Speed bumps at race tracks

Now I know this post is going to paint me as Mr Angry, especially after the previous rant about Gran Turismo, but fuck it.  Maybe I *am* Mr Angry.  Here we go.

Speed bumps?  At FUCKING RACE TRACKS?  Really?!?!?!

Here’s what happened at Bedford Autodrome this week, both on the way in and the way out:

Huge speed bumps at race tracks just push my buttons.  What colossal moron is signing these things off?!?!

Here’s what I’ve written to MSV, who run Bedford Autodrome.  Let’s see if they reply.

Guys, you really need to sort out your speed humps. The ones inside are moronic enough considering it’s a race track and therefore encourages low cars, but the painfully asinine speed bump at the entry/exit did its best to rip the bottom out of my car on Friday and instantly turned me from happy-to-be-at-the-track into Mr Angry on both the way in and the way out. It doesn’t matter how good your track or your people are if it’s going to destroy my car. If you choose not to fix this then you will never get my business again because I quite like my car and I don’t want it to be destroyed by driving into your facility.

You can see pictures of my car at the end of the video, taken at Cadwell the week before. As you can see, it’s hardly a Radical. It gets over all the humps in Bedford and everywhere else with no drama, as long as I slow down for the monsters. It is also worth approximately the same as a pork pie and a blow job, and is therefore not worth my suing you over. However, I urge you to walk outside and take a look at the hump itself, whereupon you will see all manner of hideously expensive scratches and gouges made by your paying customers who are almost all considerably wealthier than me and definitely more litigious. It’s only a matter of time.

I attach the dashcam footage, which enables you to see exactly where the offending monolith lies. The video contains explosive profanity, which I wholeheartedly endorse, even with hindsight. Despite my profound embarrassment about publicising my primitive reactions from the heat of the moment, I feel you need to know quite how much rage it engenders in a customer when negligence results in damage to one’s car. You might as well sprinkle nails in your parking spaces. It really is that bad.

I doubt I’ll get a response.  Their business model presumably allows for their customers to fuck their cars up on the way in and out of the track.  But I certainly won’t be one of those customers.

Spa days are supposed to be relaxing

My run of unreliability is becoming a running joke.

There are only four cars left in the fleet, and collectively they do seem to be encouraging me to do more walking.  Whilst sending me bankrupt, of course.

Firstly, there’s the Lotus.  It and I have been a long way – it’s now old enough to get its own driving licence, leave the nest and vote for Boris, if it sees fit.  Last year the head gasket went, which frankly nobody could believe.  Not because it went – that’s a given with a K-Series engine – but because it hadn’t gone before.  That car lives a *hard* life.  It’s done 85,000 miles, and at *least* 10% of those have been round a track being driven my yours truly, Jimbo Chimpington-Hamfist.  It’s a resounding testament to Max and Tim at Lakeside Engineering that it still runs, and runs well.  Do you remember that Top Gear episode in Argentina?  It was the dodgy “Falklands” number plate that stole all the headlines, but do you remember the Esprit that just wouldn’t break down?  That’s because Max was out there with it, looking after it.  What Max doesn’t know about Lotuses can be written on a pygmy ant’s scrotum, in block capitals and double-underlined.  So actually, car number 1 is exonerated on the reliability front.  Despite the leaky boot…

Lotus Elise at Croft

Wonderful photo by Matt Sayle at BookaTrack's Croft May 2015 double-header. Thanks Matt!

 

Where shall we go next?  The NSX?  Well, all was going well with that.  Maz and Russ from Hond-R have transformed the car into what it should’ve been all along.  It’s not finished … they haven’t done the setup for me yet, and until they do, the wet weather handling is … erm … a weeny bit homicidal …

… but it’s getting there.  At least it was, until I had a massive brain fart and managed to run over a kerb and smash up the front end.

NSX smashed spoiler

NSX spoilers are cheap and plentiful, right?

So that’s off the road until Maz can find me a new one.

And, speaking of Hondas, there’s the Integra.  Now, that car is a *weapon*.  Maz and Russ look after that one too, and what Maz doesn’t know about Type Rs can be written on the appendix of Mini-Me’s action figure.  Whenever I take that car out on track and give it a good spanking, I can’t help but laugh.  It’s *comically* good.

Oh, and that one broke down too.

Here it is being so good that I’m laughing inside my helmet at how easy it is to dispatch the Atom through the twisties.  And then breaking down.

 

But despite the unreliability, I’m not ready to trade any of them.  The Lotus is completely brilliant, the Integra is completely brilliant, and the NSX is just so damn cool, and has the *potential* to be completely brilliant.

