National Motorsport Academy

Roger Grimshaw: I want to Race! – Part 6

Roger's back with Part 6 of his 'I want to Race' Blog Series!

Missed Part 5? Click HERE to read all about Roger’s experiences in the Vallelunga 6 Hrs Gold Cup!

Roger in the NMA's Lotus Evora... No, we didn't allow him to drive!

Now that my trophy cabinet had got a real pot in it, instead of letting the good lady wife fill it with crockery, I had to get more pots. It seemed to me that the “wilderness years” had not dimmed the obvious talent; a talent that all the big teams had failed to recognise; a talent that only my friend Angus had seen shining through… (Wo, wo wo, you had only won a single third place trophy Gantry, not a World Championship, Ed). So the big question was – which series shall I go pot hunting in? 

I spent the winter, the Autosport Show and the early spring of 2009 checking out the offerings. I saw Paul Rose at FunCup (whom I saw just earlier this year at Autosport 24) and I liked what he was doing; I went to view some of the BARC series’ and I also went to the Mini Challenge Open Day at Castle Coombe. 

a track map layout of Castle Combe Circuit
Castle Combe Track layout | Credit: JackStatMan /

Those Mini’s were fun – lively, pointy, relatively cheap to buy and to run, plenty of current parts and quite easy for the team to work on. 

Ah, the team. Whilst at Staffordshire University doing that Law degree (a 2.1 since you asked – I didn’t, Ed) I mentioned earlier in this series, I found that the Uni had a motorsport engineering degree running and that some students also ran their race team. It was meant to be. 

Costings for the season were done and a deal agreed with the team, now all I needed was a car. I found one that had been running near the front and had even won a race (no excuses!) the previous year but the driver had decided to go to a different series. Another deal done and I was the proud owner of a Mini R53 JCW Challenge car. 

photo of mini cooper car
Roger testing his Mini at Seighford Driving Centre

The team got it ready and we went off to a little airfield near the Uni where there was a supercar driving co. – they fancied the kudos of having a race car around and so we tested(!) for free (ish). 

It was my first real time (as opposed to playing at Jim Russell) in a front wheel drive race car and I seriously struggled to get the thing to turn in. Faster into the corner – understeer. Slower into the corner….just too slow and it bogged down. The result of all this was an exponential learning curve for me and the team – trouble was I was stuck at the bottom of the curve! 

Fundamentally I knew what my bum felt through the seat as I turned in with the BMW – the front biting and turning and the sense of the back of the car digging in and pushing the car along with a strange almost twist like feel as the back half pushed the front half. The ever present threat of oversteer being countered by good tyres, trick differential and if all else fails, a little clever throttle work to bring the back into line. 

Try doing the last sentence with a front wheel drive car and the wildest tankslapper you have ever seen occurs, and quickly. Ask me how I know and at the same time ask me for an introduction to the track signage, gravel and marshals going down the Craner Curves at Donington

Bill Sollis, multiple champion Mini pedaller, was hired for an evening track event to show me wtf I was doing wrong. 

Multiple Champion Mini Driver Bill Sollis | Credit: Goodwood Road and Racing

You may be familiar with the expression “you don’t know what you don’t know”. Well it would seem that I didn’t know nuffink. In fact I knew less than nuffink when it came to all the mechanical goodies being at the front. 

Bill made my Mini dance round Donington; it was a “10 from Len” dance; if I hadn’t been in the passenger seat I would not have believed it was possible and all of a sudden I most certainly knew what I didn’t know.  

I am not ashamed to tell you that I cried on my drive home, I was that overcome with emotion and yet I actually do not know what emotion that was. Was it the enormity of the task I had taken on? Was it like Moses parting the waves allowing a clear view of the other side? Was it being in the presence of such prodigious talent and experience and thinking I can never match that? I do not know to this day but I was sobbing like a baby. 

It seems that it was time for my bum to have a new feeling (pardon!?, Ed) 

As part of the work Bill did for us, he helped the team understand how the car should be setup. The first setup change was the biggest and when I got in the car it truly felt undrivable. With Bill beside me I began to understand the different feelings in my backside. (Enough!!!!Ed). 

It is not the easiest feeling to describe; imagine being pulled along, almost scrabbling for grip, whilst at the same time having your rear waggling in the wind. (Any more of this and we are going to get a ban!!Ed). Before you get to the corner, you sort of flick the steering to get the back of the car coming round to the direction of the corner and you keep your foot planted on the loud pedal. With the back of the car now pointing in the direction you want to go in, the steering input feels easier and more direct and you feel like you are driving straight into the corner. The best example of this, and I am going to ask you to shut your eyes and get a picture in your head, is Paddock Hill Bend at Brands Hatch.  

Paddock Hill Bend - not for the faint hearted! | Credit: JClarke Photography

Essentially, the rear is setup to give almost terminal oversteer and, according to how fast and how tight the corners are on the particular circuit you are out on, decides how “terminal” it is. 

What you get rid of is the bogging down because of the slowing down into the corner and the understeer from going too quick – the speed is kept up all the way through the curve; start, apex and exit. It is wonderful and although I made a right fluff of it at the very start, once I knew what my…whoops, can’t go there, will get a red card. 

Try again; as I mastered the art of the flick and keeping my right foot planted, I got faster and faster. The real skill seemed to be the feedback you give to your people and their interpretation of that. 

If something gets lost in translation then;  

too loose = spin and gravel, 

not loose enough = understeer and gravel. 

Either way, gravel seemed to become the common denominator. 

photo of mini cooper car
Ready for the first race!

I went out in the car as often as I could before the season started, as I knew that if the art of the flick was not there from the moment I hit the track then I would be slow and last. I am pleased to say that once I grew some big cahonies, (First bum, now ba… STOP IT, Ed) keeping my foot hard on the pedal became easier as I turned in to corners. The only time it went wrong was when I lifted mid corner if I had an outbreak of silliness. When I did that the tyres were scrap as they went to approximately the same shape as a 50p (or 50c for my Australian readers). 

At this point I knew the car had won a race; I knew the car had run at the front a few times but I actually had no idea whether it was still fast or whether I was competitive in it. 

The first race was at a now defunct circuit – Rockingham, near Corby. This circuit had its own quirks….all of which I was going to find out…. In spades. 

Next time….Oh dear what have I done by choosing Mini’s? 

Apart from the races that you win, there is always a “what if” session afterwards – “what if I had recognised the shredded tyre?”

Stay tuned for Part 7… coming soon!

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