Cadwell Park Sept 2013
Post Oulton Park, I had hauled the engine/box unit out for GOOD LOOK AT. With no syncro at all either going up or down the gears at any speed and no matter how carefully I tried to persuade them in to engagement I absolutely had to deal with that. Stripping that down revealed one or two horrors not dealt with by the previous owner/builder. With all new baulk rings fitted, a replacement 1st/2nd syncro hub assembly and those horrors dealt with I turned my attention to the engine. Checking the cam timing revealed there was something amiss... it was miles retarded. I guessed at a very stretched cam drive chain. Removing the cam drive cover (timing cover) confirmed that – the chain looked so slack it could have had a couple too many links in it! I have never seen a chain so stretched. Attempting to remove the camshaft revealed the likely cause... Having removed the cam gear then cam retaining plate I went to pull the cam out as you normally do. Except it would not budge. Now I have pretty strong fingers, but I could not move it a fraction of an inch. I refitted the cam gear to use as a better purchase and be able to rotate it at the same time... but I couldn't rotate it either! Strewth. I had wondered why the cam nut was tight to remove from the end of the cam. Closer inspection revealed it appeared to have been whacked with a hammer at some point. To remove the cam required the use of a drift and hammer. Once the rear journal was disengaged, the cam came out easily. Carefully re-fitting the cam supported by the front and centre journals then rotating it you could see the oil pump end journal circulating eccentrically! I clocked it with a DTI – it had a 0.016” bend in it! Whoever fitted this must have had to use a hammer. The drag caused must have been costing some 10 BHP losses, let alone the massively retarded cam timing.
With the whole unit re-built and all problems sorted out (new cam etc.), I slotted it back in to the car. A run up on Steve Hoe's rolling road facility and a few tweaks’ and it was giving the same power as Pat and Ant Ford's engines. Cool. Steve then put the car on the ramps to give it a full suspension geometry check on his whizz Hoffman laser four wheel alignment machine. A pretty damned impressive piece of kit. He took a full set of readings as it was, I then gave him a set of settings I wanted on it and he set too making all the adjustments. I also had another good look to see if I could identify where this weird over-steer thing was coming from. Nothing at all obvious. Hmph. Well -we'd just have to see how it performed at the next race at the superb Cadwell Park. Oh – all this was done the Thursday before the race. And I had spent several hours one night taking the seat in and out trying to find the best compromise position. Whoever had fitted the steering column support/strengthening bracket had managed to pull the whole column further over to the right than the standard column angle is. So that wasn't ideal.
The weather was set to be fine and dry with sunny intervals and so it proved. With Karin working I was on my own for this one, and as Cadwell is only some hour and a half down the road I elected to travel down Saturday morning rather than stay overnight. Pre-qualifying consisted of signing on, scrutineering, re-scrutineering (a particularly officious little Hitler scrutineer picked faults that nobody else had bothered with), washing the car, cleaning the windows, setting tyre pressures, then getting a willing helper to adjust the shoulder straps of my harness as they were now a bit too long following moving the seat. Oh - and sort mirror angles too. Good to go, I headed off to the assembly area at the allotted time. Getting my head round this car and applying it to the very technical circuit that Cadwell is had the old grey matter working in over-drive. I was making a reasonable job of some of it, and a complete hash of the rest of it. After several laps I noticed water droplets on the left side of the windscreen. A good look at it next time down one of the long straights and I could see rust-brown specks, suggesting all was not good with the coolant side of things. I had been watching the gauge – there had been no signs of impending problems, and now it was reading 60 degrees C. Odd. It had been reading 80 or so before. The sensible thing to do was retire as I had done enough laps to qualify. So that's what I did.
Back in the paddock, first things first, I changed from battle dress to civvies and headed off for breakfast. Replete, removing the bonnet revealed the radiator cap had popped off and was sitting on the top extra engine steady bracket. Odd, I was certain I had tightened it down fully. After allowing the engine to cool considerably I re-filled the cooling system, re-fitted the cap and added a tie-wrap to prevent it from coming undone again. A fuel check showed I had hardly used any so didn't add any more. The short time on the track was not really long enough to assess whether the geometry changes were the way to go, but the car did feel more stable and consistent. One thing it did highlight though – the seat was now just too far back. I was not able to reach the top of the steering wheel properly, and first gear was awkward to engage. Well practised at this, the seat was removed and refitted a shade further forward in minutes. Luckily the previous strap adjustment still allowed me to set the shoulder straps as needed. A glance at the qualifying times sheet showed my first attempts at this circuit had me 10 or 11 seconds behind the front runners. Not great, but an improvement over Oulton where I was some 20-odd seconds adrift!
Race one. In the assembly area a very intensive search of the inside of the race car was undertaken to see if there were any unwanted guests hitching a ride... the place was plagued with a wasp infestation. The level of which I have never experienced before! The last thing you need when pounding round a race circuit as fast as you can manage is a wasp buzzing drunkenly about! Starting from the back of the 11 car grid I made a good start again, but backed off going in to the first turn. I was here to learn the car, not to fight it out with the others. Not that I ever expected to be close enough to judging by the mad speed these guys get out of these cars. I certainly didn't want to be Mr Unpopular by snookering anybody. I duly followed the pack up the hill (Coppice), through the next right-hander, down to the following sharper right-hander (Charley's) that leads on to the back (Park) straight. Charley's I just messed up completely, was way too slow through it – and that costs you dearly down the long drag to the next corner (Park). By the time we were headed for the completely mad goose-neck S bend I was lagging behind. After the goose neck I was way behind. No matter, I just wanted to concentrate on driving the car and trying to sort myself out in it. The seating position was much better, the pedals at a more favourable position and I could reach the steering wheel properly. So that was all good. Trying to use the advice on relevant gears for all the corners as passed on by Pat (Ford, not racing today – long story), I settled for dealing with them in sections. Trying to solve the whole lot in one go was not a good plan. The end of the race came round seemingly too quickly – probably because of the level of concentration I was pouring in dealing with the various essential corners for best lap times. I was very aware of two places where I was making a real mess of hustling through them. Both cost a huge amount of lost lap time. The first one being Charley's. Not carrying the maximum amount of speed through here dramatically reduces the speed you carry all the way down park straight to Park Corner. And that seriously compromises lap time. The second was the goose neck. This is a mad S bend that is completely blind until you get in to the second stage of it, and it falls steeply down away from you in to the tight left-hander that is Mansfield. Again, a place where you lose a significant amount of lap time if you do not carry enough speed through it. The big problem here is, aside from it being a real test of nerve; it relies very heavily on you being 100% confident in the car you are driving. Approached flat out in fourth on a long bend that leads in to the goose neck (no straight section at all to get any braking done, so you are going to be braking with the car cornering fast and hard) you need to lose a little speed to settle the car before clipping the first apex on the right-hand entry before literally floating the car over the brow of the down-hill entry to the second left-hand apex and allowing it to drift out right to the kerb. The words here do not describe the immense leap of faith required to get through this section fast. I was not doing at all well here, mostly because I was attempting it in 3rd gear so having to lose quite a bit of speed, which meant I was braking hard to do so. The car had become seriously unstable at this point. I wondered at how the others could get through it so fast. Nevertheless I plugged away at the other sections, determined to quiz others about getting through there better. The 1 lap to go board came out all too soon, and that was race one completed. On the cooling down lap I noticed wisps of steam floating past the left side window... looking at the water temp gauge that had previously been showing 85-90 deg C all race was now showing 60, and falling... slowing right down I knew I was out of water once again.
Back in the paddock once more, in the post race scrutineering queue, lifting the bonnet showed the rad cap was still in place... but steam exiting via the over-flow pipe. Humph. Following release from post race scrutineering I removed the bonnet to allow the very hot engine to cool so analysis of this over-heating issue could be done. In the meantime all the usual checks were made to tyre pressures, fuel levels, etc. Steve Hoe and several of the Mini Bombers club from Lincoln were in attendance, and they popped over several times during the day to see how I was getting on. They turned up at this point and I discussed with Steve the possibility of this brand new rad cap being potentially of poor manufacture. Something that has reared its ugly head in recent months. He kindly offered to loan me the rad cap off his road-burner Mini he had come in for the second race, so that was fitted, along with the restraining tie-wrap as a belts and braces. I made a mental note at that point to only ever use the excellent Stant rad caps on my race cars, same type as I had use for ever on my Clubby racer. With everything good to go for the second race, we went off to watch the Mighty Minis race where the stunningly capable and quick Zak Booth run away with a win. At just 17 he is blindingly quick in a race car. I wish I had a modicum of his ability! The post race results sheets showed I had improved my lap times by a couple of seconds, and felt the car was much better generally than the race at Oulton, though it seemed to develop inconsistent handling and braking after the first half of the race. Something I need to try and concentrate on in the second race to make as good an assessment of what was going on as possible. I also canvassed Neven Kirkpatrick for some tuition with the corners at which I was struggling, considering the fruitfulness of his words of wisdom at Oulton. Particularly concerning the goose neck. I don't think he realises just how good his explanations of dealing with these issues are. But thanks Neven – you have been a great help thus far.
Back of the grid once more and now down to just nine 9 cars.
Another good start, but again I backed off a bit so as not to cause any fray in to the first corner. This time I stayed much closer to the tail end of the pack, and was doing a creditable job of sticking with them right up until we got to Mansfield (corner after the goose neck), where I selected first gear instead of third. I realised I had done this before letting the clutch out because of the distinct sound a syncro box makes when you do this, so kept the clutch in, changed from first to third then let the clutch out. Of course this caused a right tangle for me trying to negotiate the sharp left corner at the same time. The consequence was a dramatic loss of ground on the rest of the pack. In such one-make and restricted modification formulas you have to be an exceptional driving talent, or driving a questionably legal car to make up ground again. Ho-hum, back to the original aim of the day, getting to know the car. Mindful of what Pat had explained about getting through Charley's faster, and Neven's wise words re the goose neck, I really felt I was making progress. Until about half way through the race that was, when the car developed both handling and braking weirdness’s. Under heavy braking the rear seemed to be determined to get to the corner before the front end, causing me some interesting issues turning up in to the mountain, and suspension instability particularly in to the goose neck. Not a place to have a wayward car. I persisted until the end though, always worthwhile to keep learning. Another race finished, but again there was steam blowing out of the left side of the car, and on the slowing down lap the distinct smell of very hot oil... At post race scrutineering, removal of the bonnet showed the radiator cap to be in place, but steam venting heavily out of the over-flow pipe. And the nice new coat of bright red paint had turned distinctly sickly hue with bubbles in it showing on the cylinder.
