Through the CAT’s Eyes

The beginnings of a strong relationship

2008 has been a great year for CAT Driver Training. Track and circuit tuition, our core business, has developed beyond our projections for the year – Millbrook now feels like my second home. A percentage of our accelerated growth is down to our association with the MLR. Our first event for the MLR went well in October 2007. We must have pressed the right buttons, as January this year found Jo and I enjoying a meal with Darin, Chell and Mick discussing driver training plans for 2008.

So a year on what has taken place? A Performance Driver ‘Track’ Day in March at Millbrook, a Sprint Training Day at Silverstone in May, another Performance Driver’ Track’ Day in August at Millbrook and very recently the third for the year, the successful Performance Driver ‘Track’ Day event in October. I would also like to thank all of the MLR Members who have returned for further training. The Club Performance Driver Days allows us to nurture you in the core skills needed to drive at speed on circuit. A positive spin off being, we get the opportunity to showcase our training methods and the fantastic facilities that Millbrook has to offer. We can further your driving development with a variety of training courses all designed to fulfil your individual objectives and needs. To find out what you are missing, if you didn’t sign up this year read on, I’ll give the instructors angle on the Performance Driver ‘Track’ Day on October 26th.

Through the ‘CATs’ eyes

October 26th 2008 was a very grey & wet day – the safety briefing will always emphasize the relevant points we need to focus on, to keep everyone safe. In this instance it is how slippery some of the circuits can be in the wet. At this point it is not unusual to see a few heads drop in the audience, fear not. As Instructors we have empathy with your concerns, a little apprehension is a healthy response to our briefing. Consequently I will always try to break the ice at this point, and put drivers at their ease, driving in the wet or dry is a systematic process and that is what you are all here to learn, have faith and enjoy your day! Dynamics Briefing next: we want you throughout the day to be thinking not only of your driving technique, but as importantly, how your Evo is behaving underneath you.

Briefings and paperwork completed, we just need the ‘ok’ from our engineer Mark Bell who has been scrutineering all the Evos. We have an Engineer on hand to cover the health and safety elements of the day, and to build in a level of comfort for you guys. Our priority is to keep you ‘on track’ and on a few occasions through the years, there has been the need to sort out a few mechanical gremlins that otherwise would have cut the day short for the unfortunate driver. That said we always offer one of the CATs cars as a replacement so that you can finish the training.

The 8 drivers are split into 2 groups of 4 and assigned to either Nick or myself for the day. Nick has been with me since Jo and I started CAT 4 years ago. It is important for me to work alongside a fellow instructor that I trust and respect – Nick fits the bill and beyond. Nick has experienced the CAT brand of training and therefore understands our methods and objectives. He brings his own mix of humour and expertise to the days events, along with a long list of road and track training qualifications. As importantly, we both have a similar ethos to driver training: we nurture and coach calmly, no shouting or short tempers. There is a structured itinerary to work to, which we follow, but we will deviate from it if we need to. The aim is to match your session to your objectives and your skill set on the day.

What a good lot you are!

So off to the Mile Straight for the first exercise with my group – Paul Smith, Richard Marriage, Martin Allen and Simon McNair. Confidence is built gradually helping you dial into the dynamic capability of your Evo under extreme braking conditions. Along the way we have explored ABS capabilities if fitted, and keeping the platform of the vehicle balanced prior to turning into a corner. The ultimate exercise is threshold braking from in excess of 100 MPH. Nick and I are working away dialling into each EVO ands it unique characteristics. You may find it surprising just how much of a variation we experience jumping from one Evo to the next.

Then a drag strip run for fun and to raise the appreciation of travelling at speed. We always aim to take you safely out of your comfort zone. I’m getting to know my team: the pensive expressions are turning into smiles and conversation. All are braking efficiently and driving well. Nick’s smiling and looking relaxed, as is his group who are Simon Tollworthy, Chris Sykes, Simon Berry and Jasper Williams. Once you are driving and enjoying yourself we know the nerves will evaporate away.

Both Nick and I always enjoy the MLR days, you’re a sociable forum, the cars are always well presented and prepared, and we both like Evos. The lateral acceleration and cornering capability of an Evo is awesome. I’m hankering after an Evo 6 myself ………. sorry I digress!

Onto the High Speed Circuit for exercise number 2 followed by a stop for lunch. Time to relax and stock up on the carbohydrates. It is nice to know CAT lunches are attracting as much attention and praise as our training – they always seem to get a mention and go down, (literally) well. Come the afternoon there is always enough cake and refreshments to make a serious dent in your power to weight ratio: we like to look after you! Ok, you’ve had your lunch, back to work. A briefing on tyres and advanced cornering skills and we are off to the Handling Circuit and the Alpine loops to explore cornering techniques.

Our objective is for you to leave us with a systematic approach to cornering and an appreciation of the grip limit capability of your Evo. The circuits at Millbrook are designed to test vehicles. In contrast they make fantastic training circuits. Subtle features built into the surfaces and corners challenge your technique, accelerating the learning process. There are no hiding places if you have areas to work on, the circuits will find it. This is a great time of the day, confidence is high and we are all buzzing and starting to feel at one with our cars.

Will the red mist descend?

Nick and I finish our main coaching duties on the Mile Straight Apron. A large expanse of tarmac that allows us to explore the grip limit capability of an Evo and as importantly, how each individual platform behaves. Understeer, oversteer and equal lateral acceleration can all be found depending on how many digits there are displayed on your boot badge.

So it is over to you now. The Caterham is warmed up, briefings and demos given, stop watch at the ready. Final session of the day: a high speed challenging coned course against the clock – our end of day Gymkhana. Always great fun, the Caterham is guaranteed to make you smile and get your adrenalin pumping. Put all of the skills developed during the day together effectively and you might just win the Champagne!

So who did triumph, keeping cool under pressure?

3600 magic (Richard Marriage) was our Driver of the Day Sider (Chris Sykes) won the Quiz and Sybez (Simon Berry) picked up a well deserved bottle of bubbly for FTD in the end of day “shoot out”.

Driving Forward

I would like to thank Mick for all of his help and support in organising and managing the training calendar. Mick’s project management skills are much appreciated by the CAT team.

So what is on the cards for 2009? 3 to 4 Performance Driver ‘Track’ Days, a Ladies Day, and a day for those MLR members travelling from the Channel Islands. For the competitive amongst you watch out for CATs new telemetry course being launched in the New Year. All this and more will be confirmed when we sit around the table with Darin, Chell and Mick once again in January. Wow! Where did the year go?

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