2019-2021 ARCHIVE

Catching Up – 2019 to 2022 

A long gap since my comments at the end of 2018 and the start of 2019 and much has happened along the way, most of which has nothing to do with motor sport. I decided that whilst continuing to enjoy the sport, I was fed up writing about it and would take a break, maintaining the web site for perhaps the future. Covid then made a big dent in motorsport as with everythng else, some competition in 2020 and a more in 2021, all of which I left alone apart from spectating at a few events when restricttions became less arduois. Since starting driving again in 2022 people have made polite comments about this blog so I thought I might start again, having forgotten, of course, how to upload text and images and also just how time consuming it is! 

During the break much has happened in the world, about which we are all so familiar that no extra comment is necessary. From my Motorsport perspective 2019 was quiet, just 9 events culminating with a broken con rod through the sump and side of the Ensign’s crankcase, just before the finish at Shelsley Walsh. The rods had been in the engine since 1972 so I suppose they did quite well really!Following this failure repairs were a prolonged saga, much of which no one would believe and I’ll say nothing!
Late in 2021 I took my camping trailer to Paul Dunnell’s Stowmarket workshop to collect the rebuilt engine. Briefly, Paul was one of the Dunnell/Reid family who were Holbay back in the day, based at Martlesham Heath near Felixstowe. Paul made a fine job of the repair and along the way a providing a wealth of interesting information. Amongst other things the engine now has a new crank and con rods, rebuilt dry sump and the crankcase is in the original Holbay green. I've fashioned an original looking stone guard to keep dirt and grit out of the plug recesses, always a problem with twin cams. Back home the engine  was quickly fitted into the chassis and started up in the workshop. Paul had dynoed the engine on his Ford spec dyno as that is his main work, settling with 160 main jets and B9 spark plugs, larger and harder than I used on the hills and I changed to slightly softer B8 plugs for workshop running, feeling they might be less tempermental with the shorter runs we have with sprints and hills.

Late in February 2022 I visited Llandow sprint track, close enough over the Severn Bridge near Cowbridge, for a morning's testing, the track in Wales having only just reopened after a prolonged Covid closure. Conditions were dry if a bit cold cold and a few other cars and people I knew were also testing. One other open wheeler to share my sessions, an ‘off’ on his first session leaving me to myself for the rest of the morning, driving quiely to run in the engine. It was rather peaceful and just what the Ensign and I needed!

Initially the engine was diabolical but after a couple of laps the cobwebs were blown away and thereafter it ran smoothly for several sessions, until I ran out of petrol! After rescuing by resident factotum ‘China John’ it seemed a good time to stop, checking that petrol was indeed the problem for my peace of mind. When hot the engine ran smoothly to 6500rpm briefly, all the liquids stayed inside the engine, oil and water settled at 70C. A satisfactory morning.

Several jobs needed doing before the new season. Our governing body, having changed their title to Motorsport UK felt they must justify their existance. In my case the quaintly title PDVIF vehicle description for my 1960 Mallock and 1972 Ensign to confirm they were what everyone know they are, plus new hillclimb Log Books now referred to as Vehicle Passports. All of which cost, of course, although I do the details and images - why should it be otherwise! Plus a new harness which looks of poorer quality than the 'out of date' one I removed, but it has the correct holorgram.

April 7th 2019 – MGCC Curborough Sprint

I was not expecting to be at Curborough having less enthusiasm for cool spring days, or wet. However, Event Secretary Martin telephoned early in the week, asking if I would be attending as in past years. In a weak moment I said yes! The Ensign was ready to go apart from fuel and numbers so apart from the early start on Sunday morning, everything was simple. Curborough is easy to get to, close to Lichfield and mainly motorway, 110 miles but I always imagine it’s closer. Arriving too early Glyn, my compatriot in the single seaters had already unloaded and was doing jobs on his turbocharged Force PT, his excuse being a short drive from Leicester. Unsurprisingly the event, organised by the MG Car Club, comprised mainly of those cars and members of that club, although many other clubs were invited. A few saloons, plenty of sports cars, one or two old, a fast 4 litre V8 MGB, a yellow Lotus 22 which are such pretty cars and the two single seaters. This the first event of the season at Curborough and despite this the track was clean, dry as well although the road giving access between the paddock and start area was dirty. There had been tarmac patching during the winter and I found the surface just after the finish line rather uneven under braking, something I did not recall in the past although whether this was renewed, I’m unsure.