The results sheet showed I had taken nearly 3 seconds off my first race lap times, so I was down to some 7 to 8 seconds off the leaders... about the same as I was at Oulton Park. Work to do then. But I was pretty pleased all in all. There are some major issues with the car that need attending to to sort out the handling and braking problems. Then there's the extremely cooked engine that was pretty knackered already when I re-built it. A full and proper re-build would be needed. I should have thought a little deeper about the severe coolant staining on the bulkhead of this car when I first took possession on it. In hindsight this engine/cooling system seems to have been a problem before. Despite me hot caustic tanking the block, head and radiator during the re-build I did, the problem is persisting. With the next race about a month away, I won't be doing it. I simply do not have the time, and there's no point going out in a car that is looking to cause me heart failure at any opportunity. Though, I did get the better of it this time out, keeping it on the black stuff.
Some folks kindly enthused, post race, about the driving skills I displayed at various points when the car wanted to go in a different direction and at an alternative attitude that I intended. However, the drivers with the real skill are at the pointy end of the grid – driving these cars stunningly quickly whilst making it look so easy.
A new Endeavour
Super Mighty Mini Racing – A new endeavour. There I was bemoaning the fact that I hadn't done any racing for some 18 months to my mate and customer Pat Ford (he of Super Mighty Mini racing fame and ex champion at it) when he pops up with 'well why don't you borrow my car'. I look at him for a few moments before venturing 'and what are you going to drive whilst I am doing that?' He then went on to explain that he had a complete spare car that he'd bought ostensibly for the power unit as a working spare, apparently the asking price for the whole car was very reasonable so he bought the whole shooting match. It was still complete as he had then no need for the spare engine. So to all intents and purposes it was a ready to race car. How very blooming' cool! I contemplated this offer for around 5 seconds, and snatched his hand off on the offer. Super Mighty Minis is half of the Mighty Minis race series, the other half being the Mighty Minis. Mighty Minis are standard 1.3 SPi Rover Cooper cars with very limited suspension modifications allowed. The Supers are allowed some engine modifications to give them some 35-40% more power using a modified cylinder head and 1.5 ratio roller tip rockers amongst other things. Adjustable suspension components are allowed to give some latitude for suspension tweaking too. Being a restricted modifications one-make series, the racing is pretty close. A far cry from my fire-breathing monster-power 1330cc, limited slip diff equipped Clubby. The experience would be interesting. Viewed from the outside many construe these two series to be a bit 'slow'... I was to discover how badly out of whack these presumptions are. Time was short and I would only likely get the last 3 rounds (6 races altogether) in, but it should prove fun. A new challenge, if you will. It would have been 4 rounds but I had promised Karin a proper holiday in the sun this year, and the first feasible round occurred slap bang in the middle of the holiday. Cancelling it would have been somewhat unfair of me, plus I already had a monumental workload in hand to do any way. I got the car several weeks after returning from holiday, immediately sticking it up on axle stands and whisking the wheels off to have a good mosey around it. The car was previously owned by a guy called David Young, not somebody I knew. And latterly I have been informed it was originally built Oulton Park, 31.08.13, Super Mighty Mini. This could be the longest race report I have ever written, and that takes in to account the fact t that each SMM race weekend has two races in each one. My first meeting with the Super Mighty Mini I have been loaned was going to be very interesting. Mostly because I had so little time to prepare the car for use, leaving no time at all for a day’s testing. And to a certain extent, until I had driven the car as it was, I wouldn't know what would need doing, if anything. So it was with excited trepidation that Karin and I set off in the trusty old Merc Sprinter van (read – mobile bedroom) to Oulton Park. The drive there wasn't much fun on a Friday afternoon round some of the worst roads (for traffic) in the UK. Finally getting to the circuit at around 19:00, we then had to unload the race car from the trailer, sort the seat belts for fit, and organise the van for bedroom use instead of parts and tools wagon. After years of doing this I have everything well organised so a few minutes has all tools and spares stacked out of the way and Karin has all the bedding sorted out. We had planned to visit a pub we had found on a walk-about some years back, but time was getting on, my stomach was complaining loudly, and mate Neil Booth, whose step son (Zak Booth, an astonishingly quick and mature driver for a 17 year-old!) is racing in the Mighty Minis, had recommended the food at the track café. So, Karin and I ended up in there. We were not at all disappointed; in fact quite the opposite. The staff was friendly and helpful and the food pretty damned good. A few bevies and a couple of games of crib later and it was time for bed. Signing on was at a fairly respectable 09:20 with scrutineering from 09:20 to 09:50, but race paddocks being race paddocks and some signing on and scrutineering a lot earlier meant the inevitable row that accompanies this. Most annoyingly those that feel they just have to fire up their generators at ludicrously early hours. And why is it the first one to do so is always within 10 yards of you? Ho-hum. Oulton Park is well planned out for signing on and scrutineering – all conducted in the same building. The car sailed through scrutineering. Back at our selected parking spot, Karin set to with cleaning the windows inside and out whilst I double-checked fuel, oil and coolant levels, set tyre pressures and generally fussed about making sure all was good to go come qualifying time. In the absence of any testing or experience in this series/car, Pat was good enough to advise me on tyre pressures to start off with. 10:35 came round pretty quickly, so it was time to head off to the collecting area. Our qualifying session was due to start at 11:05 I think. But the officials had it all under such good control they were ahead of schedule. I wasn't in a rush to get down there since I had brand new tyres to scrub in, new brakes to bed in, and get some idea of what the car handled like. Going out last seemed a good plan to me. Foiled by one Pat Ford, who was last to arrive, so I waved him through once we had been released to play out on the circuit. This should be interesting. Mindful of tyres to scrub in and brakes to bed in, the plan was 3 laps at a relatively sedate pace. It would also give me some idea of what the handling was going to be like. To add to the fun we were racing on the full circuit. Not something I had done before but knew there was a confidence testing serious left hand bend that seems to go on forever but at a fairly tight radius leading in to the heavily banked Shell hair pin, a short sprint to a tight chicane, then out on to the back straight. Having negotiated said serious left bend I squeezed the brakes on fairly rapidly to follow the bedding in procedure and the back end snapped savagely round to the left. Surprise was total and in a blink of an eye I was careering off the circuit sideways on to the inside. Giving head to the cars desired direction, I eased it around and avoided clouting the guard rail, moments later I was back on the circuit with the thought “what the Dickens happened there?” Inevitably with no answer. Hmmm. That response didn't happen again, so I continued with bedding the brakes in and easing speed in to the tyres. Three laps later I started turning on the taps. At this point I simply was not paying attention with what I should be doing as my senses were on over-load trying to get to grips with what the car was about. Several times it attempted to kill me at Druids, a wickedly quick double apex right hander. An inconsistent sudden over-steer tendency revealed itself – the important point to note there is 'inconsistent' – some laps it did it, some laps it didn't. Sometimes it did it in other places, but always right hander’s. Fortunately, though I know I am no hot-shoe, I possess some driving skills born of necessity throughout the years I have been racing and dealing with wayward cars. Those skills kept me on the tarmac instead of spread like so much jam down the guard rails. Having gone from racing a car with lots of power and a limited slip diff where wayward cars can be dealt with more easily by keeping your boot in it and doing driver stuff with the steering wheel – it is a an entirely different kettle of fish in a low-powered car and no limited slip diff... Still, I managed to survive all the idiosyncrasies OK. All this resulted in me driving the car as I sort of would my Clubman GT... Braking, changing down gears, accelerating and so on. Aside from the excitement caused by the unpredictable savage over-steer issues, I felt the whole experience was a bit, well, slow. Back in the paddock once qualifying had finished and post qualifying scrutineering had been done, I discovered why. I was some 20 seconds off the pace. 20 seconds. I obviously qualified dead last out of 13 runners and riders. I have never, ever qualified last on the grid. This was not good. OK, the car was not confidence inspiring to drive flat out, but 20 seconds. A lap, that is. Strewth. Mind you, since this was more of a test day for me rather than a full-on race, I was happy to be at the back. Especially with a wayward-handling car. The very last thing I wanted to do was fire off the start line, get in amongst the others, then have the car snap side-ways and cause something akin to a break in snooker with cars going in all directions. I sauntered over to see Pat and said I needed some help, he asked what gears I was using where. After about 35 seconds of him correcting me, I ventured that he should tell me what gears he was using where. Basically it went like this 'from the start line, you are in top gear all the way to the Shell hairpin which is second or third depending on your engine and grip. Either hold it in third to the chicane or a quick snick in to top, then back to third to go through the chicane. Grab top again as you go over the rise, then second or third in to the chicane that used to be Knicker Brook, again depending on your motor and driving style. But definitely third after the second bend, out past the exit bend, back in to top up the rise, then flat out in top all the way to Deer’s leap which is down to third, back in to top as you rise up the short hill on to the start/finish straight'. I absorbed that for a few moments, before Pat said “these cars don't have any real power so it's all about corner speed”. He's not wrong there. If I had gone in to corners in my GT the way it is necessary to hustle these SMM cars round, I wouldn't have got further than the first bend, Old Hall. In fact I would probably have cleared the tyre wall and guard rail because the entry speed would have been prodigious. Armed with that knowledge, the first race was going to be a completely different experience. But there were other problems to consider first; first was my stomach. Fuel was needed for me. Unfortunately I was too late to absorb the customary and excellent full English breakfast so had to make do with sausages in a bap – which was actually pretty damned good. The driving position was truly awful. It was like trying to drive with your knees up your nose, your feet in a near-vertical plane, and tied together. And then there was the wicked over-steer issue to try and do something about. Plus, the gearbox synchros were patently dead since all down-shifts were accompanied by an almighty graunching noise – despite every effort to ease it – heal and toeing (damned near impossible with the whole driving position and I decided to leave the driving position as it was and madly high pedal surfaces), double de-clutching and leaving down-shifts until the very last minute to pull the gear speeds down and making the shift nice and slowly. The engine temp ran high the entire race as well – an indicted 100 degrees C. First things first though, sort fluids (fuel, oil and coolant). Fuel first. I was taken a-back by how little fuel it had used. I had come equipped with the usual two twenty litre jerry cams and had filled the cars tank to the brim. Checking with a dip stick revealed I had barely used two gallons. It was then that my brain clicked... these things only develop around 85BHP... so it is not going to use the same sort of fuel as the GT. I re-filled it all the same to see what it used in the first race now I had a better idea what I should be doing and would be on maximum throttle in top gear more often. Oil check showed slightly healthy oil consumption. Some of that had leaked out from two leaks at either side of the engine. A top up was carried out there. Then, with the engine temperature at a sensible level, I popped the radiator cap to find what looked like an active aero chocolate bar in the top tank. Sticking my finger in it showed it was a vile mess of corroded coolant jacket and silt. Dealing with that was not going to be at all easy because of the mess of coolant pipes that makes up the SPi cooling system, so I decided that, since it had run