With the British Grand Prix approaching this weekend, the Vauxhall Astra is F1 grid coach Rob Wilson’s somewhat unlikely choice as the ideal car for sustained track use.Based at Bruntingthorpe Proving Ground in South Leicestershire, Rob is instrumental in carving split seconds from the lap times of at least 12 drivers on the current grid, using a standard Astra road car.
The Astras Rob uses have clocked up 16,000 track miles at full race speed, which is 7,250 laps of Bruntingthorpe. The brake discs take an absolute battering with 94,000 corners on the limit and over 50,000 hard-braking zones – a miracle then, that they are changed just twice per year. And despite 75,000 manual gear shifts there have been no problems with the gearbox or clutch. The only durability issue is tyres – Rob gets through 600 replacements every year.
“The Astra is the ideal car for sustained track use,” said Rob Wilson. “We’ve had zero clutch or gearbox problems, and the engines run on the limit all year round. The only thing we ever have to change regularly are brake pads. We will replace front brake discs perhaps twice a year – they are glowing bright red at least once a lap.”
Rob’s techniques, which have been honed from his own long and successful career in motorsport, assume a very high base-line in driving ability at the start of his sessions. The focus is on cornering and braking rates of weight transfer and how to optimise both by adopting sometimes counter-intuitive braking and cornering techniques; even gear-changing comes under the microscope: ‘Many top drivers have never heel-and-toed during down-changes, because they’ve never needed to. But the discipline makes them appreciate the importance of smoothness and how it can have a positive effect on the balance of the car into corners,’ said Rob.
So of all the production cars Rob could have chosen over the past 15 years that he’s been running his sessions, why has he opted for Vauxhalls? “Stability, handling predictability and durability – these seem to come as standard in every Vauxhall I’ve used,” said Rob. “The cars have an unbelievably hard time out on our track, as drivers try to beat my lap time, so I need to know that they’re not going to break, or do something unexpected when we’re cornering at over 100mph.”