Dunlop SportMaxx Rounds 1 & 2 – Snetterton 26th / 27th April 2008


By Thorney Motorsport – Thu, 01 May 2008 10:38

First rounds of the new season are always eye openers butthis was an interesting one to say the least. We arrived at circuit onWednesday for three days of testing, Leyton had got some time in the Corsa atThruxton the previous month but Simon had never driven the Astra before so heneeded seat time to get used to driving a forced induction car as his previousexperience has all been in normally aspirated.

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Very quickly we knew we in for agood season; Leyton very quickly got used to the car and was putting incompetitive lap times straight away – very impressive. Simon also settled instraight away and by the first morning was already lapping quicker than lastyears times for the race, the fact that both drivers adapted so quickly wasvery encouraging.  We didn’t spend a lotof time on the M3 as we were keen to have Leyton and Simon sorted in the othercars but it running new KW race suspension we spent the time trying differentset ups and scrubbing in the new Dunlop Sport Maxx tyres.

3_1.jpg John Thorne (BMW M3) 53.jpg Simon Shaw (Astra VXR) 48.jpg Leyton Clarke (Corsa SRI)

A new season means new regulations and new tyres. The NewDunlop Sport Maxx control tyres seemed nice and grippy in the wet after limitedbedding in time. In the dry once they’d been scrubbed, they offered a higherlevel of overall grip than last years versions, (this years SportMaxx tyre hasa Kevlar construction which means you get more consistent heat build up) apoint demonstrated by running the M3 on both last years and this years versionsin testing. You can’t help feeling that whilst racing on a road tyre is alwaysgoing to be a question of compromise the Dunlop SportMaxx is actually a verygood road tyre.

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Watching the other VXR Astras and Simons Megane in theprevious days testing showed us that our Astra VXR was quicker so we werehopeful Simon setting a good time and we weren’t disappointed; he was a clearsecond and a half quicker than the 888 Astras but only a couple of tenthsfaster than Simons Megane so it was going to be a close race. Having a TMSAstra on pole though was a gratifying sight. Leyton also performed well, obtaining 4th in class. However,with big gap to the leading Clio we knew that we needed to make up timesomewhere. The Clio is a lot lighter and with broadly similar power. Leyton didwell to keep close to them, especially in a car with relatively limitedtesting. We knew the M3 was quick at Snetterton, indeed it should be, thesuperior aerodynamics compared to the hatchbacks and rear wheel drive in thedry meant we knew it would be fast at a power circuit like Snetterton so whilstinitially having pole by almost 2 seconds we were quickly disqualified andplaced at the back of the grid with a ten second penalty. Why? Well we builtthe M3 exactly to race regulations but discrepancies in the SportMaxxregulations meant we appeared to be underweight (not an accusation levelled atme too often I have to say). We knew it, they knew it and we simply sacrificedthe car to ensure the issue was recognised. As expected, the regulations are now being reviewed to sort the issueand we have appealed our exclusion formally to the MSA. This is not how wewanted to start the season but we have a genuine desire to see the SportMaxxChampionship grow and for that it needs regulations that are both fair andcontrolled. Fortunately, BARC agree.

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Race 1

With Simon on pole we had high hopes and with Leytons clearexperience in actual race craft (you don’t win the SaxMax Championship unlessyou know how to work in traffic) we hoped for a good race and we pretty muchgot it. Simon grabbed the lead and proceeded to lead the Leon, the Megane andone of the 888 Astras in a 4 way fight with all the cars dicing closely in therace. Leyton got off to a tremendous start and managed to fight his way pastone of the Clios and even got past the other SEAT despite the fact the LEON was over asecond faster in qualifying – impressive driving indeed. The M3’s race was adifferent kettle of fish, being put at the back of the grid is bad enough buthaving to wait 10 seconds before starting as all the others race away is almostdepressing and there are only two ways to react; accept it, drive your best orfight it and go out as hard as you can – I chose the latter.

