Crystal Palace sprint with Elle and the Pocket Belles 30-May-16

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The Crystal Palace sprint is a spectacular public event held over two days. Although it is not a championship event, my sponsors love it because members of the public crawl all over the Mustang and take pictures of themselves with it. I normally work as a marshal for the event on the first day with the Mustang displayed on the Sevenoaks and District Motor Club stand and race on the second day. The best pictures I got was with the 1940s singing group, Elle and the Pocket Belles (facebook.com/elleandpocketbelles ) who very sportingly climbed all over the car for a photo shoot. I really need to find a professional photographer to help out with this stuff!

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Crystal palace has the slipperiest track of any sprint event, made up of parts of the old race circuit (last used in full in 1972 when Gerry Marshall won the Osram saloon trophy against a mark 1 Ford Escort and a Chevrolet Camaro) as well as foot paths for the general public to stroll around the park. My tyres were getting quite worn by this stage of the season and amusingly someone who took photos of my car going around the Big Tree Bend hairpin shows that I was using more than the full width of the track with two wheels on the grass bank on the exit, whilst the Porsche 911 I was up against was only going as far as the middle of the track. Check out the video on my blog http://www.blacksunracing.co.uk and facebook.com/BlackSunRacing and marvel how the Mustang slides around each corner, with a deft correction just missing the bollard at the apex of the first corner!

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Due to the crazy class structures based on year of manufacture where I am normally up against four-wheel drive Nissan GTRs, I had an idea to hold a virtual championship for an imaginary V8 trophy. This was far more inspiring chasing times on the results sheets after each run where I had a reasonable chance of winning! The competition was open to any car with a V8 with a cross plane crank (thereby ruling out any European cars with engines that sound like sewing machines!). Therefore, I was now up against Jason Andrews in a 1965 Mustang GT350 replica, Jim Giddings in a Triumph TR8, Clive Letherby in a Rover V8 engined Triumph TR6, rival motorsport journalist Julian Balme in a Ford Falcon Sprint and Richard Owen in a Ford Galaxie 500. It was a very exciting and close fought battle throughout the day, eventually being won by Jim Giddings and I came third. None of us manage to match my time of 39.49 seconds from last year, which gives me hope for next year with new tyres and the possibility of finding a sponsor to fund a real trophy!

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V8 trophy
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1st Jim Giddings – TR8 39.77 secs


2nd Jason Andrews – Mustang 40.80 secs

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3rd Alex Peters – Mustang 41.49 secs

4th Clive Letherby – TR6 / V8 42.73

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5th Julian Balme – Ford Falcon Sprint 45.19 secs

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6th – Richard Owen – Ford Galaxie 500 48.89 secs

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Racing on a muddy country lane – Rushmoor sprint 24-Apr-16

The FDMC Rushmoor sprint turned into a stunning duel for me, going head to head with the supercharged Mazda MX5 of Nick Horne. My 4.6 litre V8 supercharged Mustang may have had the power advantage on the short straights (573BHP), but i couldn’t put the power down on the tight and slippery track, while Nick definitely had the advantage under braking and round the corners. I had just upgraded to 16 inch (400mm) 8-piston HiSpec brakes which worked brilliantly, but I had no tyre grip to use them, at one point sailing straight on into a mud bank.

I managed the fastest time in our class at first practice beating Nick and also some beautiful 1960s V8s (a Jensen C-V8 and an ISO Rivolta) that sounded great and were masterfully thrashed around the track despite their archaic suspension (the Mustang is not much better). I was suffering from a massive lack of grip with the car fishtailing wildly out of every corner, so that I spent more time facing into the threes than along the track! I wanted to lower the tyre pressures but unfortunately the aluminium dust caps had seized on and I didn’t want to risk breaking the valves, so decided to put up with the situation.

