Nicci and Emma get behind the wheel and discover that motor racing is hotter than a dozen jalapeño’s!
From Pitch to Pits by Nicci Daly with Emma Dempsey
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Blog #2: Track Tasting
We have been all action since the last blog, between obtaining our race licenses, buying the car, getting kitted out in the gear and finally getting our first taste behind the wheel, it has been a productive few weeks for the Formula Females.
Obtaining a License
Before you can actually enter into a race meeting you have to have an FIA (Federation Internationale de l’Automobile) approved race license. Emma already had hers, but I didn’t. The FIA is the governing body for the whole world of Motorsport. In order to get your license, you must complete a theory test followed by a driving test. So, it’s pretty similar to getting your road license, only this time your wearing a helmet, strapped in by 4-point harness belts and given permission to drive irresponsibly at 100mph. It’s wild because you’ve never done it before and you’ve just been told to go “flat” through a series of corners before getting “hard on the brakes” while also trying to navigate your way through the gears. I’ve never been so well rewarded for being so out of control, but I didn’t complain as I skipped out of there with a pass and some complimentary comments about my driving. Thanks Noel Roddy!
Finding a Car
Now that we were licensed, we needed to source a car. We were overwhelmed with the support from people like Mike Dermody, Leo Nulty and Brian Sexton to name a few. Mike had offered us the use of his Fiat Punto for the weekend free of charge but with the format of the race being held to a barrier time and the barrier time being dropped over the last year, the Punto was going to struggle to make the lap times.
With the Help of Leo we got in touch with Brian Sexton who was selling his 1.8L 160BHP Rover 25 – an old school car of Mondello that came highly recommended from a number of sources. The deal was made and the black and yellow Rover not only suited the Formula Female colour combo but it suited our taste too.
Thanks to Murray Motorsports, we were kitted out head to toe in only the best, Alpinestars race wear. Many people may not know exactly the compulsory garments and the standards they must meet. For saloon racing you must wear at least a 2 layer fire proof suit. You must wear a balaclava, fire proof underwear, including pants and a long sleeve shirt, fireproof socks, gloves and boots. That’s hotter than a dozen jalapeños!
Test Day Arrives
From the day we got the car we were like two impatient kids waiting for Christmas day to arrive. We had a test day planned but could barely sleep with the excitement. In fact, Emma had dreams about my dad visiting her and giving us some advice about where to position the car for the best racing line. If only.
The days ticked by slowly but we finally got to the track for what was supposed to be shared with single seaters, none of which showed up so we ended up with an open pit lane and the track to ourselves.
Leo was down to help us as he is a past saloon master of Mondello and had a few tricks up his sleeve that other competitors would only love to know, so we won’t talk about them. We also had Cameron Fenton down with us. Cameron is a rising talent currently racing in the Irish Supercar championship.
Our first lesson before getting into the car was understanding the dynamics of it. The Rover is a front wheel drive car like most road cars and therefore the front wheels and tires do all the work like braking, turning and getting the power down. Leo explained to us that certain driving styles can minimize this work on the front tires and make them last longer into the race but in order to master this we needed to understand the concept of lift off oversteer. We had no idea what kind of driving style we each had but we were excited to find out.
We also discussed the concept of keeping the car as flat as possible, using all of the circuit and unwinding the lock on the corner exit as soon as possible.
After a quick crash course in the dynamics of a front wheel drive car and the concept of lift off oversteer, we set out to understand just what sort of driving styles we both had.
Our driver Coach Leo Nulty had this to say about it: “From my point of view, the preconceptions I had formed whilst chatting with the pair were proved to be true. Nicci has a sporting mindset- she listened intently, stopped me and asked lots of questions. This showed in her driving immediately- even on her out lap, the car was in the right place on track and she was short shifting for turn two for example, so as to have the power on going through to keep the car stable.”
It was a learning curve and a steep one at that. I was overwhelmed with how much concentration was required and how tricky some of the corners were. Playing international hockey you develop high levels of concentration but this was like speed concentrating. You have to process so much information at one time and at a rate that I was just not used to. Trying to hit the braking points at the right marker, quickly shifting down through the gears while at the same time trying to feel the cars movement through your backside as you begin to navigate the corner. It’s a lot to take in.
Once you exit the corner and start to get on the power you barely have time to breathe before getting ready to do it all over again. You don’t get time to think about the previous corner before the next one has already appeared and you certainly don’t get away with making a mistake in this sport because you put yourself and the car at risk if you switch off at any moment.
Aside from all that concentrating, it was a pure endorphin drug. I am the type of person where it takes a lot for me to be impressed and not since meeting my girlfriend two years ago was I this impressed with what I had just got my hands on.
“Nicci kept building on what she had already done and predictably, her times began to tumble”.
The lap times began to drop for me as I worked with Leo on the specific corners. I was able to put together a pretty good lap but I was not happy with how inconsistent I was. That is definitely something that will come with more time in the car.
Coach Leo Nulty: “Emma, on the other hand was completely different. She grew up in a racing environment- has driven a saloon before, tested a FF1600 and knows that nothing matters except the stopwatch. Again, this showed in her driving, as she was pushing from the off – a series of wild, lurid, but well controlled slides, not helping her lap times. She was also far too quick into turn three, subsequently having to lift, making the car very unstable through the first bit.”
“Emma had a more difficult task, as it is hard to get a driver to throttle back in order to go quicker – she managed it beautifully though, and I was on the exit of turn one for her final run. She was inch perfect, cocking an inside rear on entry and balancing the car beautifully, before getting on the power just at the right time.”
“Incredibly, both were well into the 1:07 bracket by the end of the day. When you consider that Brian Sexton, who is hugely experienced, qualified the car on a 1:07.5 last time out, you can’t fail to be impressed- I certainly was.”
It didn’t take long for us both to sense when we had taken a corner well and when we hadn’t. By the end of the day we were both very happy with the progress we had made for a quick lap but running consistent laps is a whole other story and definitely one that will only come with more practice.
The journey so far has been nothing but enjoyable. We have raised over €2000 for the Irish Cancer Society so far between the JustGiving page and donations. We would especially like to thank all those who have donated and to our sponsors, Darren Farrell, Mossdale Construction, JL Goor, Trackdays.ie, Mick’s Garage Future Classics and Leo Nulty for all their support so far. We look forward to announcing more sponsors and more support soon. We hope that you are enjoying our Formula Female Race Against Cancer story and look forward to seeing as many as possible at the event on August 18-19, 2018.
If you would like to donate, you can follow the link to our JustGiving page here.
Nicci & Emma