Warning, long post which goes off on a bit of a tangent!
Three Sisters - Japanese Sprint Series Round 2.
After competing in Round 1 at Cadwell sharing @BCF Barny's silver ****ter (MX-5), we decided to have a crack at Round 2 yesterday, though this time I was in the Lobster.
Though the series is mainly for Japanese-based cars - including some big, big power stuff, the winner of the last round and last year's overall champ - they have 'X' and 'T' categories for non Japanese cars, so there were a couple of single seaters and other kit cars there too. These guys were on sprint slicks and with me on 1B tyres I didn't really see them in the same league, I just wanted to see what my little Lobster could do against the likes of the top boys who also have to use 1Bs.
To give an idea, this car won the overall series last year (680bhp, 1150kg): https://www.fensport.co.uk/fensport-cars/gt86r-turbo/ And this was also entered (818bhp, 1120kg and 4th overall at Goodwood Festival in 2011!): https://www.fensport.co.uk/fensport-cars/celica-gt4-x/
However, this post isn't going to be just about the sprint, or the car; there's something else intrinsically linked with the whole thing and it's being talked about a lot this week - mental health: https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/campaigns/mental-health-awareness-week/get-involved
A couple of you guys know, but most reading will have no idea, that it's something I have struggled terribly with for over half of my just-under-36-year life. Depression, compulsions, counselling, cognitive therapy - it's a very complex area, and everyone is different, but here's my abridged version.
Formed early on in life due to various factors, I developed 'bottom lines' which took on forms such as 'I am not good enough' and 'I am not likeable'. In order to try and cope with and / or cover up these bottom lines, 'rules for living' were constructed; 'I must not be late' (makes me unlikeable), 'I must please others' (usually by putting myself way down the list), 'I must meet expectations' (and sometimes even making up what I thought people expected of me and then trying to meet them, further driving myself into the ground), 'I must be better than others' (in order to try and feel good enough), and so on. These became completely automatic and every time I fell into the trap I was left feeling terrible and confused, yet utterly compelled to repeat the same behaviours as I was sure they would cover up the bottom line. This didn't work, and it always sent me the same way. Unable to figure out what was happening, the default was to bury myself in my business, a project or other such complex thing that could take all of my attention.
I appreciate you may now be thinking 'What does all this have to do with this thread?' - well - what started as 'a bit of a fun and a winter project' (this car) took over my life. I didn't mean it to, and I didn't want it to, but for the last 8 or 9 months it has been the complex thing to steal my attention. Constantly thinking about solutions, designing parts in my head, speccing everything down to bolt lengths and thread sizes before even being a few weeks from adding those parts to the car, writing fuel and ignition maps while lying in bed awake at night - you get the idea. Combined with other tough 'life stuff' going on, it meant almost 6 months without sleeping past 3:30am - which in itself makes it hard to cope with the rest of life when you feel constantly exhausted. Using the car as an 'outlet' to push other things out of my brain, I guess very similar to alcohol or drugs, it also allowed me little 'hits' of satisfaction when a plan came together, but there was always something else in future to try and solve... A relentless mission to try and be 'better', make the car faster, lighter...
But, it shouldn't have been about that, and I knew it - right from the start... Being aware of this 'problem' of mine - constantly striving to be 'better' in order to prove I am good enough - I've walked a tightrope with this project, wobbling my way along it, sometimes falling off, but learning about myself along the way and becoming better at considering why I'm doing things and if the outcome of them is positive or not. And that's what I think it's all about with mental health; trying to learn about yourself, find positive strategies for changing your behaviour moving forward, and remembering that there will always be ups and down. Anyone else out there with similar struggles, you are definitely not alone - even within this club - and I for one am always here to chat if necessary
Anyway, yesterday was one of those up and down days! At the time I let it get to me a little too much, but with support from Barny (thanks mate) I got through and finished the day taking a positive spin from it, following reflection.
The day started dry and sunny, with track temps pretty high, and I was around 1.5s faster than anything else on 1B tyres on the first run, and feeling fairly pleased as I knew there was time to come. The car didn't feel quite right so made some damping changes and went back out for timed run 2 (T2). Slower. Car a bit of a handful. Hmm.
More changes for T3, including increased tyre pressures and another damping tweak. Slower again, car even more of a handful. Went totally the wrong way on car setup. Speedo and gear indicator playing up again, left foot rest had become bent. Feeling quite dejected by this point, especially as car adjustments are meant to be my 'thing', I was giving myself a really hard time and needed to try and sort my head out. This is often easier said than done though, when you are using so much mental energy just trying to stop yourself from heading down 'that path', anything else feels like too much.
T4 came and went, with others improving and getting closer and me still not gelling with the car at all. I couldn't get any front tyre temp (something I've never struggled with before, ever, in any car), braking far too early, not thinking about what I was doing around the lap. I felt like packing up and going home. I wasn't having a fun day at all and I needed to try and relax. Easier said than done...
With reflection, I am wondering if the drop in pace had a good chunk to do with everything having got really cold over lunch (pretty everyone else was going slower too), including the track as grey clouds had now rolled over. Me in a good place would have recognised this at the time, it just totally passed me by yesterday.
T5 - driving to the queue the front end felt weird, like there was a 'dead spot' in the middle of the steering. As I pulled up ready for my run, I noticed that waggling the steering gently only produced movement in one of the front wheels! One of the steering 'stubs' had come loose, which meant a jog back to the van to grab an 8mm allen key, a jog back, a quick tighten of the steering stub, quickly strap in, and do my run. Not exactly great preparation, but maybe the alternative focus helped, as it turned out to be my quickest of the day. As an aside, the time would have been quick enough for very good Speed Series points, despite the gloomy conditions.
But that wasn't the aim of the game today, and the GT86 mentioned above had got a re-run in T5 and was now just 8 tenths behind me, improving all the time. I could sense it was going to be close...
He went before me in T6 and found that 0.8s, ending 0.04 quicker than me, and both of us now nearly 2s ahead of the rest of the pack. Pressure on!
The very light and fine drizzle as I went to the start line continued through my run, so I'd pretty much written off my chances. Despite the adjustments I'd made to the car being the 'right' way, and finally getting my bum into gear and putting together a half decent run, I fell 0.2 short of my new target. Gutted. I didn't hang around for the presentations as I wasn't going to be good company, and I was the only one in my class anyway.
When I got home and chatted with my partner about how the day went, saying I was a little disappointed in myself, disappointed in the lap times and how I got on compared with others, she actually laughed at me. "So you've just built a car 'for a bit of something to do over the winter', taken it out properly for the first time, and very nearly beaten a car with insane amounts of power that's been money-no-object developed for 6 years by a professional company?". I started laughing too. It really is all about perspective. This started turning things around again and I realised that the front aero I added made a significant difference, the knee rests and elbow pads were brilliant, and generally the car is awesome to drive. The braking is like nothing I've experienced before and I'm still nowhere near the limit. I think it could do with a touch more front camber, or a bit more roll stiffness, but other than that it was faultless again - and so much FUN to slide about! Quite a few people came to say hi and say they enjoyed watching it going round.
I'll finish with the video. A case of 'what could have been', but that's sprinting! Again, pleased and glad not to have anything major to fix on the car before Cadwell on Thursday