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After my crash in second practice Nick was leading me by around one second in every session until the penultimate lap when I pushed myself to the limit with some very scary slides and managed to pull ahead by half a second. I was elated with the possibility that I might win, whilst Nick had the red mist come down and threw the car round the track like a mad man! I was able to wait at the start line to see Nicks time displayed so that I would know how hard I had to push. No! he had taken a second off his previous best so I had a real problem. I didn’t think I go any faster doing what I had been on the last lap so decided to try and keep the car under control to slide less. However, I have found in the past that unless I drive like a bank robbery getaway I am hopeless – smooth and careful just don’t work for me. As I expected my final lap was controlled but slightly slower than my previous best so Nick won – Congratulations Nick it was a stunning final performance!

Results

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1st Nick Horne (Mazda MX5 supercharged) 55.25 seconds

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2nd Alex Peters (Ford Mustang Supercharged) 56.14 seconds

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3rd Simon Gamblen (Renault 21 Turbo) 59.50 seconds

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4th Fred Moss (Iso Rivolta) 59.71 seconds

5th Kevin Hurst (Toyota Celica) 61.49 seconds

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6th Ian Northeast (Jensen C-V8) 63.17 seconds

Jammed throttle scare! Hethel sprint 1-May-16

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History

Since moving to Hethel in 1966 all Lotus models are developed and honed at the company’s own 2.2 mile Test Track. The legendary course where the likes of Clark, Rindt, Fittipaldi, Andretti and Senna tested their incredible Formula One cars has recently been completely refurbished and now features a combination of long straights, tight hairpins and tricky curve combinations that are guaranteed to push even the most seasoned driver to the limit.

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The opposition

I have beaten Porsche 911 GT3s in my Mustang in the past, but on this occasion I was up against four of them! There was usual front runner Bill McKenna whom I have never matched for pace, followed by Brian Winstone who had bought two cars along! Not satisfied with double driving his old 993 GT3 with his son, he had also bought a brand new GT3 which had loads of the latest technology on it. As it turned out his unfamiliarity with the new car meant he was slower than in his old one. It did give him the advantage of having twice as many runs on the track which always helps to gain experience of the track layout.

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Practice

The track is extremely difficult to drive quickly, being very technical with complex series of curves where each has to be taken on exactly the right line in order to be lined up for the next corner. In many places such as Graham Hill bend you have two think two corners ahead to pick the optimum line. Needless to say the hot headed Porsche drivers couldn’t take it easy on the first practice on a cold and slippery track early in the morning and I was pleased to find myself in fourth place.

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Timed runs

I was gaining confidence, particularly in learning how to make better use of the more powerful HiSpec brakes, when on the first timed run I had a massive scare as my throttle jammed open at the end of the long straight going into the chicane! I didn’t panic, as I realised what was happening I managed to hook my foot under the pedal whilst braking and turning into the chicane at the same time. When I got back to the pits I found it was the floor mat that had slipped over the pedal – lesson learned always remove the mats!

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More opposition… eventually

Tim Simpson has been getting much faster recently in his supercharged Honda S2000. He made four runs without setting a time due to various issues including failure of the timing equipment. On the fourth run he tried the impossible by braking at the 100m board for the chicane at the end of the long straight. Needless to say he lost it and spun wildly across the track, crashing through the line of cones at the entrance to the chicane. While he was spinning he arms were flailing about the spinning steering wheel and he dislocated his shoulder. The marshals had to get him out of his car and to the medic who popped his shoulder back in (ugh!). I cautioned him not do the final run in case he had shoulder trouble at high speed, but he wouldn’t listen and went on to post a stunningly quick third place splitting the four Porsches.
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The long Andretti hairpin required really careful handling as it is very easy to carry too much speed in and then to find the car drifting sideways off the edge of the track. I used my normal Mustang line – whereas most cars hug the inside curb of the hairpin as the shortest distance, this doesn’t work for the mustang as you can’t put the power down fully until you are facing down the straight, so I turn the curve into a triangle, moving to the outer edge of the track when I am two thirds of the way around the corner and then cut in across the inside apex, so I can begin accelerating much earlier than other cars.
I gradually build up confidence each lap overcoming issues that other drivers were also having trying to see blue cones against a grey track in the heat haze at the end of the long Mansell straight. I really think my awesome computer-designed Eyesight racing glasses helped here.

