Brands Hatch 0 Plate Meeting

1 12 2017

As far as my racing went, 2017 was a non-starter from the very beginning after the engine failure in testing 2 days before Round 1 at Castle Combe in Easter. Or was it? The all new No1 engine was on order, but as mentioned in the previous blog I had been putting parts aside for a spare engine for quite a while. By mid October we had an engine ready to rock so I decided to enter the Brands Hatch 0 Plate meeting.

The 0 Plate meeting is an end of year non-championship event where the winners are allowed to run the 0 number in the following year. This only applies to the mini7 and mini miglia classes, so as a Libre class runner I would only be racing for fun and maybe a trophy. However there were a few 7’s and miglias who were really keen to get their hands on the 0 Plate so we were on for some great racing.

After helping Sam all year the tables were turned with him helping me this time. With all the work involved it’s almost impossible to run a car and drive it on your own, so it was nice to have Sam in my corner. We even managed to get 2016 S Class champ Josh Collins out for the weekend as an added bonus.

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So it was a 4am start on Friday morning, on the road by 5, and we rocked up at Brands Hatch by 9. We were on the Britcar bill so there were lots of high end Ferrari’s, Aston’s and Ginetta’s testing when we got there making some great noises. Our man Mark ‘Cuddles’ Chandler was already there and had kept us a nice space with electric hookup – don’t you just love circuit racing?!

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Friday was spent setting up camp, then helping the rest of Team Owens set up the awnings and getting the miglias of Rob Howard and Alfie Brown settled in. James ‘Cuffy’ Cuthbertson was sharing our Lodway awning too.   Owens/Lodway is a great team and we all muck in to finish whatever needs doing, so when it was all done it was off to the Brands Hatch pub ‘The Kentagon’ for a pint and something to eat, and rip the p*ss out of each other for a few hours…

Saturday was a busy day. After such a crap couple of years the aim was to finish all 3 races, not blow it up, not crash, and get a bit of confidence back, so it was never going to be a ‘maximum attack’ sort of weekend. With signing on and scrutineering sorted, it wasn’t long before we were out for qualifying. I knew that as a Libre class car my place on the grid was pretty much set in stone, so I used quali as a test session to re-aclimatise to the car and circuit. It was pretty slippery in comparison to the summer races I’ve done at Brands so I didn’t push it at all. In fact the way things turned out that session was going to be the grippiest of the whole weekend. We got under a minute but I’ve done low 56 second laps in the past and the ‘bitza’ engine seemed capable of replicating that if I could just get some damn grip. The straight cut syncro box seemed to be a bit of a weak link though, and didn’t like changing down to 2nd gear at all. This is just a problem with the syncromesh design not being able to slow the gear down sufficiently, and it would give a bit of a crunch. The no1 unit has the Swiftune dog engagement gears so we won’t have this problem next season.

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Race1 came round soon enough and with no change in conditions we were all set on full slicks. Just as we went out for our warm up lap it started spitting with rain – it was going to be interesting… I got a pretty good start and overtook 3 cars mainly due to some of the drivers in front being a bit over-cautious.  I had a good first lap tussle with the massively experienced mini miglia racer Mark Sims, passing him off the line, then he got past me at Druids but I got past him again going in to Surtees. Amazingly I was up to 5th and in the hunt, and they didn’t seem to be getting away – this was a new experience! I hung on in the rain for a few laps. Historic F1 and Goodwood lap record holder Nick Padmore was leading from Honda Champion Lee Deegan, multiple British karting champion Alfie Brown, my stablemate Cuffy, and then me. Mark Sims got back past me into Paddock Hill bend and we all kept in line for a few slippery laps until there was a safety car period when our old mate Stuart Gilby went into the Druids gravel trap in his mini7. On the restart my Owens stablemates Alfie Brown (who had also had a little off-track excursion) and Rob Howard outbraked me into Paddock Hill bend. I was by now struggling to keep on the tail of these guys, and I really wanted to get a finish with the car intact, so that is how we stayed until the end. 7th overall, Libre class win, and a fun race to boot. Happy!

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It hadn’t stopped raining so Race2 was full wet setup. For this we soften up the dampers considerably, change the settings on the anti-roll bar, and fit wet tyres, as well as treating the windows with some de-mister. I was borrowing Sam’s wet wheels and tyres so I was keen not to damage them. The startline marshall came up to me on the line and said they had their eye on me as they thought I’d jumped the start in the first race (which I had not), but it must have freaked me out a bit as I stalled on the line and some mini7’s got past.  I retook a couple of them but Oli Windows was still in front of me when the safety car came out after Rob Howard binned it at Druids. When the safety car went in apparently I overtook Oli before the finish line which got me a summons to the clerk of the course after the race. Other than that it was a pretty run of the mill race. With the light closing in and the rain not letting up, along with the windows misting up quite badly I settled in to again finish the race without binning or breaking it. I was over the moon to get a 5th overall and a class win – my best ever result on the circuits! But was the clerk of the course going to take it all away?

