Curborough Sprint School - 5th September 2006
For an introduction to Curborough, please see the 2005 visit.
Having been to Curborough a couple of times before, I fancied getting some proper tuition. The sprint school is run by the Midland Automobile Club, who also run the famous Shelsley Walsh Hillclimb. Three experienced Sprint/Hillclimb competitors do the tutoring at the school, in my case these were:
The single seater machinery was not in evidence at the school, but it shows that the instructors take their hillclimbing pretty seriously!
After initial coffee and choccy biscuits, we gathered in the marquee for the initial 'classroom' section. Jim gave some background info to sprinting and hillclimbing, Chris outlined some basic rules and regulations, plus details of the special equipment needed. Finally, Simon gave some flipchart based tuition on the best lines to take around Curborough. To help us through the morning, cones had been placed at critical parts of the circuit to indicate ideal turn in points & apexes, and this was talked through to us. We were also told we would only be doing single lappers, with one double lapper at the end of the day.
Finally, the incentive for doing well was explained to us: most improved driver of the day would get a free entry to a MAC sprint of their choice. Best student of the year (i.e. best from all 3 schools run over 2006) would get free entry to the 8th October MAC sprint at Curborough, driving a Caterham provided by Caterham Midlands. It was also pointed out that the current leader from the previous two 2006 schools had actually returned to take part in the school again for the day, so the gauntlet was laid down...
We then drove the cars (25 in all, 3 with shared drivers, making 28 drivers) around to the start line and formed an orderly queue. Before we were unleashed, we walked the track in 3 groups, each group being led by one of the instructors (Chris in my case). This brought home the lateness of some of the apex points the instructors were suggesting we should aim for, with the apex cones placed at the end of the kerbing on the inside of most of corners, suggesting we shouldn't really be using the kerbs at all.
The most difficult corner to get my head around (and everyone else seemed to agree) was the Fradley hairpin, a 180 degree corner immediately before the long finishing straight. The suggested line was basically to do a wall of death around the outside of the first third of the corner, rather than doing the natural thing and turning in towards the inside of the corner. After the first third of a corner, then turn in more and head for an apex point close to the exit of the corner, getting the power down early for optimum speed down the finishing straight.
We all returned to our cars, and started the first session. From this point on the day was structured with 4 sessions, each session consisting of 2 runs. After each session we were to be given 1 to 1 feedback from each of the instructors, who would be stationed at key points around the track taking notes on our performance (but not timing us). We all waited our turn and then went out for our first run, then waited again for our second run. During the waiting times I got chatting with some of the other 'students'. I had travelled over with my friend and work colleague Steve Robinson, who brought his Westfield MegaBlade , so we got chatting with some other Westie owners to start with. Most agreed that driving the hairpin the 'correct' way was quite difficult. It is just natural to want some tarmac to the outside of you on a corner, rather than choosing to drive around the outside edge. We expected the feedback to reflect this, and so it did!
We then had our second session, followed by more feedback. Chris started referring to Steve and I as the 'lunatics', 'maniacs' or some similar description, but I think this was a reflection on our commitment rather than our stupidity!
My feedback was definitely improved. Many comments started being made about the Mojo, too, all of them positive, which was good coming from the instructors! Jim commented that I was probably the earliest of anyone onto the power out of the corners, and how well setup the car seemed compared with the only other Mojo he has seen at the school, which he described as 'a handful'... Chris commented on how nimble and confidence inspiring the Mojo looked from outside. I also started to feel that my efforts at the hairpin were getting better too, and the instructors agreed.
I must say at this point that the instructors feedback was very valuable. They had made quite detailed notes on every run for everyone taking part, but were also very diplomatic in their feedback! They came across as very friendly and approachable, which was great.
At this point it also emerged that the competition side of the event was based on points awarded by the instructors for some of our runs during the day. Jim made a comment to me along the lines of "It's a shame your fourth run wasn't as good as your third run as we were awarding points for the fourth"... Oh well!
After the second session feedback, we had lunch, followed by our final 2 sessions, for which the cones were removed from the track. This was initially disconcerting, having got used to them as visual aids! I soon got used to it though, with my second run in the first session after lunch bringing a smile to my face as I felt I had got it all together and nailed it really rather well. The instructors tended to agree that it was my best effort so far, and I was given a simple 'Excellent' comment from Chris Merrick, which made me feel rather proud.
The final 2 runs of the day went well, and I even managed to judge my braking well for 'Flagpole Corner' on the double lapper (there were a few people who out braked themselves rather a lot!).
We didn't get any direct feedback from the final session, but returned to the marquee for a debrief and the announcement of winners. Most improved driver of the day was an MGB GT owner. This was based on his improvement in scores from the early sessions to the final sessions.
It was then announced that there was a tie for the first prize of the Caterham drive. Inevitably, the chap who had been to the school previously was announced as the first joint winner. Then to my surprise, I was announced as the second joint winner! WOW! Compliments were again paid to the Mojo- I couldn't have done it without the car!
So, whilst writing this 3 days past the event, I still cannot quite believe it, and still feel on a high. I have applied for my non-race National 'B' MSA licence (£33) and need to join an MSA recognised club, but beyond that, I should get a day of competitive sprinting in someone elses car for FREE! I should be at Curborough on 8th October (assuming everything goes to plan)...
Finally, back down to earth. Much as I would love to do some more sprinting beyond this event, realistically that isn't going to happen. Firstly, Mojo is my sole choice of transport to work, and sprinting it would inevitably lead to time off the road, whether it be for a blown engine or crash damage... Secondly, although sprinting is a relatively cheap form of motorsport, it still costs money, and I don't have a lot of that to throw around. So don't hold your breath for a sprint diary any time soon...
Update: To read the Midland Automobile Club report on the School, go here and scroll down the page.
Some pics from the day: