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On board with Pete Seely, Car #178. Highlights from Roadsports, Donington, 12 December 2020.

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Report & Photos from Donington Roadsports, 12 December 2020

Tyre choice; that was the crucial decision for the delayed Roadsports round at Donington.  It was great to be back out in the MR2 after a resurgence of covid meant the race had to be postponed from its original scheduled date in November.  However, the weather was far from kind to us with cold, wet and very greasy conditions out on track.  Still, we had a great refuge in our centrally heated team lorry and the catering was as great as ever thanks to my wife’s culinary skills.

Having previously raced in the MR2 Championship I had been used to the tyre choice being made for me; the Toyo 888r was the control tyre and that was that.  However, Roadsports affords competitors free choice from a list of MSA approved tyres. At the previous round at Snetterton I had asked around the paddock and gleaned that the Nankang AR1 was better suited to a longer race in dry/damp conditions and that the Uniroyal Rainsport was an excellent wet tyre so I invested in a set of each having worn out the Toyos.  Dave spent an hour fitting and balancing the tyres prior to the race which was a great help.  Unfortunately there was no opportunity to scrub them in although I did go out on the Friday before the race on two test sessions with my Race Instructor which helped.  We decided to use the AR1s for these sessions even though the track was wet since there wasn’t any standing water but in hindsight the Rainsports would have been far better.  The track was greasy and being cold I couldn’t get any heat into the tyres so it was like driving on cooking oil.

Dave managed to come down on Friday afternoon to provide support for the race the following day and it was great to have his company as well as mechanical expertise to hand.  Qualifying was again a damp/greasy/cold track but I stuck with the AR1s.  Wrong choice!  The car was a handful and totally unpredictable, not conducive to a fast lap time.  One minute it was oversteering and the next locking up under braking with no steering input.  I didn’t spin but did have an off on the entrance to Coppice when the car just kept going in a straight line as the cover photograph so graphically depicts.  Fortunately I managed to keep it going through the gravel and made it back onto the circuit with nothing worse than dented confidence.

I qualified 30th out of a total of 39 cars, 11th out of 14 Class C competitors; a number of Class D cars even beat me which was very disappointing and has not happened before.  However, a Class C car qualified 2nd overall which is an amazing feat given the fact that the car was 120bhp/tonne less powerful than the Class A cars and went to show that driver skill was everything in the challenging conditions (as well as tyre choice!).  Roadsports has attracted a very high standard of driver in Class C this year and there is at least one professional driver in our midst which puts this year’s mediocre results into perspective.

After qualifying Dave and I had a long discussion about the car’s set up, given the handling problems.  We decided to put the Rainsports on the rear of the car and leave the AR1s on the front as an experiment.  I did not want an oversteering car which is why I preferred to try it that way rather than fit the Rainsports all round.  A rear wheel drive, mid-engine configuration is a handful in slippery conditions compared to front wheel, front engine cars so I was already at a disadvantage.  It was a gamble since the pit stop was not long enough to change tyres therefore we discussed what settings Dave could safely change in the 1 minute 30 second pit stop in the event the car’s handling was wildly out.  The problem was that the Rainsports had never been used and still had the manufacturer’s lubricant on them that stops the tyre from sticking to the mould.  I took the car to an empty part of the paddock and tried to scrub them in as best as I could.  Much to my delight there was far more grip on the rear but to the point where the car was understeering badly.  Back to the garage and more head scratching in the little time we had left before the race.  What should have been a quick change to the front roll bar setting to soften the front suspension turned into rather more work than expected when a wheel stud snapped off on the front nearside hub assembly.  Fortunately there was enough left to accept the wheel nut after we had cleaned the thread up with a tap so we made it to the assembly area in time for the race.

