Posted: June 27, 2019 Read time: 10 Minutes
"You can train till you're blue in the face and have a totally empty wallet, but until you’ve faced popping out of the pit lane into a live race situation, nothing can prepare you for it."
This is the second part of a two-part blog series. Click Here to read Part One.
Spending time with the CATDT team over the years, training, helping to put together training programmes with them for engineers meant I was already a few steps up the ladder with car control and applied knowledge of vehicle dynamics, behaviour and orientation on tracks. But nothing prepared me for what lay ahead.
You can train till you're blue in the face and have a totally empty wallet, but until you’ve faced popping out of the pit lane into a live race situation, nothing can prepare you for it, no stories, no pictures or videos will ever replace that feeling of total fear of not wanting to embarrass yourself, fall off the track, bend the car or right at the top of my fear list – let everyone down in the team with slow lap times and losing places. This was my worry. It played on me all through qualifying night, whilst I lay in bed and also during my first stint.
The numerous safety car sessions exacerbated my worry - competitors were not respecting the track, the wet conditions as well as their fellow drivers. In my monster 155 minute first stint, I think I had 6 or 7 safety car restarts -they are terrifying - you can’t train for those! Being the fourth car behind the safety car with 95 cars behind you is intense, you have to make the restart count and be brave enough to get your elbows out and protect yourself.
I was glad to get my first few hours out of the way and we’d made it up to position 42. Did I enjoy it? No, not really as I had too much to deal with and could only concentrate on surviving and not enjoying the moment. I handed over to Dave and let him work his magic. Phil would be up next, then Colin, then me again, just as dawn was breaking, or a bit later if there were more SC sessions. Now sleep, or try to sleep just after midnight, still buzzing from adrenaline and relief that I’d survived, unscathed! Not one bang, touch or thump.
04:33am, a message from Jo via all conceivable ways of contacting me to say I needed to be in the garage for 04:50am. Up, dressed, showered, togged up and in the garage by 04:50 – I impressed myself as normally it takes me 17 minutes to get everywhere to “check in” when I wake up. Colin was out on track, quick Facebook live update for everyone to wake up to – time for some caffeine and porridge.
Where’s Colin? There’s a SC on track, where is he? The car marker from the live feed had stopped, he was nowhere to be seen. Sinking feeling. Matt, Sam and Jake are now on high alert as we’re waiting to see what happens. Colin has been towed back to the pits with major front offside damage. A car that was sliding away suddenly hooked up and “reversed back” into Colin. He made the right decision i.e. aim for where the car used to be and you’ll get through, don’t aim for the gap. But physics played a cruel trick and took him out. We had lost our hard-fought position #36.
We’d already lost 20 minutes and been given a 3 lap penalty for assistance. Matt and the team worked relentlessly to get us back out. New lower wishbone, wheel, tyre, steering arm, driveshaft and drop link were fitted, along with a visit from Mr Hammer plus enough gaffer tape to attach an elephant to the wall for a week. 1.5 hours were lost in total and we dropped from #36 to 79th.
I was ready to get into the car earlier than planned, but it was time for my engineering and evaluator head to kick in and make sure the car was safe. Fuelled and pushed out to the pit lane, one lap of the paddock to see if things still worked and nothing seemed too scary with the car, no clonks, crunches or anything. Only issue – no ABS, the sensor had got damaged in the impact. This was going to take every ounce of skill I had as someone who specialised in braking systems to get this car round the track in the wet with no ABS or EBD.
The balance of the car was going to be totally out. After a few laps learning new braking points and making sure braking was done in as straight a line as humanly possible, (otherwise a wheel or axle would unload, causing the front or back to lock up), the track finally started to dry. My confidence with the car grew and every time it hooked up mid-corner, I knew where the new limits were.