A small entry of 35 cars meant the programme moved along quickly, roadgoing MGs heading the field, just a Mini and Renault Clio interloping. The paddock was well organised with a marshal on hand to ensure we were ready when required. The morning was cool with a modest easterly breeze and I expected the track to be difficult. On the contrary, track conditions were reasonable and after P1 there was modest heat in the worn cut slicks that I was using. The Ensign’s time was satisfactory, today using the ‘figure of 8‘ layout which I enjoy, and no need for any adjustments or fiddling. The was the inevitable activity in the paddock, one MG Midget busy with a plug change as I walked past, two redundant distributors resting on the scuttle. One Midget emitted ‘fan slipping’ noises occasionally although that did not sound life threatening. I always think of this paddock being quite spacious but the vintage MGs had trouble with their poor turning circles, the Ensign parked conveniently at the start of the paddock beside a sharp left turn which made this obvious. Seamlessly P1 became P2 and practice times were improving, in my case by 2 seconds saved on the first half of what is effectively a 2 lapper. I was disappointed with the finish speed, traction proving illusive on the exit from Fradley Hairpin onto the finish straight. Competitive runs started immediately after P2, the programme moving swiftly without delays. This time the Ensign was a tad slower, 5 hundredths to be precise! The grip remained, in the main, reasonable, the weather still cool but remaining dry. After T1 we stopped for lunch, to recommence at 1.00pm with T2 and extra runs if drivers were willing.

I had a wander through the paddock and the car park beside the track. Several interesting cars including a Lotus Elan +2 with a non-standard nose, an exceedingly smart MG TF, a pretty red Lotus Elan with knock on Minilite wheels, presumably these were modern manufacture. Various small displays of MG cars which seemed appropriate as this event was being run by the MGCC Midland Centre. Not too crowded and people seemed to know why they were here and what was happening. T2 started on time and I concentrated more on the sharper corners, using the normal gear change points but trying to carry more speed. This produced a result with the Ensign's fastest run, not a PB but close enough considering the conditions and the tyres. Glyn disappeared and hid in his Force, annexing BTD on 56.25s on T2 with 118mph across the finish, making the Ensign improved 98mph rather pathetic! Two more runs were then on offer, not counting for the results, sometime referred to as ‘fun runs’. Unusually, probably because it was so early, I took one further run which was tidy but half a second down on T2, not that it mattered. It was then pleasant to load the transporter with the sun starting to shine, a contrast to the last time I was here in October when it was wet and miserable. The results are here.

Back in the workshop one job needed attention, apart from the usual checks. When the Ensign was scrutineered the throttle pedal was commentated upon, suggesting that the arm to which the throttle cable was connected might catch the side bodywork. Whilst I’ve never had a problem this point was valid and as I had to collect a gearbox casing from Mark Bailey, south of Chippenham, I took the offending item along. Mark is a superb engineer, apart from his Hewland expertise, and quickly fettled the throttle pedal, the arm shortened by 5mm and an extra elbow to make it bullet proof. At the same time, we looked at his long-term project, one of the sports racers he built some years ago and now being rebuilt for both road and track use, a beautifully engineered and handsome car to which Mark has done much of the design and engineering work and with some fascinating plans still in the pipeline. I admire this sort of project and how nice that there are people around with the skills, time and budget to pursue their dream.

March 23rd 2019 – Castle Combe Sprint

What has seemed to be a generally mild winter is nearing its end with the usual winds and ‘April’ showers, albeit rather early for these. Time to think about the coming season of speed events and I entered the Mallock for the first sprint at Castle Combe at the end of March. I’d 'been through' the car during the winter but I was overtaken by events as it was seemingly sold and as a consequence, I substituted the Ensign. The buyer then changed his mind, but what's new! So, Saturday 23rd May and all roads led to Castle Combe, or at least for keen sprinters including British Sprint Championship contenders and many Bristol Motor Club members enjoying the convenience of an event close to home.

A lovely morning and the paddock busy at this early hour although many drivers had arrived the previous evening and camped or motor homed, walking the track in the twilight. Saturday morn was perfect with a light breeze and dappled sunshine, the track invitingly dry and clean as was the spacious paddock, the Ensign’s allocated spot ideal. I was not planning to walk the track as my main problem in the past, the entry into the two chicanes, was now resolved and I just needed more track time, as indeed my timorous approach to all the corners showed, lifting and braking too early.

