Adventures on Planet Earth

Bedford Autodrome

Seven in the pit

After a long debate with myself, I decided to take the Caterham to a track day - its natural habitat after all. With plenty of grassy run off areas, Bedford Autodrome is regarded as a very safe track for beginners.

Driving around a track on a sunny day was expected to be tiring, so the plan was to stay locally the night before and start fresh in the morning. Due to car trouble with a friends MX5, that plan didn’t work out so well. We arrived just after midnight, tired and with an early start ahead.

Continued car trouble the next morning meant we missed the briefing and had to get a special latecomers version with few others in what felt like the naughty corner. Then due to the late briefing we ended up late for noise checks, and missed an opportunity to get out with the others and do the checkout lap. No one really made a fuss about any of this - a pretty tolerant environment.

MX5 and Seven asleep

I booked the ticket, prepared the car, made myself aware of the driving protocols, but had no clue how to carry speed around a track. I had watched plenty of F1 races, knew what lines to take, but practiced skill and honed intuition matters - I didn’t have this.

High gears, low revs, gentle braking.

“So, you’re just going to go around this road for an entire day?” I recalled my wife saying. Now this is of course a true statement. The point was to find limits - of the car, of my abilities. It just happened to be on a looped road.

To make matters more challenging, some drivers had managed to race unnoticed in parts of the circuit (the event has a no racing rule) so I had to stay alert to this - spontaneous overtaking, the occasional corner cut off.

After a morning trying to figure things out on my own, an instructor joined me as a passenger for a pre-booked 20 min driver training session. I was pretty much yelled at for most of those 20 mins. Maybe it was because the exhaust exits the Seven right next to my ear, or maybe it was because of my excessively relaxed driving style. Initially very concerning, but in retrospect, highly educational.

Low gears, high revs, hard braking.

Unsurprisingly, without the instructor there, I was black flagged in no time and had to complete a lap of shame back to the pits, expecting to get told off by the race marshal for losing it in a hairpin bend.

Marshal : “Protocol states we must bring you in for a 5 min hold if you spin.”
Me: “Okay.”

That was the extent of it. Then back out on track 5 mins later, but admittedly armed with 5 mins of pondering what went wrong.

One of the highlights of being in an open pit lane with the other drivers is that the environment is more social - general chats, help with car problems. The MX5 ended up with other problems during the day but people were very willing to help out.

MX5 in trouble

I came away from the day learning this about going around a road:
1. Look much further ahead, keep to lower gears, carry more speed into the corners, go hard on the brakes, don’t fight the car out of a corner.
2. The Seven has an unbelievable level of grip around corners. I now know where that limit is.
3. Professional race car drivers make their jobs look easy. I’ve gauged my own skill level.

Seven on the track

Preparation tips:
1. Engine oil change
2. Tyre pressure checks, wheel nuts checks, fluid level checks
3. General spanner check of the suspension
4. Spares could be essential to getting through the day and getting back - brake pads, oil, cable ties...
5. Extra fuel in a Jerrycan (with a spout) can save time
6. Basic tools, tyre pressure gauge and pump
7. Lunch, water, snacks

Further reading:

Bedford Autodrome circuit: