How else should we spent a cold November morning?
The sprint season might be over, but 2016 had two more hidden gems in store – a lovely circuit, and a very talented new driver!
November 19th found us tiptoeing through mist along frosty lanes to Mallory Park in Leicestershire, my home circuit just eleven miles down the road, but one that I’d never driven. Friend and colleague Naim had a supercar driving experience booked here for early in the new year, but had never been on a circuit before, so it seemed only right that we take a look and learn our way around.
We found a really enjoyable little circuit. “Little” is the operative word, particularly in width, and it’s no surprise that it’s more favoured as a bike circuit, but the feeling is almost like a flowing B-road than a racetrack. It’s very satisfying to get into a groove and string the laps together, as there are some good commitment corners – Gerard’s needs real balance, and tipping into the Devil’s Elbow flat-out for the first time with the pit wall looming on the outside is an eye-opener!
Not such an eye-opener, though, as Naim’s ability behind the wheel. He was the eighth person I’ve sat beside in this car, and all have acquitted themselves well, but this was an absolute pleasure. When you’re giving tuition on track, you want your driver to listen & apply, give feedback, and be able to record what they’re doing to learn from mistakes. Most people are a little overwhelmed by the mental and physical work rate needed to drive quickly on a busy circuit, but here I had a fast, methodical and consistent driver who never made the same mistake twice. My highlight of the day was instinctively catching snap oversteer on some dropped coolant at about 85mph, then getting straight back on the power. Brilliant. Footage to follow!
As ever, the car was bulletproof reliable and we got 150 miles racked up – which is well over 100 laps. We also broke into double figures for bums in the hot-seat, with Nicol driving for a beautifully sympathetic session to become the tenth driver this car had seen on a circuit.
Now 2016 was safely wrapped up, it was time to consider what 2017 should hold. It was no secret that my real aim was to go racing, and in fact – don’t tell her – the E36 was only bought at all because plans to share a race car fell through and I couldn’t raise the budget on my own. Now it seemed I had three choices:
1. Turn this into a proper racing car, and run it in the Kumho BMW Championship or 750MC Roadsports
2. Sell up, and buy a ready-to-race BMW E30 320i for the Production BMW Championship
3. Accept that I can’t really afford to go racing and commit to just making a specialised track day car
It seems easier when we all know which decision I came to! But at the time, it took a month to come to the answer, with mountains of research, budgeting, calculation and consulting racers, track-dayers and friends and family alike. But by the end of the year, I had ordered a Safety Devices rollcage from the supremely knowledgeable Neil McDonald at Automac, and had my ARDS test booked to get my racing licence. Watch this space..!