It was a rolling start after the green flag lap and I managed to maintain my position for almost all the first lap.  Unfortunately I was too eager to get on the power coming out of Coppice and span through a full 360°.  At least I kept on the track and no one hit me but I rejoined 3rd from last.  I’d been here before and learnt that at times like this I just have to put disappointment to one side and get on with the race.  After all it’s not over until the chequered flag has been passed and a great deal can happen in a 45 minute race.  It was actually an enjoyable time fighting my way through the tail end of the grid and valuable experience was gained overtaking in the slippery conditions.  My MR2 is not fitted with ABS which meant extra care had to be taken in the braking zones.  The front wheels were constantly locking up despite having the brake bias selected to the maximum efficiency at the rear resulting in the car being reluctant (to say the least!) to turn into the corner.  That, combined with the understeer proved to be very challenging and I had to adapt my driving style to accommodate for it.  Despite being cautious I spun coming out of the Old Hairpin, again due to being slightly too quick on the throttle, but the car remained on the circuit so no damage done.  Such were the conditions and the car set up that I literally could not go any quicker without risking a big off.

To add more drama to an already challenging race, just before the pit stop the dashboard lit up with a couple of warning lights, exactly as had happened at Silverstone earlier in the year:  the alternator belt had snapped leaving me running on battery power.  There was nothing that could be done in the time we had during the stop so I elected to continue with the race and hope the battery would last.  Given the proximity of cars entering and leaving the pit lane, Dave was very brave to make a change to the front suspension to try and dial out some of the understeer.

Fortunately the battery lasted and the car made it to the end of the race.  Two Class C competitors had come off at Coppice, the same corner I had been through the gravel/spun at, ending their race.  I had also managed to pass a Class C car which elevated me from 11th to 8th in Class, 23rd overall out of 39 starters; not my best but given everything we had faced it was not too disgraceful.  Having said this, I had been totally outclassed by the front running Class C cars, being lapped by several of them.  A BMW M3 Class A car had crossed the finishing line first but was given a time penalty for speeding in the pit lane resulting in the overall race win going to a Honda Civic Type R Class C car.  This was an incredible achievement and highlighted the standard of competition; indeed, three other Class C cars finished in the top ten.

So that is the end of this season.  2021 was a lean year for VR2U Racing compared to last year in which we had 5 podium finishes out of 6 races.  Ironically I beat my PB at every track this season but for whatever reason the results didn’t materialise.  Without doubt I need to work on a wet set up as well as choose the correct tyre for the conditions.  However, what was most encouraging was after the Donington round, my Race Instructor said, I quote, “Having been in the car with you Friday and I hope it came across to you also you were driving very well given what you had to work with. Yes in hindsight I think the Rainsports would have been better, maybe a lot better but your somewhat disappointing lap times/position were more down to the package you had than to you as a driver (i.e. you still got it!).

Live and learn.  2021, here we come!

Report & Photos from Snetterton Roadsports, 17 October 2020

Normally Snetterton would be the last race of the season, however as a consequence of Covid it was only the second race of 2020!  So far this year I have been unable to get anywhere near as much ‘seat time’ as I would have normally had.  This has undoubtedly affected my confidence and performance in the car.

Since the last race at Silverstone in August, Dave and I had made a few more changes to the set up.  I had tried a softer set of springs but didn’t like them as much so went back to the original set.  However, in the process of changing them, I found that the front right shock absorber had failed; no wonder the car wasn't handling correctly at Silverstone! Needless to say I repaired this straightaway.

Dave spent considerable time fitting an in-car adjustable brake bias lever for the rear brakes.  I had found under limit braking the back wheels were locking up which would make the back end squirrel around.  With the new adjustable proportioning valve I could get the brake set up far better balanced which made a big difference.

For the first time I decided to pay for a test session on the day before the race (not cheap!).  It was well worth the investment though for several reasons, not least of which was simply being out on track in the car.  However I struggled to find any pace on a wet and greasy track, the main issue being one of confidence.  Qualifying was a similar event and I was disappointed with 8th in class out of 15, and 31st out of a field of 41.  Worse still was I was some 9 seconds per lap off the front Class C runners.  A spin at the long high speed bend of Coram didn’t help either although fortunately there was no damage.  That night I had a long conversation with my race driving coach, Malcolm Edison, who identified a few key areas for me to work on in the race.  His professional advice was superb and if it hadn’t been for it, I don’t think I would have been able to see my way through the issues.