But the real stand-out … the car that just keeps on going and going and going and going despite whatever I throw at it … is the scabby old MX5.  That thing is like Keith Richards.  I abuse the hell out of it, all the time, and it just keeps coming back for more.  And it’s worth less than a grand.  And the tyres cost £25 each, if you buy the ditchfinders that I do, so that the low grip matches the low power of the engine.  When the cambelt snapped, I just got a new cambelt fitted and carried on as if nothing had happened.  It’s the perfect car!

Can you guess who looks after it for me?  Take a bow, Max and Tim at Lakeside Engineering again.  Can you see a pattern forming here?

 

So there you have it.  Screw your Porsches.  Stick with the slow, fun stuff and have yourself a ball for a tenth of the price.  I knew it four years ago … why didn’t I take my own advice?  Cos I’m stoopid, that’s why.  That’s a mid-life crisis for you.  That’s kind of the whole point of a mid-life crisis.  They make you do dim things like buying Porsches you can’t afford to run, and forgetting what the hell you were writing about and ending with a completely different point to the one you were intending to make.  Still.  That’s over now.  The Porsche’s gone and the fun cars are still here putting a smile on my post-crisis face.

Although … I have to say … the crisis might not *quite* be over yet.  I can’t help thinking there’s a Caterham-shaped hole in my life … 8O

Somebody talk me out of it …

Culling the fleet

Not all that long ago I had eight cars.  Eight!  The decadence.  Whenever anybody asked me why, I never really understood the question.  They’re cars.  Why wouldn’t I have as many as I can handle?

Well, those days are gone.  Now I’m down to a measly four.  First of all the Peugeot 306 GTi-6 lost its reliable custodian Lars, and with the best will in the world I am not cut out to deal with 1990s French electrics.  When the headlights started flashing like indicators whenever I locked the car, I decided it was time to give it away.  It was a great car, when it worked.  But it had to go before I drove it off a cliff in frustration.  Well, *pushed* it off a cliff.  Wouldn’t like to rely on it starting.

Pug with Team Moo-Moo's fleet at The Ring

The feisty little pug with Team Moo-Moo at The Ring in 2008

Then the Evo.  We’ve talked about that car on here already, and three engine blow-ups is enough for anybody.  That was an *awesome* car.  You could drive like an utter tit in that car and still not die.  Which is more than can be said for the car.  So that one had to go too.  When I sold the remains I crunched the numbers and found that while I’d had it (2001 to 2013) it had cost me a net £77,778.82.  Holy fucking shitballs.  I’d be minted if I wasn’t into cars  :cry:

Next to go was the Capri.  Ah, the Capri.  I did so enjoy toodling around in that, enjoying the fart of the V6 and the universal friendliness it engendered.  But clearly not as much as I thought, because I was only doing a couple of hundred miles a year in it according to the MOT certificates, and that’s just not good enough.  So I decided to let somebody else enjoy it before it rotted away.  Pleasingly it’s worth three times more now than when I bought it, so this became the first car ever that I’ve sold for “a profit”.  Well, not really, because of all the running costs, but after doing the sums and carrying all the necessary digits it appears it cost me about a grand all told, over 14 years of ownership.  Remarkable really.

Capri 2.8i

Capri 2.8i

And then we come to the Porsche 996 Turbo.  Ah, the Porsche.  I was so rosy-eyed when I bought it, thinking it would be an appreciating asset that I could use for everything – shopping, social events, track days – and would keep until it was worth enough that I could retire on its value.

Ha!  How naive I was.  The reality was very different.

Having thoroughly enjoyed the first few months of tickling around in the car, breaking it in on my 40th birthday track day and gradually exploring what the car could do, wrinkles started to show.  Firstly I was stunned by the frankly simian design of the bonnet release, that needed power in order to access a flat battery (!!!!), then I took it to the Ring whereupon it expired.  To cut a long story short, Porsche Koblenz lied about doing a compression test that they hadn’t done and tried to extort more than €30,000 from me as a result.  When I took it to my UK guys (Lakeside Engineering – great guys), they took the engine apart on the basis of the compression test and found that it was just a spark plug that had failed.  So, still intending to keep the car for a few years at that point, I had all the things done that you do when the engine’s on the workbench, so I ended up paying £17,000.  Ouch.

So, you can imagine I was not best enamoured with the teutonic titface at that point, having borrowed money to buy it and then much, much more to fix it.  I started using it properly on track days, determined to learn how to drive the thing and stop it feeling like a jet-powered dustcart.  I didn’t enjoy Silverstone, during which I described it as a “sack of crap” due to its point-and-squirt handling characteristics.  It’s *fast* … very fast … it just felt like a Cobra through the corners off the gas and an Audi RS4 on the gas.  By which I mean no fun at all.  And the fucking brakes were overheating after two pissing laps and it was underboosting.  This is a Porsche, for fuck’s sake!  It’s *supposed* to be used on a track!

