On leaving the UK to be MD of Volkswagen Group Ireland, Simon Elliott bought a boat and christened it 'Audacious'. If other sailors knew that it was a name he was given by motorsport commentators for his outrageous overtaking on the track they'd probably give him a wider berth.
Simon lets PH's Shane loose in his van
Nonetheless, it's impossible not to be charmed by his enthusiasm, especially when it comes to vans. 'Enthusiastically' driven white vans are something we've all encountered, but Elliott takes this to a new level - particularly when the vehicle in question is his Caddy Racer.
Back in the day, Elliott's predecessor, Peter Wyhinny, started the phenomenon of racing a Caddy in the Volkswagen Cup and it was hugely popular - with the spectators and commentators. Other racers regularly complained about the clouds of black smoke it produced. Having driven it a few years back our own editor still claims to be able to taste the diesel on the back of his throat now.
That was only one of the reasons Elliott took a different tack for the 2011 season. The TDI diesel racer was, to put it bluntly, a bit of a shed. It was fine under power (so long as you weren't behind it), but back off or get your braking point wrong and it would spin like a top. Elliott was hauled before the stewards at Brands Hatch for spinning off in places they'd never seen anyone go off.
The old Caddy racer could be a bit wayward
Coincidentally, the Caddy had been replaced by a new model and Elliott had no trouble 'obtaining' a pre-production shell before it was crushed. The engine and gearbox came from a crashed Golf GTI he found on eBay. Thanks to Superchips the 2.0-litre turbocharged lump now makes 270hp and a handy 378lb ft of torque - both produced below 4,000rpm. It's quick enough to make you smile without taking long to get used to. And there's little point in chasing the rev limiter - other than to hear the sound coming through the custom made Milltek Sport exhaust that runs under the cockpit and finishes in a huge twin-exit in the middle of the rear bumper. Sound proofing? Erm, no. There's a reassuringly chunky custom roll cage though.
Keeping it all in check are three-way adjustable Nitron dampers all-round, with all the suspension hardware mounted on solid bushings and running adjustable anti-roll bars. In a break from standard road-going Caddys there's a multi-link rear suspension set-up from a Golf, again solidly mounted. Big 335mm discs are mounted up front, the rear ones much punier. There's no ABS or traction control or anything, but you do get brake bias adjustment. Given our half hour on track we'll not bother fiddling with that.
Simon's Caddy is a big step up in ability
It takes only a couple of laps to get into the groove. It's nothing at all like a regular Caddy - other than the great visibility out the windscreen - and yet it shares little with a Golf GTI in terms of the driving experience either. The van's stability over bumps and under braking shines through and, while you sit low down and there's precious little body roll, there is a nagging sensation that it's a high vehicle that shouldn't be doing these sorts of speeds.
Don't believe for a second that this van was purely a marketing exercise. That's perhaps how Elliott and his predecessor justified its existence, but it has the makings of a competitive racer. Simon never raced before he took ownership of the Caddy Racer and yet he finished well and reckons it could be a regular podium finisher in the right hands. Audacious overtaking moves are nothing new for van drivers of course but if you've got £20K burning a hole in your pocket and fancy taking those skills to the track you know who to call!