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By the final timed lap I was really flying, I was already beating one of the Porsches and though I could catch another. However, as I rounded the Chapman corner to start the long straight I had my usual gearbox problem with it refusing to go into third. I wasted a lot of time trying to find a gear. It was still may fastest lap but I finished 5th out of 9 cars in my class, two seconds behind Brian Winstone’s brand new Porcsche 911 GT3 RS.

Results

1st 19 Bill McKenna Porsche 996 140.55
3nd 23 Brian Winstone Porsche GT3 RS 145.69
3rd 20 Tim Simpson Honda S2000 148.82
4th 16 Brian Winstone Porsche GT3 RS 149.36
5th 24 Alex Peters Ford Mustang GT 151.96
6th 17 Jim Giddings Triumph TR8 152.28
7th 716 Steven Winstone Porsche GT3 RS 152.47
8th 21 Tim Roebuck Lotus Elan SE 163.41
9th 18 Nick Attridge Aston Martin DB7 172.73

Terrifyingly good new brakes- Hullavington 20-Mar-16

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I entered the Hullavington sprint (Rather than Rockingham which is on the same day) for a number of reasons. the novelty – I had done Rockingham before an this would be the last chance to enter Hullavington with its second and final running in 2016. The practicality – Rockingham has drive by noise sensors meaning I would have to switch to my quieter and less powerful exhausts. The worry – as I had still not found a new gearbox, I hoped that a small airfield track would be much slower and so wouldn’t need much third or fourth gear (I was wrong about that). The competition – I new that a lot of the big stars in my class across the country would be competing at Rockingham, whilst I thought a small sleepy airfield in the west country would only attract a much less competitive field (I was wrong about that as well).
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Being a new and obscure venue, I wasn’t able to download a Hullavington track for my simulator to practice on, so I watched last years event on youtube as practice. The organisers hadn’t provided a track layout diagram so it was very difficult to make sense of the amazing varied bends and obstacles on the long two mile course.

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Before the start of the season I had real doubts about whether to enter any events at all, with my gearbox, ECU and brake problems the car was going to be extremely uncompetitive. However, a new sponsorship deal with Hispec of Dartford to design a monster custom set of 16-inch 8-pot front brakes offered new hope. After a lot of thought and discussion optimising the design for my sprint race application the brakes were fabricated and fitted to the Mustang late on the Friday night before the race on Sunday so didn’t offer any time for optimisation or setup. Even worse, a problem we discovered that the bleed nipples on the rear Wilwood calipers were severely corroded. Therefore, Patrick Santer of P&M Autos (Hispecs preferred fitting company who are based next door – great for communication and fixing any small installation issues for custom brake designs) decided it was not worth the risk of a broken bleed nipple that could not be fixed before the event on Sunday. On the way home a spirited drive through the countryside bedded the brakes in. As the contact area increased could feel increased braking power and confidence at every bend.

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You can read a special article about the new brakes in the July issue of American Car Magazine.

Despite the promise of the new brakes, I wasn’t feeling particularly confident about the Hullavington event – the lack of simulator practice, gearbox worries and an entry list that included some very competitive rivals Andy Trevail in a super lightweight supercharged mini cooper who had convincingly beaten me at Abingdon in 2015, Paul Braddock in another s/c mini cooper and 2012 Speed League Champion Jim Giddings in a TVR Chimera-engined Triumph TR8, both of whom had beaten me on the majority of our previous meetings. Also in the class was Andy Deeley whose recently upgraded Nissan 200 had won the class at Eelmoor in 2015, matching my best lap time from the year before. As well as his car offering more power and grip, his driving style and confidence had improved to make him a serious rival. There were a couple of unknowns in the class – a Vauxhall VX220 (which was rightly protested and moved into its correct kit car class after a lot of discussion with event officials) and a double driven turbocharged Ford Puma – an impressive combination of power and agility.

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The weather was extremely overcast and dull, so instead of wearing my normal racing glasses which were custom designed by Eyesite of Brighton, I used my normal daily glasses (also designed by Eyesite), as they weren’t heavily tinted. Despite not being designed to fit my race helmet, the clever multi-angle articulation of the arms meant I was able to fit them on and they worked well.

