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.


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.


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…


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.


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.


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.


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.


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!


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.





One response

23 07 2015

clapclapclapclap.. good show!

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