Behind the scenes: 2017 Cadwell Park test
The MSA Time Attack championship pitched its tents at Cadwell Park for this year's official pre-season test.
Cadwell Park, located in Lincolnshire, is the venue for Round 1 in May and is known by fans as the ‘mini-Nürburgring’. Having commentated and worked there before, but never actually driven it, I never quite appreciated how true that is.
That is, until now. It makes perfect sense. Barely two cars wide at some points, with twisting uphill and downhill sections spaced out by fast sweeping corners and radical elevation and gradient changes, Cadwell Park lives up to its nickname as a miniature version of the infamous 'Green Hell'.
I’ll let this steam of consciousness on the text messages, after my first session on track, do the talking:
Cadwell Park is a real handling circuit that provided a great opportunity to learn more about the VXR. The original plan was to develop and tune the chassis over the course of the season, but the demands of Cadwell mean attention will have to be devoted to handling as a priority as it's the calendar's first round, and one of the championship’s most technical circuits. Testing there really drove that point home - properly set up coilover suspension and beefy anti-roll bars are the flavours of the day.
A unique challenge of the circuit is its steep elevation changes, including a sharp crest over which superbikes are often seen becoming airborne. Particularly challenging is the braking zone into Mansfield corner, at the bottom of a compression. Not only is braking more difficult than usual due to gravity accelerating the car down the hill, but the weight of the car leans forward naturally due to the gradient of the descent - couple that with the weight transfer under heavy braking and the car becomes very front-heavy and light at the rear on turn in.
Make no mistake – the VXR is a capable machine in road guise and a total country lane monster. It takes no hostages and happily deploys its brutish power to hammer down the straights to comfortably keep up with its Clubman rivals.
However, under hard driving on track, the suspension is a little too soft and too road-biased, with a strong tendency towards understeer. While strong on the straights, its performance through corners clearly requires a little more… refinement. So much so that with the upgrades we have planned by Round 1, hopefully the VXR will be able to comfortably discuss the finest works of Frédéric Chopin.
Uh, wait. Wrong kind of refinement. But you get what I mean.