Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Rockingham Motor Speedway

We turned up at the Rockingham Motor Speedway early Saturday.  The wind was blowing in the outer paddock and there was a threat of rain later in the day. Our car was prepped so there was plenty of time to chat with other drivers before the mandatory drivers briefing. Track limits and giving each other room into the first hairpin were the main topics and warnings  to all drivers.  

A last minute drama with our car battery not holding charge properly meant I kept the engine running as I waited to out for qualifying.   The cars were released in the wrong order so I sat in the pit lane airing for a clear track before heading out. The 20 min session went well, but with intermittent rain on one side of the circuit you didn't quite know how hard to push on some laps.  

I got piped for 4th place right at the end of the session so would start on the 3rd row of the grid.

Race 1

The afternoon was spent weather watching as showers rolled in - tipped it down - then dissipated and the track dried out in an almost hourly cycle.  We got lucky with a dry spell in the end.   I lost out off the grid with a car coming across in front of me sharply causing me to brake when I should have been accelerating.   This put me into a quartet of cars racing for 6th place.  I tried inside and outside of almost every corner to pass, finally going round the outside of the Tarzan hairpin, only to fail to find 3rd gear onto the main straight gifting the place back.  It bucketed down with rain on the last lap and I struggled o make it back to park ferme without crashing.  8th place finish wasn't the best result.
Photo: Dave Hogan

Photo: Dave Hogan

he evening social kicked off with a BBQ selection of food and beers in the hospitality tent with guitar entertainment from friend of the series and commentator Jake Sanson. 

Race 2 
Sunday - and the sun came out later in the morning making for a nice day watching some of the other races as we waited for out time slot.  Starting further back I got a good start around the outside of turn 2 picking up several places.  Something came loose under my feet and was sliding around, jamming under the pedals every time I braked though! I soldiered on just about maintaining my position but dropping back, when the safety car came out.   I fished around under my seat and threw the offending plastic footrest cover out the window.  As the safety pulled off I was back up to full speed getting 5th place on the penultimate lap when the car in front overshot with brake issues.  

Race 3
Starting high on the outside I got my best start ever at Rockingham slotting into 4th around the hairpin.  It was short-lived as red flags came out immediately and we returned to the grid for a restart.  Four cars got tangled on the banked first turn - two had hit the wall and needed recovering.  The drivers were all OK and we restarted after a 10 minute delay.   
My start wasn't quite as good but I managed 5th place.  As the race progressed I was comfortable with no pressure from car behind, but just not quick enough to bridge the gap to the front pack.  

Overall a fantastic weekend of racing with no incidents, dramas or damage for me and some good finished given we didn't test and had been out of the car since June.  

Next month we race on the prestigious end-of-season Formula Ford festival under-card at Brands Hatch.

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Rockingham Pre-Race Preparation

When the rear end of the car feels odd, you tend to notice it straight away.  Strapped into the fixed bucket seat, you are directly connected to the car.  Just a little vibration, ignore it.... concentrate on racing.  Then its back, the vibration and now a deep rumbling noise getting stronger. OK last lap, forget about chasing down the cars in front, shift up earlier, run a gear higher through each corner, nurse the car home whilst trying to limit the overall lap time loss.

This was me in the final laps of our last race weekend at Snetterton.  When I got back to park ferme, I found two broken off wheel nuts on one of the rear wheels.  A pretty lucky escape that they had held up until the end. What I hadn't noticed was the dent in the front wing, which was scrubbing the tyre, wearing it away lap by lap.  I'm not sure which would be worse - a tyre blow out or a wheel coming off.  Neither preferably.

So a few weeks ago we set about fixing the various issues.

First a used rear bumper was bought from a dismantler.  This is a simple replacement, but we first fitted new rear wheel arch liners to ensure all the factory bumper mounting points were restored.  These being broken off was the ultimate cause of the bumper coming off mid race.

Next we set about investigating the wheel stud failures.  The worry was that all of them could be failing in the same way, so we changed supplier and ordered a complete new set plus spares.  Better to be on the safe side.

As it turned out the two failed studs had cracked as some point in the past, and gradually the fracture got bigger and bigger over time.  We think we did the wheels up once with the spacer not straight which could have caused them to bend.

Removing and replacing the stud is straightforward.  We use conversion studs, so some heat from a blow torch for ~60 seconds melts the Loctite thread lock.  Two nuts locked together are then used unwind the stud.  The new studs have a hex key slot in the end, so just apply Loctite and wind them in as far as they go.