that hot but not spat any coolant out, it may be OK. I would have to keep an eye on the engine temperature. I needed to try and find the source of this over-steer issue, but time was not on my side. A quick look at the radius arm again its retaining bracketry revealed nothing. I wondered if it may be a damper pumping itself up and going solid, but no way to test that. Contemplating that; my thoughts turned to the driving position. With so little time available to do anything of a meaningful nature, I bent the throttle pedal up and outwards so at least I could heal and toe properly, though it did mean the pedal was at a horrible angle to use trickling about the paddock and so on. No matter, the race was the important bit. Race one came round so we all headed off to the collecting area, then out on to the track for the warm up lap and finally to the grid where we assembled in our relevant grid slots. Red lights on, off and away we went. I made a great start, but backed off to stay behind the rest of them. I needed to keep away from any possible mayhem. After the first lap I felt a great deal happier using Pat's sage advice for gears. Over the next few laps I built the speed up, finally hammering round that left bend in to Shell hairpin flat out. The levels of grip available from the A048Rs are simply astonishing. It is just getting to the point of knowing that they will stick and grip. The damned thing was still attempting to kill me on right handers every now and then but some determined riving saw me keep it sunny-side up and on the tarmac. The maddening thing was, in the very fast right-handers when the Dr Jekyll/Mr Hide over-steer thing didn't happen, the car really pushed on (under-steer). I had to hold off on the throttle until grip levels allowed full throttle again. Progress with dealing with much of the track was rapid so I started thinking about what else was going on with the car – namely the engine. Before I knew it the chequered flag was out. I'd completed the race, kept the car and me in one piece, and I hadn't been lapped. Big result. Back in the paddock, Karin said she had timed me and I was 10 seconds a lap faster than my qualifying time. Great, but no surprise. The problem was... I was still some 7 or 8 seconds off the pace. Humph. Well, that over-steer issue was not helping at all, but 8 seconds? What to do? I did the fluids check thing, and yep, definitely only using about half the tank full of fuel. I just added sufficient to make it about three-quarters full and left it at that. During the race the engine temperature went up to 100 degrees again, but the engine didn't tighten up, and no coolant was blown out. The aero chocolate mess was still at the same level so I ignored that. Oil had dropped a little again, so added a drop to raise the level slightly. I then set off to talk to Pat and some of the other SMM racers to see if I could glean any more useful tips. Although I have been racing for lots of years and in all manner of Mini types; I am always prepared to listen to what the guys who have competed in a certain series for a number of years and are pretty quick have to say. Nevin Kirkpatrick helped me out with dealing with the chicane immediately after the Shell hairpin which I squirreled away to make use of in the second race. The rest of it – just down to me getting used to this type of car and sorting out the spiteful handling. I had identified that I was making a basic fatal error too – just trying too damned hard and over-driving the car and the circuit. I was at the back of the grid again, so repeat performance. Race two: Collecting area, warm up lap, grid formation, red lights on, off and away we went. Again I let the pack leave me behind so I could play with the car and new knowledge for that chicane. Nevin's advice worked. I was hustling through that chicane much quicker and in a more controlled fashion. However the over-steer thing was still rearing its ugly head. When not doing that, the under-steer was horrible. And I had managed to throw some attention at the engine performance. I do not know what a fresh engine of this ilk should perform like. I thought it was struggling to make peak rpm. Then the race was over. Myself and the car still whole, and a great deal to think on and sort out. No lap time improvement suggests there may well be an engine performance deficit, though I am all too aware that I am still not there with the driving of the car, and the wayward handling needs sorting. On the drive home from the track, I contemplated the day’s events. Sunday, I unloaded the van, then the car. With it sat on 4 axle stands I then removed the engine and gearbox for a full strip down and sort out. The suspension will get another good look at. The plan will then be to refit the engine, whisk it down to Steve Hoe's place for a rolling road session to check output, then on to his laser suspension geometry checking equipment to see what the settings are now, the change them to what I think will work for me. Only 3 weeks to the next race so no opportunity to get out for a test session before then unfortunately. Doing this race highlighted two points in particular; First off, it is pretty damned foolish to enter a race without having done any testing at all. Especially in a car you have no personal knowledge of build-wise. Secondly – just how damned good those drivers out there are.
Oulton Park August 2013
There I was bemoaning the fact that I hadn't done any racing for some 18 months to my mate and customer Pat Ford (he of Super Mighty Mini racing fame and ex champion at it) when he pops up with 'well why don't you borrow my car'. I look at him for a few moments before venturing 'and what are you going to drive whilst I am doing that?' He then went on to explain that he had a complete spare car that he'd bought ostensibly for the power unit as a working spare, apparently the asking price for the whole car was very reasonable so he bought the whole shooting match. It was still complete as he had then no need for the spare engine. So to all intents and purposes it was a ready to race car. How very blooming' cool! I contemplated this offer for around 5 seconds, and snatched his hand off on the offer.
Super Mighty Minis is half of the Mighty Minis race series, the other half being the Mighty Minis. Mighty Minis are standard 1.3 SPi Rover Cooper cars with very limited suspension modifications allowed. The Supers are allowed some engine modifications to give them some 35-40% more power using a modified cylinder head and 1.5 ratio roller tip rockers amongst other things. Adjustable suspension components are allowed to give some latitude for suspension tweaking too. Being a restricted modifications one-make series, the racing is pretty close. A far cry from my fire-breathing monster-power 1330cc, limited slip diff equipped Clubby. The experience would be interesting. Viewed from the outside many construe these two series to be a bit 'slow'... I was to discover how badly out of whack these presumptions are.
Time was short and I would only likely get the last 3 rounds (6 races altogether) in, but it should prove fun. A new challenge, if you will. It would have been 4 rounds but I had promised Karin a proper holiday in the sun this year, and the first feasible round occurred slap bang in the middle of the holiday. Cancelling it would have been somewhat unfair of me, plus I already had a monumental workload in hand to do any way. I got the car several weeks after returning from holiday, immediately sticking it up on axle stands and whisking the wheels off to have a good mosey around it.
The car was previously owned by a guy called David Young, not somebody I knew. And latterly I have been informed it was originally built and run by Ben Seyfreid, who won the championship in this car some years ago now. Some of the SMM runners and riders were at pains to point out that he had won from consistent finishing rather than any serious turn of speed. I didn't know Ben either other than having supplied him with the then regulation modified cylinder heads I used to do for the championship (the regulations changed a few years back to allow any modified head to be used within the stipulated parameters of the rules). Other rule changes I needed to attend to was the requirement of a second door bar at each side, and the fitting of a camera mount on the cage so a digital camera could be fitted for the races. To aid investigation when foul play was suspected or claimed.
With so little time to dedicate to the car prior to the first intended race at Oulton park on 31st August, I had to concentrate on doing the things that definitely needed doing and leave all else alone to be done as a work in progress. I left the seating position where it was as I felt, sitting in the car in the garage at home, it would probably be OK. The seat is way too narrow across the shoulders, forcing me in to a slightly leaning-forward-hunched position, which worked OK with the very up-right seat back and the too-close-to-the pedals-and-steering-wheel position. Not at all aided by some thick aluminium pedal extensions that had been applied to clutch and brake pedals. The front discs and pads were shot, so they needed dealing with. The suspension was in generally good repair aside from a very small amount of play in the rear radius arms and both top font ball joints. But I didn't think they were bad enough to have to be sorted out. Then there was the missing injection/induction set-up. Pat had taken this off to try on his car, which had developed an intermittent and inconsistent misfire that was proving monumentally illusive to track down. Not a big problem to fit, but took some time to ply out of Pat's hands. He's a busy fella like me; so organising the hand over took a little while. The pull cables for the engine cut-off and fire extinguisher had seized up. Teasing them to operate with gentle tugging and twisting and squirts of penetrating fluid gets the job done, but it is a very nervous operation dealing the with extinguisher cable... just in case you set the damned thing off.
And tyres... the SMM run the excellent Yokohama A048Rs on their spindly standard 4.5 x 12 inch Rover 'Minilite' type alloys. Luckily, I had bought a set of 6 of these tyres ready for my re-built Clubby racer. They had already been fitted to the tasty MB Racing split rims I had purchased for the re-born Clubby, but not a problem for my excellent tyre fitter folks at Ian Brown Tyres in Malton (www.ianbrowntyres.co.uk). They expertly prized them off the split rims without as much as a scratch and re-fitted them to a half dozen rims donated by Pat.
I had to organise all the decals as required by the series regulations, in particular the numbers and identifying names, all of which are now supposed to be in the rear side windows, on the left front of the windscreen, and smaller versions on the inside of the screen so the recorded race information could be identified to the car it came from. Fortunately I have fantastically helpful and superb sign makers locally to me (Raymac Signs) who always try to help if they can. Presenting the governor, Richard, with a written set of dimensions and quantities and a rear side window I asked if he could do them on the bleeding hurry up. A wry smile said it all. He called later that same morning to say they were done. And a damned fine job he made of them too.
All came good in the mid-week before the race though, engine started the weekend before, brakes and decals applied mid week. Donna (Karin's daughter) was kind enough to come round one evening to wash and polish the grime collected while stood in storage off. Whilst I organised all the race kit I generally took with me to race meetings. Several storage boxes of spare parts and a tool box with all the relevant tools that may be needed. Once she had done that; I set too sticking all the decals on. Thanks to Raymac (www.raymac.co.uk), that proved to be a very simple job. I think the car looks pretty good with its dark blue metallic paint, white roof and fiercely-bright yellow decals. We were ready to race with 3 days to go. All except for a test day...
I wasn't going to do this round. Thinking about it now, I am not entirely sure why I had decided that. It could have been because the new engine build planned didn't happen and felt the existing unit was well passed it's best. Well, it was. Having been a dyno mule for a while, then called in to service this season after the component issues I suffered last year. Basically it was the last man standing. Or all I had left that didn't require a big financial investment. It could also have been because I didn't think I'd have any meat left on the tyres, but that changed after failing to complete the Mallory Park race weekend. Whichever, my mate Steve Young offered to stump up the entry fee for a split drive, so how could I refuse.
Having completed the Castle Coombe event with nothing at all eventful in the mechanics of the car, nothing needed doing to it other than the cursory spanner check. Peering under the front revealed nothing leaking out at all, and nothing hanging off. Closely checking the tyres confirmed my earlier in the season thoughts - there wouldn't be enough rubber left for this event had Mallory Park been more successful. Perhaps that was destiny. A fluids check showed all OK, and a check on the battery conditioned showed it to be in rude health. This battery has astonished me. It's your usual Varley Red Top, and has performed faultlessly since being fitted to the car back in 2004. That's now seven seasons racing and it has never failed to start the car or drain down to the point f uselessness. Big thumbs up all round then. Well worth the initially seemingly high investment.