The race commenced with a rolling start, the first being quickly red flagged due to a BMW beaching itself broadside to the track on a sausage curb on the inside of turn 2.  It took a good 10 minutes to recover the vehicle and we were eventually off for the second time.  I managed to pass 2 cars before turn 2, a third at turn 4, and another Class C competitor, Ivor Mairs, down the Bentley Straight.  I had climbed up to 5th in class with the next rival in sight  - so far so good.  The track was virtually dry and so my lap times were far more competitive; in fact I beat my PB by 1.5 seconds which was most rewarding and closed the gap on the front Class C runners from 9 seconds to 2 seconds per lap.  I was initially under pressure from Ivor so had no time to rest on my laurels until he made a mistake at the first hairpin which gave me the break.

On a less encouraging note, I noticed my fuel gauge during the race was decreasing rather more rapidly than anticipated.  I mentioned this to Robin Jones, (he was manning the pit board and was my pitcrew for the race), during the pitstop and voiced my concern that I didn’t think I had enough fuel to complete the race.  I had carefully calculated my fuel load based on the burn rate during qualifying as well as adding 5 minutes of contingency.  However, whilst the calculation was correct for those conditions, the track was unexpectedly bone dry which meant I was driving much harder thus using far more fuel.  That, combined with a lengthy delay to the start of the race, resulted in me being forced to make the decision to retire early after 31 minutes of the 45 minute race.  It was the right decision: I had 6 lts of fuel left but would have needed 7.5 lts to finish.  Naturally this was a big blow but I knew it wasn’t worth risking an incident for 5th place and walked away with my car intact and avoided the ignominy of having to be towed off the circuit.  To add insult to injury, the SD card in my gopro failed to record the second half of the race in which I achieved my best lap time.

Despite all the above much has been learnt and notwithstanding the setbacks of the weekend, we are making progress and heading in the right direction.  The car is feeling more stable and the brake bias modification has been a great benefit.  My lap times are coming down and I have beaten my PBs at every circuit I have been on this year.  I have recently invested in a set of car scales and will corner weight the MR2 before the next race at Donington on 21st November.  To my knowledge this has never been done and it will be really interesting to see how far out the weights are and what difference it will make to the car’s balance.

Report & Photos from Roadsports, Silverstone International – 22 August 2020

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

VR2U Racing was last out on track on 27 October 2019, ironically at Silverstone, 10 months ago!  So much has happened between then and now, not least of which is the current covid pandemic.  However, a positive consequence of the enforced isolation was having time to work on the car and a great deal was accomplished such as: removable bespoke airdam and splitter; ram air fed front brake discs; programmable and mapped ECU; bespoke rear ‘fastback’ cover for the engine bay; bespoke engine cold air intake system; rebuilt front and rear suspension including powder coating all components and refitting with polyurethane racing bushes; stripped and rebuilt drive shafts; etc, etc!  As the photos show, the car looks different with far more purpose and poise.

As a consequence of all the changes that have been made, it has totally transformed the car’s handling to the point where we are virtually back to square one with respect to the set up.  Frustratingly track time has been hard to come by with track days being fully booked months in advance so progress has been slow.  Subsequently, when it came to qualifying for the first race of the year at Silverstone International, I was struggling to set a competitive time with a tail happy car and ended up 32nd out of a total of 47 cars, 9th out of 11 Class C cars; not very inspiring!  Having said that my qualifying lap time beat my previous personal best by 0.34 seconds which was at least heading in the right direction!

In the break between qualifying and the race Dave managed to free off some stubborn adjustment rings on the coilovers and made some changes to the ride height in the hope that it would stabilise the back end of the car.  The race started with a rolling start, a first for me and the first few laps were encouraging with a couple of Class C places gained.  However, one of those was eventually lost although I enjoyed a clean and close battle but have to confess to being disappointed at not being able to retain the place.

