Setting a world record in a Caterham 620R


My first thought ahead of meeting Sir Chris Hoy, one of Britain's greatest Olympians and famous owner of 27-inch thighs was, "do I call him Chris or Sir Chris?" The thought bounced around my head right up until the introduction - "Hi I'm Chris, lovely to meet you." Sorted.

Ready...
Ready...
Everyone knows what the man achieved on a bike, or at least should - eleven-time world champion, six-time Olympic Champion and second most decorated Olympic cyclist of all time. He is pretty handy behind the wheel of a car too though. Having first caught the bug at a Palmer Sport day, he spoke to Jonathan Palmer himself, who recommended that he buy something light and small, which didn't cost much to insure, and wasn't too heavy on consumables. 

Having been warned not to go for anything more powerful than a Caterham R300, his obvious choice was to buy an R400, and from there his love for motorsport developed apace. Starting with about half a dozen track days a year, during a somewhat meteoric rise, he raced Radicals, before moving on to the British GT, and then to the 24 hours of Le Mans. Even his personal car collection would make any PHer proud - his most recent purchase, a Crayon Grey manual Porsche 991.2 GT3, replaces a Ferrari 458 in a fleet including an RS6 Avant, a Caterham 620R and his wife's Golf R.

So that's how he got here, preparing to set an unofficial world record for the most consecutive donuts in one minute, but why?

Well, this year marks the 60th anniversary of the iconic Caterham Seven, so what better way to celebrate than doing as much of something in 60 seconds as possible? 60 years, 60 seconds, you can hear the PR pitch now... As Chris puts it though, "Maybe, it's just the hooligan in me, but if you get offered the chance to come to a big open bit of tarmac with someone else's tyres and hoon around for the afternoon, I could think of worse places to spend a day."

... Steady...
... Steady...
Turns out it's easier said than done. Anyone can do a donut, but getting the car rotating as close to the cone as possible proved a little more difficult. "It is a lot more technical than it looks. To be precise, to have the nose just following around the cone, there is a lot of correction you don't see from outside. It's mainly with throttle not steering inputs." After a few practice attempts, Chris finally got the hang of it and kept the Avon ZZSes of his Caterham 620R tight around the cone. In a minute he set a record of 19 consecutive donuts. A reasonable number, but one that could be matched - or even bettered - after a little practice. Or so I thought.

At Donington Park, on a vast expanse of asphalt - 42,000m2 to be precise - suitably named the 'Tarmac Lake', sounds like the perfect place to lose my donut virginity. But in reality, the surface is on a slight downhill gradient, one which the car spirals down with every rotation until it's hovering a little too close to the catch fence for comfort. There was no 620R for my go, as the supercharger makes the power a little spiky and harder to control. Instead it was time for a Caterham Academy car on Nankang street tyres.

Getting it to spin its wheels and start rotating was as simple as expected but, as for Chris, controlling the aftermath was where the issues arose. Keeping sight of the cone as the car span, my immediate response was to jerk the wheel to counter its movement. By that time, however, I had somehow spiralled quite a distance away from where I began. Feeling the car as it slid around, and using the throttle to steer instead, soon helped keep me on a tighter line though.

... Cook
... Cook
But excitement sets in quickly in these situations, use of the throttle easily gets a little too enthusiastic, and keeping a reference point is that much harder with the cockpit filling with smoke. Back to square one. Thankfully, I wasn't alone - Chris experienced the same thing when he got a ride with Ken Block, "I was sat in the car with him, and he was just going around and around and the smoke was coming in. I lost perception of where I was, the reference point went and I kept thinking I was going to be sick. Thankfully he stopped just in time, but it wasn't a great experience." At least my driving was comparable to Ken's in one way then! 

Even though my attempt wasn't in the 620R, and the cone might not technically have remained in the centre, I was happy with my final result - 10 donuts in just under a minute. A couple of days practice and I reckon Sir Chris may lose that crown... 

P.H. O'meter

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