Since Steve was co-driving with me, we decided to drive down to his place just outside of Ware on the Saturday during the day. One way of avoiding the nightmare that is the British road system on a Friday afternoon/early evening. The plan was to breeze down late morning to get there for lunchtime and the feasibility of a pub lunch for a relaxing afternoon. Yeah, right. 40 minutes from home we ran slap-bang in to the end of a traffic jam on the A1 where we chugged along for some 40 minutes. And then, of course, the inevitable motorised stagger as each clutch of trucks was encountered. All in all a 3 hour journey turned in to a 4 hour one and missing the pub lunch opportunity.. Just as well as it turns out, because at one point I was not confident of me making the grid in the car, Steve very likely to have to do both driving stints. This is because on the Thursday before I had spent nearly 12 hours perched at my grinding bench groddling out several A-series cylinder heads. As I got up having finished the last one, the pain that seared through my lower back damn-near made me throw up. I couldn't move for around 15 minutes. For the following 2 days I was in extreme pain, the usual exercises not having any effect at all. I took so many pain killers on Friday I was entirely spaced out come the evening. Loading the car on to the trailer and equipment in to the MG (Merc van not needed as no over-night stop at the circuit) was a very slow and painful process. The time spent sat in the very comfortable seat in the MG eased the back pain massively. So much so that having spent the afternoon doing nothing and a night on a mattress on the floor, come Sunday morning there was barely a twinge. Very cool.
Not an early start for our series, so we left Steve's at 07:30 and got to the track in good time, got the car unloaded, signed on and scrutineered in short fashion, so we all bailed out to the café for the constitutional full English breakfast to set us up for the day. That done and dusted, and the car sorted for qualifying with fuel and tyre pressure set we were good to go. I had decided Steve would take the first stint as he needed a foam pad fitting in the seat behind his upper back to get him in a position he was comfortable in. This meant altering the harness straps, so it was going to be much easier to get him and his padding out of the car and straps shortened, than trying to get him and his padding in to the car, comfortable, and straps altered to suit. The call came over the tannoy for our group to get our butts down to the collecting area, we got Steve seated comfortably and strapped in and he headed off down to the collecting area. I have to say that standing there in my fire-proofs, holding my crash helmet and gloves seeing my car trundle down the paddock was a little odd. I had to catch myself from trotting after it...
The start of qualifying was delayed because the previous session had been red flagged after copious quantities of oil had been dumped through the esses (thanks big Yank Tanks), so the hanging around in the pit lane was even more protracted. Eventually they were released and the cars trundled up the pit lane and out on to the circuit. Steve must have been concentrating even at that point as I got no wave as he passed me. With qualifying lasting for 30 minutes, the plan was relatively simple – Steve would do the first 15 minutes, then we'd do the change over. Having discussed how we were going to do this it was agreed that Michael (Steve's son) would deal with the left side harness straps through the passenger side door. He was to lengthen the hip strap, feed it back through the seat strap hole, then I'd get in having removed the steering wheel and lengthened the shoulder straps, re-fit the steering wheel whilst Michael positioned the left shoulder strap and Karin positioned the right side shoulder strap so I could buckle up then cinch the straps tight before heading off out the pit lane. Simple plan. What could go wrong? To add interest, and for information gathering, I also asked Steve's mate Chris to check the tyre pressures whilst they were hot while we were doing the driver change over. I said I wanted the tyres at 33 psi, so let them down to that, or if they were under that, to note what they were reading. My mate Keith Manning turned up as well, so I asked him to deal with removing and re-fitting the dust caps to help Chris out and get the job done quicker.
Karin gave Steve the signal to come in, I was ready with ear plugs in and helmet and gloves on. I'd told Steve to stall the engine to save it running on when he switched off. He appeared in the pit lane, pulled in where we were waiting, and stalled the engine but forgot to keep a foot on the brake pedal... with the result the car rolled forward a short way, getting us all wrong-footed. From the on it was all a bit Billy Smarts Circus... Michael didn't get the shoulder strap sorted so I had to wrestle with that, Steve decided to throw his lot in to do the right side straps instead of Karin – not at all easy as he kept butting me with his crash helmet, then I couldn't get the bloody steering wheel on... At least the guys had no trouble dealing with the tyre pressures. Eventually I pulled out in to the pit lane and headed out on to the track. First lap was a bit odd as I didn't know what to expect. The reality was I didn't need to pussy foot about waiting for the tyres, brakes and oil to get warm. They already were on the money. I also needed to fin d out what t he new Sears Corner was all about, having been changed from the original 90 degree right out on to the long back straight to a hairpin with a short exit in to a sharp left out on to that straight. I got 3 laps under my belt then decided to get on with it... then the chequered flag came out. They must have decided to shorten the session because of the run over time of the previous one. The nett result was Steve had turned in a 1:36.491 to put us 10th on the grid out of 20-odd cars. All 3 of my timed laps were in the 1:38s.
Back in the paddock, a check over showed nothing untoward. I asked Steve if he thought anything needed changing to make the car handle more to his liking – but he said it was handling just fine and dandy as it was. I checked the tyres over, and was a little concerned that we may not have enough rubber to last the race. Particularly as it was proving to be a bonny day, sunny and warm. We had no options so it was just a case of doing the best we could on what was left.
We then got on to the discussion concerning the farcical driver change. Part of the problem, I was sure, was Steve's adrenalin rush – he wanted to help out. Helpless laughter ensued following my description of events, the crowning glory being Steve butting my crash helmet with his so I couldn't see what the devil was going on. Another strategy was called for. Step forward Steve's youngest, daughter Elizabeth, who got volunteered to deal with the right hand straps. Wanting to leave nothing to chance, she demanded we do a practise run. Karin timed it. The first run was pretty bad, though at 58 seconds not THAT bad. Elizabeth was determined we could do better and should try again now everybody had a better idea of what needed doing. This time around we did it in 38 seconds... Just goes to prove the point that practise makes perfect. The mood was buoyant for the race for the race change-over. The plan was simple – a 40 minute race, Steve would do the first 20 minutes, me what was left after the pit stop. Now all we had to do was wait.
Race time came around and we all headed off in our required directions – me, Karin, Elizabeth and her friend Faye to the pit lane; Michael and Chris to the collecting area with Steve in the car. The previous race took some sweeping up after, but eventually proceedings got under way. Grid formation, green flag lap, re-formed on the grid, light on, off and away they went – Steve making a decent start. A tense minute and a half-ish and the leader (friend Charley Marriott in his indecently quick Turner) appeared around Coram, followed not long after by a gaggle of cars. One of which was Steve in a very creditable 5th place! COOL! I have stated earlier that Steve is a quick driver. One of the reasons for this is an innate ability to keep what would appear to be a malfunctioning car on the track. He is most definitely in the 'loose is fast' camp, so really makes hay in the first few laps whilst others are straining every nerve and sinew to deal with a car with wayward tendencies caused by cold tyres and the like. For four laps he held off the more powerful and faster cars behind him. At this point Karin called me over to the pit wall and asked what time the race had started... I sated I had no idea, I wasn't time keeper... she was supposed to be doing that. But in all the excitement she'd forgotten to note it. Ho-hum... We'd have to wait for the 'Pit Lane Open' sign to go out, 10 minutes after the start, and work it from there.
Next time around he was 6th, with others catching him. He put up a seriously determined fight to hold off others for another couple of laps, then there was a pregnant pause as the front half dozen appeared round Coram then nothing.... I just knew there had been an altercation somewhere involving Steve. He then popped in to view, adrift by a big gap and several more places. Passing the pit, the engine still sounded fine and the car was holding a straight line, so there did not seem to be any serious damage. With around 7 minutes to go before he came in, I was stood with crash helmet in hand just taking in the proceedings. I watched as Steve rounded Coram Curve again, still holding a decent place... he then slowed and entered the pit lane. I was a little deflated, thinking that there must be a terminal problem following whatever had caused that big gap and loss of places. He pulled up where we were standing, I opened the door and asked what the problem was. The reply was 'Nothing, I thought it time I came and and handed over'. WHAT A MUPPET! I was not at all ready so had to rush the crash helmet and gloves fitting process and steering wheel removal while he clambered out, muttering something about possible damage to the front left. Credit to Michael and Elizabeth, they did their bit in an orderly and timely fashion. Had I been ready to jump in the change-over would have gone perfectly. Steve moved round to the left front side, tugged a bit, then reported all was OK. I fired the engine back up and headed down the pit lane, ready to make use of the fact everything was already at a working temperature and determined to do some decent lap times since that seemed all that was left to me after the surprise pit stop. We lost a heap of time unplanned for.
The car felt OK, so I set too with bettering my qualifying lap times. I knew where I was loosing a lot of time – Riches, the first corner after the pit straight, through the esses at the end of the back straight, and through the bomb hole. The new Coram Curve to new Russell chicane was no longer a place to make up time as it had been changed to one long curve all the way in to the chicane. Gone was the short straight section that could be used for banzai braking attacks. All you can do is carry as much speed as you could and still make the braking area work to get through the chicane. As the laps past, the car was getting more of a handful. Entirely down to the tyres wearing out. I had to take care with braking as the loss of grip meant it was all too easy to lock the front up. And more and more care needed on at the turn in points to avoid serious under-steer. Having to pay this much attention to driving smoothly paid off – post race results showed I set the quickest time of either of us on lap 23... a full half second off Steve fastest qualifying time. Jackie Stewart must be correct 'smoothest is fastest'. I lost a few places to faster cars, mostly because of the now drag race that is the back straight. The introduction of a hairpin at what used to be the 90 degree Sears corner means that you start the long straight at near walking pace. Anything with bigger horsepower would be first down to the esses. That and the engine was getting less and less energetic as the laps passed by. Hmph.
The chequered flag came out just as I was beginning to wonder how much longer the tyres would last. Back in the paddock, I clambered out as the racing family Young and friends gathered round the left front wing... damn the man! He'd bent my nice new front wing! He claimed it wasn't his fault, being attacked by a wayward MGB. Checking the tyres over confirmed that they had given all of their grip up, the left front showing some serious blistering toward the outer edge. Seems Steve had decided to come in early having had the incident to make sure all was OK... I wasn't too upset – it could have been worse and we'd all had an excellent day. The final results sheet had us 4th in class and 10th over-all. And as started earlier, I had managed a quicker lap than Steve – so that was pleasing.
Now the serious work starts... a complete strip and re-build for nest year to severely lighten the car and hopefully improve the handling further. Not to mention a quicker motor.
