Anyway, Alfa driving! I've been out in the Alfa two more times since the end of June, and according to The Gnu I'm doing much better at it.
The second outing was on the 5th of July (I forget which day). Originally The Gnu had planned a grand tour of the local fast A-roads (a mix of the A29 around Billingshurst, the A264 as far as the M23/A23 junction, and a few bits of the A24 and A281 that link them together), but I'd asked my instructor during the week what I should be practising and she immediately said "oncoming traffic". So we shelved that route for another time, and instead set out for the centre of Billingshurst.
Which only contained a few parked cars in unhelpful locations, but made up for it with an awful lot of mini-roundabouts. Evil mini-roundabouts. Now, the ones round here are reasonably well laid-out - they're placed centrally on to the roads, and have plenty of space round them. The Billingshurst ones... very much not so. They're offset massively to one side (to the point where on one they've not even bothered painting the white circle in the middle), have kerbs that stick out as you enter and leave them, and to make things more fun one of them is on a hill.
The reason for this craziness is historical - originally the A281 went straight through the middle of Billingshurst, but around 10 or 20 years ago the council built a bypass. And then to discourage people from taking a shortcut through the middle they squeezed in the mini-roundabouts and added a shedload of traffic calming. Since the mini-roundabouts (and indeed a road wide enough for two-way traffic!) was never part of the original town, none of the junctions had anywhere near enough space to sensibly fit them in. This is rather typical of small towns in Sussex, and the worrying thing is Billingshurst is tame compared to some - just look at Petworth!
Anyway, back to the driving. We set off from the same point as last time - the new housing estate just outside Broadbridge Heath - and made our way to Billingshurst. The Gnu tried to talk me me through changing down the gears the way he does, which resulted in me concentrating too much on the gears and clutch and not enough on my speed and so I took the first roundabout a bit too quickly! Fortunately the Alfa has a lot of grip and so stayed glued to the road as we went round. That's one reason why I'm considering a 147 as a first car - it'll have the handling to get me out of trouble (unfortunately it'll also have enough power to let me get into trouble, so maybe it's not such a good idea...). We agreed to not try to teach me his driving style just yet, and settled down to play tunes with different routes in and around Billingshurst. After getting increasingly frazzled by the evil mini-roundabouts (and a good half-dozen or so loops - I lost count) we eventually called it quits, and The Gnu drove back to Horsham.
The third outing was on the 13th. This time we decided we'd had more than enough of mini-roundabouts, and so went for a longer drive - Broadbridge Heath to Billingshurst, do one loop through the town centre, north up Stane Street until the A281, and then back to Broadbridge Heath along the Guildford Road. Then do it all again if I was up for it!
It went mostly alright - I think I was much better at approaching the roundabouts, and The Gnu commented that my clutch control on the Alfa had improved a fair bit. He'd done some research and had worked out why I found the Alfa's clutch lumpier than the Ford's. The Alfa has a traditional lump-of-metal flywheel, but the Ford has a dual-mass one - what this actually is is two flywheels joined together with springs, effectively allowing the engine and gearbox shafts to 'twist' in relation to each other. From a forum quote he found:
"Torque reaction reduction - Modern diesels and petrol turbos can kick out some very strong torque very abruptly and the DMF absorbs some of the initial 'shunt' on the crank shaft, if my non scientific blurb makes sense!
Nicer clutch pedal - SMFs can have quite an abrupt bite on the pedal, making the car easier to stall. DMFs again absorb some of the initial 'shock' of the clutch plates coming together, which creates that nice spongy and vague pedal feel people seem to like these days."
This fits with how the Ford and Alfa feel to drive, and certainly I've found that driving the Alfa has improved my clutch control in the Ford. The other thing that I finally sussed was clutch control when downshifting while braking: you can't blip the throttle as your foot is on the brake pedal, and quickly releasing the clutch will do the car no favours as power is suddenly transferred backwards through the drivetrain. Instead you have to gently feed in the clutch, while continuing to brake and steer and everything. Anyway, it all suddenly clicked for me on that drive, and having worked it out in the Alfa I'm now finding it easier to handle the clutch in the Ford.
I did get caught out at a couple of points on the drive, most memorably on the route out of Billingshurst at the junction with Stane Street. I was heading straight on, which I thought was the first exit and so signalled left as per my teaching. Then I entered the roundabout, and discovered a tiny little road off to the side that was the real first exit. I don't remember seeing it marked on the sign at all (though I'm sure jonners99_uk will correct me if I'm wrong)! Anyway, since I was signalling left the only thing to do was to take that exit, turn round, and have another go at the roundabout.
The other thing is I do need to make sure I don't rely on hill assist at junctions. Especially when driving the Alfa, as it doesn't have any! I didn't think I'd been using it that much (especially as on the Ford it never seemed to do much on proper hills), but it appears that the Ford's hill assist is very subtle and is actually working to hold you on slight slopes that you don't notice. Until you drive something a little older, and find that the road isn't flat at all and in that smidgen between releasing the brake and finding the bite on the clutch you've started to roll back slightly.
Oh, and I finally stalled the Alfa (not quite enough power trying to join the roundabout at the far side of Broadbridge Heath), and then got momentarily confused as the Alfa doesn't have stop/start and so doesn't automatically restart itself. I think it took me something like three or four lessons before I stalled the Ford as well. I don't think it helped that I'd just spent the entire Guildford Road between Stane Street and Broadbridge Heath following a struggling cyclist. It's surprisingly hard work trying not to run into the back of them!
I didn't get to do any Alfa driving last weekend or this one (the parents were away sorting out family affairs), but next weekend I'm in the area for jonners99_uk birthday and should be able to get some more hours in. Probably best to do the Alfa driving before the birthday karting, though...