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The course had some longer than expected straights with some very sharp corners unlike any track I had previously driven. It was very hard work finding the limit of the car with the new brakes, trying to build up confidence and find how late I could brake into each of the corners and how much speed I could carry through. Overall I improved by 10 seconds per lap from first practice to the final timed run, averaging 2 seconds each time. Paul Braddock set a very good time early on and seemed unbeatable. Meanwhile my old rival and benchmark Jim Giddings was within a 10th of a second each time, sometimes behind, sometimes ahead. Andy Deeley was ahead of me most of the day by a small margin and continued to improve.

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Lap after lap, I found that I had to push myself way beyond my comfort zone by braking much later than I dared. The new Hispec brakes had absolutely transformed the car, now the driver was the weak link! Despite that much greater braking force form the new discs, I still had a degree of pedal softness, so felt that more work is required on the hydraulic aspect of the brakes.
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In the end the pushing so hard was worth it – I managed to catch and beat Paul Braddock and opened a one second gap over Jim Giddings, but couldn’t catch Andy Deeley who was over a second ahead of me (along with the lightweight mini cooper and the Puma). Although I only managed 5th out of 8 cars in my class I was proud to have achieved that considering how hard I had worked to get the position. I would definitely say that this had been the toughest drive of my race career to date.

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I would also like to say a big thank you for Photographer Andy Dow and his assistants Robyn and Amy of the Combat Stress military charity who provided the pictures of this event.

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Results



1st 25 Richard Trevail 1:25.50


2nd 32 Toby Harris A5 1:27.17


3rd 37 Andy Deeley A5 1:30.16


4th 132 Lisa Selby A5 1:30.86


5th 34 Alex Peters A5 1:31.76


6th 36 Braddock A5 1:31.90


7th 35 Jim Giddings A5 1:32.58


8th 38 Gordon Hick A5 1:36.47

2015 season review

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2015 Season Review

2015, my third season in racing was not a great performance, nor unduly disappointing. I finished in 4th place in a field of 52 competitors (compared with 3rd of 22 in 2014), but more impressively I won the Tourist Trophy for scoring the most points in rounds outside the South East of England. I only managed one class win (albeit against a very skilled driver, Kevin Lower, with a huge intimidating social media pressure on the internet backing him), but it was very satisfying as I had to work so hard for it. My best drive of the season was at Crystal Palace as I was able to push myself and the car to our limits as the tighter track meant that I didn’t experience the gearbox and brake problems I normally experience on faster tracks. However, the result of fourth place was a reflection of the crazy class structure at this event being in a class lead by a Nissan GTR whose four wheel drive gave it an unfair advantage on such a slippery track.

Mechanical unreliability was a feature of the season, with the performance at the first round at Rockingham being severely limited by a slipping clutch. I lost count of the number of points I dropped throughout the season due to missed gears, with a certain class win in my final round at Eelmoor being lost due to the gearbox linkage finally braking completely. I would have won my class in the ASEMC sprint championship if I had been able to compete in the Mustang at every round I entered, however, due to the generosity of friends I did two rounds in a Hyundai Coupe, one in a Nissan Skyline and one in my own Mazda MX5 grass track race car. I scored enough points to take the win but they were spread across different classes. The season ended really badly with me being in hospital with very bad appendicitis operation and missing the last two rounds.

Sponsor Publicity

On the good news front, I have picked a lot of generous and more importantly, helpful sponsors (Redline American Muscle, Steeda, MSAR, Eyesite, Toyo Tires, DPS Design and Print, KW Suspension, Recaro, Schroth and Peter S Taylor Insurance), with new partners Hispec brakes and Tremec gearboxes under negotiation. This relationship has been greatly helped by our regular column in American Car Magazine as well as two TV appearances on Car SOS and Quentin Wilsons Classic Cars.

SDMC awards dinner

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The Sevenoaks and District Motor club run the nationwide Speed League sprint championship and I was looking forward to attending their awards dinner to collect my trophies and meet many of the other drivers competing in this and other motorsport disciplines. This year the awards were to be presented by Norman Redhead, the Chairman of the Tunbridge Wells Motor Club, of which I am also a member. The TWMC no longer host a large formal dinner since at the last event one member very sadly collapsed and died. In an utterly tragic case of history repeating itself during the SDMC dinner Norman collapsed and was rushed off to hospital (though fortunately recovered later). This meant that three stand in presenters had to be appointed and so I found myself in the unusual position of announcing my own trophies for the Speed League! Things got worse as I was reached out to receive the Tourist Trophy from former club chairman Andy Elcomb with my microphone lead wrapped around my arm!