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Summoned to the clerk of the course’s office in the tower, it felt like the numerous visits to the headmaster I had at school, which was interesting as I made a real schoolboy error by listing a few things he didn’t know about after he asked me ‘why do you think you are here?’ Oops. Eventually we settled on overtaking before the finish line after the safety car went in. It was a fair cop, and I got a verbal reprimand. At least we had plenty to talk about when the team went out for a curry and then the pub for another cracking night.

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Race3 on Sunday. The rain had stopped and the sun was shining – but it was still very cold – being mid November. So it was back to full slicks and then change anti roll bar & damper settings. Sat in the holding area watching the race before us going round it became clear the track was not as dry as first thought. First to change to wets was Deegan, closely followed by Padmore, Alfie and Cuffy. Even some of the mini7 guys were changing to wets. Sam ran up to me with some wets ready to change, but mindful they were borrowed and nearly new I really didn’t want to ruin them, besides I thought it might be worth taking a chance on slicks if all the other guys in front were wrong… Well as soon as I started to go round on the warm up lap I could see that they were right and I was wrong – it was like ice!    I got quite a good start passing 3 cars again, but the guys on wets were long gone into the distance! I had no grip at all. Mark Sims had also decided to stay on slicks but he got past me on lap 3. I was also really missing the advantage of the limited slip diffs that the full miglia guys now run. Somewhere around lap 9 I could see a dry line appearing but it was generally right next to the white painted lines at the edge of the circuit – and you don’t want to touch them! None of this mattered though, as rounding Druids a loud noise developed which felt like a cracked exhaust, so I retired from the race. As it transpired it was the lambda bung in the exhaust pipe that had come loose and fallen out. It was a bit of a shame we couldn’t finish all 3 races but at least this DNF was not an expensive one –  £4.50 on ebay free next day postage.

I just want to say a massive thanks to Sam and Keith Summerhayes for all their help getting back on track. Thanks also to the chap who was kind enough to pay my entry fee but would prefer to remain anonymous!  And of course all the guys in the Owens awning you know who you are – much appreciated fellas!

Not forgetting a massive well done to 0 plate winners Oli Windows and Lee Deegan.

Roll on 2018. No1 engine has been finished so things are looking up at last!

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2017 Season

22 11 2017

Sorry, it’s been a while since I updated this.

2017 was going to be a big season for us. The Mini7 Club had introduced a new Mini Libre class to run alongside the prestigious Mini Miglias. The class was designed to attract minis from other disciplines into the mini7 club. The main stipulations were that it had to be steel bodied, round front minis running on 10″ wheels with Dunlop tyres with an A series cylinder block and gearbox casing. This allowed for 7 port, 8 port, KAD and BMW headed 16v twin cams, turbos etc – basically a very exciting new class. My car with its 1380 engine would theoretically fit in nicely albeit a bit down on power, but these plans don’t seem to work out…

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Castle Combe Test Day Easter 2017

 

Sadly we were chasing our tail with the outsourced 2016 engine from the start. Without going into it too much, it was a duffer, and true to form it blew up in spectacular style 2 laps into testing at Castle Combe a couple of days before the first round. I seriously considered jacking it in at that point as I’d put all my money into that engine, but it was little more than an expensive grenade. All the money I had saved for entries now had to go towards a new engine. The season was over so I spent all of 2017 wheeler-dealing to raise the cash for a no compromise 1293 Miglia engine. Anything not being used was sold, even my mini pickup road car.

In the meantime I kept my hand in by doing spanners for top Miglia driver Sam Summerhayes who lives quite local to me in Pill. I managed to get to Castle Combe, Donington, Brands Hatch, Oulton Park and Rockingham, and Sam managed a very respectable 4th in the championship.

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Sam Summerhayes Mini Miglia at Donington

 

Whilst waiting for the new engine to be completed I had been collating a few parts for a spare engine. I had a fast road spec block, crank, rods and pistons from a 1380 in stock, and also the leftover head, carburettor, inlet, cam, timing gear and flywheel assembly from my old 970S Autograss engine. I also acquired a 4 syncro SCCR gearkit and so I had enough parts for a complete spare motor. There was an extra meeting at Brands Hatch in November being run and Sam said he would spanner for me and let me use the truck as a thank-you for helping him this year, so it was all systems go to get ready for November 18/19th.

The 1380 ‘Bitza’ engine

 

The engine needed mapping and the fuelling sorted so it was off to JPR Tuning in Yate. The engine actually started up ok at home but we needed to fine tune the crank trigger settings so that was the first job on the laptop. With that sorted we setup the ignition map, and then we could do some runs to get the fuelling and ignition spot-on. It’s imperative to get the fuelling and ignition at safe baseline settings before putting the engine under any real load, so there is a fair bit of back and forth. The engine felt strong but sadly we couldn’t do any full power runs that day. At least it was tuned and safe.

