Auto Aid – the best breakdown cover

Auto Aid – the best breakdown cover

The big names like RAC and AA take all the limelight for breakdown cover.

Without a doubt, they are good – but they’re also very expensive.  Even if you think you’re getting a good deal having cover free from your bank etc, the chances are you don’t actually have the cover you want or need.

A basic policy can be had for £60 that doesn’t include (what should be) essentials such as home start, and, more importantly, most of these will cover only a specific car, or you as a driver, until you start paying £200-£300 per year for a service you may never even use!

But even then, what  if you own cars and bikes, and want them both to be covered when you’re riding?

It still amazes me that so few people have even heard of Auto Aid.

You pay £40 per year, and that covers YOU as a driver or passenger in any vehicle.  And you get home start, forward travel, and pretty much everything you need.

So what’s the catch?

Well, assuming you are unlucky, and actually have to use the service you’re paying £40 per year for, you have to pay for any roadside repair or recovery out of your own pocket – but don’t panic!  All you do then is send Auto Aid your invoice, and they will reimburse you the full amount in about a week.

I was a little dubious about this aspect, but assuming you have a credit card, it won’t be a problem.

Having held a policy for years, I actually had to use it for the first time a few months ago – and I had to test exactly the dodgy stuff that you’d be worried they would refuse to reimburse you for.

Basically, the brand new Honda VTR1000 that I bought minutes before broke it’s drive chain on my way home with the bike.  So on all the DVLA systems I was not even owner of this bike, although I had taken out insurance (not that they ever asked – as the policy covers me as a person!).

I rang up at around 10pm, and they got a local contractor (exactly the same as some of the more expensive companies) to come out to me within about 40 minutes.

With no hassle at all, they loaded up my bike and took me and the bike home, as all the garages were closed at that time of night.

I paid their flat fee of £50 for a journey of about 20 miles by card over the telephone.

Now for the dodgy part – I had to get the bike from my house to a garage the following evening (again outside of working hours), and the person on the telephone had advised me to just call them again, and they would send someone out to collect the bike and take me there.

Again, no hassles – I paid by phone another £50, and they took me where I wanted.

Still nervous, I posted the invoices and receipts (keeping a copy just in case) back to Auto Aid with their simple claim form, and exactly as promised, they refunded the entire amount to me!

I’m not making anything from this, I’m just doing my good deed of the day by letting you know of a brilliant and much cheaper alternative.

You’d be crazy to sign up to anything else!

Advertisements

James Cater Racing – My Journey To Race Cars

James Cater Racing – My Journey To Race Cars

This is just a quickie for anyone interested in my four-wheel blogs.

You will already have seen that I’m following my childhood dream to become a racing driver – but with no actual budget!

I’ve posted a few blogs here about how I prepared for my National B Race License test, and I will document my warts-and-all journey to my first Formula Vee single seater race, and beyond, where I win the championship in my first race and get called to Formula 1 etc.

I’ll put some useful info for anyone regarding buying kit, driving techniques, and the ridiculously steep learning curve of it all.  It’ll be good!

To separate it from any potential sponsors (yeah right!!!) and keep everything together, I’ve created a new blog purely for my racing:

http://jamescaterracing.wordpress.com

Please subscribe and follow, and feel free to ask me any questions you have – I’m blundering into this with no experience and appreciate any help or piss-taking to the same degree!

It’s still work in progress, but I’ll be adding all my relevant blogs and a few new ones shortly.

Thanks!

James Cater Racing

ARDS Test: The Medical

ARDS Test: The Medical

https://i0.wp.com/www.clubmsv.co.uk/media/25224/go%20racing%20pack_248x165.jpg

The final piece of the jigsaw to be granted an MSA National B Race License is to book and pass the full medical checkup.

It is essentially the same as what you’ll need for top quality life insurance.  Most Doctors charge around £100 for this.

I did some searching around, and found others had paid a lot more than this, and some as little as £50!