There were plenty of interesting cars although I forgot my camera so any images here I'm afraid I’ve borrowed! Keith had brought his Dialynx prepared Audi R8 from Swindon, a 2-litre turbo Golf engine rather than the exotic and heavy V10 normally associated with this car. Keith had no shortage of bhp, however. In the same Sports Libre class Jeff, his ‘new’ 1500ccT Zeus Challenger Evo 11 with apparently zillions of bhp although Jeff had, as yet, little experience of driving this impressive car. The Championship contenders were similar to 2018 with the Calder family's 3.5 litre Gould GR55, Stuart Robb’s 5 litre Pilbeam MP88B apparently now exhibiting better manners when slowing – it's all in the electronics. The 2 litre SBD Dallara is always in the chase, SBD and head honcho Steve Broughton again sponsoring this championship. The programme ran in a slightly different way with classes up to and including Sports Libre then followed by the single seaters, then class groups A and B completing the programme. We had 3.3 miles in which to wear out our cars, start at the exit to the marshalling area, a full lap and another 2/3rds with the finish just before the return road into the paddock. Cars were run in loose class order, although to avoid delays organised to reduce the risk of a fast car catching a slower car, which would cause a rerun as overtakings forbidden. This ran smoothly and I was fortunate to spend little time waiting either for practice or the two competitive runs – probably too slow.

Competition started quickly after the brief driver's briefing, C of C Paul straight to the point and no waffle. Being parked away from the other 1600s I’d checked who I should follow into the marshalling area although we were advised in good time on the PA and by the paddock marshals. Like many drivers present I’d not competitively driven since last October but the routine was quickly re-established. I’d chosen the older set of tyres on the Ensign, old a relative term with 29 events and looking rather nasty but fit for this purpose, essentially a run out to make sure everything worked correctly, including the driver. Sitting at the start line the track looked inviting and rushing off towards Avon Rise and Quarry the twin cam was singing up to 8000rpm and everything felt settled. As usual I was lifting and braking too early but there was grip, unlike past encounters with this track on cold March mornings. It was much the same entering Esses chicane and proceeded thus although with confidence in the grip Camp Corner felt smooth and the 2nd lap was uneventful and even quicker over Avon Rise. Back in the paddock no issues, the way we like it.

I’d noticed how the paddock was busier than usual and someone pointed out that people had been talking up the event on ‘social media’ and if they had, why? The club did not benefit financially and the paddock was almost overcrowded with cars driving around, people with no idea where to park and what was happening. Visitors and children, many of whom thought we were just here for their pleasure and knowing no different; no thought for caution or hazards. An interesting contrast to Crystal Palace in South London, where spectators pay to enter and are accordingly organised and behave carefully and with respect, children properly controlled, safe for everyone.

Such was the speed of the programme that the first competitive runs commenced well before the lunch break and track conditions were at their best. I made small adjustments to the suspension settings, running the Ensign’s suspension softer than its last visit here and perhaps it felt better; certainly, the car was balanced and easy to drive with smooth turn in at the corners. During the winter I’d fitted new rear brake pads but not changed the brake balance so cautious on P1, thereafter harder on the brakes and all was perfect. Rarely seeing any oil temperature on short speed events, I was surprised by the oil temperature at 70 degrees at the end of each run, in fact the same as the water, which might or might not be telling me something? T1 showed improvement in the times and I was happy enough until told by several people that the Ensign had a misfire off the start and also when passing the paddock! I’d not noticed anything untoward and the Ensign 64ft times were good. I looked at the plugs, checked the Weber's balance, generally poked around – nothing obvious although I was tempted to remove the air filters but left well alone for T2. A faster run again, the elusive misfire again reported and I noticed the engine go slightly dull at 8300 when approaching Avon Rise flat on the second lap, a slight lift finding another 150 rpm before braking. Overfueling – air filters sucking in – who knows. My choice of the older tyres was wise as they were developing heat and showing distinct signs of distress.

Whilst slightly dejected with this ‘mechanical’ I was happy with the Ensign’s performance and Castle Combe was an enjoyable first outing for 2019. Whilst tempted to consider a rolling road test I’ll leave things alone for the time being although a new pair of foam filters arrived today, the old ones decidedly second hand in comparison. Considering mechanical mayhem, I was fortunate. Driving his ‘new’ Zeus on P1 Jeff bottomed the suspension whilst approaching Avon Rise rather quickly on his second lap, bending the suspension push rod and ruining a new Pirelli as well. Something similar happened to the Calder Gould at the same place and Stewart lost the rear wing of his Pilbeam on T2, again at Avon Rise. Desperate moments for all concerned but no one hurt and little damage. I expect others had tales to tell, it’s just the extreme examples that catch the headlines. As things finished Colin Calder took BTD on 115.08s but missed out on the BSC runoffs – Steve Broughton followed by Matt Hillam in the SBD Dallara taking 1 & 2 on both. Looking through the official times there were some impressive results.