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Sat on the JPR rollers

 

The following Saturday I took the car to Lodway Service Station for Sam to work his magic doing a suspension setup. We used their new Bosch alignment system which is an amazing bit of kit. It’s fully digitalised and you can see dynamically on the big screen how adjustments affect other parameters. We set ride height and cornerweights first, then all round camber, castor, tracking etc, and then a cornerweight check again.

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Bosch Alignment setup

 

So now the car was pretty much ready. Time to send the entry in…





2016 Season

25 07 2016

So, after a good ending to the 2015 season we were at a bit of a crossroads. To be fully competitive in the mini miglia championship we needed another 10 – 15 horsepower. Similarly if we were to continue in the Welsh Saloons at Pembrey we needed more horsepower to compete with the 16valve opposition. It suddenly occurred to me that I could have my cake and eat it… If we built an engine with 1380cc, higher spec cam and slightly up the compression ratio we could get the HP back and still be allowed to run in the Miglia invitation class, as well as being more competitive in the welsh saloons…

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So, using the existing unit as a basis a new spec was planned. I sourced some 73.5mm forged omega flat top pistons. Sadly when boring the existing +020 miglia block there was a failure and so a new block had to be used. We opted to use a billet 310 scatter cam and also upgraded all the valve train with race followers, race pushrods, new exhaust valves etc. CR was pushed up considerably from the miglia regulation 11:1.

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On the rolling road we got a big increase in HP and torque over the old miglia spec 1293 so essentially the plan had worked. However, the problem now was reliability…

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An annoying problem with pushrod sleeves leaking oil into the combustion chamber causing excessive smoke had reared its head, so a last minute borrow of Sam Summerhayes’ spare head allowed us to race at round 2 of the Welsh Saloons at Pembrey. However, we didn’t get any further than the end of the 15 minute qualification session when head gasket failure curtailed the days proceedings.

Without going into too much detail we had run into quite a few problems which necessitated a complete strip down and redesign of the engine. Sadly all my funds for entries were eaten up by the unscheduled rebuild and so the season as far as chasing championships was gone.

Special thanks at this point have to go to my old friend Jim Darling who paid for some race spec Cometic head gaskets which whilst not cheap, are much much better than the Payen BK450’s which we had experienced several failures with in recent times.

With the rebuild complete, and just prior to the Brands Hatch Mini Racing Festival, we set off for JPR Tuning rolling road in Yate where our luck took another bad turn. The MBE ecu packed in just as we were about to start a power run. I was ready to throw in the towel but after a Facebook plea, Endaf Owens sorted me out a replacement and after a clandestine meeting in a motorway services with James Cuthbertson who kindly delivered it to me we were back in the game. A bit of jiggery pokery on the laptop to transfer my map over and the Brands dream was on again.





Adventures in Wales

6 11 2015

Sorry about the big gap in blogs. Brands Hatch was ages ago, and lots has happened since then.

Funds were low all summer and for one reason or another the dates for the miglia championship rounds weren’t working out so I jumped at the chance to race at Pembrey in their 25th Anniversary race. The entry was just £100 and it’s within 100 miles from home so it was a bit of a no brainer.

I had not raced at Pembrey since about 1999 so I did a bit of revision via old YouTube miglia in-car footage of some old races just to reaclimatise to the corners. I usually draw a picture of the circuit and mark the gearchanges, turn in points, apexes and exits, and if possible the braking points. It’s not better than real experience but it can give you a head start. Of course you have to hope the video footage is from a decent driver – if possible I look at the Peter Baldwin or Endaf Owens videos. Peter is very smooth and doesn’t look that quick – but he really is!  Endaf’s style is very different. He still looks very smooth, and as a typical ex-karter he makes a lot of time up under braking. Endaf’s entry to Paddock Hill bend at Brands has to be seen to be believed!  There are some other real quick miglia racers but they often put the camera somewhere you can’t see their gear changes and braking action – very unsporting ha ha!

So we got to the circuit on the Friday. In the paddock we were parked by Dave Jenkins who was the truck driver for Guy Martin’s bicycle speed record he did on Pendine Sands. Dave was doing some demonstration runs in his race truck and he’s a real nice bloke. We even got him working on the miglia over the course of the weekend. We were also parked by Peter Hills who has a 16v twin cam mini that he races in the WSSCC races at Pembrey, so for the day we were a 2 mini team. Peter walked the circuit with me and gave me a few tips which came in dead handy.

