By John Thorne – Tue, 13 May 2008 10:17
Another mixed fortune week end for us as a team, fantasticperformance from Simon in the Astra, a frustrating time for Leyton in the Corsaand a luckless time for myself in the M3. Weekend started reasonably badly,technical issues with one of the trailers meant I had to drive to Pembrey, dropoff leyton at the hotel then drive back to Milton Keynes to pick up the supporttruck and the M3 meant that I’d been driving for 15 hours straight through thenight even before I got chance to sit in a race car, so testing on Friday forme was a bit wasted. This was to be a busy week-end for the M3 as we were alsoracing in the Kumho BMW Championship at the same weekend as the DunlopSportMaxx.
Testing went well for Simon in the Astra, someexperimentation with different spring rates and damper settings with advicefrom KW got us some excellent data and Simons times improved all day, he wasnicely on the pace, quicker than the other Astras by some margin but onlyslightly ahead of Simon in his Megane and Shaun in the Seat Cupra.
We were having less fun with Leyton in the Corsa, atSnetterton we encountered a power steering related issue that meant the Corsabecame quite unstable going into some corners, it was inconsistent so trackingit down was frustrating both for Leyton and us, as a result the Clios in ClassB looked to be comfortably faster.
In the M3 I had to test the M3 in both Dunlop SportMaxxconfiguration and in the Kumho BMW set up. Both these series have radicallydifferent technical regulations, for Kumho we run on semi slick Kumho tyres andcan run lightweight Rays wheels, different camber, more power and a whole hostof other modifications that are all banned in the Dunlop SportMaxx series, herewe have to run OEM wheels, Dunlop SportMaxx road tyres, maximum of 3 Degreesnegative camber and a whole load of ballast (more of that later). Testingshowed that again the M3 seemed quick but not absurdly so lapping in high1.08’s for the SportMaxx and 1.6’s in Kumho spec.
The transition from Kumho—SportMaxx Specs:
Surprisingly for Pembrey the weather was dry so with set upsfrom the previous days testing in place we were confident that Simons Astrawould be on pace and we weren’t disappointed, he managed to slightly improvehis time from the Friday but the Megane and the SEAT were both slightly quickerleaving him 4th on the grid for race 1 and race 2.
Leyton was having a tough time in the Corsa, we spent mostof Friday with the help from KW trying to resolve the front end handling issueswe were having which was hard as the power steering issues were intermittentand hard to isolate. Despite this Leyton performed brilliantly and was only afew tenths of a second of the pace of one of the Clios and ahead on the grid ofthe SEAT Leon.
We qualified the M3 on pole for race one and 4thof the grid for race two for SportMaxx and in 6th on the grid forKumho. Our times in the SportMaxx were pretty consistent from last year as wellso we knew it was pretty much on spec.
The first BMW race was on the Saturday and we were prettypleased with 6th on the grid, despite being nearly 2 seconds off thepace of pole man Whitaker we know the M3 is over 100kg’s too heavy as a resultof it having to be in Dunlop SportMaxx eligible as well. We got a reasonablestart but I made a calculated gamble to avoid the line of cars protecting theinside line and try for around the outside, the idea worked well initially aswe took 4 cars going in but the dirty track on the outside dropped the exitgrip to near zero and we lost all the positions we gained and one more to boot.The car initially felt strong and we had a good battle with Webb senior in hisE36 M3 with us swapping positions for 6th place as we both caughtthe leading group. However after lap seven we started to struggle for front endgrip and we eventually had to settle for 8th place. Back in the pitswe discovered a faulty valve on the nearside front tyre had failed meaning wehad 4psi of pressure in the tyre, sad as before that were going well.
Kumho BMW Race 2
The next morning we had the second Kumho BMW race and wewere keen to get a good start and pretty much got it. From 7th onthe grid we managed to get up to 5th almost immediately and the carfelt much more planted now all its tyres had air in them, however we continueto struggle with rear end grip coming out of tight turns (which doesn’t help atPembrey with two hairpins) the issue is that we aren’t allowed to runadjustable camber under Dunlop SportMaxx regulations so regardless of whatmagic we can work with the KW’s we can’t change the fact that we will alwaysstruggle in this regard. Unfortunately the other BMW’s don’t have thisconstraint so just at the exit of the hairpin I get the slightest touch fromone of the E36 M3’s on my rear bumper and around I go.
Fortunately the BMW Championship drivers are pretty good and20 odd M3’s shoot past my static M3 pointing the wrong way and I get back intothe race dead last. We managed to get back up to 14th place by theend but it was always going to be tough coming from the back, at least we didn’thave a tyre deflate this race.
Dunlop SportMaxx Race 1
The Sunday was a traumatic day, the second Kumho BMW race at10.40am with a 20 minute gap before the first SportMaxx race. In this 20 minutegap we had to re-spec the M3 from Kumho trim to Dunlop SortMaxx, this meant; wheelchange, add 125kg’s of ballast, re-set front camber to 3 degrees (we run a lotmore than in Kumho trim), refuel and re-livery the car to have Dunlop stickerson and not Kumho – it was going to be tight.
Aided by a delay on track due to afairly major incident in the Mini race we just about did it, the team did sowell. So we lined up on pole just ahead of the Megane, the SEAT and the AstraVXR’s of Wallbank and then Simon in his Astra VXR.
One hit of the brakes on the M3 let me know about theballast; back went light, front wheels locked and car squirreled all over theplace – nice, first lap was an exercise in braking control as I tried to avoidgoing straight on at each corner. Welead this procession for 4 laps or so before the inevitable happened, I wasstarting to get a bit of a rythm with the car in different trim when I left thebraking too late for the second hairpin and scooted straight off the track –sod it. Simon by this point had managed to overtake Wallbanks Astra VXR,Hollambys SEAT and Gustersons Megane to shoot past me as I re-joined thecircuit in dead last (again).