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We knew that assuming the lap times stayed around the samethat it was theoretically possible even with a 10 second penalty to catch theleaders so I set off to do that. By lap six we’d managed to get to the lead butthen disaster; I’d been pushing the M3 hard round Russell lap after lap andsimply pushed too hard at just the wrong time and spun causing Simon in ourAstra VXR to go wide thus ceding the lead to the Seat of Shaun Hollamby – I wasgutted and was cursing myself for such a stupid error, but racing is racing soI set off to chase the leading 5 cars down again. Up ahead Simon was fightinghard with Gusterson who tagged him and spun him round at Russell. Simon foughtback, eventually he got past with a bit of door banging at Seer. In themeantime I got back behind them to latch onto the bumper of the leader Shaun inthe Seatand after a bit of a fight down the back straight we go back into thelead and pulled away.

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Leyton had a roaring fight with Millers Clio and the other Seatwith (judging from the state of the car) numerous contact so clearly he wasrelishing the racing. However Quentin Laithwaites Clio was too fast and hepulled away leaving Leyton with a well deserved second place. Up front Simonmanaged to claw back to the bumper of the Megane but couldn’t get past to claimthird place.

After the race we surveyed the damage, Simons Astra had beenhit so hard that the fuel tank had broken one of its mounts and was hangingdown together with some wheel and bodywork damage for good effect. LeytonsCorsa had front and rear bodywork damage together with steering arm damagewhich affected its steering – can’t have been easy driving with that.

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We had a good gap between races so we set about completingre-doing the geometry on the Corsa and repairing the Astra, we suspected therear axle might bent from the contact with the Megane but it looked pretty goodso we were keen to get back out there. Simon was on P2 on the grid and LeytonP4 again in the Class B and I took up my position at the back and waited for 10agonising seconds of loneliness. After my screw up in race 1 I was determinedto not put a wheel wrong in race 2.

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Simon got off to a stunning start from P2 and leapt into thelead ahead of the Megane but at Seer Simon went wide allowing Gusterson andHollamby through. Worse was to come though as Simon pitted with a problem, cameback out but subsequently pulled over at Coram – gutting. Leyton had slightlyless eventful race, try as he might to get past the Clios he couldn’t quite getpast so finished in third place. In the M3 we managed to drive a slightly moreconservative race getting back to the lead by lap 7 this time after a harderbattle to get past eventual race winner Wallbank in is Astra, whatever they didbetween races it was a lot quicker down the straights that’s for sure.

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It’s a funny thing racing. When you look at the results weshould be delighted with the weekend. Two race wins for the M3 (despite thepenalty – which is under appeal), a second and third in class for Leyton inClass B and a third in Class for Simon in class A. However we feel a littledeflated. Simon was the fastest Astra VXR in qualifying and in race one andwithout my screw up probably would’ve taken a win – something for which Ipersonally take the blame for.  Simon hasclearly adapted to the Astra stunningly well out performing the other similarcars and despite a fair bit of contact (and damage) in the race managed to keepthird. The pipe failure in race two was doubly frustrating as it was theconnection we have to install for the series data logger for regulations whichfailed not anything to do with the car preparation for racing so that is abitter blow to swallow.

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Leyton did a stunning job driving a Corsa race that isunique in the World, no-one anywhere has race prepared a Corsa 1.6 turbo andfor Leyton to change his driving style from an 850kg normally aspirated Saxo toa 180bhp 1120kg turbo charged Corsa is nothing short of stunning.  We’re now doing some extensive work with KWto develop the handling of the car so it can better compete with the lighterClios in time for Pembrey in two weeks time.

And what of the M3? Well, its never nice to be disqualifiedfor a technical infringement and starting from the back when you qualified onpole a bitter pill to swallow but we did it to highlight a problem that needs addressingin the regulations. We’re confident that our appeal will be successful but moreconfident that BARC understand the issues and are addressing them with highpriority. Our motivation for the Dunlop SportMaxx series is that is really isan excellent race series and will be worthy of its BTCC feeder aspirations,we’re certainly treating it as such. BARC are committed to allowing the seriesto adapt and grow and so are we.

Next race is Pembrey on 10th and 11thMay where we’ll be running the M3 in the Kumho Championship on the sameweek-end (we’re going to be busy!) The SportMaxx races are different this roundwith a 15 minute sprint and a 45 minute endure, it’ll be interesting to seewhat happens.


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