On a recent first aid course at work, I asked the instructor on the off-chance he’d know someone who could do a good price, and as it turned out he did!  As a PCV license holder, he was subject to regular medicals, and used a Dr Hill based in the West Midlands area.

I called the number I’d been given, and spoke directly to Dr Hill (I’ll add his details below) – no nonsense, nice and friendly, and he offered me his first available appointment on a weekend.

This involved a bit of a trek to Shrewsbury, but getting somewhere closer to home would be a longer wait, and at least it’s a pleasant drive out that way.

And he said it would be £40!  Bargain!

So the day came, and off I headed, praying my urine sample didn’t leak in the car on the drive over (as it turns out, a can of Guinness exploded in my car on the journey, but I suppose it’s a more pleasant smell to put up with).

He prodded me about a bit, asked the important questions (about diabetes, epilepsy, non-motorsport related mental defects etc), listened to my heart and breathing, and did a full eye test for vision and colour blindness.

I’m pleased to say my eyes are perfect.  My blood pressure, on the other hand, wasn’t.

The first time he took the pressure, he’d been asking me about what I was racing and stuff.  I’m sure this might relax most people, but even typing about the chance to climb into a Formula racing car now gets my adrenalin going!

Ray Formula Vee chassis

Added to this, I’d woken up with The Lurgy.

So I had it recorded at 140/90 on the form – which isn’t ideal, but shouldn’t cause any problems.

The whole thing was done very quickly and efficiently, he stamped my ARDS license application form, and I was out the door within a very short time to go and find things to do in Shropshire on a Sunday when you’re ill.

I gawped at a few floods in the area and then went home to get the last parts of the film filled in ready for the New Year when I could send it off.

So it’s all in the post – practical and medical tests done and dusted, passport pic attached, and within the next week or so I should be sent out my first ever National B Race License!

In the mean time, the Motorsport International Show is on at Birmingham NEC shortly, so I shall hopefully get my race equipment cheap from there.

Then it’s time to talk about getting the Formula Vee booked in to a test day – and I can take to the wheel for the first time and see…

Who knows?  If I’m Senna or Slow!

Bring it on!

*** If you need a reasonably priced medical check, and are based close enough to the Wolverhampton/Shrewsbury/Kidderminster area, contact Dr Hill on 07802 690 896.

https://i1.wp.com/www.motorsportads.com/assets/products/13655-22645-85305.PNG

Read the other blogs in my ARDS license series:

ARDS Test: Following My Childhood Dream 
ARDS Test Part 2: The Go Racing Pack 
Taking The ARDS Test – The Morning Preparation 
Taking The ARDS Test – This Is It! 

Driving A Car On A Race Track

Driving A Car On A Race Track

“So what was it like to drive a car on a race track, Nasty Evil Ninja?”

Well, I wish I’d had more laps!

Two days after my ARDS test, I’m sat here watching the British Touring Car Championship and my adrenalin is going mental.  How can fate put me on a racing track for the first time (in a car) and then say “Well, actually you might get another go next year at some point.”?

Very frustrating!

It was essentially a road car I was in at Silverstone.  I didn’t know that they’re supposed to me pretty rapid cars until afterwards – 2 litre turbo with 225hp.  One of the hottest Hot Hatches around.  I thought it was a bit slow…

I had a Hell of a lot to take in, and many things to adjust about the way I was driving.

I made sure I was trying to use every inch of the track – keeping right to the edge on the corner entry, getting two wheels up over the curb on the apex, and then drifting out with two wheels over the exit curb where it was safe.  The racing line is where you will make up most of you time, especially on a damp, greasy circuit like it was all day long.

I know I could make up a few seconds a lap straight away on the brakes just by braking later and harder.  I could make up more seconds by pushing harder in the corners, as I had more traction to go.

But that’s where I’m kind-of in unknown territory!

