CAT driver training great, TVR not great

Today was dissapointing. I drove to Millbrook full of hope, and left with the car on a transporter 🙁

It was supposed to be a 2-person training day for us, but our baby became unwell so my wife ended up staying at home. This is the Performance Driving Day with CAT Driver Training, who are the only driver training company with a base at Millbrook, and have an extremely good reputation.

What I wanted out of the day was:

  • To understand the behaviour of the TVR at speed and at the limits of grip (in a safe environment, not the public road)
  • To learn how to drive the car well and smoothly with 1 to 1 tuition and on lots of varied tracks and surfaces rather than an airfield or a trackday shared with many other cars.

We had been to CAT driver training before – In February 2012. This day was cut short in when, in the first session on threshold braking, we found the car had heavily rear-biased brakes. Colin kindly let us postpone the training until the car was sorted. This took a long time as I was then working away for a couple of months and we then had a baby. Given we were supposed to be doing a 2-person day, we waited until he was old enough to be left for a long day before re-booking. We have also spent a lot of time trying to sort out the brake bias, suspension and generally getting the car how I want it.

Brake bias work has involved:

  • AP racing adjustable bias valve fitted by TrackVRoad (not sure about the benefit of this)
  • New front and rear pads fitted by TVR Power to the correct AP racing specification (they designed the braking system)

There are a number of Pistonheads forum discussions and blog posts about this, but I haven’t got the energy to link to them now…

With this done, I thought the car was sorted, and had feedback from TVR garages that the bias felt correct when they had test-driven the car.

The drive there was fine and fast (leaving home at 6am), and I was pleased that where the Total garage had been in Mareston Moretaine, there is now a Shell station so I got a full tank of V-Power Nitro.

I arrived at Millbrook a little early so had sandwiches in the car park (2nd breafast), before meeting Colin. When Colin found out that Naomi was unable to come he immediately offered to rearrange  to another date, but he had already done that once for us, so I didn’t want to mess him about and we carried on with the day.

We started with a briefing, discussing what I wanted to get out of the day, and then headed out in his BMW to go on some of the tracks that we would be using and for some examples of car handling and work we would be doing later.

Lots of interesting cars out at Millbrook, including the new McLaren P1, which was interesting to see driving around.

We started the threshold braking on the mile straight, and immediately found the car was still too rear biased. I wound out the bias valve to the limit of its extent (where it rattles), and the bias improved, but it was still borderline and more rear biased than is ideal. We got plenty of heat into the brakes doing braking to a stop from 60 mph and then building up to 90. Colin throught it was a significant improvement on last time, and we could go ahead with the training, but it would benefit from fixing. We then discussed how hard it is to fix something like this without an engineering team at a track.

Moving on from brake work we went to the high-speed bowl to start with double lane change in lanes 1 and 2 at speeds from 30 to 40 mph, getting smooth fast steering input but keeping the throttle balanced to avoid accelerating / decelerating while we did so. This went well and the car was behaving.

We then went to the 2-mile banked circle for high-speed driving. This started at at 85 mph to see how the car felt, then up to 105 in the outside lane before stopping and having a chat about it. Compliance and bump steer was discussed and the need to let the cat do the work rather than putting in lots of little steering inputs in an attempt to compensate (I wasn’t doing much of this).

We went back out and took the car up to 130 mph with me concentrating on relaxing and it went quite well. I think it used all the rear suspension travel at one point and there was a tiny wheel / arch rub. Wind-noise was significant above 100 mph, but the car felt stable even over this quite lumpy surface. Colin was quite happy with the way it handled.

On the way back to CAT’s base for a break, I thought the exhaust note had changed (blowing?) and power seemed a bit flat at low revs. When we got there the car was very hot with a bit of smoke rising from the exhaust manifold and a burning smell, but we could see no evidence of fluid leaks. After coffee and a chat about how dissapointing the recurring brake issues were, as well as the change in exhaust noise. Colin kindly made an offer to help with brake testing when I had made progress on the problem, which was very generous.

We then headed out to do some heel and toe training. This went ok, but a lot of practice will be needed to get the hang of it. However, the car wasn’t sounding great through the lower part of the rev range, and Colin contacted control to see if we could get garage space to look at the car. They were able to accomodate us, and we had a garage with drive-on 4 post lift. Passing the McLaren P1, an MP4-12C and a few other interesting vehicles on the way.

Up on the ramp there was nothing visibly wrong or any leaks. A Millbrook mechanic turned up and helped inspect the car. An exhaust hanger on the rear box was quite cracked and was misssing the circlip that should secure it. The gearbox was very hot, but I believe that is normal due to the position of the cats (alongside it). No blowing was apparent from underneath when the car was running, but with a few revs it didn’t sound right. Colin also thought there was some pinking / knocking at low revs when trying to drive onto the ramp.

With the car not sounding right, and the exhaust seeming hotter than it should we headed back to CAT’s base for lunch (which had kindly been collected for us) and called it a day. With the car running badly it seemed too risky to drive it home so I called Jason at TVR Power  to discuss dropping it off before calling Britannia Rescue to arrange a pickup.

Colin again offer to complete the day when the problems were sorted, at least we were 1/2 way through. This is tremedously generous given it is the 2nd time this has happened and I can’t imagine many companies would be as understanding about problems with customer’s cars. He says it quite rare, but it happens. Probably not twice though…

I had a short wait at the back of the visitors car park, before an impressive low-loader came to collect me. Sufficiently low that the TVR could drive on (it was running enough to drive on). The transporter was from Guise Motors, and I had a very good chap with the chap (who had worked there for 35 years) about many aspects of car recovery on the way to Coventry.


It was an impressively long arrangement with the load bed out.


The trip to TVR Power was fine, and after chatting with Jason I offloaded the car into TVR Power’s car park. It was still running ok at idle and slowly, but based on some of the driving around Millbrook towards the end, I think a motorway journey would have been a bad / terminal idea. This was 4pm, and I could get a lift home if I could get to Birmingham International for 5pm.

They could lend me a car, but only if I could return it by Saturday, and I have a busy few days coming up and who knows if it would be fixed. Dom’s Sagaris was there and he was on holiday, but apprently that is not the usual loan car 🙁

At TVR Power

An opportunity presented itself when their cleaner arrived to drop some things off and, with a little fuel money, a lift to Coventry station was provided. A quick train journey linked me up with a relaxing lift home in an XC90.

The car has been a dissapointment. I thought the brakes were fixed. I thought after the money spent on the car and a recent 12k service that I wouldn’t have problems. On the plus side, the suspension work by Neil Garner seems to have paid off and the car is handling well. Even if stopping isn’t quite right and accelerating is now an issue.

I will speak to Jason tomorrow afternoon about what they have found. A good outcome would be some exhaust blockage issue causing the poor running and extra heat. A bad outcome could be all sorts of engine related things…

CAT driver training have been great. Their offers to keep shifting the training are embarrassingly generous and I hope to take them up on it and put more business their way in future.

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