My times tumbled. Applying every scrap of knowledge gained from Colin, Phil and Dave and using my engineering evaluator head, I pushed as hard as I could. Times dropped from 3:34 a lap, then to 3:28, 3:21, 3:16, 3:14, 3:12, 3:11 I’d matched my fastest time ever around the GP circuit. Then 3:10.5 popped up, hang on, what’s going on? 3:10 dead, 3:09.7, 3:09 dead, then I squeezed into the 3:08’s. I’d somehow found 2.5 seconds plus, off my fastest time ever with a damaged car and no ABS. I was clawing back at our lost places. I was so happy with my drive. Handing over to Dave was a major brain dump of the last 154 minutes of driving. Do this, do that, don’t do that and stay away from the wet part of the track. I enjoyed that – this is what I was here for, enjoyment and proof I could be competitive. It was made even more fantastic by the fact I’d got a damaged car round and, nursed it back to competitiveness after an amazing rebuild by the Track Toys guys. This is racing!!
The Track Toys team working their magic
It was down to three of us now to bring it home - Colin had to pull out as he’d damaged his shoulder in the impact. Car comes in, Phil jumps out, I’m back in and on a used set of tyres we need to make last and not overdrive - we want to give Dave a fresh set for the end of the race. Matt knows I’m kind on tyres whilst now banging in good place grabbing times.
“Do NOT do anything stupid – find a time, bring it home, don’t lose places” was all that was going through my head, at which point I fell off at Brooklands. I was forced wide onto some debris that caused the back end to step out - I wasn’t quick enough to catch it but survived. Didn’t enjoy that. A few laps later, I was pushed off at Stowe towards the kitty litter, survived that - phew! Off again at Brooklands, rear tyres are shot. Driving and lines must now be modified on these two corners.
Pit board comes out after what felt like an eternity “Fuel +5”, I’m sweating and fighting hard to stay out of trouble, put in consistent times and not go backwards down the board. My breathing is getting heavier, my grip is tightening on the wheel which is not helping - relax and bring it home - bring it home. Locked in a battle with a few cars and I’m not giving up, I will get past safely. Heart pounding, pit board countdown is coming down. Then the last board comes out simply saying “IN”. My concentration level is up again as this will be a hard lap. I don’t want to stop but my lap times are increasing as my tyres have now gone - it is the right decision.
Down the pit lane and stop at our garage, out the car, brain dump to Dave to allow him to bring the car home. "Make sure you still brake in a straight line, slight tyre rub on hard left-hand corners, they’re getting aggressive, again you must take new rubber, they’re shot." Dave leaves the garage - I am done. My driving time has come to an end in this amazing weekend that we have had.
Live TV stream commentator: “Ooh, someone’s, now… is he ok, has he had a fall? No… it’s just the sheer exhaustion, you can just see, bent over… This is what endurance racing does to drivers irrespective of their level”.
Watch the moment captured on the live broadcast below.
I’m now sat on the floor in a heap, trying to slow my breathing down, exhausted, tired, nothing left to give, trying to take stock of what I have just achieved in my automotive career and now, my new racing one. I’ve gone from “just” an engineer keeping people safe, to learning how to drive competitively with CAT Driver Training. My first test sessions, my first qualifying session in the dark and wet, three mammoth driving sessions with safety cars, accidents, panel bashing, wind, rain sunshine, damaged vehicle and the support of the most fantastic people I have had the honour and privilege to work with.
I can’t get up, the emotion has got me, the magnitude of what I’ve just achieved gets me, I can’t talk, breathe and the tears of happiness, relief, pressure and stress are coming out. I can’t stop myself, I’m not coming out of my helmet, I’m staying in here. I can’t let people see me like this. Too late, Colin has knelt beside me and given me a massive hug saying “I bet you’re glad we had that chat last year, aren’t you? Well done, a fantastic achievement.”
Someone then asks if I’m OK, “What’s wrong?” and I hear Colin say that “He’s having a moment”. What a bloody moment it was. Matt kneels next to me and with arm round my shoulder, congratulates me on getting the car back to being competitive and giving the others the confidence to drive it hard again. This does not help, I’m now a teary, snotty mess in my helmet. I have to get up, my eyes are stinging and my bum hurts from being on the floor. Neil helps me up as the exhaustion properly kicks in, which is what was caught on camera. Colin is there, Jo, Jen, Neil, Matt, just smiling at me and talking, I can’t take it in properly. Eventually, I come out of my helmet just as my family and work colleague walks through the pit garage door and ask why my eyes and face are red!
