I had been contesting a Caterham 7 – the 420R, no less – in the Goodwood Road and Racing Club’s spring AutoSOLO, and over the course of the day, I had learnt a lot about how to pilot a lightweight, rear-wheel-drive car in anger.
To put this into perspective, before Friday, I had never even climbed inside a Caterham. It took me a good 15 minutes to work out the four-point harnesses, and my debut drive home resembled the Easter bunny’s paper round. You get the picture…
By Saturday, I had a tentative grip on driving the Caterham, while the tyres were beginning to lose theirs on the slidey Sussex tarmac. Come Sunday, and an early start on the wet circuit saw me realise a colleague’s prophecy, spinning around to face the wrong way down the course.
If you are as in the dark as I was as to what an AutoSOLO is, let me explain… It’s a series of short slaloms, completed against the clock three times each. Your best two times from each slalom are added together to determine your final score.
Part of the charm of the AutoSOLO is that anything goes – providing it has an MOT, the correct tyres, and is driven to the event. You also have to be a GRRC member, and hold an RS Clubman licence, but the latter is easily and freely sourced via a form on the Motorsport UK website.
The lack of rules made for a brilliantly varied grid – Porches lining up next to Pandas, Minis, Aston Martins and MR2s. I was in one of three Caterhams, and the only one in full battle dress. However, it was very much a case of ‘all the gear, no idea’. Through rain and shine, I gracelessly lobbed the little yellow car through all four courses, achieving varying levels of success.
To start with, I missed the memo on immediately accelerating away from the brake box and it took a frantically waving marshal to get me going again. As a result my score suffered, and on my second go I didn’t stop for long enough, leading to a penalty. The third time around we pulled it out the bag, achieving a not-to-be-sniffed-at time of 77.88 seconds, very much on the more favourable side of middle of the pack.
Goldilocks, as I dubbed the car, and I performed similarly throughout the day, decreasing my scored by 10 to 20 seconds each go. Penalties, however, were abundant – for taking the wrong course and, on a couple of occasions, absolutely decimating cones. As competitive as I usually am, I was having far too much fun to take it to heart, sliding the little car through the cones with all the enthusiasm of a child standing on the back of a shopping trolley.
Ultimately, I ended up 31st out of nearly-50 competitors – not bad considering I’d never driven a Caterham, nor on track before. And, while it may have been my first AutoSOLO, it certainly won’t be my last.
If an AutoSOLO sounds right up your street (or circuit), why not take a look at joining the GRRC...