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On track with Paul - My very first outing - A tour of the Wakefield Park circuit at the Festival of Sports Cars

Published by Paul

After reading Kai's excellent post last week, and after a bit of encouragement from other parts, I have written a post about some of my own on-track experiences. Motor racing is an expensive business, even at the most basic level, but with a little but of saving, most people should be able to get out on a track in some form or other. Rather than just talk about my most recent fun at a track day, I thought I would start with my very first outing.

After "pit crewing" for my brother at a couple of events a few years back, I decided I wanted to give it a go myself. While my Subaru Forester is not a bad tow car, it was never going to be much good on track, so after my brother sold his MG F, we decided to look for something cheap and fun to run. Unlike the UK, where a Lotus Elise or something similar can be found, there aren't too many options here in Australia. We decided on a Mazda MX5 as they are cheap, easy to get parts for and have that Japenese reliability. As a side note, in four years the only things that have broken on the car has been a radiator hose and ignition coil. So we had the car, and shortly after I had my event.

Race weekend Friday

The MG car clubs were running an event at a nearby track, the 2.2Km Wakefield Park, called the Festival of Sports Cars. I think this was an excuse for oldies (people and cars) to get together on tack without the pressure of too much competition. The bonus for me, was they were allowing people without full competition license to compete in a regularity event, and get some tuition as well. Regularity is not strictly racing. You nominate a lap time, then drive around for 5 or 6 laps and the person who keeps closest to their nominated time wins. But to me, it meant driving a car on a track! The weeks beforehand were spent putting race brake pads on the car, fitting better tyres and avoiding the temptation of painting on stripes and vodafone logos.

Wakefield Park track map
Wakefield Park track mapCredit: Wakefield Park

Race weekend Friday came around quickly. We unpacked the car, and went through scrutineering where they checked everything was bolted down, and we had proper seat belts etc. Way too quickly I was called out for open practice. My heart was in my mouth as I rolled out with a bunch of MGBs MX5s, S2000s and the like. I decided to hang back a bit and just follow the other cars around. After a couple of laps I was getting the hang of it, driving the racing line, and smoothly getting through the corners. This was fun! The session ended and I returned to the pits.

Free Practice 1
Free Practice 1

Now was the time to nominate for some driver tuition. Now, being a long time F1 fan I was pretty sure I knew the way around a race track. Also, as I went up to the meeting I discovered the tutors seemed to be all in their 60s or 70s. Yikes, this was going ot be like driving with my dad! I sort of recognized a few of the drivers names, and decided to choose a fellow by the name of Spencer Martin. I knew the name from somewhere, I just could remember where.

Alain Prost style

Anyway, paired up, we went to our cars, strapped in and headed out on track. Spencer asked me to drive around for a couple of laps to see how I was going. I went out and pushed it fairly hard, trying to be smooth and fast (Alain Prost style). We pulled into the pits and got out to swap seats. "Not bad Paul, you have a pretty good line. You need to use more of the track though and I think I can show you a few things". Yes, I thought, all those nights watch F1 has paid off. We jumped back in the car and hit the track again. The first lap Spencer took me around showing his line at about my pace. He used all the track. Drifting from the apex of each corner way out to the outside of the track. I didn't really think this was needed, we weren't going fast enough. I had been driving the car way to much street car style, leaving room for someone coming the other way. Cool I thought, I can learn from this. As we hit the main straight, Spencer says "Ok, let's pick it up a bit".

Now, the main straight at Wakefiled has a right hand kink toward the end, flowing into a right hand corner. The kink is where I was starting to brake at about 130kph, we were now going about 150...

He jumps on the pedal, little lock up, flicks from 4th to 3rd sweeps through the corner and flat on the power again

Under the start bridge and into the kink Spencer still has the accelerator flat to the floor. Have you ever been a passenger where you have tried to press the pedals to stop the car? Brake. Braaaaakkee!! Bang! He jumps on the pedal, little lock up, flicks from 4th to 3rd sweeps through the corner and flat on the power again. Why aren't we in the gravel trap?!

"Runs out of brakes does it?" Ah, not for me I say.

Heading up the hill, my hands have moved from my lap to grabbing the side of the seat. As we top the hill, my left foot hits 'my' brake pedal again, but not Spencer. Slight lift, drift out, more power, and drift into the second apex, the opposite lock as we slide to the out sided ripple stip. Bang on the power and into 4th down the hill. 4th?! I never get into 4th going down here! Flash down the hill and jumps on the brakes for the tight left hander. I relax a bit as we head towards the sweeper into the back straight. You cant got flat through here... Oh yes you can, apparently! "You could be a bit more agressive through here", he says, flat out again. Help!

Through the final hairpin, "That 4th to second is a good trick" he says. Oh! He's been talking the whole way! Um, yeah, I think i may have mumbled back. Another couple of laps and I relax a bit more, it looks like this old fella is not going to kill us both, and I can see how a real racing driver drives. I am amazed the car is staying on the track and not flying off over the grass. We were meant to do two laps together, but by the fourth time up the hill he's saying "Here we go, not a bad toy this". I think he's having fun, and so am I now. Finally we pull into the pits. Wow! This guy must be in his late 60s, and he made the car dance. What an experience. We get out of the car and shake hands. He was even nice enough to say he wasn't doing much different to what I was. "Thanks Paul, that was fun. It's a nice little car. See if I you can change your line a bit and push a bit more through the corners". Ok, thanks Spencer.

My underpowered little sports car

Did the tuition make any difference? The next morning I couldn't wait to get out for the first real practice session of the weekend. The day before I was pretty happy with a 1:25, third lap out the next day I had done a 1:19. Six seconds just by being shown what the car could do, and how to really drive around a track. Not only that, I was passing others in my little car. How much fun is this! My driving didn't end up being very "regular", but by the end of the weekend I had passed all those in front of me and was leading the group. I won't bore you with that video.

I recommend to anyone, if you get the chance to drive on a race track, take it

So that was it, a fantastic weekend, and a great introduction to motor sport. Since then I have done a few track days, and some other FoSC meetings with the MG group, including a great time and the now closed Oran Park circuit. Thanks to the lessons learnt my first time out, and a bit of practice, I've diced with Porsche Boxters, been on track with terrifyingly fast GT2 Vipers and 911 Turbos, and even embarrased a few young lads in Nissan GTRs. All in my underpowered little sports car. I recommend to anyone, if you get the chance to drive on a race track, take it. And if you do, get someone who knows the place to take you around and show you the lines. You may not be lucky enough to find an ex. racing driver, but it will improve the way you drive the track and the whole experience.

Oh, and Spencer Martin? When I got home from the weekend, I looked him up. It turns out, along with twice being the Australian Gold Star (driving) champion, he also raced the Tasman Series in the 1960s. In those days he diced with the likes of Jim Clark, Jackie Stewart, Jack Brabham and Chris Amon, driving cars like the Brabham BT11 above. No wonder he could drive, and he's still got it.

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