Dave brings the car home in 57th, not what we wanted, but we finished. We did it and after the repair we weren’t sure if we’d do it, but we did. If our calculations are right, we actually think we’d have made it into the top 20, given the times we were posting and our pit stop strategy. But hey, we made it home.
Watch Jo's Facebook Live showing the cars return at the end of the race (see how many you can spot minus a windscreen)!
We had just completed a 24-hour endurance race. I’d driven in my stints, more than a season of racing time for some other championships and faced absolutely everything that could be thrown at me, minus a plague of frogs and raining brimstone! Phil summed it up nicely “if you can do that, and what you’ve achieved with us, you can race anything!”
The CATDTC1 drivers. From the left: Nic, David, Colin & Phil
Entering a race is not something to be taken lightly. Everyone wants to do it, everyone has a childhood dream of being a racing driver and generally, only a minority that achieve it. The C1 racing experience is a way to make it accessible to all and for that, I’m extremely grateful. It has provided me with so many memories, new friends - people who are now my racing family and helped take away that self-doubt of “can I do this and be competitive?” Accepting me into their world, we achieved something very special. But, it was also only made possible by investing time with CAT Driver Training to help me prepare for our endurance race.
The knowledge that Colin shared along with Phil and David who have all been through the process, the 6-day Race Academy Programme, is paramount to being safe out there on the track, along with being competitive and respectful to those around you.
So, you see, it is possible to take an engineer and re-programme him to be a racing driver. For anyone with doubts about having a go – do it. Grab it by the horns and make it happen. I hope that I’ll be out again soon as I’ve got the racing itch now, and it needs scratching!
Jo said this:
Amazing to have shared this experience with you Nic and such a joy to witness the change from fear, trepidation, apprehension, to ‘I can do this’, ‘I did this’ and ‘I'm so glad I have done this’. Life is about experience and what a one this was.
"The best decision I ever made! I have trained with CAT Driver Training twice now & looking forward to coming back in the future. I trust in their expertise & there is always something new to learn, a habit to be explored & an exhilarating experience that pushes me to my limit & builds confidence in myself & the car. The knowledge, experience, understanding, patience, compassion & professionalism of the team are just some of the qualities that make them unique & I highly recommend them."
"Performance Driver Track Day Course I participated in the course arranged by Porsche Club GB and very happy to give 5 stars all round. The team has put a huge amount of thought and effort into making the facilities and training Covid-secure, which is indicative of their professionalism. I found the whole day both fascinating and a lot of fun, in briefings, on the various driving segments, and chatting with the team and other participants. I was genuinely in awe of how much Colin moved my theoretical and practical driving on, and what he got me to get the car to do in the space of one day - always building confidence, encouraging me to explore my limits, while not pushing me beyond them. Can't wait to return!"
"I have had a reasonable degree of driving training over the years as am ex police officer and advanced police driver. I took the performance driver driver training to learn about track driving, and found it excellent. My instructor was Paul who was fantastic. The training built up during the day and I learnt so much about the capabilities of my own car and although I was nervous about using my own car realised afterwards it was the best thing for me to do. The instruction was extremely informative from an engineering perspective coupled with driving, friendly and tailored to your individual needs and abilities. At no time was I encouraged or pushed to do anything I wasn’t comfortable with. It was extremely professional throughout. I would thoroughly recommend this to anyone whatever your standard of driving."
"Truly exceptional In my experience, driving instruction has generally consisted of being repeatedly told that you are 'doing it wrong' accordingly to some unknown standard or principle that you had hoped to learn about by taking said instruction. Then there is Colin. It is not that common to find an individual who genuinely understands both people and engineering. It is incredibly rare to find one who can actively apply both to deliver a sustained behavioural change. Colin adapts his teaching style to the way you learn. For me, he lead with the WHY of the learning point, grounded in physics and engineering. We'd then put it in to practice, often doing several variants of an excercise to explore how the car reacts to differing inputs, providing valuable context for what good feels like and reinforcing the learning point. Each point built on the previous ones, layering up and coming together in to a whole, one far greater than the sum of it's parts. Subtle changes to huge effect. I was concerned on the day that the learnings would rapidly fade, but I have found that because Colin has taught me an understanding the lessons have persisted, even if I do still need some more practice (48 laps of the Silverstone GP circuit last Thursday definitely helped!). Add to this the fact that Colin is great company and an absolute pleasure to spend time with, and you have one of the most positive learning experiences I've ever known. Truly exceptional. I could not recommend more highly. Thank you!"