The broken studs took longer, drilling out a 6mm hole in the centre, then inserting a stud extractor tool to grip the remaining stub of the stud as the heat is applied.  

Our final task was to sort the damaged front wing out.  The dent could be pulled out, filled and painted, but its far easier to unbolt the wing and replace with a matching used one.  This took about an hour, the hardest part is re-aligning the headlight tray to get the headlight to go straight (and stay locked in place).


In a few weeks time we are heading to Rockingham in Corby where the aero wing and front splitter should see higher speeds than ever before on the banked oval section of the track.

There is no opportunity to practice before-hand so I'll be heading straight out into qualifying to see how the car handles. 

Friday, 16 June 2017

1st Race Weekend of 2017

This year the championship has a dedicated co-ordinator we were greeted on Friday evening with an allocated garage and somewhere to park the tow car and trailer which is a nice change. 

Saturday am we were first on track with an unofficial practice session.  After about 20 mins of settings some good laps, we unsuccessfully attempted a pit stop to change wheels and scrub in a new set of tyres running out of time in the end.  This mean't that in qualifying I needed to go easy for the first 10 minutes to run the tyres in instead.  A quick pit stop to reset tyre pressures left me precious little time to set a fast lap towards the end of the session.   I got held up on my first real flying lap which left me last in class with just a minute left of the session.  I did then manage a good lap with cooperation from a 924 driver doing the same and we avoided holding each other up - just about.  This bumped me 5th on the grid - a really good result.  

The new aero package the Boxster runs makes a considerable difference at Snetterton.  A good example is Turn 1 which is now taken without changing down, just a dab of brake, resulting in a 10mph corner speed increase.  

The temperature was scorching for the mid afternoon race and I started pretty well. On lap 3 I was following closely into the hairpin and didn't quite manage my braking properly, damaging my front bumper. However at the same time I got hit hard from behind. I continued, trying to regroup and mount a challenge on the places  but the exhaust was dislodged and I limped noisily home in 7th a way off the pace by the end. 

After inspecting the damage front (split bumper) and rear (split bumper, broken exhaust mount and inner wing) we headed home for the night, vowing to return early the next morning with the right tools and plenty of gaffer tape to repair the car.  

Race 2 - Sunday AM
I switched back to my worn tyres as we felt new ones were overheating too easily with their full tread and had a good start and race, running with a group fighting for p5.  Mid way though I felt a problem with the rear of the car and saw my bumper trailing dangerously round to one side. I had no option really - but to pit, flagging down Tony our tyre man, from the pit wall, who removed it and sent me back on my way.  

Race 3 - Sunday PM
My result from race two put me on the front row for race 3 - the traditional reverse grid finale to the weekend.   I made mistakes round both the first two hairpin corners on lap one and dropped almost to the back of the class.  The racing is pretty brutal at times, as one car gets past two more will force their way through any gap you leave, intentional or not.  Several cars went wide at the end of the lap and I had  a reprieve, getting back up with the lead cars.  However a failed-over take move and more mistakes left me back in 7th again.   As the race went on I was unable to make an impression on the group in front over the last few laps.  With the front tyre rubbing on a damagd front wing and a rumbling from the rear (which we later found was two broken wheel studs) I was lucky to finish.

Overall we didn't perform as well as we could in the 3 races.  I was definitely a bit race rusty behind the wheel, and the damage we picked up in race 1, ultimately effected race 2 and 3 and will take some time to fix up. 

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Late start to season

This year we've had a pretty late start to the season.  We are joining the series at the 4th round of 8 at Snetterton.  

We had aimed to start in April, but had to abandon our shakedown test track day following winter maintenance.   As soon as we hit the track at speed, it immediately became apparent we'd got significant issues with the drive train.   Every time we went back it it got worse and we went home at lunchtime scratching our heads, unable to work out what was wrong.  

It took us several weeks to chase down the root cause eventually replacing driveshafts, suspension arms and wheel bearings at the rear of the car.   

At the same time we fitted the new Boxster Aero package. This consists of a GT3 fibreglass front bumper, with a front splitter attached to increase downforce.   The rear of the car now sports are large GT wing providing increased rear downforce to balance the front end.

From the races to date it is clear the Aero package is having an effect as laps time are generally 1-2 seconds faster as a result, and drivers report being able to run faster through the longer corners, getting on the throttle earlier.

We successfully completed a short shakedown test at Snetterton last week, so are ready to debut at Snetterton this coming weekend.