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Qualifying was fun. There is a real variety of cars ranging from spaceframe national hot rods, Ginetta GT cars, Sierra Cosworths, Westfields, and a host of BMW’s, Clio’s, Fiesta’s and Minis. I built up speed slowly and qualified mid pack.

In between qualification and the race the Owens/Summerhayes crew did a quick cornerweight and tracking setup for me. Unfortunately we ran out of adjustment on the rear anti roll bar links so had to disconnect it for the race meaning any advantage from the changes would be negated by not having a roll bar!

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The races are rolling starts which can be a bit hairy with the first corner being a hairpin right hander, but it seems everyone gives a lot of respect as there have been some bad shunts there in the past. We all got through that ok but on the run to Brooklands right hander there was a coming together a couple of cars in front, and i had to take avoiding action – making me dead last. But the good news was I could now have a bit of fun catching up the rest of the field. I don’t know how many I passed, or remember what position I finished in but it was good enough for the marshals to vote me driver of the race which I was dead chuffed with! Throughout the race I’d struggled with wheelspin (probably knackered tyres) which probably made it more spectacular!

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For some reason I was getting a problem with it falling out of 3rd gear when coming off the throttle. I have an adjuster on the detent spring/ball bearing that I have fabricated. I wondered if tightening it up a little might stop it falling out of gear. I’d also made new rear anti roll bar links. We were at the Castle Combe Mini Action Day with the car on the Mini7 club stand, so that was the perfect opportunity to try it out on track. I got some laps in late in the day but unfortunately my adjustment hadn’t worked and it was still falling out of gear. Added to that I’d broken the little stub on the selector shaft. Oh well the gearbox was coming out anyway.

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I quite fancied doing the Pembrey WSSCC final round in October so it was out with the Quaife dog box, and in with the Jack Knight dog box. So with the gearbox and the anti roll bar problems fixed I was confident I was going to be much quicker this time.

In fantastic sunny autumn weather, me, dad and my brother Sean set off on the Saturday morning. We met up with Darran Taylor of LCP Racing Engines on the way. All our racing was on the Sunday so after setting up camp we could go straight to the bar, have a pint, watch the racing, whilst keeping an eye on the rugby world cup on the telly. Perfecto. The big trucks were racing which are quite a spectacle, and also the Pickup Trucks which are always good to watch.

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Qualifying was 9am Sunday morning so we were up early to get ready. Once out there I could feel that the car was handling much better, but I was still getting terrible wheel spin out of the slower corners. This continued all through the session so I didn’t qualify that well. I also had a water leak so I cut short the session anyway. Once back in the paddock it was clear that the front tyres were past their best – in fact they were completely shot. I had some other tyres that were much better so changed them for the race. The water leak was traced to one of the water pump bolts coming loose so that was tightened up.

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A bit further down the order than I’d have liked we set off on the formation lap for the rolling start. You get just the one lap so we are all furiously weaving around to try and get some heat into the tyres. All this time I’m also trailing the brake pedal to warm up the carbon metallic pads which simply don’t work when cold. Even after all that it takes a couple of laps before you can really push but everyone else is in the same boat so the first lap is where you can make some real gains. The change of front tyres to slightly less crap ones changed the car completely. I was getting much more grip out of the slower corners and I set about moving through the field. Technically my car fits into class AS in the WSSCC championship so my aim was to beat all that group if possible. It all went to plan mainly helped by the better front tyres giving me almost 2 seconds a lap quicker times! It was great to be overtaking again – something that rarely happens for me with the miglias. One by one I picked off the other class AS cars as well as a few from higher classes too. I don’t think I would have caught Peter Hill’s 16v mini but he had an electrical issue and retired, meaning I was top AS car (if I’d entered for the championship that is…). Happy with that!

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The second race was going very well. I started much higher up as they use your first race finishing position as your starting position for the second race. I was alongside Sam Summerhayes who needed to finish first in his class to clinch the championship. I didn’t want to interfere with that but he made a break at the start anyway leaving me to battle with a flame spitting slick shod Megane turbo which was very quick on the straights but holding me up on the corners. Three quarters of the way through the race I could see the temperature creeping up and got a few flicks of water from the engine bay onto the windscreen. I monitored it for a while and the temp was still going up so I had to pull off. It was the water pump bolt coming loose again, thought to be caused by the new alternator mountings I’d made. Bugger. I’ll use Loctite next time.

So, looking towards next year I’ve got lots of new ideas so I’ll update soon with any progress.





The Brands Hatch Adventure

8 07 2015

We went into overdrive (no pun intended) on social media to find a new laygear. Facebook messages, phone calls and text messages were all sent to seek out the Jack Knight ‘hens teeth’ laygear we needed to get up and running again. Over the last few years I’ve done a lot of networking over Facebook and I’m always amazed at how helpful these ‘friends’ are even if, as in some cases, we have never met! This was no exception as straight away I got an offer of a Quaife dogbox from Matt Kane who runs one of Endaf Owens old Miglias. The only issue was it needed a new 3rd/4th selector and they have proved to be difficult to source in the past being a bespoke part. The gearkit was at Endaf’s workshop in darkest Wales so in a flash I was down there to collect it. It all looked good so I took it back to Bristol with the intention of finding a new selector.