Many think Mallory Park is not a great circuit. In my opinion this is because of two things – it is short, and has an ugly bend that makes or breaks a lap time. Short – as in less than a minute lap time. Ugly bend – that'd be Gerrards – a long, long 180 degree bend that demands serious commitment and skill to get through fast enough to get a good lap time. As race car engineers will tell you – it is in the corners where most time is made or lost. Not in the straights. And oddly, it does not favour the more nimble cars either as it is a pretty fast circuit – in as much as you are travelling pretty quickly everywhere except the hair pin. Despite being a self-confessed competent only driver, I enjoy the circuit because it is difficult. It was going to be a bit more of a trial than usual though, as my poor old engine is starting to wheeze badly now. Not breathing hard and blowing oil everywhere, but definitely down on performance. Dramatically so. Still, I have no option so it'll just have to do one more event; I planned to get a replacement built before the next race. Note – 'planned'.
Rolled up at the track on the Sunday evening and sat in the queue in the outer car park until the 'friendly circuit' folk (they've obviously not told the gate staff they are the 'friendly circuit'!) until the exact minute of 18:30. When they finally allowed us all across, it was a bit like a scene from a Western, 'wagons roll' and all these vehicles towing trailers converged on the single vehicle access gate! Quite amusing. Once in and unloaded, I checked everything over. The wheel nut torques a further twice after checking them in the garage at home the night before. All done and dusted, all that was needed in the morning was a quite wash, windows cleaned/Rain-X-ed and tyre pressures set. The usual excellent barbecue and jollity with friends, bed, and around the morning rolled. Quite a late start for us for a change, so a Mallory Big Breakfast did the trick, then off to scrutineering. No problems as usual, back to 'camp' set tyre pressures and we were good to go for qualifying.
The time came round and off we went to the collecting area. I'd given Karin instructions to get Steve (Young, mate and co-Clubby racer from CTCRC now re-building his car after a biggy at Thruxton) to give me a 10 laps done sign and I would then decide how many more laps I was going to do. The tyres are getting a bit thin on useful rubber, and there is no point hammering round for 30 minutes just for the hell of it. OK – so there is, but not on this occasion. We got the signal to fire up engines from the collecting area marshals, and we rolled out on to the circuit. A couple of easy laps to get some heat into the engine, oil, coolant, tyres and brakes and I upped the pace. The first quick lap felt good, the car with the extra stiffness in the rear springs and more toe-out track was gliding round Gerrards beautifully. So I turned up the wick a bit further. More speed through Gerrards felt good, the car pretty settled. Down the straight, dab the brakes, 3rd gear, tweak right in to the goose neck (or essess) and nail the throttle. WOW! WHAT THE DICKENS????!!!!!!! The car snapped right then slewed left.. I lifted off which didn't help much but trying to steer the car was taking all my not inconsiderable upper-body strength. I wrestled with the steering wheel, managed to prevent a spin and allowed the car to run off the outside of the circuit on to the grass, then gently eased it back on to the circuit. Touching the throttle caused the car to veer right, initially really snatching at the diff. Hmph.. now what. Initial though was a busted CV or may be out-put shaft. Because the Trannex plate type diff is such a good design, I was able to drive back to the paddock. Shortly after, the pit crew arrived, we jacked the car up, Steve fell to the floor and looked underneath – and reported a busted dive shaft. Damn me. I peered underneath to inspect the damage – and he was absolutely correct. It had sheered off just outside of the CV joint – where a circlip groove usually is, but not supposed to be on these shafts. They have a collar welded on to butt up against the CV joint to remove the weak spot caused by the standard circlip groove. So that was it. Game over as I do not carry spare shafts and CV joints – having never broken either in the past. So we loaded up and headed on home. Not impressed.
It was at this point that I decided ' to hell with this, I'll call it a season now – only 2 races to go for me. May as well save the money and start work on the car for next year. And that's because I have now decided to not build a new car but to develop the Clubby. Building a new car takes a heap more time and money. Both of which are in short supply for 'toys' right now. Plus, the Clubby as it is is only good for one championship – one that is dying on it's feet. So no where to race it competitively. And no real re-sale value should I decide to sell it. So, I will develop it to evolve in to a more suitable bollide for the championship I am floundering in now against cars much, much lighter. And faster.
After my bout of stupidity at Cadwell Park, I took myself outside, gave myself a bit if a slapping then a right good talking to. After that I had to fix the left front wing and A-panel, the one I had just had repaired and re-painted after the Oulton Park incident. I wasn't at all impressed with myself. After having a good look at the damage, I decided to call a man that can in to do the job instead of me making things worse. Mostly because, after building a number of race cars and all manner of road cars/restorations – I foolishly sold a lot of my bodywork tooling and equipment during my many adventures moving around the country. The man concerned is one Kevin Theaker, who is really an Escort man, but he likes Minis as well, and is bloody good at dealing with bodywork. He called in to have a look, said he'd be back with some tools a few days later – and achieved in just over an hour what it would have taken me the best part of several hours at least to do. Other than the panel work, I stripped the front left hub off the car as the bottom ball joint pin had worn down so much there was barely half the retaining nut left. So a ball joint replacement was needed. I also replaced the four wheel studs just to be on the safe side – and that was all that was needed.
I have never been to the Anglesey race circuit before, so was looking forward to having a go at a new track. I had loads of reports from other racers that is was a really good track, very smooth, interesting, and in a beautiful setting. For many it is also a bit of a trek to get to, but from here it looked about 4 hours drive. It took 4.5 hours to get there because of Friday afternoon traffic around the Manchester area, 3.5 hours to get back with a straight forward drive home. So 4 hours was an accurate average. We (Karin and I) had been to Anglesey briefly before some many moons ago, and recalled what a pleasant area it was. And what with best friends racing and other friends visiting relations on the island, we decided to make a bit more of a weekend of it – so headed out Friday afternoon, the race being on Sunday. That gave us Saturday to do some walking and exploring the place a bit. And that's just what we did. With reasonably bright and sunny weather, albeit with a bit of a breeze blowing it was almost glorious. Karin even braved the sea at a private beach we were at courtesy of our friend's relation.
Saturday evening we barbecued at the track with our racing friends, though the temperature had started to fall quite quickly, clouds blocked out the sun. We all decided to do a post-eat walk around the circuit before the weather got any worse. Karin and I had walked the circuit on the previous night after our barbecue, but it was getting dark before we set off, and quite dark by the time we had completed the lap. We decided it would do no harm to do it a second time in the light. Having returned to our encampment, we started to get packed up because the weather was definitely turning and eventually rain started to fall. Retreating to my mates camper van we played cards until bed time, then retired for the night. I got 2 hours or so sleep before I woke up, I never really sleep well at the track. Don't know why, it's not like we're uncomfortable in the van. Quite the opposite really. I lay there listening to the rain for quite a while, then the rain intensified to the point where an absolutely deafening row was created as it seemed that a regiment of fusiliers was firing ball-bearings from hundreds of machine guns at the van! The row was incredible. A noise that returned in wave after wave as the rain subsided then picked up again – driven by a howling wind. I lay there thinking what a nightmare event it would be on Sunday if it persisted. The savage weather abated and I drifted off to sleep for barely an hour or so before it was time to shake a leg, being first event of the day meant an early-ish start to proceedings. I was pleasantly surprised as I emerged from the van to find the weather, although a little blowy, was brightening rapidly. Standing contemplating the clouds, wind, etc. for a short while I decided the day was going to improve and probably be as bright and sunny as Saturday had been. I wasn't wrong.
I had already done all the pre-race/qualifying checks on Saturday evening except setting the tyre pressures, so I did that before taking the car to scrutineering. No problems there as usual. Back at camp, Karin got busy cleaning the windows while I double checked everything – especially the wheel nut torques! Satisfied all was good, I donned my fire-proofs earlier than usual as I had to attend a 'newbie at the circuit' briefing before heading out on to the track. This mostly entails being advised of the entry/exit roots to the track, parc ferme and collecting area and how they deal with incidents. None of it rocket science, but can escape those with low common-sense levels.. of which there are a surprising number at race meetings. There should be a common sense test in the ARDS course in my opinion. I left the briefing, walked back to the car, clambered in and set off for the collecting area for qualifying, feeling a little apprehensive – a feeling I am having to get to know and deal with in recent times. My mate assures me it is nerves/adrenalin and proves I am taking it seriously. I nod in agreement for loss of any other explanation. Never used to be like that...
Having walked the track twice, I had a reasonably good idea of where it went, where apexes were likely to be, and confirmed my thoughts on those walks of how feature-less the track is in terms of usable visual markers, making braking and turning in points difficult to assess. There are very, very few red and white kerbs to sight on, and little by way of markers for braking and turning points. The track is amazingly smooth though – probably because it is use far less than the other more commonly used ones on the mainland. Underlined by the basic nature of the facilities – though I have to say they were excellently looked after – clean, well turned out and the café/bar was great in terms of food and drink quality as well as smiley helpful staff. A real credit to the venue. Unlike some others that should know better – like 'Stalag Silverstone'. Anyway, qualifying...
With a 30 minute session, it affords time for several familiarisation laps, so much better than the fraught fury of the 15 or 20 minute sessions of previous race series I'd run in. There were a couple of corners that took some sorting out, but after a half dozen laps I felt I had a good working knowledge of where to go, so upped the pace to see what I could do. The answer was – not very much. I tried all kinds of approaches to the various corners where time could be made/lost – but it didn't matter what I did, I could not break the 1:28:00 barrier. So I thought that was it, I'd just have to see what everybody else was doing when the qualifying results sheets came out. I was dismayed to discover I was well off the pace by some 4 seconds. Again. Cadwell was the same. At first I thought that I was just hitting the performance barrier of my somewhat over-weight car, being around 100 kilos heavier than the rest of the opposition in my class. A few moments of contemplation revealed to me that that was not all the problem. I had run in to the very thing that should be avoided at all costs when racing – frustration. I was trying to force the speed out of the car because I felt I was not making the sort of progress I would have hoped for. I wasn't deluding myself in to thinking I could actually be 4 seconds a alp quicker, but a second and a half off the pace would have been more representative. Not rocket science to figure out since it didn't matter what approach I used at various parts of the circuit, my lap times were pretty-much staying the same. Note to self for the race – back off! Net result was 13th out of 16. Hmph.