"Superb day with calm knowledgable and professional guidance from Paul. Thank you Paul. The course is so well structured consistently building ability and knowledge in complete safety. I fully recommend anyone wishing to increase their knowledge, confidence and experience to attend."
"Far better than any track day you can imagine! There is a massive difference between a typical driver experience or track day events and CAT driver training. The main difference is that you drive your own car to the full extent of it's capabilities, and your own, while being given expert one to one tuition by brilliant trainers Colin and Paul, who come from a Motorsport and auto engineering background. Their combined domain knowledge of engineering and competitive Motorsport allows them to explain the physics of why the car behaves as it does and how you can exploit the cars characteristics for maximum performance., in a safe fun environment. The frankly brilliant experience on the track is matched by the quality hospitality hosted by Jo, and classroom training, which prepares you for what you will experience on the next stage. These stages include such delights as the ring, where you will drive with no hands on the wheel at 100MPH, providing you with a clear understanding of the fact the car finds its own balance , and my personal favourite the alpine stage, with hairpins a plenty and 'character building' drops and rock faces. I have to admit to being slightly 'corner shy' before the training, however after some brilliant coaching from Collin urging me to 'stay on the gas, stay on the gas!' I am now far more confident and safe in the twisty stuff!"
"I don’t want to make this review too long and detailed, so I think the best way to summarise it is this: I think I possibly learnt more in one day that I’ve ever learnt before and the skills are relevant to all driving and can be practised daily. On the way home, I drove the ‘long way’ just to practise and feel the difference in the attitude of the car. I used to do this now and again because there are a few good straights and it’s nice to give the car a ‘blast’. This time, I drove that way home because I wanted to drive round the corners properly."
"Extremely professional driver training. Period. I wanted a course that would deliver a very high level of training, in an organised and professional manner. The course exceeded my expectations in every way, I wish I had started working with CAT Driver training years ago. There is no doubt that if you are looking for absolute top level training, there isn't anywhere else to look. Somehow they manage to follow a very tried and tested course structure, yet it is tailored all the way along to meet your requirements and current skill set. very impressive. I cannot rate this company highly enough. I have more dates booked already."
"Very structured training Paul was very clear and methodical in his coaching. The training technique was built up in various sections during the day and all came together like a jigsaw puzzle in the end for a great result."
"It's hard not to be enthusiastic about the lasting impact CAT Driver Training will have on your approach to driving. I spent a day with Paul exploring the potential of my new vehicle. The coaching is clear, methodical and structured to allow you to go on learning for a full day without overload. The training venue is superb and quiet enough (on the day I attended) to allow uninterrupted driving. Brilliant admin team too. Absolutely 5 Star!"
"Everything you read about these people is true and i cannot really add anything apart from clicking these five stars and to say they are truly incredibly knowledgeable, professional and nice. I did the Performance Driver Track day in my amazing six-month-old 911 GTS 4 and I now know so much more about my car and myself. I was in a group of six people all with different driving skill levels from the complete novice (me) to regular track day enthusiasts and the day was a journey of discovery for everyone. I am so pleased to have done it."
"First class performance car training day. Many thanks to Paul & your great team for a really enjoyable training day at Millbrook on Friday. I learnt a lot more about the capabilities of my F430 and found many new limits! The attention to detail in the delivery of the training was exceptional. I would recommend this to anyone with a performance car who wants to fully understand and enjoy their vehicle."
"An amazing day. If you drive you should go to CAT. If you have a performance car you MUST go to CAT. A day with CAT will transform your driving, you it be safer on the road in any situation and it will be the biggest performance upgrade your car will ever get. I learned so much in one day without any pressure, effort or stress. Colin's coaching is world class, he makes it simple / interesting to understand and easy to absorb / remember. The whole day and and everything leading up to it are well organised by the team. They REALLY care that you have a great day and TOTALLY deliver. You owe it to yourself to go."
