Posted: June 27, 2019 Read time: 10 Minutes
3:45pm live TV stream coverage: “Oo, 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”.
Wayne’s World [flash back sound and wobbly images] diddle de dum, diddle de dum…
Colin: “What else would you like to do now with all that’s happened this year, changing jobs and so on?”
Me: “I’d love to find a way to have a go at endurance racing as my first ever trip to Le Mans this year blew me away, but I don’t know where to start.”
Colin: “Say that again?”
Me (nervously): “I’d like to try a 24-hour endurance race but don’t know how or where to start”.
Colin: “CAT has just bought a Citroen C1 and we’re going to enter into some C1 Endurance races next year – if you’re serious about this I will ask David & Phil, my core racing team mates, if they would be ok with you racing with us. I know you know how to drive so I’ve not got a problem, but let me ask Phil and Dave”.
Me: “Er…wow, thank you”. Get in the car to drive home from Millbrook thinking 'what just happened?'
The phone rings it’s Colin: “Hi Nic, sorry for the delay with this, but if you’re still up for an adventure, we’d love you to join us, for the 24 hour Silverstone Race at the end of April 2019 as a member of the CATDT endurance team.”
“What the hell am I doing? I’m strapped into the car, in the garage. I’m actually strapped into a racing car and about to do my first ever qualifying session… in the dark and damp…with 98 other cars. I feel sick. They’re all looking at me and smiling.
Oh look a thumbs up from someone – who was that? I’ve forgotten everyone’s names all of a sudden. What did Matt just say to me? Was it something about full fuel or foot on brake clutch and first gear then they’ll tell me when to go? God it’s warm in here. What’s that noise? Ah, that will be my heart I can hear in my helmet. Stop breathing so hard you’ll steam your eyeballs up. I feel bloody awful.
Stop opening the door and telling me things, I don’t have the mental capacity anymore to deal with any more stuff. What time is it now? Ooohhhh my stomach is going now and I’m shaking, don’t let anyone see your hands, just hold the wheel and shut your eyes, yeah, like that’s going to help. I need a Dave hug – we like Dave, Dave is awesome.
What did Phil say about things? Just concentrate and relax into it and drive your own laps. Go with that, Phil knows his onions, he’s given me such a boost the last few track days we’ve had with confidence and calming me down as I’m worrying about letting them all down.
Fast feet, fast hands, remember all the training we’ve done over the years, if you can pedal a McLaren P1 around a track, you can pedal a C1 around Silverstone. Great, Colin’s now just arrived in my head, that’s all I can hear now – no bad thing.
S**t, start the car, start the car, oh they’re pushing me back, stop breathing so hard, you’ll start hyperventilating, slow it down. Don’t stall the car. Give them a thumbs up and go up the pit lane sensibly. At least give the impression you know what you’re doing. Arm up - show my HUE tag to the scanner, will it go green or am I going to look like a complete idiot… it’s gone green. Ohhh shizzle – hello Silverstone!”
It’s funny how things can happen in your life that you weren’t expecting. I wasn’t expecting to be sat behind the wheel of a little Citroen C1 in 2019. Taking part in my first ever race with a group of utterly amazing individuals who put their trust in me, to be part of a totally amazing adventure, that started off with a throw-away comment to Colin back in 2018.
Is it at all possible to take an engineer who has spent his automotive career testing and signing off vehicles around the world, for manufacturers before the public gets to buy them, and turn him into a racer?
From little Hyundai i10’s to mighty McLarens, Astons and Radicals on proving grounds. You’re responsible for millions of pounds’ worth of prototype vehicle, basically trying to break them and ensure that they meet all of the Regulations required, to make them safe and legal. Now I'm navigating Silverstone competitively amongst traffic who are hell bent on being in that space in front of you at all costs.
Everything I do is measured, evaluated and consistent. Every steering input is controlled to ensure that changes to set up do not have an adverse effect on the vehicle. Vehicles “need” to feel like they’re on rails when cornering, brakes and ABS systems need to be totally efficient and there must be no surprises. Now, this is about speed, consistency and throwing some skills out the window for a bit, but ultimately, that’s the base I have to work on so it has to be adapted and improved.
Stepping into the world of circuit racing with the CATDTC1 endurance team with Colin, Phil Marsh who is a seasoned Fun Cup racer and David Alstadter who’s pedalled his way to Porsche Championship wins in the USA was going to be one of, if not the, biggest challenges I’d had behind the wheel of a car – ever.