Overall the car felt more stable so the adjustments we made were beneficial.  I managed to shave off a hefty 0.83 seconds off my qualifying lap time, which again, was a real plus.  Unbeknown to me, however, the front offside damper had failed and whilst I was unaware of this at the time, it would have undoubtedly had a significant effect on the cars handling, especially in the left hand corners.  

Due to a couple of incidents leaving a few cars stranded in the gravel, a safety car was deployed and a good tactical decision to pit early paid off.  I eventually finished 17th overall, 6th in Class C.  I was just a few seconds behind the next two Class C cars but a significant way off the front 3 runners so there is work to be done to achieve a podium finish.  As ever, it was fantastic to have such excellent support from Dave and his mechanical expertise is legendary.  I would have been struggling to change the car’s set up if he hadn’t been there and been so willing to get stuck in.

Unfortunately the next planned Roadsports event at Anglesey in September has been cancelled due to Covid so the next race will be at Snetterton in October.  I am looking forward to this and hope to be able to improve on the Silverstone result with a podium finish always being the main aim.

Report & Photos from Roadsports, Silverstone – 27 October 19

Talk about rain! Dave and I travelled down to Silverstone on Saturday when the UK was under a thick, heavy blanket of rain bearing cloud - and it poured for 2 days solid. The Birkett 6 hour relay race was underway when we arrived and all I can say is that I was glad it wasn’t me having to race in those conditions; apparently the safety car was out on track for 2.5 hours out of the 6; no wonder!!

Given the number of cars participating in the Birkett, the paddock was packed and we were fortunate to find space to park up. The awning was quickly assembled, the MR2 unloaded and driven down to the scrutineering bay just in time for it to open at 2pm, a couple of hours earlier than usual. No issues arose with the car and it wasn’t long before we were warm and dry back in the VR2U Racing Team lorry hosting some fellow competitors who are becoming familiar friends.

We woke to a beautiful cloudless morning sky, although it was a rather chilly 5°C outside. Qualifying starting at 0950 but we had gained an hour’s sleep due to the clocks going back an hour for winter so we both felt rested. The session was shared with the Club Enduro competitors resulting in 66 cars out on track together; for that reason I made sure I was at the assembly area in good time to avoid being at the back of the queue.

The track was damp and slippery and I had only been out on the GP circuit once before at a track day (numerous races on the National and International layout however) so it was a case of building up pace slowly. After the first lap I noticed a couple of dashboard warning lights had come on, specifically the Battery caution and the Engine Overheat caution. The water temperature looked fine but the alternator was not charging the battery so it was obvious I was not going to be able to complete the full 35 minute session. I decided to limp around the 3 mandatory laps to ensure I qualified to race and then peeled into the pits for help.

Dave quickly noticed that the alternator belt was missing! Despite his best efforts there was no way we could repair the car in time to get back out on circuit so he made the car safe and we returned to the Team lorry for repairs. I had to leave virtually straight away to attend the mandatory drivers’ briefing and left the car in Dave’s capable hands. On my return it was all fixed and prepped for the race. What a great support Dave is; without doubt, if it had not been for him, I would not have made it out in time for the race.

Given the shortened qualifying session I ended up 20th on the grid out of 29 cars, 6th in Class C and placed behind two Class D cars. This was certainly not what I was hoping for but the sense of injustice made me feel all the more determined to race hard and that is what I did from the outset. In the first lap I managed to get past 5 cars and overtook the leading Class C car on the first bend of the second lap. From then on it was a case of trying to pull out a minimum lead of 10 seconds since I had an additional 5 second success penalty to serve during the pit stop for coming 3rd in the previous race. It was a great relief to see the time gap on the pit board, manned by local friend Robin Jones, increase with laps until I had the margin I was looking for. The pit stop went smoothly and it was without doubt the greatest sense of elation I have yet experienced in racing when the chequered flag came out and I knew I had won my class at the iconic Silverstone circuit on the last race of the season.