I have no comparison.  I know it’s advised to go at 80% of your ability on the test, but where was I?

50%?  100%?

As I’ve never done it before I have absolutely no idea.  Thinking about it, nobody else overtook me all day – apart from two sideways Nissan 350z’s driving by those super-fast Playstation 3 Nissan GT Academy geeks.  I did try to hang on to the back of them but I just got a bit more ragged, and as soon as we hit Hangar straight their 125hp more took them well away.

https://i0.wp.com/wot.motortrend.com/files/2012/01/Nissan-GT-Academy-370Z-Oversteer.jpg

I overtook some of the others, but that doesn’t really tell me much because I don’t know how hard they were pushing.  I didn’t get a chance to actually follow anyone around, which is a bit of a shame.  Or a good thing?  Who knows!

One thing I am well impressed with, is that when the time came to sting my test laps together I instantly dropped into The Zone.  A huge calm came over me, and I was totally relaxed and focused.  Even my breathing was perfect and normal – not hyperventilating or holding my breath at all.

That bodes very well for the future.  If I CAN drop into that state at will, then it means I can think clearly and feel everything that’s going on, rather than feeling rushed and having get by purely on reactions.

I’m hoping the actual feel is much better in a Formula Vee single seater.  I expect it was all feel much more accurate than a hot hatch, and I think I’m ready to have that.

Compared to a riding a bike on track… I don’t want to say driving a car is ‘easy… but it’s far less busy.  Because I’m used to having to brake from 170+mph and deal with acceleration of 0-60 in under 3 seconds, plus having massive forces working against your whole body the whole time, actually getting a car around a track is far less challenging.

Of course, getting a car around a track faster than 30 other people will be a whole new ball game, and the difference between a respectable pace and pushing right to the performance limits will be massive.

I know now that I can at least string some solid and consistent laps together, and that’s a huge relief.

It’s a base.

I’m looking forward to seeing what kind of balls it takes to jump off that base, and what kind of rush it gives me!

http://homepage.eircom.net/~goconnor/Fvee1/driver.jpg

Taking The ARDS Test – The Morning Preparation

Taking The ARDS Test – The Morning Preparation

“What experience do you have?”
“Loads of bike track days, and car skid control courses and, err, stuff.”
“What are you going to race?”
“Formula Vee, next season!”

That was the last moment I felt confident on the day of my ARDS test!

Luckily, not everyone there (there were about 18 of us) had done loads of car track days and stuff, so I wasn’t alone in my lack of experience, but then the instructors spent the next part of the morning basically telling us all we weren’t going to pass today.  I guess this was a good thing, as it knocked the cocky straight out of you.  Especially when you learn that Silverstone is the toughest place to pass the ARDS test (although this can also work in your favour as Race Stewards will look on you more favourably if blame needs to be apportioned for an on-track incident).

After a brief chat about the basics that we should already know (race lines, car physics, under and oversteer etc), we split into two groups – one group going off to the skid pan whilst my group were first out on the proper track.

The instructors were people I almost recognised.  If I could remember their names you’d probably know a few, too.  I clocked Ian Flux who I know from old Formula Vee and Tuscans but hadn’t seen him since I was tiny. He wasn’t my instructor, so no chance of favouritism there!

I got Neal.  If you know who Neal is, please let me know, because I didn’t get his surname, and the sheet he filled signed I never got to take home!  He was great, anyway!

So, I was literally one of the first to jump in the Renault Magane Sport test cars.  The six speed gearbox felt flawless, but, not being a car I’ve ever driven before the controls were a bastard.  The throttle was too sensitive, the brakes too sharp.  Heel & Toe was ditched immediately – I had far too much else to worry about.

We pulled out onto the Silverstone International circuit which I have never seen before in my life and began wishing I’d looked at on YouTube.  It is very fast, and not the simple 4 corner layout of the National track that I was expecting!

https://i0.wp.com/www.silverstone.co.uk/Global/Images/Circuit%20maps/Experience/Exp_map-southern.gif

So that’s all my excuses.  In the first session we did about 15 mins worth building up speed (instructor first for a few laps then me), and I realised I was In Trouble.

