Academy 1 driver training day - 19th March 2005

Being somewhat new to this mid-engined, rear wheel drive, kit car driving lark, I decided that it would be a good plan to get some structured driving tuition.  This would be useful for both on the road, and for when I take part in trackdays.  After doing a bit of research, I found that the Academy Days run by Motorsport Events have had a very positive reception, both on the Westfield forums and on blatchat.  So, early in 2005 I booked to go on the first Academy 1 day of the year on 19th March, all for the sum of 99.  I hope to then move on to do the Academy 2 day later in the year.


Well, the Academy Day was absolutely fantastic!  Here is a diary of events:

Arrived for about 9am at RAF Heyford, near Bicester.  The journey down from Warwick was entirely in thick fog, and the airfield itself was swathed in the stuff too!  Signed on and then got chatting with a couple of Caterham owners, who showed a lot of interest in the Mojo.  The mix of cars at the event was interesting- a couple of Westfields and Caterhams, and a Quantum Xtreme (along with the Mojo) formed the kit car fratenity, then there were a few Elises, 911s, TVRs, Imprezas and then a TR7 V8 and a Fiesta!  All together there were about 30 cars.

At 9.30 we had the driver briefing session, where the process for the day was explained.  We were split into groups of around 6 cars, deliberately grouped by car type.  Unsurprisingly, all the kit cars formed one of these groups.  Then each group would rotate around 5 different activities during the day, followed by the grand finale of a 'normal trackday' style track driving session at the end.  Each activity was run by a different instructor, and we were introduced to each of them at this stage- all had competitive motorsport experience, in disciplines such as BTCC and Formula Ford- quite impressive.  First session for my group was:

Seating Position and Steering Control

The first part of this wasn't really relevant for my group, as most of us had fixed seats and steering wheels!  The steering control exercise was designed to get us used to not 'shuffling' the steering wheel unless absolutely necessary, and to teach us to look further ahead.  A course had been setup with pairs of 'gates' in a similar way to a ski slalom.  The offsets of the gates and the distance between them varied, so you needed to vary your speed and steer inputs.  At the end of the course was a roundabout which you went all the way round, followed by a narrow U-turn, after which you repeated the course in the opposite direction.  Once back at the start, you join the back of the queue of 6 cars and wait your turn again!

After being told to take it easy on the first run, we were then encouraged to increase our speed, whilst still staying very much in control- this was more an exercise in smoothness and reading the road ahead.  This was slightly compromised by the level of visibility at the time- the fog still hadn't lifted!  Still, it was good fun, and whilst waiting for your next 'run' it was a good opportunity to chat to the other drivers in the queue.

Driving Challenge

This was the only timed event of the day.  A coned course had been setup, starting with a slalom, then a sharp right turn into a 'brake box' where you had to come to a halt before continuing through a chicane, around a U-turn before a headlong sprint to the final 'brake box', which you ended up braking into from about 80mph.  This braking part of the exercise was the hardest for me, as there were very few features to help with learning a braking point.  I tended to brake too early, then back off the brakes, and then end up overshooting the box with front wheels locked up!  Still, good fun, and all in my group ended up being in the 34-36 second range, with me at 35 seconds.

Emergency Braking

An S-bend had been set up using what looked like a load of 'chopped in two' tennis balls, to avoid any damage when things went wrong!  We were told to brake at a defined point from about 40mph, and then try to stop as soon as possible whilst staying within the lane.  On the first runs most of us found that the kit cars were stopping almost before we arrived at the start of the S-bend!  So, I increased my entry speed to about 50mph, and then was coming to a halt about half way through the bend.

This exercise was really useful- it showed how you could continue steering through the bend once the inside front wheel had locked, but lost all ability to turn once both front wheels were locked.  Interestingly, none of the kit cars showed a particular tendency for the rear of the car to step out in this manouevre.

We then broke for a well deserved lunch!

Car Control

In this exercise a single line of cones with gradually widening spacing defined a slalom course.  We were encouraged to use the throttle to help turn the car, increasing the speed as the cone spacing widened.  On reaching the far end a U-turn brought you back down the line of cones, this time with the spacing gradually closing up.  This exercise was great fun, and as we gained confidence you could see each of the cars getting driven more enthusiastically!  It was also to see the differences in car attitude- Sean's Quantum seemed relatively softly setup, with a reasonable amount of body roll, whilst the instructor commented that the Mojo was the best car he had seen on the day for lack of body roll and precision through the course!

During this session the fog finally cleared and the sun made a belated appearance, which was rather nice.

Car Balance

The brief for this section lasted a little longer than the others, with a good discussion based around understeer, lift-off- and power- oversteer and the various ways of dealing with them.  We were then told what to do for this event- drive into the bend at reasonable speed, lift off abruptly to encourage the rear of the car to slide, and then try and maintain the slide by applying power.  This sounded like fun!

Lined up for the lift-off oversteer exercise

Lined up for the lift-off oversteer exercise

Lined up for the lift-off oversteer exercise

Once again, for the first run through we were told to not push too hard, and get a feel for the car and whether it wanted to understeer or oversteer.  Second run, go for it!  I was surprised that the Mojo was actually very docile- yes, lift-off oversteer is there for the taking, but it then needed swift re-application of the power to maintain a slide.  On my third run I ended up pointing pretty much back to where I'd come from...  Whoops!  A few more reasonable runs followed, finished off with a final run which really did put a smile on my face!  This was great fun, and I can really see the appeal of the 'drift days' that MSE occasionally run!

After this, we returned to the parking area, to give the organisers the chance to set up the track layout for the final session of the day.  During this time we were given a 20 question quiz which would count towards the 'driver of the day' award.  This was very light hearted, and during this time plenty of people gathered around to take a closer look at the Mojo.

There is a Mojo in there somewhere

A crowd gathers

Track Session

We were reminded of the rules of trackday driving- overtake on the left, only on the straights, and only when indicated to do so by the driver in front- that is the key thing!  Then we went out on the track in our groups of 6 or so cars, deliberately spaced out to try and minimise the need to pass other people.  This was my first taste of a trackday environment, and I loved it.  I could tell I was pulling gradually away from the Quantum behind me, and gaining on the V8 Westfield in front, so that was a good feeling, especially given that I still have the oh-so-hard Matador tyres fitted at the moment!  The twelve minutes or so went by in a flash, but I could feel my confidence growing, feeling more able to slide the car around a little and brake later into the corners.  The next trackday can't come soon enough.  Elvington is 2 weeks away!

Mojo on track

Mojo on track

Mojo on track

Mojo on track

Overall this was a great introduction to track driving, the atmosphere was great, organisation spot on, and the laid back environment ideal.  I would highly recommend it to anyone, including hardened trackday fanatics, as you have more opportunities to 'play' with your car: spinning in the 'Car Balance' session was very much a normality, and we were actively encouraged to push up to and beyond the limit- not what you want to be doing when other cars are around on a 'normal' trackday.

I am hoping to go on to do the Academy 2 Day at some point in the future...  Anyone want to bring another Mojo along?