After the cool down lap a marshal directed me to pull over in the pits where a garland was presented as well as being interviewed live. It was a wonderful moment, one that I will not forget for a long time; it was genuinely a great team effort and we all felt a great sense of elation. Unfortunately this was not to last. About an hour later we learned that a competitor who had finished ahead of me had been incorrectly classified as a Class B car but had in fact entered into Class C which relegated me to 2nd. It was such a blow and whilst I would ordinarily have been delighted with a podium finish, it felt a massive let down after the sheer delight of being first.

At the time of writing I still do not know if the mistake was the competitor’s or the Club’s. If it was the competitor’s I feel the decision to award him the victory was wrong. If it was the Club’s mistake, I can accept it since the organisers had such a challenging weekend to manage that I can understand how a detail like this could slip through the nets. It doesn’t take away the sense of disappointment but as they say, that is part of the highs and lows of motorsport.

The race was streamed live, although the link went down half way through coming back towards the end.  Here's a link to the first part of the race and a link to my moment of glory when I was interviewed immediately after the event: 

The Roadsports Race starts at time 1:10 on the following link

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uIJHB78_SQk&feature=youtu.be&fbclid=IwAR1O1KRaLx9Axo7RGKx058nhv4Kw7gnlOT-s4BBlo6v1YWD4sGJ70t89Nac

My interview starts at minute 12:12 so you will need to wind the clip back a bit.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P5a1AWAjQlE&t

 

Looking ahead to next year there is much work to be done on the car over winter and I am already chomping at the bit to get out and race. Bring on the 2020 racing calendar!

Report & Photos from Roadsports, Snetterton – 11 October 19

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What a challenging weekend this proved to be. Dave couldn’t make it but my son, Paul, was fortunately able to and he was an absolute star. I was already convinced that this sport is ideal with a team as opposed to having to do it all solo but this weekend just highlighted that.

On arriving at Snetterton in the pouring rain we opened up the back of the lorry to find the boiler had come away from the wall, hit the car and was hanging by the gas and water pipes along with associated leaks! We managed to get it loosely back on its brackets so that we could get the car out.

The first task was to get the car into the queue for scrutineering which had by now grown considerably longer than when we first arrived. I went for a toilet break and on my return had managed to lose the lorry keys! A drastic hunt came up empty handed. A last thought was to see if they had been handed into the Admin Office and oh what a relief to be told they had!! If you are reading this and you were that kind soul – THANK YOU.

Once through scrutineering our next task was to get a space in a garage and park up the lorry to obtain an electric hook up since we now had no gas. Some helpful individual had parked their car behind the lorry, blocking us in; another problem to solve. That was finally resolved and with car and lorry established in/by the garage we thought we had hacked it. However, the organisers had unhelpfully re-issued the garage allocation at short notice and we weren’t meant to be in that garage. It was very kind of one of the drivers, Lee Piercy, to offer his space to us, so we were not evicted after all.

Next task was to try and refit the boiler but this didn’t work so we decided to disconnect everything and take it off the wall altogether. Eventually, at 8.30 pm having arrived at 3.15pm, we had some supper and then did some work on the car to get it ready for the next day’s race.

Qualifying was oh so wet and slippery. I have never been on such a treacherous surface; it was more like driving on ice. I had one excursion onto the grass with no damage and was pleased to have qualified 4th out of 10 Class C cars and 23rd out of 42 entrants.

The start was eventful with a car on the second row stalling off the line. I had an excellent start and made up several places in the first few yards only to collide with a Seat Leon who had seen the problem and braked abruptly. Unbeknown to me the collision had shoved my front offside wheel back by approximately 3cm and damaged the front bumper; the track was that slippery I didn’t know any difference though!