I did take it to a couple of other track days … I hated it at Spa and was relieved when the brake warning light came on so I could send it home with Mike and use the Teg for the rest of the track time.  Then came Donington, where *finally* I started to gel with it – getting the hang of using the weight to get the car turned in, which in turn lets you get on the power before the apex … it was all starting to come together…

… and then the front brake pad sheared when I hit the pedal at 130mph and the pedal went to the floor.

I shit you not, I had genuinely picked the spot on the wall that I thought I was going to crash into.

Fortunately it was only the right-hand pad that had sheared, and I wasn’t braking particularly late, so it was undramatic in the end and I still made the chicane … though any swell of fondness I’d built up for the car that day had ploughed straight on head-first into the barrier, never to be seen again.

Porsche brake pads sheared at Donington

Porsche brake pad sheared at Donington

From that moment it was just a formality, I knew the car had to go.  It’s quite simply not fit for purpose.  It’s a road car, it’s hopeless round a track and it costs far more to run than any road car ever should. My Porsche fling is over.

When the nice man Ashley Nickells from Millennium Heroes dropped me off at the station and drove away in the car for the last time, I did as anybody would and stole a final glance at the car as it growled away.

Did I feel a pang of sadness as it parped out of the station?  Did I feel the urge to run after it and say, “Stop!  I’ve changed my mind!”…?

No.  What I thought was, “Bugger.  I left the GB sticker on the back.”

Says it all really.

Project Wallet Buster – an introduction…

Given the number of years I’ve had this car (cars) and the transformations that it (they) have gone through, I figured it’s about time I put together a post to document what’s been done, how on Earth I reached this point and what’s going to be done.

This project is a great illustration of a great motorsport saying… “If a job is worth doing, it’s worth doing at least twice”  Well, not really, but I have worked at motorsport institutions where repeating work was a way of life… ;o) It is also an illustration of man-maths, frustration, trials, tribulations and all the other afflictions that us diseased souls who love cars and trackdays endure and embrace.

Those of you who know me well will know that back in the day, life was simple…  I had 2 cars – a boring everyday car and a car ‘for best’.  For quite a while, this took the form of 2 Minis when I was a poor student and poor engineer – this one being a particularly fruity turbocharged Mini I threw together:

138hp,a LOT of torque steer and a rather noisy beast

Until eventually after a lot of scrimping and saving, I broke away from Minis and after a couple of Cosworths:

I still miss this car - a crude wonderful brute of a machine

This should have been so much better than the Sierra but wasn't

I ended up with a Porsche 911 Turbo in my life to supplement the ordinary car in my life (a Ford Focus diesel – fantastic car!):

Gone but not forgotten...

I was very proud of the Porker and she stayed with me for 12 years from 2003 – 2015 (sold through auction in April this year due to it only covering around 150km per year – time for someone else to enjoy…) with various enhancements carried out along the way – more power, new suspension, trick differential, new seats and so on – as Mr Benovich puts it, ‘Copson does like a project’.  Anyway, bottom line is that I LOVED this car – challenging to drive, very fast, a classic in its own right, excellent on roadtrips and as I discovered, pretty good on track…

Oh yes, this car was the car that introduced me to trackdays – my first being at Cadwell Park in 2003, which was terrifying and exhilarating at the same time – I was hooked.  Next up came trips to the Nurburgring – just to have a butchers  – all harmless fun to begin with, a jolly out with the boys for some man bonding – nothing serious you understand, until you looked at some of the hardware in the car park and realising that the car you are in rolls a bit too much when cornering, the seats aren’t quite supportive enough, bigger brakes would be nice and so on…

And of course – as time and miles passed under the car, you learn things. For example, the independent Porsche dealer I used said to me one service time, “do you know that the rear semi trailing arms are £2000 second hand?” and, “if you go off on track, you won’t just bash 1 corner, its normally 2 or 3” and, “these engines are tough but rebuilds start at £4k”..

Helpful…

So, musing on this, I thought that a dedicated track car would be the way to go – doing my man-maths, I worked out that an average Porsche 911 shaped crash should everything go wrong with 2 corners walloped would cost about £10k (Jimbo, please do jump in with your comments on Porsche running costs at will) so surely I could build a trackday car for less that would be safe, reliable and fun?  Add in that (at the time) prices of old Porsches were starting to rise and that the car I owned was a very low mileage example with no rust or previous accidents – a car to be used and cherished, not abused on track surely?