It was my first time EVER driving a car on a race track.  I went into 6th gear a few times when I wanted 4th, and was braking, coming off the pedal and then braking a bit more into corners.  I was feeding the steering wheel a little instead of keeping my hands at quarter-to-three.  My lines weren’t terrible, but transitions were ragged and nothing was very smooth.

There was no way I would pass unless I seriously got my act together.  And fast.

We had a second session for 15-20 mins and I was consciously trying to improve everywhere, plus looking through the corners and doing a respectable pace.

And I think pace was my biggest problem overall.  I have absolutely no frame of reference to what a fast car is on a track.

On a bike track day I’m busy all the time.  On the edge of my abilities, but not exceeding the bikes limits.

In a car it’s the opposite.  Because I’m used to thinking at 1000hp-per-tonne performance levels, cars are S L O W…

I had far too much time braking into corners.  I could have done some knitting and still made the corner.  The car felt so much slower that it almost felt like I was coming to a complete stop before the tight corners, and then waiting an eternity to get back on the power.

Once race driving is in muscle memory and I can do it all naturally without over thinking it all, this may well work to my advantage – but it was a major problem for me here.

Neil showed me a different way to hold the gear stick to improve my changes and stop getting 6th gear by accident.  Great, but this meant I had just a few laps left before the test in which to completely rewire my brain of how I’ve shifted gear on the roads for the last two years…

Next was the skid control, with the cars on cradles to simulate oversteer around a course of cones.  This was no problem for me, as I have done skid control in cars before, so was more a bit of fun getting it drifting.

Going into the lunch break I knew I’d improved a lot, but I still had a massive amount of work to do on my driving.

I put my chances of passing at 50-50.  60-40 at best.

I’d have to take 10 steps back and find a solid foundation to build on to have any more chance of passing the test today…

http://thinkingshift.files.wordpress.com/2007/12/10.jpg

Read about the actual test in the afternoon here: https://nastyevilninja.wordpress.com/2012/10/19/taking-the-ards-test-this-is-it

Heel And Toe/Blipping On Downshifts

Heel And Toe/Blipping On Downshifts

The other morning I was chuffed to bits, having just used near-perfect heal and toe technique whilst braking for the end of the dual carriageway on my way to work!

I had decided that it wasn’t worth me learning the heel and toe braking technique, as I know far more racing drivers who don’t use it than who do.

As mentioned previously, I suspect it’s one of those big black clouds that people see as the near-impossible difference between us lesser mortals and Racing Drivers.

Either way, I figure this is worthy of a separate blog.

So what IS Heel and Toe?

Well, the basic aim is to blip the throttle as you shift down a gear, which will match the engine revs and result in a much smoother gearshift.  Because the revs are better matched between gears, you don’t get that jolt as the clutch takes all the strain of equalising the revs between gears, and so the tyres are also far less likely to lose grip as you downshift already on the edge of traction.

You need to brake using the ball of your foot below your big toe, so that half of your foot is over the throttle pedal, and as you press the clutch in and change down a gear, you tilt your foot so you catch the accelerator briefly, and then let the clutch out again.

Some keep the top half of their foot on the brake and twist their foot so they touch the accelerator with their heel – hence the name ‘heel and toe’.  I chose to use the side of the foot after watching some YouTube videos of how drivers like Ayrton Senna did things.  You can’t argue with the technique of the best racing driver ever!

It’s kinder mechanically, but also you get that sporty WHOM-WHOM-WHOM sound which sounds beautiful through a tuned exhaust.  Bonus

On a bike it was one of the first advanced riding techniques I learnt, and I use it all the time as it’s now second nature, just like clutchless upshifting.  For the two-wheel version you simply whack it down a gear with your foot and quickly flick your throttle hand to match the revs.  Far easier than a car, it has to be said!

