Fabia vRS goes on track

My first ever outing on a track was at the Nurburgring a couple of years ago, and my second was at the Nurburgring this year! After having a great time but scaring myself silly on the Green Hell I decided it was time to give a UK track day a go. Back in September the opportunity arose to have some tuition at Blyton Park in a Rallycross prepared Suzuki Swift courtesy of Swift Rallycross. Since I had learned the lines and braking points at Blyton Park I decided that it was the perfect place for my first track day and a couple of weeks ago I found myself and my Fabia on a Javelin track day.

With a 106 Rallye on the drive you may be wondering why I took the Fabia vRS instead! There are a couple of reasons behind this, the principal one being that I fear I am fighting a losing battle against fitting in the 106, at well over 6′ I’m genuinely not sure that I will fit with a helmet on! The second major issue being that the brakes on the Pug are errm…limited, and so it was that I found myself on a cold October morning at Blyton Park in the Fabia. In the run up to the track day I had made all the important checks to the car including brakes, tyres and fluids but with it being a standard road car there was little else to prepare. I did fit the front towing eye just to be on the safe side but am pleased to say that this wasn’t required!

Upon arrival I was confronted with a huge array of machinery from Caterhams and highly tuned Evos arriving on trailers to tatty 106s and diesel Mondeos.  However, the atmosphere was friendly and relaxed with the day seeming well organised. After signing on it was time for the safety briefing which was clear and fairly strict and it was then back to the car to prepare for the sighting laps.  Having been out at Blyton Park previously I was familiar with the layout but it was nice to have a bit of a refresher. Once the three sighting laps were done and dusted, all of the more serious track cars underwent various tweaks and checks while I sat in the car waiting for the track to open. There were few takers when the track initially opened so I decided that it would be a good chance to get out and get a few laps in and before I knew it I was throwing my ‘warm’ diesel hatch into the first corner at Blyton Park. For the first few laps everything went well and I was remembering the lines and braking points and enjoying the space on track. Then, about 4 laps in, there was a smell, an odd burning smell! I initially put this down to the M3 and MX5 that had just gone past but on my next lap round, whilst driving in clear air, the smell remained and was getting stronger so I pulled off to check it out and was confronted by a massive heat haze from the front brakes and substantial amounts of smoke! I was a little alarmed initially so left the brakes to cool down for a while and the smoking stopped after a few minutes.  After my second stint the smell returned with a little bit of smoke but by the third stint the smoking had stopped altogether…phew!

I had been worried about how well the car would cope compared to the others on track and while it was undoubtedly one of the slower cars there it didn’t disgrace itself and on the straights was quicker than a number of other cars. With standard brakes it was under braking and during cornering that the Fabia lost out, but trying to maintain momentum and hit the right lines was very enjoyable. One of the reasons I had put off doing a track day was that I had worried about the risk of an accident but was pleased to find that the standard of driving was generally very good. I rarely felt under pressure from other cars and by moving aside as early as possible to let faster cars by I found I could relax more and enjoy my time when I was in clear air. The usual suspects like the Evos were blisteringly quick but the two surprises of the day were a MK1 Clio and MK2 Corsa, these two clearly didn’t have their standard engines and had been on the receiving end of some serious track preparation and were enormously quick as a result, at one stage a 911 GT3 RS moved aside to allow the Clio to pass!

The atmosphere throughout the day proved very relaxed and I got chatting to a few other drivers and even received a couple of complements on how well the Fabia was going from a guy in a lovely MK1 MX5 Turbo and another in a Civic Type R, which was nice to hear given that I wasn’t sure what reception a standard diesel road car would get. To top the day off, I got to have a go in a DC2 Integra Type R. This car probably attracted more attention than any other car there and I had got chatting to the owner whilst the track was closed to clean up an oil spill, and out of the blue he asked if I wanted to take it for spin! I didn’t need to be asked twice and we were soon off for a quick blast around the Lincolnshire countryside. The ITR was outstanding and undoubtedly one of the best cars I have ever driven, the combination of screaming VTEC, precise gear change and incredible cornering ability made for a very appealing package (now a serious contender to succeed the Pug)!

After the outing in the Integra the track opened for the final 20 minutes of the day and I was off out again. This final session was a lot of fun as many people had packed up and left while the track was closed so the few of us remaining enjoyed a nice quiet session. All in all I had probably put in around 60 laps of the track which wasn’t a huge amount across the day but it meant that I hadn’t taken too much out of the brakes and tyres of what is ultimately my daily driver and I had been able to relax and enjoy the day and just go out for a session as and when I felt like it thanks to the open pit lane format. The Blyton Park track is extremely enjoyable with a mixture of both sweeping and tight, technical corners which are highly rewarding when you get them right. The tarmac is beautifully smooth so you can be confident of not hitting any bumps or rough patches and to cap it off, with it being an old airfield, there is plenty of run off should you happen to push a bit hard and run wide.

So, a great track, a great day and a lot of fun in what is essentially a pretty basic warm hatch. I would have no hesitation in taking the Fabia on track again and I hope to now get along to plenty more track days!

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