Enter Project Wallet Buster…!

Who'd have thought this car would cause sooo much trouble?

Doesn’t look like a Wallet Buster, does she?  How naïve and foolish you all are…

I bought this car (a 1989 BMW 325 Sport) in 2008 from a mate of mine who was reluctantly selling for one reason and another – knowing him, knowing he owned a garage and knowing the car, I snapped it up sharpish as it ticked all the boxes – rear wheel drive, normally aspirated, pretty good handling, easy to work on, cheap parts, good forums for advice and so on.

A couple of days later I took it drifting at Oulton Park to get to know the handling a bit better at low speeds:

The filthiest any car of mine has ever been - Jimbo, take note... ;o)

And over the next 12 months I started the transformation to this:

Track ready - or so I thought.

In brief, the seats were junked, Recaro race seats installed, 6 point harnesses, a bolt in roll cage was installed, larger wheels and sticky tyres put on, larger front brakes installed, a few remedial rust repairs carried out and a darn good clean up.  Is the wallet busted yet?  Nope, partially cracked open for sure, but not busted.

After all this, I took her to the Nurburgring:

The driest day of 2009 and we weren't on track!!

Where I decided that she wasn’t brilliant – *AT ALL* – she understeered too much, she wouldn’t turn in, wouldn’t hard accelerate enough in a straight line.  The seats were fab, the cage made me feel safe and I was pretty happy with the brakes, but that was it – the weather was SHOCKING as well which didn’t help so I came back from the ‘Ring pretty unhappy.

So what to do? Sell and cut your losses? Or try and nail down the problems?  By now, I think you know the answer to that one…!

Development phase 2.0 started in earnest – coilovers, different anti-roll bars and learning a bit about geometry changes started to yield real gains in the handling department:

Shiny coilover, mucky wheel arch - must have been all that drifting!

But something was still niggling in my head – the car was starting to grip and stop pretty well, it was just lacking in grunt, specifically there seemed to be an aching gap in the power and torque as the car went from 2nd to 3rd to 4th gear – far too much of a drop in revs between the gears and the engine just didn’t really want to rev at all. I didn’t want to turbo the engine as I love the throttle response normally aspirated cars give you. Engine conversions were out of the question surely (despite all the forums suggesting they were a good way to get more power) so I thought about tuning the existing engine – forums told me that tuning the M20 engine in the BMW E30 was pretty fruitless so I just ignored that for a while and looked at the gearbox.

The holy grail of gearboxes for E30s might be considered to be the ‘dogleg’ gearbox that’s fitted to the E30 M3 (the getrag 265 gearbox) – close ratios (a direct drive top would make it more ‘buzzy’ cruising on the road but ideal on track), the dogleg first gear meaning that 2nd and 3rd gear are in a straight line for quick shifts and rumour has it that these gearboxes were used unmodified in the first years of BMW E30s being raced in German Touring Cars so surely tough enough for the job?  Surely it won’t fit? A few sums later showed that it would be ideal for track work…  If only that engine revved a bit harder. It can’t possibly fit?  It’s going to be all wrong surely – gear linkages won’t work, propshafts – come on, be serious!

Well, yes, apart from the fact that this gearbox is as rare as rocking horse shit in the land where rocking horses aren’t allowed.  EBay it appears is my friend – after some months of searching, I managed to find one – fantastic…! HOW FECKING MUCH?

After getting a local specialist to rebuild the gearbox (it really looked like it was scrap when I got it):

Would Sir like to part with many £££££s for his pile of scrap metal?

but finding that it was actually in pretty good shape – it was installed – the only pain in the backside being that the propshaft needed to be modified in length and for the output shaft.  The result was excellent – real flexibility on track and much quicker shifts – if only that engine revved a bit harder:

Now we're getting somewhere...

So, right now, is the wallet busted? Only partially…

So the car is starting to get there – but what about more power?  If only the standard engine could rev a bit more… Much to think about!  The M20 engine in the BMW E30 is an excellent engine – have a look at the link here for more info:

http://www.e30zone.net/e30zonewiki/index.php/M20

But the bottom line is that it’s a great road engine – it’s doesn’t respond well to tuning (in fairness a lot of BMW engines are like this) and it doesn’t like revs which I craved now for the track.  As mentioned before, turbo charging was out of the question so what to do?

Oh go on then, let’s have a look at engine conversions…  We might as well bust the wallet a bit more.