A few nights ago I got to have a proper play around tight, twisty lanes in rural Worcestershire, and got lots of practice in.  My success rate of using heel and toe jumped from around 2 out of 10 shifts at the start of the week when I first tried it, to a solid 8 out of 10!

Maybe I will have mastered it enough to use it in the ARDS test?

This morning I also had my first crack at it whilst wearing my Vibram FiveFingers.  Awesome.  They are PERFECT for it, because you have all the essential feel plus the flexibility!

It was, however, just pointed out by a cow-orker that driving barefoot is illegal.  I wonder how that would go if I got pulled over driving in the FiveFingers?

ARDS Test: Following My Childhood Dream To Be A Racing Driver

ARDS Test: Following My Childhood Dream To Be A Racing Driver

From my earliest memories, I always wanted to be a Racing Driver.

Well, that and a Bounty Hunter – and as I’ve been a Surveillance Operative/P.I. I’ve pretty much covered that one.  But didn’t get to shoot Bad Guys.

After riding sportsbikes for 12 years, and having blogged about the bike trackdays, you’d be forgiven for expecting me to be banging on about getting my bike racing license here – but no!  This is the ARDS National B License for four wheels!

I’ve only been driving cars for 2 years, but found straight away that I enjoy driving almost as much as riding a bike.

The thing is, I’ve crashed bikes and know it hurts!  Whilst I am pretty quick on two wheels (on road and track), I’m not going to push my limits into the kind of realms where I might be looking at actually racing.  Trackdays for bikes, whatever they try to claim, ARE racing, anyway!  You thrape the Hell out of your bike, try to be the fastest in every session, and the only thing missing is a trophy for anyone at the end.

I’ve never driven anything faster than a 14 year old Honda Civic Sport, but have done any advanced training I could grab, such as learning from Police/Pursuit trained drivers to a Skid Control course as soon as I’d passed my test.  I’ve done karting and am pretty fast there, too, but am under no illusions that drifting a kart will bear any resemblance to hammering a full-size car on a circuit.

I’ve grown up around the racing scene – namely the 750 Motor Club, as my Step Dad (Glenn Hay) raced Formula Vee single seaters.  He still owns several cars – one is being run currently by Rob Cowburn – but as he’s looking at racing again himself, and my sister Michelle Hay also passed her ARDS license a few years back he might run out of spare cars before I get enough cash to be able to try a race myself!

Doing a bit of research online, it seems first you have to buy the ‘starter pack’, which contains loads of useful info for the budding racing driver including a handbook of contacts for various ‘stuff’, a DVD to prepare you for the test itself, and the application forms.

The practical test and written test are done together on a half day course at just about every circuit, with most costing around £300.  That’s for a written test to show you can do everything safely and know the flags etc, and then you use their cars to hammer around a track and show the instructors that you can be trusted on track to not kill everybody around you.

It seems Silverstone also offer a whole days course for £400 – which includes all the above plus a lot more track time in the morning including more skid control training.  This option seems like a bargain for another £100 over the half day – especially as you get to use their Caterhams, rather than what appear to be things like Honda Civics and Peugeot Hairdressers at the other tracks.  I quite fancy a blast in a Caterham!

You also need to find a Doctor to give you a full medical examination – this is around £100 and I’m not happy about it!  Some people have told me you can get it done for half this, so it may be worth shopping around.

Assuming you pass all that, you just get the application forms back (there might be another fee here), and they send you your shiny new National B Race License in return!

And then the first step of the childhood dream is in motion!

I shall do a series of blogs about each stage of my application for anyone who’s also interested in doing the ARDS test, and if you have any more info or tips please feel free to post a comment!

You can get the initial pack from these two sites:

http://www.ards.co.uk

http://www.msauk.org/site/cms/contentviewarticle.asp?article=784