I recently had an interesting chat with our Head of Development and Operations, Stephen Byatt, about his passion for building stuff and winning. Whenever we have a Teams call, you can always see Lego projects that Stephen has built in the background. We quickly moved from Lego to track days, building cars and a thirst to win (Stephen is VERY competitive). I thought others might find these hobbies interesting so decided to share them with you (with Stephen’s permission, of course).
What is a “Autosolo”?
It’s short competitive racing around cones. A bit like gymkhana.
It’s different to circuit racing though. It’s much more of a planned methodical sprint. You walk the track beforehand, so it’s also a feat of memory. Each race takes between 30 and 60 seconds through a couple dozen “gates” marked out with cones. There are 8-12 races at each meet over different circuits. Max speed is rarely above 60mph. It’s good for agile cars that can handle being thrown around. And, the circuit is different every time, even if you go to the same venue.
Do you always go to the same venue?
No. The events are organised by different motor clubs all over the country so not necessarily. Anglian Motor Sports Club invites clubs from all over the East of England to hold events. The timings from each event are collated by Anglian Motor Sports Club and they give out trophies etc based on the results. You must be a member of one of the motorsports clubs that’s involved to be able to compete.
Each meet has 20 to 40 cars. When I went in my road car last year, I was either 3rd or last. I could get around the track really fast, but my problem was I tended to make a lot of mistakes. You get penalties for making mistakes and it’s often the penalties that decide the places.
What got you interested in it/how did you start doing it?
I discovered that it satisfies my need to build stuff (I use a kit car that I built myself to race), my need to drive competitively and my need to win (I’m VERY competitive).
Are there any significant rules people might not know about?
The car you use in the event has to be road legal – you have to have driven to the event in the same vehicle that you use in the race. This is good in that it means people who race are more level/equalised.
If you break any of the rules then you can get disqualified from the event. It means you can still race in the other events but you’ll lose out on any potential points from that event so it would have a big impact on your potential final place.
What’s your favourite/worst memory on the track?
Favourite – first time I did anything competitive. I had done lots of track days for fun but in a competitive setting, it just brought it all to life. There is something to compete for, a target. I noticed that your neighbours in the paddocks are much more chatty – willing to share what times they get, braking points etc. Even though it’s competitive there’s a lot more sharing.
Worst – turning up after spending a lot of money getting there, hotels, fuel, new tyres etc only to mess up and ruin the car. At an event at Teesside karting track, I broke the diff because the car had too much grip on a very tight and twisty fast course. I was very disappointed that day.
Have you ever ended up in a situation that has scared you while out on the track?
Race circuits are so much safer than on the road. They have lots of run-off and space, and all the cars are going in the same direction. The last thing they want to do is close the circuit if there is a crash so they’re also really quick to recover you and clean up.
The one place I’ve been truly scared was at Nordschleife at Nürburgring racetrack in the Eifel forest in Germany. It’s such a big track (13 miles) that it’s impossible to remember the whole track. It catches out the inexperienced. I came off the circuit once and ended up on the grass and thought I was going to end up in the trees. That was scary.
If you could pick any car, what would be your dream car to use?
I don’t think I can answer that, I want to try them all.
What car do you drive when you do the autosolo?
An MEV Exocet. It’s a kit-car based upon an MX5. I had all the parts delivered to work so my wife didn’t see how much I’ve been ordering!! I built it in my workshop at home. It will do 0-60mph in 2.5 seconds (on a good day, with favourable winds). It weighs almost nothing and has more than 300bhp. It’s very driveable though and works well as both a road and race car. Except if it rains, as there’s no roof, windscreen or heater!
Do you have a black box fitted when you’re driving round the track?
Yes. There’s always at least one box fitted. Primarily, as a tracker just in case it gets stolen. Secondly, telematics can help in motorsport. Looking at gyro and accelerometer data after the race can shed light on racing performance. I need all the help I can get to win trophies!
Isn’t it a bit of an expensive hobby?
Yes, but it’s worth it!
What would be your number 1 tip for someone who wants to get into autosolo or track days?
That’s easy – driver tuition. People automatically assume they’ve got to do something clever with their car but, in reality, a rookie is only ever going to be as good as the training they get. Lessons in track driving are far more important than the type of car you’re using.
What the biggest mistake a rookie should avoid?
Taking it too seriously. Just enjoy yourself and “be prepared to spend a s**t load of money”.