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Looking at where the old selector failed I could see an obvious stress point in the corner which is machined dead square. To me it looked like filing a small radius in the corners would increase the chances of eliminating the failures – and this was backed up in a phone call to Richard Watson who is the long time builder of gearboxes for Peter Baldwin, so of course he certainly knows his onions!  Eventually I managed to get a new selector from the Quaife vaults at the extortionate cost of £163 (plus P&P!). I built up the gearbox complete with a new Minispares crosspin diff and re-mated it with the engine, and put it all back in ready to rock.

Meanwhile I’d not had a lot of luck with the JKD Involute dog box laygear. Endaf had one but it was the wrong ratio. However Ray Cunningham at Galway Mini Centre had a complete kit, and MRA Minis said they could make a new one. And then I spoke to Peter Vickers who searched his, and a few others workshops before finding me exactly what I needed, and at a brilliant price too. I’d never met Peter but he couldn’t have been more helpful, sending it next day delivery. Another top bloke!

So, we set off for Brands Hatch with the luxury of a spare dogbox. I had my trusty wing man brother Sean, and also along for the ride was Dad (Keith). Another boys adventure. The 3 of us have been going racing together since the early 70’s when Dad raced Autograss, and Sean and I were kids, so it was great to get the old crew back together again. For the last 3 years I have watched the Brands Hatch Mini Festival as a spectator, so it’s a pretty big deal for me to actually take part – one more to tick off the bucket list for sure.

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We arrived Friday mid afternoon and the test day was in full swing. There were Mighty Minis, historics, mini7’s, miglias and special saloons all whizzing round – where else would you see that spectacle? We unloaded and were once again allowed into the busy Owens Motorsport awning alongside Team Summerhayes. Once set up we managed to sneak in to the pitlane and use the weighbridge. It’s important to know how heavy your car is as you will be disqualified if underweight. Of course you need to replicate race conditions so helmet, racesuit, gloves, boots etc need to be included, and also an accurate estimate of what the fuel load would be at the end of a race in parc ferme. The Mini Miglia minimum weight is 660kg with driver. My car on full tanks with me, helmet etc showed as 677kg. So considering petrol is 0.75kg per litre we are pretty much spot on the safe zone at the end of the race. That said I need to keep an eye on my own weight as if the diet goes to plan we will need to put ballast in the car – who would have ever thought that?! After a few quiet pints with Team Owens in the Kentagon it was time to get some sleep.

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Anyway, Saturday came. Signing on and scrutineering went more or less without a hitch and then we were out for qualifying. I’d never raced at Brands before, and also missed midweek testing which almost all the other runners had done. So once again we were up against it. I had however done my ARDS course at Brands and my hunch was that it’s the sort of circuit that would suit me once me and the car were up to speed. You can’t help but feel the history at a place like Brands. To think this is where Hunt and Lauda had their epic 1976 battle, where Soper and Rouse duked it out in the Sierra Cosworths, and Welch, Schanche and Gollop battled for their Rallycross GP titles, and then me in the little mini I built in the single garage on the side of my house…

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I took it easy at first, letting the tyres warm up and finding some space, getting my 3 mandatory laps in, then hopefully finding a tow from one of the quicker guys who I could learn the fastest lines from. All went to plan until I felt the presence of oil smoke in the cab, backed up with the flags from the marshalls. I limped to the end of the session and back to the paddock where a quick check found the flywheel housing gasket had spat itself out at the back and was dripping onto the exhaust. Never seen that before. It’s a bit of a bitch to change as the flywheel has to come off and the engine has to be jacked up on one side to allow the casing to clear the subframe whilst sliding off the studs. Just then my old mechanic Craig Evans made the mistake of walking by. He was casually enjoying the weekend in his nice clean chino shorts and straw hat when I commandeered him to give me a hand. Despite a last minute scare when we broke the starter wire (fixed ably in record time by Endaf and team Summerhayes) we were (just!) ready for race 1.