"Absolutely Brilliant! The best advice I can give: believe every one of the glowing reviews on CAT! I approached CAT because I wanted to feel more comfortable with my newly-purchased BMW, the first rear-wheel drive car to be used for every-day driving after decades of FWD cars. I wanted to find out what the car's capabilities are, what it would feel like in extreme conditions, understand what it was telling me at the limits and, generally to get advice on my own technique. I wasn't a novice, having done plenty of track days and laps of the Nordschleife but I just knew that there's always plenty more to learn... A day's Performance Driver session met every one of my targets, and then more! Paul was a patient, logical and technical instructor who took time to explain what would happen in each manoeuvre and then fully debriefed that stage so that I not only knew what the car was doing but also understood what effect on the car my own actions were having. The proof of the pudding was in the final stage - setting consistent timed laps of the handling circuit. I'd worried a little about this all day as I'd have described my driving as enthusiastic but perhaps not consistent. The results were close to unbelievable to me! By remembering all that Paul had demonstrated and explained to me I surpassed my wildest dreams. Fantastic! As a result of this day, I now have more belief in my ability to read what my car's saying to me which brings confidence and relaxation. The car and I are now a team, rather than me just sitting there making it go down the road. I can highly recommend the whole CAT experience. Professional, friendly, patient, technical when required and not afraid to challenge when necessary. Oh, and the lunch is good too! I wish I could afford to go back every month..."
"Achieve your driving goals here! Can't ask for more than that! The entire experience was a positive and pleasant one. Everyone I met at CAT Driver Training contributed positively to the day, regardless of the role, so thank you to Jo, Lynne and of course, Colin! CAT have existing programmes for teaching anyone the fundamentals and advanced techniques of how to drive fast, but Colin can identify really quickly what you can and cannot do, and is quick to understand how to best use your time. I went in with my own unique set of requirements which slightly 'broke' the programme, but it was no problem at all and the most impressive thing was that I achieved my goals by the end of the day! I wanted to understand my car, be able to find and drive at the grip limit, and also understand how to be a faster and better driver. A lot to fit into a day, but Colin managed it in the most efficient way possible, and we achieved them all! Colin has great insights into vehicle dynamics, as well as the human machine behind the wheel. He understands why we sometimes don't function as optimally as we would like! His ability to listen to you, translate your input and isolate what is not working with your current technique helps focus the day on exactly what needs attention. This focus, along with Colin's 'feeling' of how the package of car and driver is behaving, makes him uniquely qualified to provide great direction and input to help you become the best driver possible. A lot of people talk about it, but very few can translate the inputs to a specific process for you to follow as a driver. The process is all about starting with foundations and building on them. It doesn't always seem to make sense, but trust the system - it all comes together in the end! The time is not cheap, but it will help you achieve your goals, so how do you put a price on that!? Thank you CAT Driver Training!!
"Best In Class Driver Training The training provided by Colin at CAT Driver training is superb. I am lucky enough to attended training days with Porsche, Lotus, Aston Martin and the day with a Colin at Millbrook has topped them all being informative, challenging, practical and above all delivered by a true Petrol Head. Thanks again and I will be back with the 911."
"Reminding how to drive fast A day with Colin on a 'One to One' basis is almost essential for anyone who lives on a small rock in the middle of the English Channel or lives in a city. We don't drive fast and don't get the opportunity to drive fast unless we are on a track. Colin spent the day reminding me how much fun it was to have 'fast feet' and to make the Tyres 'squeak' as they reach the sticky limit. I think I lost about 7kg in weight during the day as I was worked so hard but oh what a day. Thoroughly recommended to anyone who had a petrol head. Best bit was the 'Alpine Loop' at the end of the day. Full gas on the exit with all four squeaking. 👍😃"
"Excellent! Colin, Jo, Paul and the team are amazing, professional and have a unique ability to cover all areas of driving properly. My driving capability has been enhanced beyond measure. I highly recommend them and the CAT Advanced Driving Academy Programme. During the course it became clear to me that CAT Driving are one of the very few on the planet with such experience and capability. They have designed a brilliant dedicated package focused on working with you and delivered with an attentive caring personal touch."
"Paul was amazing: awesome teacher with a great brain. Made me realize my Mustang has actually way more grip and better and better handling than I thought. Top notch facilities in Millbrook. Totally worth it."