Having looked on the e30zone forums, each engine conversion has it’s plusses and minuses – I knew that I wanted a BMW engine, I wanted to save a bit of weight up front to help turn in and the balance of the car (there are HUGE debates on the forum about which car handles best, 4 cylinder or 6 cylinder), have good power density and for me to be able to fit the engine relatively easily – to summarise my options:

Make a larger capacity M20 engine (e.g. 2.8 litres or more) – tempting, but possibly costly and still a heavy engine that might have oil surge issues on corners (oil pressure drops on left handers).

BMW M52 engine (again 2.8 litres) – a great engine but ultimately a road engine – could be tricky to find a good one.  Having to swap oil sumps was also a concern for track use – fundamentally changing the way the oil system works could cause problems.

BMW M30 engine (3.5 litres) – just too heavy.

BMW V8 (3.0 to 5.0 litres) – also too heavy and potentially too difficult to fit – there’s quite a bit of fabrication involved but GREAT horsepower

BMW S50 engine (BMW E36 engine, either 3.0 or 3.2 litres) – a really great engine – I thought long and hard on this but eventually said no – it is pretty heavy and a tight fit in the engine bay.

Not getting very far am I?

But hang on a second – you’ve got the BMW E30 M3 gearbox fitted haven’t you?  Surely, surely… The BMW E30 M3 engine (called the S14) will just drop in? It’s lighter than an M20, drops straight into the car (apart from the small inconvenience of right hand drive being in the way of the exhaust manifold  – all E30 M3s were LHD – mere details young Michael!), easily makes more power and torque than the M20 and it likes to rev, rev a lot…  Surely this is the way forward? Reading more and more about the engine it was ticking lots of boxes – developed for motorsport, stories of 2.5 litre engines making an easy 300hp and revving to 8000rpm+ 

Oh yes, surely this was the engine for me!  Only one trouble – rare as rocking horse shit in no-horse-land and properly wallet busting…

Time to reconsider?  Not really – an engine came up at the right time and at the right money (sort of):

Great engine but in need of some TLC

And the wallet is taking a proper bashing now, but it’s not so bad – this is a running engine (I saw the videos) all complete – a quick tidy up and drop in surely? 

Not really…

Long story short, whilst trying to cure a few oil leaks before installation (one thing ALL old BMW engines have in common is that they piss oil from every conceivable leaking point) I pulled a few threads on the cylinder head meaning that had to come off – then I found that the cylinder head was basically on the edge of failing so in for a penny and in for a pound, I squared up the wallet and took aim with a size 8 foot for a good hoof in the spuds to give it a proper busting.

This was going to take some time…  So in the meantime, my man maths (plus an ENORMOUS amount of peer pressure – chaps, you know who you are) justified buying a whole other car to take on track and the pressure off me whilst the BMW was off the road (there are other posts on here – have a mooch):

Peer pressure distilled into one car

With an engine stripped to a bare block and doing research on it is a really dangerous thing – www.s14.net really was my friend in all of this giving valuable advice and counsel on various topics whilst scaring the absolute bejesus out of me at the same time.  So it would be rude not to do a couple of cheeky upgrades, right?  The wallet is busted so a little more isn’t going to hurt, right?

What I also learnt is that the sky is literally the limit with S14 engines and it is a proper engine – lots of lovely details that can only come from motorsport and in fairness, pretty easy to build.  Lots and lots of hours, many new parts from BMW and elsewhere not to mention a bit help from my dad, my first proper engine build was completed.  The resulting engine is fairly mild (plenty of time for more upgrades and power):

After TLC (and some cash..)

And I am very proud to say that the engine started first time!  Happy days! The running in miles took a while due to a few teething problems chased down.  Now, if only the bodyshell was a bit more rigid..

And after a LOT of work (did I mention the stand alone ECU, bespoke exhaust, lighter bonnet and other little tweaks?) the car and engine made it to the rolling road:

Really hoping she doesn't go BANG!

Thankfully the rolling road session went extremely well – the guys at Emerald (the folks who supplied the ECU) are really fantastic folks!  If only that body shell was a bit stiffer – right hand drive is a bit of a concern as well – that engine isn’t really designed for it – I’m sure that  rubbish exhaust clearing the steering rack is robbing a bit of power…

So with wallet fully busted and a car ready to go, there’s only one thing for it – take it to the track to see how the conversion feels. Oulton Park is my local track so an outing to celebrate was in order:

Hurrah! Oulton in the wet on R888 tyres - not terrifying at all...! :o )

The verdict? Pretty darned good – but a few niggles to sort out – the spring rates for the coilovers isn’t right  going from 6 cylinders to 4 so that car is too nervous, the diff is quite snappy in 2nd gear and I do wish that the bodyshell could be just a little bit more rigid…

What is a chap to do…………………??