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After a warm up lap – vital to get the Dunlop slicks and the Carbon Metallic brake pads working, I took up position 21 on the back of the grid. Here we go then. The red lights went out, I got a good getaway but got blocked and found myself out wide going in to the notorious Paddock Hill bend whilst in front of me there was lots of weaving and potential carnage, but we all headed towards Druids generally without too much drama. I latched on to Bob Humphreys and was pleasantly surprised that I could keep up with him. There was a bit of a drama a few laps in when a couple of cars connected at Graham Hill bend so I weaved past them and overtook Bob too – my first Miglia overtake! Egged on by this momentous event I pushed on with Bob in hot pursuit. Coming past the finish line I checked my mirror and my heart sunk when I saw the smoke was back. Bob got past me again and I stayed with him, but I knew I was losing oil so had to be a bit conservative with the right foot. Eventually I got the oil flag from the marshalls so I had to come in. The gasket had failed again in the same place. Bugger! I actually got a visit from the clerk of the course in the pitlane who apologised for bringing me in, but he thought I was going to blow my engine. Quite a nice gesture, maybe they are not all as bad as they are made out to be.

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So it was back to the paddock to start stripping it down again. This time I had time on my side though. I got the flywheel housing off and checked to see if it had warped by using a straight steel rule on the gasket surfaces. All seemed ok. There was a slight mismatch between the block and the gearbox but well within an acceptable tolerance. I checked all the studs were fully in and found a couple that needed an extra quarter turn, but nothing obvious. Could it be a duff gasket? Our old friend Jason Ford who works for KAD came to have a look and thought the silicone sealant we’d used was a bit suspect. It didn’t appear to have set and so effectively the gasket was being allowed to slide on it’s surfaces. Could it be the problem? I started the reassembly with a different type of gasket that we got from series sponsor A series spares. This time I didn’t use any sealant and I roughed up the casing surface with a bit of emery cloth to provide a key for the gasket to bite on to. I used some thicker washers on the casing in case there was some bottoming out, and was careful to tighten the nuts up evenly. It was all back together by 9pm but too late to start it up to check.

Sunday morning came and as soon as the curfew ended I started the engine up. All seemed ok with the repair, however we now seemed to have a water leak! With just 20 minutes until assembly I now had a water pump gasket to change! Bugger! (2). With the help of Endaf I got it done with seconds to spare.

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So again I was on the back of the grid alongside Bob in his ex Ian Curley, Peter Vickers prepared car. I got another good getaway but again they all bunched and blocked in front of me. I dived for the inside and managed to overtake Gary Warburton going into Druids – this overtaking lark is good fun!  I was starting to get used to the circuit now, the lines, gearchange and braking points were becoming second nature which is when you really start to improve.  And so Bob, Gary and myself had a great little race amongst ourselves. After a few laps there was a coming together a little way up the field and the safety car came out, so we followed him round for a couple of laps. This is where I made my schoolboy error of leaving too big a gap between Bob and me which gave him the jump at the restart. Also Gary behind me got a quicker restart and passed me going into Paddock Hill bend. Lesson learned…  But I caught up with Bob and we had a cat and mouse race. He was faster than me in some places, and me faster than him in others, notably Clearways where I’d get alongside him every lap only for him to outdrag me to Paddock. I think I could have passed him if I’d been a bit more aggressive but binning the car and making an enemy is the last thing I want to do!  Nevertheless I was over the moon with how my engine I built in my shed was keeping up with a Swiftune and a Vickers motor.

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Regular quick checks of the oil pressure showed no dramas, and no smoke either. However when I checked the water temp it was on zero! So, either the gauge had broken, or we were very hot indeed. For the last lap and a half I coasted round, and with less revs I saw the temperature fall. It had actually gone past 110 degrees and carried on round to zero! Then I saw the chequered flag – we had finished. With a good race, a half decent lap time and a finish, if you had seen me in Parc Ferme you would have thought I’d won! What a buzz!

15th place doesn’t sound much but for me it’s a big deal. At Snetterton I was way off the pace and wondering if it was the right series for us. We made massive gains at Brands. For a track I hadn’t ever raced at, in what is essentially a low budget car, on second hand tyres and in need of a setup, to be able to mix it with any of those guys is a victory in itself. Much happier now!

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So on the ‘to do list’ we now need a bigger radiator to cure the overheating issue. At Snetterton we had no overheating, but it was cooler, I was not running in traffic, and not pushing as hard.

I also need a recheck of the suspension setup as the car was very squirrelly, so a trip to darkest Wales again is on the cards…

Pictures courtesy of Roald Rakers, Matthew Barrington, Andrew Soul, Andy Green, Mark Chandler.

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It looks so easy on YouTube!

21 05 2015

Blimey what a busy month! After all the rolling road sessions we were finally ready for a shakedown test. I just wanted to get some time in the seat, make sure everything worked and see if anything was going to fall off. A perfect venue for this is Llandow which is a race circuit near Cardiff – so not too far for me, and quite cheap at £90 for a half day. It was a wartime airfield converted to a race circuit in the 60’s. By the end of the 70’s it was in a bit of a state but was used for lots of non RAC events. A few years back it changed hands and now it’s been redeveloped with new tarmac and some chicanes added. It’s not really suitable for racing anymore but its a great trackday, sprint and test facility.

