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.