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However, I managed to do a better job of receiving the Basil Elkington Trophy for my work as Editor of the SDMC clubs “Acorn” magazine, presented by Joy Waiton the clubs Trophy Record Keeper who calculates the points scores in all our championships. This went sour when my wife dropped the glass trophy in the car park on the way home and smashed it! Fortunately the trophy engraver very kindly made a replacement for me.

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S550 and S197 Mustang race car test drive comparison

As there hasn’t been much motor sport over the winter, the editor of American Car Magazine, Dave Smith, suggested that I take a look at the new S550 Ford Mustang and compare it with the previous S197 model, particularly my Mustang race car, particularly investigating its performance potential for street and track. Some of the features I mention here have been available on the 2011 5.0 Coyote engined S197, my comparisons are mainly against the 4.6 Modular engine. I have considered the differences between it, a standard S197 GT and my race car with its various performance upgrades.

I went along to my local Ford dealer, SMC at Crayford. These guys are real Muscle car loving petrol heads, they pioneered importing S197 Mustangs as the only UK Ford dealership to do so. I drove my first Mustang there in 2007. Alastair, Dan and Jamal were very helpful when I visited them this time and arranged a proper test drive for me, allowing me to really assess the performance characteristics of the new car. They are based a short distance from the south side of the Dartford Tunnel, with some fantastic driving roads across the marshes between Crayford and Dartford which feature long straights, sweeping bends and some fun roundabouts that can be taken at speed (it is a dual carriageway).

The V8 manual GT that I tested was an absolutely amazing revelation, it is an amazing change as a high quality car. I expected a smaller difference from the previous S197 model.

The very first thing I noticed was the brakes, the Brembo setup has huge discs, bigger even than my Wilwood race setup. They give huge confidence with a firm pedal and instant deceleration. I would be very interested to see how they held up under continuous heavy braking from high speed on a race track as they are not grooved and don’t feature brake cooling pipes to the discs. For spirited street use they were stunningly good.

The Coyote engine is excellent, featuring great low end torque (a major weakness of the 4.6 Modular engine) couple with an extremely light clutch which allows a very smooth pull away and effortless street driving. The Getrag MT-82 gearbox offers much more positive (though still quite notchy) selection compared with the Tremec TR-3650, so allowing much faster and reliable changes.

The GT500 has a higher rate steering rack than the the GT which offers much better turn in and control from the driver as less steering wheel movement is needed. However, the EPAS rack on the S550 has an even higher rate with a lightweight feel so that the car can turn on a sixpence. Coupled with the smaller steering wheel it gives the impression of a much smaller, more nimble car (even though the S550 is actually heavier!).

During the test drive I was able to pull a very fast, tight around a roundabout and was impressed with the feeling of stability from the new Independent Rear Suspension. Despite the high loads I applied during the turn there was no hint of either understeer or oversteer!

Perhaps of less interest to most racing drivers are the new refined interior, which surprisingly does begin to approach a quality equal of BMW and mercedes, although some areas do still use cheaper plastic.

In conclusion, if you are looking for a great performance car, either for spirited street driving, track days or even racing, the S550 is a far better starting point than the S197 as far more development is already incorporated in the standard car. I would love the opportunity to try the new Mustang out on track and see how it really performs!

Workshop move for Redline American Muscle

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I would like to give a big shout out to my friends at Redline American Muscle who do an amazing job building my racing car. They have just completed their move from Aylesford to Kingsnorth in Kent and are now open for business again. They have some fantastic open roads around their workshop that are great for exercising monster V8 powered cars! They will have at least three ramps operational enabling them to work on a variety of muscle and other American car projects. They are still waiting for BT to install their phone line so you will have to contact them on their mobiles. You can find more details on their web site at http://www.redlineamericanmuscle.co.uk/