I entered two races here, mostly to get time on a circuit I had not been to before, and because it was a very good offer price-wise. The CSCC really make racing as cheap and available as they can for their members – a most excellent club to be involved in. So, having finished the first qualifying session, I rapidly fuelled up, checked nothing had broken, fallen off or bled out and got ready for the next qualifying session. I advised Karin that I would do the mandatory 3 laps required to qualify for the race, then depending on how things were going I may do a few more laps. I ended up doing 8 laps, again trying various strategies trying to better my lap times. However, the weather was warming up, and I think I fried the tyres in the first qualifying session as again, no matter what I did I was stuck at the 1:28-something. Part way through the session I started getting a serious vibration from the front end – synonymous with having flat-spotted the tyres when locking the wheels up under braking – except I hadn't. I purposely steer clear of out-braking myself for this very reason. It is astonishing how much a couple of narrow flat sections across the tyre can dramatically affect how the car handles. It really gives you an insight in to what the F1 pilots face having done such a baddie. Retiring to the paddock, and alighting from the car, I set too with setting the front end on axle stands (helps maintain front end ride height and spring performance) and noticed I had actually managed to blister the front left tyre – an 'in-yer-face' confirmation of how much I had been pushing the car trying to achieve a decent lap time. Fortunately I had a brand new spare I could slap on to that side for the forth-coming races. So I did. Result of this second qualifying was 18th out of 20. More on this later.
All fuelled up and ready to go for the race, the timing was appalling – we'd missed the full English breakfast by half an hour! NOW what do we do for vittles for the day? Hmph.. have to make do with butties then. Just ain't right.
Race time came around. For the first time we were going to do a pit stop with Karin present and me leaving doing the belts up to her. Karin had asked for a practise run, but there seemed to be no opportunity to do that, so I just said that the heat of battle is the best test. And could she please give me the board as soon as the pit lane opened so I could come in as soon as possible. Team talk sorted, I set off for the collecting area and the first race.
Usual drill – warm up lap, red lights on, off and away we went. I made another excellent start (seem to be getting my fast starts back in order). Slipping and sliding around the first long left hander, the pack got scruffy as those on cold tyres that had managed to 'Brundle' themselves (ambition exceeded ability) and an opportunity through brilliant driving (read – damage limitation exercise was a great choice for furthering grid position) meant I jumped a decent handful of places in to the next corner – a negative camber hair-pin 180 degree jobbie. With the tyres still not giving of their best (that's 'cold' to the unknowing) for everyone, I made a decent fist of that and headed off to the long, long, long right hander. I managed to maintain station for almost half a lap after that before folks with more powerful machinery started catching and passing me. Then the folks in the same class with much lighter cars did like-wise. Within a few laps I was relegated to 9th, where I stayed until the end of the race. The engine performed heroically again, considering it is well passed it's re-build point, giving willing performance – though it is now very, very tired. Way too many hours on the clock. The only reason I haven't messed with it is because to do so would mean a major over-haul in time I simply do not have right now – and that old adage of 'if it ain't broke don't fix it'. Compression and leak-down tests still show a plucky level of fitness despite the hours of abuse. I tried, for several laps, to contain my frustration at this lack of pace. And managed to deal with it mostly, but one or two laps were stupidly harsh on the car and tyres. It was at this point that I decided to pull out of the second race. I wasn't achieving anything except putting more time on the engine than it deserved, rubbing out tyres I wanted to hang on to for Mallory Park, and driving 'mad' – which is never good.. And, the cars in that second race were all wickedly fast – so I would be spending the whole race looking in my mirrors and getting out of (and possibly in) the way these cars way. So I reported to the race organisers of my decision, loaded up and headed home. I need to set out a plan of action to become more competitive in this series, and be happy simply to compete at all this year. We'll see what Mallory brings.
With the Clubby's handing transformed in to something resembling a race car, and an excellent finish at Donington, I was REALLY looking forward to racing Oulton. One of my favourite circuits. All the car required between the two races was the usual spanner check and eye-ball of all areas that could leak fluid of any sort. Everything was in fine fettle, so for once a very leisurely twxit-race time. The only major change was swapping tyres around on the four corners to even out tyre wear and get a bit more tread on the front. Oh -and a persistent oil leak that was praying oil on to the heat wrap on then exhaust manifold needed investing. After some 10 minutes scrutinising the area with bright lights it appeared to be coming from the diff output seals. So I changed them. I most definitely did not want an impromptu barbecue under the bonnet, and a couple of fire-extinguishers-full of powdered mess to deal with.
This time around it was a Saturday race, which was great because it coincided with Karin's working weekend where she has to work a Sunday. Neat. No worries about the pit-stop belts issue this time. In fact that turned out to be an 'absolutely no worries about the belts thing' because this time it was decided to make two 30 minute races instead of the usual 40 minute race with the pit-stop. None of us really new why, but assumed there was time in hand at the circuit that the club had paid for so decided to go for the two longer sessions. Fine by me. Even more time on the track for the same amount of money. Very cool.
We rolled up early evening, making reasonably good time despite the best efforts of the Devil's own road (the M62) to mire us in traffic jams. A short time later, my mate Simon and his lady Jill turned up and we pitched camp and set too with the barbecues and food. Then it started to rain. And rain. And rain. Luckily Simon has a camper van affair with an awning that allowed the barbecuing to go on unimpeded. And it rained non-stop from then until around 06:30... So a slippery qualifying was on the cards. We were third session out. Luckily there were some historic F5000 single-seaters out before us so they would clear a lot of the surface water with the immensely wide rear tyres they used.
Having checked all the usual pre-qualifying stuff, fuelled the car and set the tyre pressures (went for 28 front, 26 rear this time as it was a bit cooler than Donington, and tyre wear suggested the Donington settings may be a little on the low side). Signing on and scrutineering went as speedily and smoothly as ever, and with an hour's gap before qualifying it was decided we should hit the café for a full English before hitting the track. We usually wait until after qualifying. No matter, I was bloomin' starving anyway.
Running a little ahead of schedule already, we were summonsed to the collecting area a few minutes earlier than expected, so I didn't get time to put any heat in to the engine at all – an issue that showed at the noise level check. For the first time since I started racing again I was told I was a couple of dB over the limit. The nice lady let me go as I explained the engine was still cold so couldn't hold it at the usual 5,000rpm steadily. And a smile of course. She advise drilling a hole through the tail pipe and putting a bolt through it to make sure it passes in future. Interesting.
Right, unleashed on to the somewhat still damp track, I was in for several slow-ish laps whilst the tyres settled themselves in to their new positions, which also gave me time to assess how the track surface was behaving. And... find out where to drive on the full long international track that included the severely banked hairpin – first time I had ever done this. It didn't add much excitement aside from the entry to the hairpin. The hairpin was hair pin, banking or no banking. All hurry up and wait. The chicane after that was quite tricky to get through fast, but a couple of goes at it and I had it nailed. The only really troublesome corner for me is the one that is a problem to all – Druids. A double apex bend that is pretty much entirely covered by tress – which means it is slippery at the best of times, let alone when damp. Still, after a few laps settling the tyres and me in and then gradually upping the speed, things were going pretty darned well. I was gauging my progress by that Grime Reaper (an industrial cleaning agent) Mini of Clive Tonge/Vaughn Winters who where in front of me. Initially a fair ways off, but as I was settling in to the groove, getting closer all the time. I spent a few laps experimenting with the first apex/turn of Druids as it was pretty slippery, and finally found a line that seemed to offer up the best grip. Two laps later I decided to go for the quick lap, advancing rapidly on the Mini ion front. Come the entry to Druids I set the car on that good line, and blitzed the corner in fine style. Attacking the second apex on the same line I had used all the previous laps, studiously avoiding the hump/bump that extends out from the inside of the circuit to around half way across the track, the cars rear end spun round on me in the blink of an eye! Travelling at a fair rate of knots at that point, it isn't long before you are on the inside of the circuit, on the grass, and a passenger heading straight to the scene of the accident. No amount of opposite lock and standing on the loud pedal was bringing it back. Everything happens so fast, especially when you hit the grass and the seems to go into rocket launch mode – I just recall letting go of the steering wheel and heaving on the hand brake to make the car turn if it would to avoid an either head-on or side-on hit. A corner is a much better crumple zone to minimise potential damage to both human and car. Ker-RUMPH – I belted the Armco barriers left front corner first. And at such an excellent angle the car pretty much stopped apart from a gentle, slow slew sideways to rest against the barrier. That was my qualifying, and race over. I was a bit mystified as to why I should suddenly have an issue with a piece of track that had been fine for 20 minutes and a number of laps. I decided I had probably done a achieved a 'Brundle-ism' – 'ambition exceeded ability' following the much faster exit from the first exit. Hmph. First accident in 6 years.
Back in the paddock (I drove it back in after some judicious levering with a wrecking bar – so no damage to water or oil radiators), there was the usual furore of activity from other racers offering to help straighten it out so I could race. All of which I gently declined. I could see the tie-rod was bent, and with the panel work folded tight around the subframe corner/forward tie-rod bracket I was not going to take the chance of racing with a possibly damaged suspension component. Seen too many folk make that mistake over the years – rush to repair all easily visible damage, get out in to the race, then seriously trash the car when one of those unchecked components failed. I went off to report to the clerk of the course that I wouldn't be making the race. When I did so, he looked somewhat surprised and then said 'really? Didn't look like a big impact on the monitor'. Turns out he saw the whole thing beginning to end as they were trying to spot the culprit spraying oil on to the circuit. I was the first one on the scene so found the oil first. Great.
With the car back home in the garage, I hauled the engine out, stripped of all the damaged body furniture and inspected all I could. No problem with the engine or cooling systems, and the front subframe is still square and straight, and the tie-rod bracket looks to be OK. Though I really need to cut the bent panel-work off so I can give that a 100% inspection. It looks like needing a new front left wing, front panel, grille, bumper, side/indicator light unit and head light unit, and some fresh paint. It could have been an awful lot worse. And an interesting discovery – that oil leak on to the exhaust manifold was not coming from the output seals. With the engine out I examined the oil pattern and the back of the block/gearbox – and concluded it was coming from a small casting lump on the back of the engine block. A rap with a hammer and small chisel caused a small piece to chip off, revealing a very small hole through to the inside of the engine! Time to break out the JB Weld then! I hope to be out for Cadwell Park in a months time.
A bit of a delay doing this post race report; a hefty work schedule after spending too much time fixing the race car in between each damned race this year has been eating up time.
Right. Following the Lydden race and subsequent discovery of the errant damper bolt – things should be pretty simple. Strip the motor, fit the race spec ACL Duraglide +0.030” rod bearings and re-assemble, look to see if there was any reason why the damper bolt came undone, then make sure it was re-assembled with fresh thread-lock. Simples. Yeah -right. Major problem – the flywheel would not come off the crank despite my best efforts with my 'butch' flywheel puller and a couple of tank-fulls of compressed air through my honking Snap-On air gun. Hmmm.... Out with the butane torch for a good warm up of the flywheel boss. Still no movement. Not good. A few whacks with club hammer and big drift, nothing. We are now in territory I have not been in for decades with any Mini flywheel issue. So I borrowed an oxy-acetylene set-up from the garage next door (big thanks to Derek at Derwent Garage) and gave it the 'hot blue spanner' treatment until the whole boss was cherry red. Nothing. More whacks with heavy duty equipment. Nothing. Poured another tank-full of compressed air in to it. Nothing. Re-heated to cherry red again – repeat.... Nothing. Drill three lines of holes to join together up the boss sides. Nothing. Finally had to drill radially around the boss centre close to the crankshaft. That got the outer section off. Had to use a chisel to get the remainder of the centre off the crank. Well and truly fret-welded on. From what I could see of what was left the flywheel internal taper must have been incorrect, that would explain why the flywheel was moving up the crank so far and causing problems with the starter motor. Now I had a trashed flywheel and crankshaft, so the +0.030” bearings were now literally spare parts....