After that it was pretty uneventful although I was running 4th in Class for the majority of the race with the next Class C car some 11 seconds ahead, a gap I felt I couldn’t close up. My main goal was to concentrate on keeping the car off the grass. Much to my delight however, but to my fellow competitor’s disappointment who was running 2nd in Class, his gearbox gave up which promoted me to 3rd. This was relayed to me by my son Paul, who did a fantastic job with the pit board. I was delighted and managed to bring the MR2 safely home. It was a rewarding finish to what was a challenging weekend. All the hard work paid off.

The last race of the season is at Silverstone on the GP circuit in only a few weeks’ time. There is quite a bit of work to be done on the car so the pressure is on but I am greatly looking forward to this next race since it is on the iconic GP circuit.

Report & Photos from Roadsports, Donington – 07 September 19

After Cadwell there was over a month without any racing.  The Silverstone round that was scheduled for August was postponed at short notice until October whilst the circuit was resurfaced in time for the F1 race.  The consolation was that we will be racing the GP circuit which is going to be a great event.

The time between races was an ideal opportunity to upgrade the car to Class C.  The majority of the work involved taking as much weight out as I possibly could whilst leaving the engine unmodified.  The ideal was to bring the weight down to 950kg which would put the car at the top of Class C power/weight ratio.  In the event I could only reduce it to 1050kg, so I am carrying 100kg excess weight, which is a big disadvantage.  The only way forward now is to boost the bhp by a commensurate amount but this will have to wait since there is still a lot of work on the chassis to complete.

Significantly I added aerodynamics to the MR2, mainly in the form of a rear wing.  This has had a notable effect on the downforce at the rear, making the car understeer.  Ironically I am still quicker with the rear wing attached despite this understeer but am working on a front splitter to restore some aerodynamic balance.  Should this go to plan, I am excited about the potential net result on the car’s handling since I believe it will reduce my current lap times by a significant amount: time will tell!

Qualifying at Donington for the Roadsports event was a tribute to the upgrades I have made to the car.  I smashed my best lap record and went under what was the then MR2 lap record, albeit this was set by an unmodified car.  This was subsequently beaten the following day during the MR2 Championship racing, but nonetheless I am greatly encouraged.

Despite the fantastic qualifying I was 4th in Class C in a field of 17 Class C cars and qualified 21st overall out of 41 cars.  However, the greatest achievement was to be the fastest MR2 out of 8 other cars, one of which was driven by Sean Traynor, the 2 times MR2 Championship winner and current leader, who was 0.6 of a second behind - that's quite a decent margin.  With respect to the Class C cars in front, I knew 2 of them were sharing the drive and the second driver in each car was significantly slower, so in my mind a second place was achievable.  One of the cars was the BMW of Jeff and Lee Piercy, the car I had battled with at Croft in the final stages of the race.  This was an encouraging thought especially as it was my first outing in Class C.

Starts have never been my strong point but I managed a blisteringly quick one, launching off like a scolded cat, passing several cars in the process, one of them being a Class C rival! I put this down to the upgrades on the car. After about 10 minutes into the race a car blew its engine depositing oil all over the track just before the Esses. Carnage ensued as the attached clip shows, so a safety car was deployed. Shortly thereafter the pit Lane opened and numerous cars dived in for their mandatory pit stop. Seeing the potential to be trapped in the rush, I elected to stay out for a further lap. Unfortunately this turned out to be a bad decision and I ended up losing time and places. I was running 3rd in Class but having pitted I came out in 11th. Some chasing saw me crawl my way back to 5th with an epic scrap for the last 5 laps or so with a BMW 330 driven by Ivor Mairs. Frustrating I overtook about 3 times but was overhauled down the straights with a lack of top end speed. Memories of Croft …….

https://www.facebook.com/pescaraproductions/videos/435450257326748/UzpfSTEwMDAxMTcyMTI4MDE1OTo4NjYwMjcyMjcxMzEzMTI/?id=100011721280159

Overall result was 5th in Class, 13th overall out of 40 starters. Lots to be encouraged with and valuable lessons learnt. Snetterton is next; bring it on!

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