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Anyway, we spent half a day running round the 1 mile circuit. I probably did about 60 laps. It was mostly successful but we found an issue with the 2nd to 3rd gear change – which turned out to be a loose UJ on the remote (cured by fitting a fatter nut and bolt) , and an annoying oil leak from the timing gear end. I’d run out of excuses not to race so with a mixture of excitement and fear I sent my entry off to rounds 3&4 of the Mini Miglia Challenge at Snetterton.

I’m not sure where to start with the Snetterton weekend. I sold it to my brother Sean as ‘an adventure’ and that’s what it ended up being… We set off on the Friday morning for the 250 mile trip from Bristol to Norfolk. There isn’t an easy way to get there and the journey felt like it went on forever. Four hours in we had a blowout on the back of the campervan. The ensuing swerving put us right across into the fast lane which luckily didn’t have any traffic in it otherwise it would have been game over. After what felt an age I managed to get it straight and pulled up on the soft verge of the A14. Already pretty shook up we then spent half hour changing the wheel in the rain whilst endless streams of lorries passed by inches away. Not pleasant! We got it done and set off for the final leg of the journey. If we were cats that would have definatley been one of the 9 lives!

Eventually we got to Snetterton at 5pm and managed to sneak into the fellow Bristol miglia racer Sam Summerhayes’ awning on the end of the Owens Motorsport section. There had been a test day on the Friday and most of the other miglia runners had been out. It was a hive of activity with engines being swapped and setups changed. Endaf certainly had his work cut out looking after a host of miglias and it didn’t stop all weekend.

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After very little sleep Saturday morning came and there was a lot to think about. As well as preparing the car there is signing on and scrutineering to attend, then drivers briefings. I got through all this ok with the help of Sean as well as Nick and Chloe from CFM Motorsport, and got ready for the 15 minute warm up. A warm up is quite a luxury but I really needed it as apart from YouTube I didn’t know the circuit at all. I’d been here before doing spanners with Rob Talbot and his mini7 back in 2000 but never raced it. So it was not ideal when a CV joint let go 1 lap in. I’d have to learn the circuit in qualifying.

With the CV joint changed we rocked up at the assembly area on slicks with dry settings. Just before we were about to take to the track the heavens opened and it humped down. Looking around all the other guys had been here before and realistically they were going to be quicker so I decided to crack on with slicks and get my mandatory 3 laps in. As the session went on the rain tailed off so I pressed on even though Sean, Nick and Chloe had the wets at the ready. I finished the session with little drama but it’s fair to say my Autograss experience came in handy a few times! As expected the times weren’t great but I qualified 15th for the first race and 13th for the second.

After a quick check over of the car the race came round pretty quickly. The sun and wind had got the circuit back to being dry again. However, I’d not raced it in the dry so speeds, braking points etc were going to be different but at least I now had a fair idea of which way the corners went! After a warm up lap we took our positions on the grid. This is it then. The lights went out and we were all off towards the fast right hander Turn 1. Knowing this was an accident hotspot in previous miglia races I wasn’t surprised when there was a big coming together. A few wheel arches and other bits of trim went flying up in the air and the unfortunate Tony LeMay exited stage left. I backed off slightly and that was enough for the pack to get away from me going into Sears hairpin and the rest of the complex. Lesson number 273 of the weekend is that it’s essential at Snetterton to keep with the pack so you can get a tow on the 2 long straights. I’d lost this already so I was in for a lonely race. Maybe this was a good thing as there was a fair amount of carnage up front. I could tell this by the various wheel arches and headlight rims that I kept having to dodge! But I kept plodding on learning the circuit and trying to go faster each lap. I didn’t set the world on fire but I finished (10th) and didn’t bin it.

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Fantastic photos by Matthew Barrington

Watching my YouTube footage, as I already knew, it’s clear I was being over cautious in most of the corners so next time I’ll push harder. For instance Turn 1 despite being a 90 degree right at the end of a long straight was being taken by the front runners in 4th with just a slight lift, but I was changing down to 3rd. It’s certainly one of those corners you can take faster than you think, and there were several like that. Circuit knowledge is one of, if not the most important factors to be fast in this game. Unfortunately towards the end of the race I could hear some unhealthy noises coming from the gearbox. They seemed to clear when in 4th so I limped round in top gear for the last 2 laps. Because of this I reluctantly withdrew from race 2. Rob Howard kindly offered his spare gearbox but my worry was that if I damaged it I would have 2 gearboxes to buy – not just one, and that would certainly put us out of action for a few months. Besides, by that point I already been plied with 9% Belgian beer by our new friend from the internet Pieter Van Cleemputte… And since then Rob has told me the mainshaft on his spare was snapped when it went to Swiftune for a checkover this week – so as usual beer was the best option 🙂

So a night in the bar it was, and good to see the mini7 club still enjoys a pint of a Saturday night. Sunday came and we stayed to watch the mini7 and miglia races which were both brilliant as usual. We set off home as soon as the miglia race finished hoping to get back to Bristol at a reasonable time, but it didn’t work out like that.

