I've long been a fan of trackdays. The massive expansion of the market in latter years has hugely increased the availability and variety of trackdays and in so doing has introduced a whole new audience to race circuits. We are blessed in the UK with some fantastic, historic venues and for many, a trackday represents an achievable way to experience the likes of Silverstone from a more 'Lewis Hamilton' eye view. With a wide variety of providers operating you can now practically pick your day of the week and select from a range of circuits; some steeped in our racing heritage, to other more modern, purpose built circuits, airfields and ovals.
As you can turn up to a trackday in the family motor, the beauty of it all is the sheer ease of access. Anyone can tip up and have a go, whereas proper, competitive motorsport involves licences, scrutineering and regulation that I've always viewed as something of a dark art. I'm also faintly aware that racing is renowned as being disproportionately expensive, and therefore I've always seen it as a serious business and stayed well clear. I'm not the only one. "Racers" can be seen dipping into trackdays (more often than not for the reasons of budget and convenience) but trackday goers have significant obstacles to overcome to get onto the track at a race meet.
The new Trackday Trophy has eroded my reasons for not making that jump. It is designed to ease the transition into competition, aimed at a trackday driver looking to the take the next step, so everything is made as easy as possible for a regular with a trackday car up to 200 bhp/ton. It is aimed squarely at me, dammit. There's the additional carrot of an endurance format, allowing cars to be shared between 2 drivers, and to be part of an existing MSV race meeting including 'proper' racecars. The first race is at Brands Hatch, and I love Brands... Sod it, I'm having a go.
My car is a BMW E30, originally a lowly 318is but it now has a dirty great 3.5 litre engine shoehorned into it. I bought it mainly to use at the Nurburgring, but it has also seen a fair amount of service in the UK, and having progressively developed the car it will be interesting to see if it is competitive. The Trackday Trophy regulations divide entrants into three categories based on maximum bhp/ton with Class C at 150 and Class B at 175 meaning I'll slot right into Class A at up to 200 Bhp/ton. This is faintly intimidating, and I've got an uncomfortable feeling that in the rain I may well struggle to keep with a sorted Class C FWD car. I first drove the car in the rain at Pistonfest at Snetterton in 2007, and may have spun it, a bit, on the <cough> sighting lap.
Aside from the rigours of an annual MoT, most track cars like mine aren't subjected to much in the way of scrutiny. The 335 is already caged and fundamentally shouldn't be a million miles away from the standard required to pass scrutineering, but MSA standards have evolved from a corporate body of evidence of people getting it badly wrong since Herr Benz first crashed into a wall in 1885. On inspection, all the shortcomings relate to safety. I need a better fire extinguisher and electrical cut-offs that can both be operated from the driver's seat or externally by a marshal, and an update of the seats and harnesses. These are all positive, constructive measures that are easily justified. I wasn't expecting a lot of tutting at my 'inadequate' cage mounting points, and it suddenly occurs to me that as the race is a week on Saturday, I better get a move on.
Although one of my seats is 'in date' I'm still mindful that in racing, overtaking isn't by gentlemanly consent. The fact that it is only entry level motorsport won't stop a world class accident, and so although I've no intention of deploying the roof brake at Paddock Hill Bend I can't entirely rule it out. Modern seat designs offer far better head restraint in an impact than my older, more open seats and so the credit card comes out again for Corbeau. All this whiplash protection in turn means I need to lower the seatmounts, and the head scratching and tutting starts again. Fortunately I've enlisted the help of competent friends to offset my notorious inadequacies with spanners; and also because if I have to pull that fire extinguisher, I'd like to have some confidence that the thing will actually function.
The Demon Tweeks delivery of bits has now arrived, first race is at Brands Hatch on 27 March and I've still yet to actually get my licence. No pressure, then...