Kutuka were at Cadwell this weekend for the annual shakedown, but this year it is with a difference, in that we were quite blatantly testing. Quite frankly, anyone who hasn't yet cottoned on to the idea of booking an open-pitlane trackday in order to test your race car, wake up and smell the over-priced trackside coffee.
£149 for an open-pitlane trackday is cheap running. A test day is now what, £235 for four 45-minute sessions? Not great if you're chasing a problem and want to make changes, wasting vast amounts of the day and always being out of session when you're ready to try something. The unlimited run, come and go as you please running of these trackdays for 2/3 the price does make a lot of sense.
So Kutuka ambled over to Cadwell for a two-car split test. Comer's F class car "Katrina" and our hire car "Vanessa" for a two-driver test splitting the day into two halves, one car in each, for the price of a single ticket. Try doing THAT on a test day and watch the bill climb to over double the price of this. Yes, we have to put up with the trackday rules and the people who can't use mirrors, but use your head and find your gap in traffic to lay down some hot laps, and it's chirpa chirpa. (cheap cheap!)
First up was the battered wife, Katrina. She has just come back from more extensive surgery than we'd had in mind, the opthalmic surgeons had called in the maxilo-facial boys when they started poking about, and recovery was more protracted than expected. By which we mean a windscreen swap had revealed a need for extensive welding. Katrina's test was unusual, in that we took her without her owner and pilot, but then we have little interest in what the actual driver of the car wants, the car gets what it needs and then we tell the organic component what he now has. Much simpler that way.
A morning of diagnostic driving gave us a checklist of issues we can now correct before the first race, and we moved to Vanessa for the afternoon stint. She was sporting the big brakes and Bear's home-made pedal box all removed from Christine to test on the more standard machine. Vanessa is our best-handling and neutral machine, which makes her an excellent test-bed for data gathering, if something changes her dynamic balance it's something you just did to her, rather than her underlying traits. How we came up with such a good baseline we still don't really know, but we're sure as hell going to use it now we have it.
The open-pitlane setup paid dividends here, as we were able to swap master cylinders at will, come and go to test the results, being able to wind on the brake balance from in-car on the fly also a very useful addition to the array of tricks she sported for the test. Eventually a balance that suited both test dummies was achieved, though there were still issues with the level of effort required on the pedal, the over-firm pedal not allowing a lot of communication and costing a lot of time in the braking zones. But with the brakes actually working properly, and a cure for this issue now clear, we moved to phase 2 of the test, 888 tyres.
Neither of us have ever run a proper tyre before. We've had the R1R for 2 years, and whined about it extensively in terms of performance uplift compared to price hike. We made the R1R work for us, but were never happy with the wear rate, but we've been told at length by those who should know that there is little real difference in performance between R1R and 888. Well, we decided to find out, and bought a part-used (ie screwed) set off Ebay for no money, on the basis that even a worn set would give us some data.
We slipped on the rubber, and prepared to give Vanessa a right seeing to. She wasn't expecting anything as hard as this, in fact it took us a little by surprise. 888s are awesome. There is no comparison to the R1R, it's another level. Our conclusion was that anyone who can't find more grip on the 888 wants to take up a different hobby.
Blocked by trackday traffic and unable to set a hot lap, Vanessa on the 888 was cruising around at the sort of pace that would make your toes curl. The comparison to R1Rs was that there was no comparison.
Fitting the 888s was such a revelation that we did start to find the limit of trackday testing, the closing speed on the trackday heroes on this tyre so great that we were catching three cars per lap, cars that were 20 seconds ahead were becoming problems before the end of the lap, and setting a proper hot one became an issue. 1.48s with ease, in traffic, with an odd brake pedal. The car is now rather swifter.
Certainly the feel of the thing, the turn in and corner exit power was transformed. Bear was a wreath of smiles and bubbling excitement, neither of us has ever had this sort of grip before, and we are in unanimous agreement, which is rare. Bye bye R1R, hello 888s. Same sort of cost, much more grip. Tyre pressures were also amazingly stable, the surface showed no signs of the tearing or deformation we're used to seeing, so it might have been a limited test, but it was most encouraging.
Sadly, as the traffic cleared and she readied herself for a hot one, a high-rpm misfire, which worsened into a sudden engine cut as I came into the braking zone at the foot of the mountain. A nifty piece of parking resulted, as she was able to carry enough speed to coast all the way up the mountain, up the road back to the paddock, and park on the grass at the top, though I must confess threading a dead-engine car through the tyres at sufficient speed to do this was a little sphincter-puckering, but we managed therefore to get it off the track and not stop the session.
Diagnosis was swift, the timing ring had sheared off the back of the crank pulley. Vanessa is our only crank-sensor XJS, and of course it is therefore this car that has the problem. Fortunately, at 4 in the afternoon, with the test done, who cares?
A successful day for data gathering, and at £174 for a 2-driver 2-car open pitlane test, bargantous.