaving the track. Especially if we have an off circuit excursion or an impromptu meeting with a gravel trap. Thankfully there were no excursions or meetings today.
So, pre track excuses. As a team we haven't driven a single lap around the Castle Combe circuit. I had tried to watch the YouTube videos of onboard footage to try and familiarise myself with the general layout of the track but I'll admit I got distracted by the many crash videos of cars having trouble over Avon rise.
Second excuse, not knowing the circuit I opted for a conservative set up which held the car back a little.
Ordinarily I'd let other members of the team drive for the sighting laps but as this was my first time at the circuit I took the honour for myself with first time track driver Sam in the passenger seat. The first surprise as we pulled out of the pitlane in convoy behind the safety car was how wide the track is. I had always thought our normal playgrounds of Oulton and Cadwell were nice and wide but the black top at Castle Combe looked to be wider then Silverstone. Its huge!
We also noted how featureless the approach to a number of the corners was. Yes there were cones out to act as markers but there wasn't much else. on the outside of the track was either a wall of concrete or a wall of green trees.
Castle combe in essence is a large circle where even the straights aren't actually straight but curves of differing radiuses. These curves intersected with very fast, flowing corners and chicanes which are also exceedingly quick.
After completing the sighting laps I headed out on track again in the drivers seat but this time with our host Colin in the passenger seat. We gradually built up speed and played with various racing lines as we lapped round the track. Turn one "Folly" was nice and easy. foot flat, let the Koni suspension weight up so we could lean on it and tuck the nose of the car in to the apex. Turn 2 known as Avon Rise was much more tricky. Its a bump in the track that I can only liken to going over an old stone humped bridge. The sort you normally find in a picturesque little village where it look nice and quaint. Avon Rise is not quaint. At first we tried taking the normal sweeping racing line but this required use of the brakes just before the peak of the hump which unsettled the car. This did however prove to be a great test for the SuperPro control arms and rear axel bushes. Although firmer then a standard rubber bush the SuperPro kit is compliant enough to allow the car to flex and grip over undulations. This meant any unwanted slip could be quickly mopped up with either steering or throttle input.
By the end of the day we had worked out the fastest way through Avon rise was to spear the car in at the apex. Use the bump with a quick lift off the throttle to pivot the car with as little steering input at possible then just apply the power and let the MRF tyres drag us back in line ready for the deceptively fast turn 3. A right hander with a very late apex. The width of the track was the challenge here, the difficulty being gaging the turn in point. We tried running deep into the corner and turning tight to get the best exit possible but this just killed momentum. We tried turning in at what felt like the normal racing line. This felt fast but again killed momentum. The solution was a mid corner lift which pressed the front tyres into the track giving us the grip we needed to reach the apex without sacrificing the cars forward momentum.
A very quick blatt down a strip of curvy straight and we were at the first chicane known as the Esses. Sam and I quickly sussed this right left sequence out. Just drive at the first apex brake hard just before you arrive let the car pivot as shift from third to second to keep the revs high and the engine in the torque band then flatted the go pedal as soon as possible. the track is so wide on the exit that applying the throttle really early is key.
Turn 6 of "old Paddock bend" and 7 of Hammer down are just flat out kinks that make the approach to turn 8 "Tower Corner" more interesting. Driving towards Tower Corner is peculiar as it looks like your driving straight at a wall. Literally, there is a green stripe of grass as a token gesture to a run off area before the tyre barrier. Fortunately there is a corner to navigate and this one is a traditional brake, down shift and power out towards the next chicane called Bobbies.
Bobbies is tighter then the Esses earlier in the lap and the track felt as though it was at its narrowest here. We tried the traditional brake turn in and power out but it proved to be much faster to trail the brakes to the middle of the right left combination and give it the gas from there all the way down to turn 10 the last corner on the track named "Camp Corner", which we could circumvent with nothing but a lift.
Besides a battery which is struggling to hold charge the car performed almost faultlessly. The overall set up of MRF tyres, Koni dampers and SuperPro control arms and rear axel bushes is working brilliantly. As a package it makes for a very compliant car that gives the driver great confidence to really push hard and enjoy the experience of the day. Sam proved this point coming back to the pits after his turn in the drivers seat. He removed his helmet to reveal he was grinning more broadly then the Grinch with a dastardly plan. I didn't manage to get a full debrief from him but he did say he'd had "epic fun".
Since Colin's last day out in the race 2 we have replace the front control arm bush for a different version provided by SuperPro Europe. Although I'd given feedback on the change from our Snetterton event. Colin also picked up instantly on the fact that the steering had lost its dead spot at centre. Any steering input is now instant and much more linear in its progression then previously when he last drove the car.
The SuperPro kit like everything else on the car is designed to be used on the road as well as the track and is a great way to give your car a much more dynamic feel.
So how did we fair against the turbo barges? Pretty well. Owing to the out right speed of the circuit we were on the backfoot in our challenge to prove power isn't the final word in performance. All our drivers had no trouble gaining on the every car including the unobtainables through the braking zones approaching the chicanes. We could carry much more speed through the fast corners then all the Audis, Fords and Renaults. We were however unable to exit any of the corners with enough speed to give us a lasting advantage down the long curvy straights to the next corner. Half way down each straight the power of the turbo barges would over come our advantage and they would either creep away pulling more of a gap or ease past us only for us to be close enough to their exhaust to singe our front bumper as the barges down shift and spat fire in the braking zones.
I'd also argue that we did have more fun. We could use all the power we had available. We were able to complete far more laps then the highly strung turbo engines without the need for long spells cooling the car.
We were parked very close to a newish Fiesta St in the paddock and followed them onto the circuit for our second session. We managed to stay close to this "opponent" over the cause of a lap. Gradually however, he did start to pull away. His progress was cut very short however as his motor gave out in a cloud of blue smoke. He limped back to the pits where the marshals deemed it necessary to dowse his engine bay with copious amounts of fire retardant powder from their extinguishers. This engine melt down most likely had nothing to do with our pressure but I'm going to claim it did anyway.
You'll be seeing more of Colin and the SuperPro Europe team this year as we make plans to continue to build on our partnership through 2022 and into 2023. All being well we might even manage to put Colin in the grid for a competitive sprint against Sam. Not that they are aware of this yet.
...... Hi Colin, Hi Sam. Your going to a competitive motorsport sprint to see who's faster.........
As always. Thank you so much for taking the time to read this blog update. Feel free to leave your feedback or ask questions in the comments below or message the team directly if there is anything we can help with.
Here's hoping to see you at the first race of the season 16th of April as part of the BRSCC Clubsport Trophy, which will also be live streamed on the BRSCC YouTube channel.
All parts mentioned in this update are listed in the 2RacingUK webstore.
Race Team Manager