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We got another blowout on the A14 (exactly opposite the spot where we had one on the way up!) and without a spare we were screwed. The AA came and rang round the various tyre suppliers and couldn’t get any anywhere so we had to be towed home. After 3 hours a truck came and towed us to the services where we waited for another hour for an AA truck. Eventually we set off for Bristol around 6pm. He said he knew a short cut. 3 miles in and we were in a big traffic jam, then diversions, then the M4 was closed near Swindon. And the final insult was 2 miles from home he had to stop for his mandatory 45 minute break! We finally got to my house at 1am, and then took an hour to unload the camper off the lorry, mini off the trailer etc. Proper knackered!

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So now I’ve had chance to strip the motor down I’ve found the cause of our gearbox woes. 2 teeth missing from the laygear on 4th, so the race is on to find a Jack Knight involute laygear before Brands Hatch at the end of June. JKD went bust years ago so I’ve asked everyone to have a look in their spares boxes to see what they’ve got. Fingers crossed!





Not Quite Ready

10 04 2015

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Even after a massive push this last month we didn’t quite make it for the first round of the 2015 Mini Miglia Championship at Castle Combe on Easter Monday. In the end it was due to a number of factors, not least the financial and timescale penalties incurred after the unexpected engine work detailed in the last blog. After spending the day as a frustrated spectator I really wish I’d made more effort to get there – if nothing else it would have been a good test. The racing was nothing short of awesome in the miglias and the se7ens.

One of the other financial hits this last month was for my ARDS test at Brands Hatch. I’d done it once already many years back but my licence had lapsed so I had to retake it in order to race. I could have done the course at Castle Combe which is virtually on my doorstep, but Brands Hatch was £100 cheaper. You can also get your medical done at Brands, so all these things along with the fact I need to learn the circuit ready for the Mini Festival made me opt for Brands.

The course consists of a lesson and an exam which was not difficult. Then you have to do a practical on track to prove you have racing pace, understand racing lines, braking points etc. When I did this at Combe all those years ago I was the only one on the circuit. It was a little more tricky at Brands as I was out in the middle of a general test session. There were all sorts of very quick race cars including an ex WTCC BMW M3, and even a mini miglia. But the one that got in my way was a Caterham which was very quick on the straights but poodled round the corners. We got the pass in the end though and I was able to post my application the same day and I got my licence a few days later.

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We have also had another day on the rolling road at JPR Tuning in Yate. Now the new valves and guides are fitted we have cured the smoking issue. Also the redesign of the cooling system has cured the air lock so we were all set for a clear run. After adjusting the trigger wheel we spent a little while resetting the crank sensor settings in the ECU and then got her fired up. We then spent a while mapping the ignition timing before turning to the fuelling. We must have done about 15 power runs trying different settings. We changed main jets, air correctors, pump jets and a bleed back valve before finding the optimum settings. We also found out that the super-duper DCR trumpet kit doesn’t work on my engine… I came away with some decent power but next time we are going to play with emulsion tubes, inlets and ram pipes.  Arnold from KAD has sorted me out with some special hand made ram pipes as found on Colin Peacocks miglia, and I’m hoping to get some slightly shorter Jenvey ones from Tony Perks, so we are all set for trying out all the different combinations.

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But probably the most exciting thing happening this month was the photoshoot for Mini magazine.  I’ve got a loft full of mini mags and I’ve never had a car featured, but after all the blood, sweat and tears that went in to this one in a moment of madness I sent a Facebook message to Steven Colbran who said he’d be happy to write a feature. I think it helped that we live within 20 miles of each other, and also Steven wanted to try out his new lighting equipment, and I was more than happy to be a guinea pig.

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It took a few months to come off. We struggled for a location. I was thinking about doing it at the Bristol dockside with the cranes as a backdrop, or even my local skatepark which I thought would look cool with all the graffitied concrete as a backdrop, but when I mentioned it to a mate who happens to be the local councillor he started saying things like ‘insurance’ and ‘risk assessment’ so I scrubbed round that. We also thought about Castle Combe but it’s been done to death there. In the end we did it at my mate Derek’s gaff which is deep in the countryside and looks great.

At this stage I haven’t seen the article, but I’ve had a sneaky peek at a few of the pictures Stephen took and they look awesome. As was my cunning plan from the beginning, once they saw Derek’s collection of ultra-rare minis they have since done an article on his Cooper S Police car and apparently we will both be in the same issue.

Anyway, enough of the showbiz – it’s now all systems go to be out at the next round at Snetterton. From now on it will all be about making the car go as good as it looks!