David in his Porsche Championship days
The love and attention that has been poured onto this C1 by the three of them and the amazing Track Toys team in Cannock is testament to their professionalism as drivers and vehicle builders. Going half-cocked into a 24-hour endurance race is simply not worth it – and we saw that during the event. Poor preparation saw vehicles failing for items that should not have been a reason to fail.
Once the car was prepared and unveiled to the world, everyone gathered at Millbrook to understand the car, discuss set up and spend time learning how the car felt.
Silverstone was used to spend time learning the car on the full GP circuit at the end of March and start of April. Each session was a learning experience. Feel the car, explore the limits and work on tyre pressures/geometry to give us the best handling car that we could. The end of the first full GP circuit battered me both physically and mentally and my lap times were quite a way off Phil, David and Colin’s. That feeling of doubt was starting to creep in. But, being sensible, I was learning the circuit, I’d never driven the full circuit only the National one years ago in a very different car.
A smaller day on the National circuit which gave us valuable learning for a few corners that were problems for us all, Brooklands and Luffield as they’re difficult corners when you only have 68bhp to pull you around, so entry and exits are critical. My times were improving listening and learning from the guys about how the car works.
I will admit to having a proper “driver diva strop” after a session as I was so frustrated with the car as I couldn’t get it to hook up and drive like how I “thought” a race car should drive. I wanted this amazing feeling of lateral g-acceleration building up and getting round the corners like it was on rails, not slipping and sliding about and having to work the wheel to get the car to go round.
I was properly annoyed and frustrated with the car. It was at this point, once I’d downloaded all of my experience from the session into Colin and Matt that the clouds parted and I had a lightbulb moment...
This is what they wanted the car to do. If you’re putting single inputs into the steering around corners that are high speed in the C1, you’re not going fast enough and you’re slow out of the corners, park Roadcraft for now. To use Colin’s turn of phrase:
"If you’re not uncomfortable, you’re not going fast enough."
The aim is to get the car to move around and rotate at the rear to enable you to come out of a corner with as little steering lock on as possible. This means you’ve carried your corner entry speed out of the corner and can accelerate towards the next one better, this is where your lap times come down. It’s all about consistency as we all know, but it’s a different consistency to what I am familiar with, what I’m comfortable with.
The “clang” of the penny dropping was deafening to me. I let all of my experience from the session “process” through my now highly overworked brain cell. Later in the afternoon I now found that if I put the engineer in me to one side for a moment and stopped worrying about passenger comfort, NVH and reducing my worry for wrapping the car in cotton wool, it started to work. The words of wisdom and advice from all of the guys started to make sense and my times began to drop. I began to feel more and more comfortable being uncomfortable.
Rhythm is key, it’s finding that racing rhythm that is the difficult bit, but if you take the time to listen – and by that I mean shut up, and actively listen to what’s being said to you, learn to visualise and feel what’s being said to you about positions, lines and what the car is doing underneath you at any given time, you stand a far greater chance of improving your lap times and staying out of trouble. And more importantly, not getting yourself into trouble – which we all know will happen as you’re constantly pushing your boundaries and limits to find out what works for you and what doesn’t.
At the beginning of this blog, you read what my head was doing on the night of qualifying, my first ever outing into a world that I had no knowledge of! Needless to say, I survived. Not happy with our final time and position as we know we could have been much higher, but trying to get a clean lap was nigh on impossible with 99 cars out there on the track. So that was chalked up to experience and a big beaming smile from Phil who said “that’s the hard bit over and done with, the race will be better”. And he was right, qualifying was hard as it was a flurry of activity and we learned from it.
My worst fear had been realised about going out first. What if it rains and my time is the qualifying time? This then played out, but Phil managed to get a lap in, but he was held up and we qualified in 54th position – soon to become 53rd due to someone getting sent to the back of the grid for being underweight.
Pit stop strategy was to run Phil for the first hour of the race as he had recent rolling race start experience that needed to be utilised, then after an hour, Colin would get in. This staggered our pit stop times to a quieter pit lane, as we thought people would be going by the two-hour driving stint, as that was roughly the fuel run time. Handing over to Colin in position 53, Colin then ran his two hours before handing over to me in position 33, for my turn. I was shaking like a leaf before I went in the car, but everyone calmed me down, I took the leap into the unknown... To be continued.
"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."