The engine was re-built using yet another crankshaft - good job I'd recently had several done by MED... though I hadn't planned on working my way through them quite so quickly. A couple had been ear-marked for full-on new race engines. Ho-hum. I also decided to stay away from any of the steel flywheels currently available on the market right now, dug deep in to the coffers and lashed out on one of the superbly made KAD aluminium flywheel and back plates. Hopefully I wouldn't have to deal with stuck-on flywheels any more. All back in the car, it fired up first hit, everything fine after full warm up I set too with other maintenance which included fitting new brake pads – this time I went for the Ferodo F4R spec pads as I had heard good things about them. I had also planned on changing the gear change remote and lever to get away from the quick-shift set-up, but time was pressing on. I decided to leave it as is since I had not had any more gear change issues at Lydden.
Snetterton was going to be a busy meeting – qualifying and two races in the same day. Starting at 09:00 with qualifying, 1st race at 11:15, second race at 14:15... no time to deal with anything that should crop up. After qualifying I needed to check/re-set the ignition timing and the valve clearances with the engine 'race hot'. Qualifying was also going to be a bit lame as I had to bed the new brake pads in first, then properly scrub the new tyres in, then try for a decent time. All in 15 minutes. I'd got through my expensive buffed tyres in a few races instead of the expected full season, so I decided to forget going that route again and just stick to the one set of full treaded tyres. The set I had kept aside for wet weather had only seen a few tentative laps of Cadwell Park at the start of the year, so were barely scrubbed in. First two laps dealt with bedding the pads in, then another couple of laps carefully working the tyres up to full temperature, another very slow lap to let them cool of, then tried to set a good time – made damned near impossible because by then the bigger, faster cars were catching me up and lapping me so I was continually having to give way at inopportune (for me) moments. I was therefore pleasantly surprised to find myself not on the back of the grid. Albeit by two places... but then we were suffering the poorest turn-out in Post Historic this year to date – a mere 11 cars. Tragic. Back in the paddock, bonnet removed and a good look over to make sure all was well in there. Nothing bleeding out or fallen off/come undone, I re-set the valve clearances and the ignition timing, sorted fuel and checked water and oil levels. All good to go for the race.
For some reason we were lead round on the warm up lap by a pace car. Odd. Never had that before. Anyway, back to the start line and formed up on the grid. Lights on, off, and away. Mediocre start followed by damn-near driving the Mini up the exhaust pipe of a Mk1 Lotus Cortina all but stationery in front of me! Reflex reaction took me left around him, and passed a short cue of cars stuck behind a static Jaguar XJ12. Making the dive in to the first corner somewhat interesting but less cluttered than usual. Recovering from the surprise of ending up more than half way up the small grid I got on with the business that is racing. All was going pretty well, got past a couple of cars and then found myself behind my mate Tony Crates in his Mk2 Lotus Cortina... here we go again. A couple of laps of sizing him up – and what appeared, to the spectators, as a good dice for position – I found I was faster everywhere other than that accursed long back straight. So I needed to get past him as soon as possible after that to build enough of a gap to stop him sailing past me towards the end of the straight again. And it was gong to have to be through the fast, sweeping Coram Curve leading in to the chicane leading on to the pit straight. Cued him up, got right along side him going in to the chicane... and he just turned in on me anyway! I had a hell of a time using all limbs and controls getting the car stopped, turned and avoiding driving in to him. Needless to say, coming out the other side I was well off line. Not wanting to loose too much ground on him up the pit straight I nailed it, peaked rpm in second, shift to third... except I managed to stick it in 1st instead... Damn near stood the car on it's headlights... Whipped it out of 1st and in to 3rd... and carried on.
Now, I tell all my customers that once you have over-revved the engine – stop. Immediately. It may cost you the race, but it is far cheaper than mangling the whole engine when the inevitable happens – one or more of the exhaust valve heads breaks off and gets lobbed about inside the cylinder. Ultimately trashing the piston, head, bore and feasibly con rod and crank. However, the racing Devil on my left shoulder whispered in my ear that the engine was running fine, so keep going. I could catch and take that pesky Cortina... He was whispering a good deal louder than the racing angel on my right shoulder who new what was about to happen if I persisted... 2 laps later it did. I heard the noise and instantly dipped the clutch and hit the kill switch. All too late of course... And that meant no 2nd race. Mind you, even if I had of stopped I didn't have enough time to strip the head off and change the exhaust valves anyway. No consolation for being a complete pratt though. So once again its engine out... except the re-build is going to be a lot more extensive as I could see the offending exhaust valve jammed in the crown of number 3 piston.. so that'll be a damaged head as well then.
What is more annoying is that I was to make my first foray in to the Swinging Sixties series at Mallory Park, Bank Holiday Monday, 31st August. And worse than that, I simply do not have the time to hand to do that re-build any time soon... Excuse me while I take myself outside and give myself a damn good talking to.
From the beautiful setting and interesting and testing/demanding track that is Cadwell Park to the stark, tedious double drag strip, chain-link fenced edifice that is 'Stalag Silverstone'. Most definitely not a Mini-friendly circuit. The track is not very entertaining at all. Mostly two longish stretched of flat-out with two stops – one a hair pin (Becketts) and one a 'hurry up and wait' series of very, very slow corners that you have to literally trundle round at idle (Luffield complex). A circuit for the power-boys then except if it is wet. And we had a double header (two races) to do here. Great. The car was in good order post Cadwell, so nothing to do on it except over-inflate the tyres and load it on to the trailer. The weather reports were not too promising (basically 'grim, may be damp, cold, over-cast') but at least there was not likely to be snow as there was a couple of years ago. Though I suspect I would have preferred it if it had snowed – fun for all the family! Instead of going straight to the circuit Friday as usual, we decided to stay over with my sparring partner Steve and his good lady Alison. They live around an hour or so from Silverstone. Seeing as the weather was not looking like being too clement, and I had picked up a heavy, horrible cold from somebody during the week immediately before, we decided that the warmth and dryness offered by a proper roof was a better deal. Plus this being a 'double header' weekend for us – we had qualifying on Saturday and two races on Sunday. The drive down to Steve & Alisons was the usual aggro that is navigating the roads in the UK. Didn't even get out of Yorkshire before we hit a traffic jam on the A1 caused by a multi-car accident. And I REALLY need to do something about the brakes on the van – they are bloody awful and down-right nervous-making. Anyway – we made it eventually, with me feeling pretty crappy health-wise. A decent Indian meal and a few beers preceded an evening of general hilarity – finally retiring to bed a little later than perhaps we ought! Kick off was quite early Saturday morning. Saturday morning dawned grey, cold, windy and damp. At least both sets of tyres were now scrubbed in. By the time our qualifying session came around it was only damp, not wet so I went with the scrubbed tyres. It was Steve first time out for quite a while, but as he's always quick no matter what i decided to let him past me as we went out on to the track and to try and follow him. That almost ended prematurely – at the first corner (Copse) in fact, as Steve went it to it at quite a rate – somewhat quicker that I judged prudent in the conditions and straight out of the collecting area. He went VERY sideways. So much so that myself and the two cars with me (Dolomite Sprint and RS200 Escort) backed RIGHT off and waited. Steve collected it up and shot off down to Maggots, leaving the three of us looking at each other and obviously 'tutting' in our helmets and shaking our heads in a resigned fashion. The track was extremely slippery, not at all helped by various cars in previous qualifying session dumping oil here, there and everywhere. It was worse than Cadwell on brand new tyres was – so once again decided just to get the car back to the paddock in one piece. Result was Steve's quickest lap was 2.5 seconds faster than mine. Despite that he was only two spots on the grid up on me, and we weren't the slowest by some margin. Steve was pretty impressed with the engine I just built him – though how good would yet to be proven under dry racing conditions. Usual post qualifying check over and re-fuel undertaken, Steve discovered oil ejected from hat seemed to be the clutch/primary gear seal. Hmmm. He cleaned it up and decided to do the first race to see what happened. There have been issues with these seals on and off for a couple of years now – seems down to grossly inconsistent manufacturing. We then set off back to Steve's to warm up, get fed and watered and early to bed. Well – sort of early. Back at the circuit Sunday and the weather was distinctly brighter, warmer (not by much though), less windy and drier. Though I was still feeling pretty crappy with this damned cold thing. Down to the collecting area for the first of our two races of the day, out and round the circuit, back to the grid and lined up. VERY close together and almost line a-stern. Hmmmm. I wanted to get away and up behind Steve who was on the inside of the row in front of me. Lights on, off -and away. I haven't been making good starts for some time – having been excellent off the line for years. No idea why – I think it was because I was thinking too much about what I wad doing, where before I just did whatever I did sort of instinctively. So i determined not to think about it and hey presto! Great start. I couldn't get inside as a Mk1 Lotus Cortina was pushing through the middle (same bloke that pushed past me at Cadwell), so I went left and up the outside of the next row in front of me. Not a good plan as heading in to the right-hander that is Copse on the first lap means everybody is going to slide out left... where I was. I tried to hold position for as long as possible, across the kerbs, then way out on to the Tarmac apron before finally having to lift to avoid being pushed way of the track side. As soon as you lift slightly it's like you've been 'paused' and everybody else goes to 'fast forward'. Consequently going through the left kink (Maggots) then down to the big stop that is a hairpin right (Becketts) I had lost a heap of ground. Coming out on to the looonnngggggg back straight I was some 100 yards behind Steve. I doubted then that I'd catch him, and I didn't. I got tangled up with a Hillman Avenger and my mate in the Mk2 Lotus Cortina. I spent the whole race trying to catch the Cortina and fend off the Avenger. The two straight sections that make up the track between Becketts hairpin and the stupid Luffield complex meant I had to work very hard at getting the stop-go-slow-bendy sections sorted to get a good run out of them to try and stay in touch with the Cortina and ahead of the Avenger. If Avenger-man hadn't been so desperate to get by me for the bulk of the laps we could have helped each other catch up with the Cortina. But he wanted past at the soonest opportunity... Amazingly it took him until around the second to last lap to get past me – my Clubby was so quick pulling out of the slow sections that I made yards and yards on him that he struggled to regain on the straights – so it was mostly down to out-braking and track position in to the slow bits. I finally let myself down and he slipped past then drove WIDE to keep me behind to the chequered flag. Meanwhile I could see Steve ahead – having a very lonely race. BUT – at least he saw the chequered flag, so he was dead-chuffed. Downside was that clutch seal was leaking pretty bad. Rather than risk stacking the car because of oil on brakes or tyres or both he decided to take the car home whole and sort the clutch seal. A very mature decision! He was just so damned pleased he'd finished a race at last, and was even more pleased at how the engine went. Very impressed. I re-filled the fuel tank and a quick check round showed nothing else needing doing so we went off to watch some of the other championship races from our club. Then time to get prepared for my second race of the day. We had asked that the grid be a little more spread out and offset from race one as it was very cramped. The marshals duly complied. Red lights on, off, and another blinding start. I shot out left and up the outside of the two rows in front before pulling back in again. Pleased with such a good start I was hoping to get out on to that long back straight behind some of the bigger, faster cars to try and get as much of a tow as possible. Bad news was, several of the more, erm.. 'determined' mid pack drivers decided to have a bit of a coming together as nobody wanted to give way at Becketts for the first time. Sheer stupidity. As those luminaries on BBCs F1 coverage keep reminding us - you can not win the race at the first corner. 4 cars did not rejoin the race after that corner fracas. And of course it completely screwed up my excellent start and gain in position. I went wide out left to avoid all the tortured tin and plastic bits that was flying around. By the time I'd negotiated the mess, I was back behind that bloomin' Mk2 Lotus Cortina and Hillman Avenger! This time they had some distance on me, so head down and try and catch up. Except the harder I tried, the further behind I fell. I then did the one thing you should never do, and is totally uncharacteristic for me – I drove angry. Red mist came down and I started over-driving the car everywhere in an effort to catch them up. The consequences were inevitable – two missed flat-out (no lift on the throttle) up-shifts from second to third (a dodgey thing to do at the best of times with the vagueness that is the Minis gear change system) and a jarring brick-wall-hitting shift from 4th to 1st when already pulling 7,800rpm in 4th. Damn near grazed the glass off the headlights. That happened because I had started shifting down through the gears instead of slowing the car on the brakes then selecting the relevant gear for the corner like I usually do. The result of that was pretty much a foregone conclusion. Towards the end of that long back straight I felt a slight rumble, and dipped the clutch to shove the gear lever into neutral just as there was a loud bang and oil smoke everywhere.... obviously caused by a hole in the block and/or gearbox casing where the presumably busted centre main cap had made its escape. Idiot. So – load it on the trailer, take it home then strip it and take a look. This is the perfect illustration of what I try to explain to folk about main caps and main cap straps. If you drive the car properly, and do not use the gearbox to slow the car down (the brakes are FAR more effective at this) there is no need for a main cap strap. Especially if it is a cheap one that is not ground flat and square. So the vast majority of road-used engines do not need them. And race engines driven properly do not need them either. If you are an engine/gearbox abuser, you should go straight to a steel centre main cap or a proper, quality steel, ground strap. In which case the centre main is unlikely to break – but something else will eventually. You just move the problem to the next weakest link. So don't drive like an idiot.
