It all started when a friend of mine decided to build an Exocet. For those of you who don’t know what an Exocet is, an Exocet is a tubular frame that is designed to work with the drivetrain and suspension of an MX-5. Although that is a DIY KIT in a way, it involves a lot of fabrication in order to have a complete car. Understanding this concept and being an interesting project, I decided to help him out with this endeavor.
About a year later I received a call from him saying that he booked a full weekend at Blyton Park for the debut shakedown of his creation, and asked me if I wanted to join in. Like any normal person would do, I accepted this interesting and kind offer from him. The plan was to drive my Eunos Roadster known as ‘_BlueFive_’ on saturday and on sunday share the Exocet.
After booking hotels and tickets, the big day has come. I left the hotel at around 7am then headed out closer to the track and put some good petrol then showed up into the paddock. After you find a nice parking spot, you need to go to the main office and sign up, get some stickers for the event and then wait for the mandatory briefing. Sometimes there is a noise inspection between those initial phases of an event. At the briefing along with safety regulations and track regulations they will inform you about the timetable of the event, which layout of the track is going to be used along with how the sighing laps will be run. For our case we were splitted in two groups for the sighting laps and we were running the short track in the morning and the long one in the evening. After the briefing and the clock ticking close to 9am people started queuing up for the sighting laps of the two groups. Those laps are in low speed with a pace car in front, and they are meant to familiarise the drivers to the best lines and the track itself.
At around 10am all sighting laps have ended and it is the point where the good fun begins. Blyton park being an ex airport offers a lot of safe run off area and most of the tricky corners, like chicanes, have plenty of straight run off area. Which means that you can push the car a lot, both in brakes and corners. At that particular track day I was testing a new wheel alignment that I came up with along with some new brake pads. It was moist and was going into drier and drier grip. The short layout proved to be tiring for the poor Eunos, but it had a lot of fun and interesting sections. Most notably, the last section of the track where it starts with Port Froid, a high speed chicane, then it follows a slight deceptive right and you stay right for a mid speed chicane, a small window, and then an even slower chicane, then a hard right that ends into an 180 left, usually slippery in damp conditions.
A couple of laps later and a lot of fun, we had lunch between 12pm to 1pm then everyone was getting ready for the sighting laps of the long layout. I was more familiar with this layout, and it was the perfect opportunity to check and compare how this new wheel alignment was performing. The car was responsive and neutral, slightly towards the oversteer side. It was giving me an impression that it would slide, but it had a lot more to give in terms of grip. On the other hand the brake pads were doing an absolutely insane job, even after 30min of constant hot lapping they didn’t fade at all. Bear in mind that Blyton park is quite an abusive track for the brakes. The car was definitely faster from its old setup. One of the most fun parts of Blyton park are the chicanes, as you can through an Eunos Roadster there doing 60mph and it will be able to maintain this speed throughout without a sweat. That is with normal road tires, if fitted with semi slicks then it starts to be considered a goKart rather than a car. I had one of those experiences in that track with a tuned MX-5 meant for sprint racing. On any track day, the best part is when the day is about to finish, because most people are tired and the track is mostly empty. That usually is the time to go uninterrupted for as long as the car and your body can stand. I tend not to lose this rare chance.
After this amazing day, we hung up a bit in the paddock, talked with other drivers and headed off to get some dinner in a nearby pub. Then some good rest at the hotel, and mental preparation for the next day. I was worried about the weather, as the Exocet being an open wheel car it will be more like a hurricane storm in your face rather than a track day. My other worry was how it would feel. Would it be like a lighter MX-5 or something completely different.
On Sunday, finally the time to experience the car has come. Same procedure as on Saturday with the only difference that the whole day we will run the long layout. At the start of the day, my friend informed me about some issues he had with the Exocet so far. Also the car was running the same wheel alignment as my Eunos, because we used the same shop for this job and the shop mechanic found my settings interesting to test them in the Exocet. I’m so glad he did! Apart from this good news, the car had different compound brake pads front and rear making the rear wheels lock on hard braking. One of the rear alignment bolts wasn’t at the best state of holding the alignment. Finally the car had huge grip issues, unable to warm up the tires due to reduced weight and very hard tire compound. We tried to reduce tire pressure, ending up at 17psi front! and 22psi rear. We also soften up the suspension in order to eliminate some oversteer from the really low weight of the tail and also improve overall grip. Lap after lap the car was becoming faster and faster. At some point, other drivers were coming to find us in the paddock and ask us about the car, only to find out that it was a naturally aspirated 1.6 motor producing 120hp, same as my Eunos roadster. Funny enough both cars have about the same corner speed, but the Exocet is more stable around the chicanes. The biggest gains of the Exocet are in the straights and braking zones. It turned out that the Exocet was about 5 whole seconds faster.
Driving the Exocet is an insane experience, the wind, the noise and the vibrations contributing to a real race car experience, almost feels and drives like an open wheel race car, the only difference is that it is road legal and has 2 seats. In the fast sections it was understeering quite a bit, but that was due to the tires mostly, overall the balance between oversteer and understeer is there. If you positioned the car correctly it could easily exit the corner with the tail turning the car while you hold the steering at a straight position. Compared to an MX-5 it was more snappy when you overdo it, but still really controllable and informative. In terms of weight, the tail is way lighter than the front, that is why the alignment worked a bit, but needs specific tuning for this application. It definitely has a lot of potential, and don’t forget that all this performance with a wrong brake balance. As the day was progressing, and we were pushing limits, people had to move on the left more and more often so we could overtake them. It is one of the regulations of the track days that you overtake in straights and only if the driver ahead lets you pass. Which can be frustrating with my Eunos, as it is fast only in corners, however the Exocet is a different beast.
An interesting feature of the long layout of Blyton park is the two 90 deg corners before the start finish line. The second one, that leads in the final straight, has a sausage curb in its exit, after the main curb as a hard limit. Some of you may remember that alignment bolt that wasn’t quite working, right? As we were pushing limits, my friend took that corner quite enthusiastically, and his tail ended up on that curb, disturbing the bolt and the alignment of the car. After that, I tried to go fast but the car was too unstable to be considered safe, at some point I almost lost it doing 90 plus mph at the fast chicane. So, we called it a day, and we saved ourselves from getting blackflaged for drifting and dangerous driving along with all the other consequences that may come from that.
We closed the day a bit heavy hearted but overall it was a great weekend with amazing experiences and loads of fun and adventure. I will keep looking forward to repeating such an experience for sure.