The rest of the race for me was one of catch up, we managedto get past the class B cars watching Leyton wrestle the ill handling Corsaround the circuit and caught and then passed the two 888 Astra VXR’s ofWallbank and Allison but with only a 20 minute race that was the best I coulddo. Simon on the other hand drove a stunning race, not only getting past thethree leading cars when I was leading but then engaged in a race long battlewith Gusterson on the Megane stuck to his bumper like glue, Simon came throughto win in magnificent style – the first win for our Astra VXR and Simons firstever race win – we were delighted.
The Corsa on the other hand was continuing to struggle,Leyton was doing a fantastic job even getting the car round the track, to do itwithin a second of the leading Clios truly remarkable so we clearly had somework to do to sort the problem and whilst Leyton was clearly frustrated heshowed a maturity in driving style that belies his age (he’s still only 16years old remember).
Dunlop SportMaxx Cup Race 2
With the M3 withdrawn (see below) we were left with theAstra and the Corsa. Simons performance in race 1 had us all hopeful of arepeat performance and some serious re-thinking on Leytons Corsa had us hopefulwe’d identified the problem, even if we hadn’t we agreed that we’d use the raceas some extended testing to try and eradicate the fault completely.
Simon got off to a good start holding his grid position ashe did in race 1 but pretty soon we could see he had problems and after a laphe coasted to a halt. Post race diagnosis was a broken turbo manifold, prettymuch terminal and not a lot we can do to prevent it, the regulations state wemust use a standard turbo charger so all we can do is replace it.
Leytons Corsa on the other hand was transformed, we’didentified the steering fault and more importantly found a way to fix it so itwouldn’t re-occur and his lap times dramatically dropped, the car looked farmore planted and the smile on his face as he pitted was evident that he wasdriving a ‘completely different car’ – thank God. We continued to make variouschanges to settings and set up during the race which was of huge value havingLeytons feedback on what effect it was having. Remember, this is the only CorsaD 1.6 race car in the World, we don’t have a manufacturer to fall back on fordata as there simply is none. What we do have a driver smart enough tounderstand what is happening and a committed team of professionals and sponsorswith the sole aim to make this a winning car, we were delighted.
Well, we’ve been pretty open and honest with everyone (BARC,other competitors, press) that our solemotivation in running the M3 in the SportMaxx series was simply to have theseries and the cars competing running under a level playing field. As part ofthis process we entered the M3 last year as an invitation car at Pembrey andBrands Hatch to see how it compared with the current Class A cars to save anyproblems this year. Looking at our laptimes from Pembrey last year and ourtimes this year they compare pretty well, we were doing 1.09’s last year andhigh 1.08’s this year.
We entered the M3 at Snetterton to see how it compared andclearly it was too competitive, the winning margin we had was too high, so withthe agreement of the BARC we added 103kg’s of ballast to the chassis. Now weweren’t entirely comfortable with this on safety grounds but we are keen forthe series to grow so it seemed the logical step to take. After qualifying(where we were on pole by the smallest of margins) we offered to run even moreweight just to be seen as ‘whiter than white’ on the whole issue so wevolunteered to add another 25kgs – so thats almost 130kg’s of physical ballastadded along with extra measures such as running with a full fuel tank etc. Wecalculated we were running with an extra 150kg’s of ballast.
However, before we got the chance to race conversations withsome other teams indicated that it wouldn’t matter what we did to the M3 theywould not accept it into the championship unless it complied with the statedpower/weight figures so whatever we did it was all a bit moot. The impressiongiven was that we were simply out to manipulate the rules in order to win – apoint that not only do we find insulting but not one shared by the BARC withwhom we have strived to work closely with to allow the M3 to be competitive.
The decision was made to enter the car in race 1 andimmediately voluntarily move it into the invitation class and withdraw the carfrom the second race.
The bottom line is that the current race regulations areambiguous and depending on interpretation either mean the M3 is too fast orhopelessly too slow. We don’t race toexploit loopholes so if that impression was being formed then we had littleoption but to withdraw until such a time that the M3 can be added where allparties can find its inclusion acceptable. BARC has reacted swiftly to set up anew Technical Committee along the same lines as the BTCC and we applaud thathowever these measures are unlikely to take effect this season so its likelythat for this season anyway the M3 will not run in the Dunlop SportMaxx Cup.
We remain committed to the series, the concept and basis forits inception is sound and its aspirations as a BTCC feeder series bothadmirable and achievable. For the moment we will continue to run the Astra VXRin class A and the Corsa SRI is class B and are investigating funding for anentry into Class C in another car. The technical changes the series needs maypotentially enable the M3 to be included and we will work to this aim.
The M3? Well, we remain committed to the E46 chassis and itsnear perfect suitability for race car preparation. Having it run in compromisedform for two series (kumho BMW Championship and Dunlop SportMaxx Championship)has left us thinking that its more of an exercise of frustration rather thanpure engineering so we’ve decided to fully spec the car into Kumho BMWChampionship form. This means Perspex windows, more camber and much lower rideheight (the ballast weight we ran for SportMaxx actually lowered the rideheight so much we had to raise the car up 20mm just to keep in SportMaxxregulations). We also plan to enter the car into some Britcar Production S1races to see it fares on slicks. Maybe we’ll see it back in Dunlop SportMaxx,but in the meantime we will throw our resources into ensuring both Simon andLeyton achieve class and championship success in the Astra and Corsa.
Next race for Dunlop SportMaxx is at Croft on June 14thand 15th but before that we’ll have the M3 out in the Kumho BMWChampionship at Brands Hatch on the 7th and 8th. Ourracing year just got more complicated.
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