05.06.10, Brands Hatch
I am not sure why, but I don't really enjoy Brands Hatch. It is a quite technically difficult circuit to set fast lap times on. It is most definitely one of those circuits that 'be slow to go fast' applies to. You can not hustle or hurry it. I am speaking from the point of view of having to use treaded tyres that don't give a tremendous amount of grip. And probably a circuit where 'loose is fast' applies... but I am still building confidence enough to make the car looser than it is now. Positively stable in comparison to my mate Steve Young's car. All the forgoing was very obviously illustrated by our qualifying session. More in a minute on that. So – having built the gear/diff assemblies in to a new casing to replace the aerated one from Silverstone (one third of my new 3-piece centre main cap was ejected through it), a steel 4-bolt centre main cap fitted to the block, and a replacement crankshaft fitted (the Silverstone explosion one was perfect aside from a 0.016” bend in it – straightenable according to my local engineering shop.... but I wasn't taking any chances) all reinstalled in the car and fired up for basic checks, all was in order for the trip south. I had considered doing a suspension geometry check/re-set-up but time became an issue with a still burgeoning workload. It will get done after Brands before we go to Thruxton. A mightily fast circuit where everything needs to be perfect in the suspension department. Having messed about with thermostat blanking devices of one sort or another over the past few years – the last ones being simply large flat washers with variously sized holes drilled in them – I decide to go back to running a thermostat. Something I would now be re-recommending to all my engine customers. Mainly for two reasons. One, modern unleaded or super-unleaded fuels appear to need engine coolant temperatures of 85-90 degrees C to get best performance from – that's why modern engines run at more elevated temperatures than those of some 15 or more years back, nothing to do with improving cabin heater performance! And two, completely erratic climate conditions we are now experiencing. The Brands race was set to be a fair test of whether the cooling system would cope as very hot and heavy conditions were predicted. And they were not incorrect! Having stopped off on the trip down for dinner with very good friends, we arrived at the circuit around 22:30 Friday night, quickly unloaded the car in a very vacant-looking paddock, and hit the hay. Saturday morning dawned very, very bright and sunny. An expanse of clear blue skies (excepting all the busy jet vapour trails) great my eyes as I emerged from the van. Lovely. Qualifying was at 09:50, so not too much hurrying around to sign on, get scrutineered, sort fuel levels, set tyre pressures, torque wheel nuts, and check oil and coolant levels. But as usual, before you knew it, it was time to get suited and booted and get over to the collecting area. We were qualifying session 3. The first two sessions had been stopped by red flags, and several cars in each session had liberally lubricated the track surface with the contents of their engine fluids. To say it was slippery would be an understatement once we hit the track. So much so that one of our brave boys managed to loose it on said oil, just sliding it in to the kitty litter at the bottom of the hill that is the fearsome Paddock Hill Bend. Red flags out, back to the pit lane and wait. We were then told we'd get 3 more minutes on track. I did think of not bothering as I couldn't see how I was going to get a faster lap time, but decided I'd paid my money, what the hell. Back out on to the circuit, some more slithering and sliding, and that was it. Qualifying over. Now, back to what I was saying in the opening paragraph. Because it was so damned slippery, and wanting to avoid the stupidity I fell in to at Silverstone, I drove very, well, laid back. Braking very early, careful and positive down-changes, waiting along time to get on the loud pedal – all of which resulted in a mere 3 tenths of a second off Steve's best, and both only very marginally off the lap record! Despite all the surface lubrication! Which was added to by two of our championship compatriots. Lesson learnt then. And Steve and I qualified 10th and 11th out of 17. The vast majority of which were serious engined/horse-powered cars. Very satisfying. More so for Steve as he had completed another full qualifying session with the engine running perfectly. Qualifying continued and every last one was red flagged for cars loosing it on the slippery surface and ending up in dangerous places. Back in the paddock, with the engine still hot I re-set the valve clearances and checked/re-set the ignition timing, retarding it two degrees because of the hot weather. Sorted re-fuelling and after the cooling system had cooled sufficiently, checked the coolant level. The coolant temperature gauge showed a steady 80 degrees C – so the 82 degree thermostat was doing it's job, and the cooling system coped easily. No coolant loss – so that was fine. By the way, another couple of benefits of running a thermostat is that the engine warms up much quicker, and makes sure there is a healthy amount of coolant pushed out the heater tap take off point. All leading to a more balanced water jacket temperature around the engine. Also negates pratting about blanking sections of the cooling system off in cooler weather. Food ingested, and a heap of water, off to watch some of the other qualifying and then the first race before once again clambering in to battle gear. This was going to be a very sweaty affair as the temperature had climbed considerably and it was very close. Threatening thunderstorms type thing. Twenty minute race coming up – around 18 or 19 laps. Usual drill – red lights on, off, and a not brilliant start, but not as bad as some others. Starting on the inside of the track, I determined to stay there. The outside line around Paddock first time round is not a good place to be. Unfortunately once again I made the incorrect choice as I got boxed in and stuck behind a line of cars hugging the inside line all the way up to Druids hair-pin. So the second part of my plan of sticking close to Steve went out the window. Having negotiated Druids, there was several cars between me and him and the ensuing Whacky-Racers style gaggles of cars that is the first lap of most races meant I struggled to catch up with him again as I was busy fending off some and trying to over-take others. A couple of laps in and I'd got past several road blocks and ended up out on my own, with Steve in a similar situation around 100 yards ahead. I have obviously upped my game in terms of driving ability as our laps times were within tenths of a second of each other – consequently I wasn't catching him. And we weren't catching the Mk1 Lotus Cortina in front of him either. However, a threat was looming in my rear view mirror. There was a Hillman Avenger catching me. He'd been skittled early on and was making his way up through the field. I was determined to make me the end of his progress. By now the tyres had given of their best. The engine was still absolutely singing, so the only place he was able to make up ground on me was Clearways where I just couldn't get the car turned fast enough to get on the power soon enough. The last few laps was a real fight. I purposely held him up in every corner I could because my little Clubby really hauls and I could pull away from him. Driving so defensively, Steve was easing away from he. I realised he knew what was going on as all of a sudden he was coming back towards me, having eased off. Anyway. I had my mirrors full of bright yellow Avenger, so that was my job – keep him behind. Hard on the brakes at ever corner, chug round just to keep him behind then nail it and the little engine responded in lion-hearted fashion every time. It was just Clearways.... Then another ingredient was added in to the mix. The race leader was fast coming up behind – a Triumph Dolomite being piloted by the immensely capable Nigel Garrett. Coming through Clearways I saw the first blue flag being waved. Crap. Can't pull over or back off now, that damned Avenger will come through. Hugged the inside of the track up to and around Paddock. Another waved blue flag. Damn – I've got to let him past before I get flagged again at Druids... but if I do that, Avenger-man is going to follow him through. Made all the worse by us already hugging the inside line. I could just step out left in front of the leader, he really wouldn't be impressed with that, so I rrsigned myself to both he and Avenger-man coming past me around the outside at Druids, which meant Avenger-man would have the inside line down in to the bend at the bottom of the hill. ARRGGHHH!!! They both swept passed, I took the fastest line possible through that bottom bend in order to out-drag the Avenger along Graham Hill Bend in to Clearways the try and fend him off there again. All to no avail. I just couldn't get the power down soon enough to then out-drag him to the line. It was damned close though.... a mere tenths of a second. So I finished 9th instead of 8th. Very hot and very sweaty. The car was all still in one piece though, the engine singing along. Coolant temp a rock steady 80 degrees C. And Steve saw his second chequered flag in as many races – so he was all smiles and a happy bunny.