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MALLORY PARK (27/10/99)

Early start at 5.30am, up the M1 in the pouring rain... good start. Forecast was brighter later with showers clearing. Around 15 Caterham's were present including a few superlight R's, a large sortie of mazda MX5's seemed to be gathering and around 4 other elises and 1 yellow esprit GT3 amongst a mixed batch of old and new, performance/non-performance and race-prepared cars.
Took the first session extremely careful after a very early 'off' by one of the Caterhams. Despite locking up at around 30mph on the approach to the hairpin, all went well. I was just hoping that things would dry out by lunchtime. On the second session I pushed a little harder and concentrated more on the car as I felt I was now getting to know my way around. 

full circuit :  1.35 miles     oval circuit:  1.0 miles    website:

Plenty of understeer coming out of the first bend of the Lake Esses though and managed to lock up again for a fraction of a second at the same spot before the hairpin. Also, I found it difficult to dial in the right amount of lock at the hairpin as the ground was pretty slippery and the car never seemed to bite.It was becoming clear that The Devils Elbow was going to be a very satisfying bend if the track was to dry out and I was looking forward to getting a good run run round Gerrards and improving my speed here throughout the day. 
By lunchtime things had dried considerably although a couple more Caterhams had spun turning into the S's and a Golf GTI was towed off and seemed to have executed a sudden forceful 4 wheel skid round Gerrards with its nearside tyres literally wrenched inward and off the alloys. The first session after lunch was my first real satisfying run with the dry tarmac allowing me to push as per normal. However, it was becoming incresingly obvious that Mallory was not some minor UK circuit to be sniffed at. By the end of the day, Mallory would prove itself to be the most difficlult and tricky venue that I have so far attended.



At this stage I was starting to assess my performance a little more seriously. Firstly, judging by the 8 or so other Caterhams in my group  it was obvious that my speed through and out of Gerrards was very slow. During the 4th session I started to work on this with my entry speed creeping up beyond the 60mph that it had been during the wet rounds to the cautious side of 80mph. As is customary for me on track days, I am not interested in all out ultimate speed through corners, rather the development and maintenance of a smooth and correct overall technique. Both my fellow elise partner and I  were finding the entry to Gerrards rather precarious, and the car never really felt that settled turning in here due to the surface so I reckon it will be a few visits more before I can muster the confidence to consistently turn in at speeds in excess of 75-85 mph.
Another black spot that was becoming apparent was my exit from Gerrards which was being hindered by the crest in the track which obscures the right hand edge of the track and the true exit point. I found myself nailing the throttle very late after the apex and Caterhams were always up behind me ready to overtake on the Stebbe Straight. Although this did improve as I gathered more confidence at Mallory I suspect that a bit more experience with the car and a more relaxed and finely tuned driving mood will make for more progress here.

Moreover, I found Gerrrards quite unique in its duration and it does seem pretty satisfying as you have time to settle and revel in the poise and balance of the elise and then charge strongly after the apex.


Although I once tried Gerrards in 4th, I found 3rd better for me with a little more revs to go in the vvc on the exit. So on the Stebbe Straight its flat acceleration in 4th but not for very long. I did find that quite a few cars seemed reluctant to accelerate that much up this short straight, maybe it was becuse of the earlier conditions but I did find myself being held up here on more than one occasion.

The braking point for the Lake Esses obviously became quite a bit later by the afternoon but to be honest I never really pushed it and the same goes for my entry speed here as well. The Caterhams were going into the right hander much faster with just a modest press on the brakes, although even at my slow pace I found turning in here extremely pleasurable. I certainly felt an ease and  naturalness to the S's, particularly the first bend although at times I did experience a bit of understeer coming out of the first and aiming for the shallow left hander. The S's are tighter than they look and later on I was able to correct this by turning in smoother and keeping my line of sight locked to the first apex from the end of the straight. Looking that bit further ahead never fails to tighten and tidy up my progress.

For the entire day the car felt great out of the left hander of the S's with the car close to the top of 3rd gear and the left hand wheels inch perfect to the tarmac edge. For the short straight before the hairpin I found that a little run in 4th was enough before braking nice and progressively and well in time (as the hairpin has no run-ff, just a wall so no room for mistakes).

 I don't wish to say too much about the 20/30 mph Shaws hairpin simply because it never felt right despite the fact that I knew I was getting the line right (well most of the time). This part of the track never really became secure as the drying out period saw an oil spill here (and at Gerrards) so the car always seemd to be sliding a bit and I found winding the lock on and off pretty irksome and getting the power down was always somewhat delayed. Of course a few spun here and lots of screeching oversteer from the Mazda MX5's.



