by Dave Williamson, 1994 and 1995 NSW Sports 1300 State Champion
1995: Butterflies. Large flapping butterflies….so surely it must be spring?
Bloody great butterflies …in my stomach.
All this, while I wait on the dummy grid at Eastern Creek.
Hot smells: hot oil, 100 octane Avgas being rapidly devoured by impatient engines. What’s this all about?
We are all waiting on the dummy grid before heading out for qualifying. My engine is idling smoothly, my brain ticking over at the same rpm, thinking: “did I check that hose, are all the wheels tight?” I relax and look at the oil pressure and engine temperature for the tenth time, as I give the six-point harness one last strangling tug to weld myself into the car. Don’t just sit in it – wear it like a glove.
A whistle-blow from the marshal means it’s time to close the helmet visor and slowly roll out onto the track. My brainwaves instantly jump up 10 notches as we’re waved onto the circuit at turn one, the now sputtering engine patiently waits to have its neck wrung.
Finally, the right foot starts to get a tad heavier. All hell breaks loose. Gently stupid, this is why many of us end up facing the wrong way, the Dunlop slicks – when cold – are NOT sticky. Look carefully in the mirrors. Where is everyone? How fast are they going? It’s dangerous to wander all over the track, warming up tyres whilst getting in someone’s way.
Noisy engine splutters quickly vanish as it smoothly comes on cam, pushing me back into the cramped seat as we head down to turn 2, swinging violently left to right, working to get heat into the tyres. The temptation to go all out is so strong. Patience, patience, wait until all systems are “go” before even thinking about it… it takes a few laps.
Now, after three laps, the engine is pulling like a train, the tyres are feeling good (meaning I haven’t had a big lose) and my head is coming to grips with the high G-forces (almost two Gs in some corners). Time to focus 100 percent and go for a couple of blinder laps to ensure a good grid position.
Down onto the main straight for the big windup to the timing point, looking in the mirrors, holding the small steering wheel firmly with my thumbs hooked on the spokes and starting to see why good aerodynamics give such an advantage to some of our cars. The car starts to quiver as a strong crosswind tries to edge it offline, shaking out
a few elderly rivets. 8200rpm is needed to get some decent speed, the downhill entry onto the straight helps the car reach almost 200km/h, but the buffeting from the wind requires much more focus as the car heads into turn 1. I took a while in earlier days before I could go flat into this corner, but the newly fitted wings mean the faster I go, the more the car sticks to the road… a no brainer.
No sooner than we’re around the left turn and it’s down to turn 2 into the hardest braking zone on the track, the car scraping its nose like a Bloodhound chasing Christopher Skase. This corner is best attacked late, with careful throttle to prevent too much wheel-spin as the car scrabbles out, into a strong transition to turn 3.
A strong right at turn 3, snick into third letting the car wash out to the left, as we come downhill heading into turn 4. Now flat out – 8200rpm in third, dab the brakes and haul right into the slightly off-camber corner, putting the right-front wheel just onto the ripple strip as the car slides smoothly down to turn 5.
This damn corner still has me guessing. I’ve never driven around it the same way twice. Still in third, the car likes this corner more than I do, as it never seems to protest at my speed as it washes out to the edge. On the exit, I want to keep in the middle now, so when we reach the brow of the small hill, we are on the best line into the quirky right/left turns 6 and 7.
Very hard heel-and-toe braking into second for a brief exhilarating rushup to the flag marshal. Snick into third going up Corporate Hill, then to fourth just under the bridge at turn 8. This corner is a heart stopper – it’s (a) fast, (b) off camber, (c) downhill… and bloody terrifying. The speed down the hill to the hairpin sends (wot insurance?) messages to the brain, but some judicial braking here keeps the rears from locking, while smooth gear-changing will keep the car from swapping ends – as many do before the apex.
Roaring up through the gears, winds circle around the hills, shaking the car as we head into the last corner before the main straight. This is really a double-apex corner: enter early, on the limit of adhesion, then slither out to the edge for a second bite at the last apex before the straight. The car is trying to slide onto the green stuff, but gentle correction prevents this. Once again, down the straight to record a 1:42 lap. Not bad, but some cars are quicker. Keith McClelland’s Hart-Golf-engined Robin managed a sub-1.39 sec. last year.
Still, I’m happy with my 22-year-old, 460 kg black Robin M74, built by Sydney engineer Robbie Metcalfe …. who just may have been the person who said to me:
“DON’T JUST SIT IN IT- WEAR IT LIKE A GLOVE!”