The highlight of Mallory...? Well, maybe, but I reckon that a little bit of extra bottle here helps. During the morning I was taking this bend very easy but from the start it was apparent that its true speed promised to be pretty exhilarating. Trouble was that by the early afternoon I still didn't seem to be taking it too well; not enough confidence to go flat out and well wide of the apex.

After session 4 I watched another elise (LRG 111s) in A group which seemd to be absolutely flying round the whole circuit; the lines and speed of this car obviously meant that a dam good driver was at its wheel. Later I grabbed a word with the owner and it turned out that he races GT3's professionally. After explaining that his average competitive time for Mallory was 108mph (gulp !) he gave me a few tips for the Devils Elbow including lifting off just a touch on the change to 3rd to allow the car to settle for a fraction and the fronts to dig in a bit. WIth his help, and also by making my turn in point quite a bit earlier, I started to get the Elbow going.
So, 2nd from the hairpin.... a gentle squeeze from the apex then harder the more the car straightens. Up into third just before the turn-in with a slight lift then apply full throttle progressively so that you're flat to the boards come the apex. The exit to this bend is very gradual and late with a change up to 4th in the vvc at the end of the tyre wall on the rhs of the Kirkby straight, just before you nudge the rhs of track and completely straighten up.


Flat in 4th, my car was getting slightly beyond 100mph before braking. Again, as seemed indicative of the whole day, I never really pushed my braking point for Gerrards especially as I always found its entry a little scrabbly.
After straightening up, you have to cross the track over to the left for the turn in so plenty of mirror stuff here with Caterham Superlights gunning up past you out of the Elbow.



I think this day was characterised quite heavily by the initial weather and slippery conditions and also my poor energy levels which had me feeling rather tired come the last few sessions. The weather certainly set the tone for the day and I never really got close to achieving the sort of envelope within which I was operating at Brands and Oulton. Braking points, entry and exit speeds and max speeds on straights were all enhanced but only by degrees. Also, I found Mallory the trickiest circuit I have so far encountered and with an early warning by the marshalls that it is one of the worst to come off at (as there is so little run off anywhere and few gravel traps etc..) and several accidents and offs, it is no wonder that I kept it all well in line.
During my fifth session I did find myself getting a bit more competitive with the Caterhams. There sometimes seems to be a point when I feel that I have the circuit wired to an extent where I can then concentrate on keeping up and overtaking if possible. Bugger that though.. this time I just went even slower, so for the session after I eased it all back again and returned to my own smoothness and technique - much more satisfying !

Someone else obviously fell right into this trap though. During my last session I spotted a Mercedes SLK who was trying to hack it round Gerrards with the Sevens. He had looked pretty shabby all day so it was no suprise on the following lap when he slid striaght off on entry and slammed side-on into the far wall. The door was half off and the engine was steaming its guts out.. lord knows what the impact side of the car looked like. I never saw it being towed off but I bet it was a write-off !

For my last session I took Stefan out in his 190. I took it very easy of course and instead concentrated on the differences of gear changes at the higher 8000rpm and the feel of his motorsport suspension. Once again the car highlighted the defficiency of my own standard suspension but even more so this time. On reflection it was clear that my car never really felt as settled as it has done on previous track days. A few weeks after Mallory I had new rear shocks fitted on warranty so maybe this was partly to blame. Whatever the case, the final ride of the day in the 190 confirmed that my next upgrade must be the shocks and springs.

Stefan seemed to also have a very tiring day and found the circuit equally as tricky. His progress through and out of Gerrards was slower than me for most of the day, but at the Devils Elbow his car easily had the measure of mine with its long surge to 8000 in 3rd.

Overall then, a challenging and tricky little circuit and certainly where I have felt least at ease albeit partly due to conditions and incidents. But very enjoyable nevertheless and it was good to get through my first wet track day - there is a lot of learning on offer under slippery conditions although I don't think Mallory is the ideal track on which to experiment. It will be a very interesting circuit to return to to see how much better I can tackle the worrying bits. Next time lets hope its bone dry and I'll be sleeping for many days beforehand and eating half a box of weetabix for morning preparation !

this is not intended as a circuit guide, the views expressed here are not those of a "professional racing-driver" and others may well disagree


The Jackals Racetrack 1998 Richard Morris